EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has confirmed that Northern Ireland’s new rural development programme (RDP) will be cleared by the end of June this year.
Speaking at a press conference in Belfast yesterday Mr Hogan said Commission representatives are liaising with DARD staff on this matter at the present time.
I recognise the fundamental importance for Northern Ireland’s farmers to secure RDP funding as quickly as possible.Commissioner Phil Hogan
He added: “My understanding is that the main issues contained within the draft plan have been cleared. We are now at the fine tuning stage.
“I recognise the fundamental importance for Northern Ireland’s farmers to secure RDP funding as quickly as possible. Given this requirement, the Commission is prepared to issue DARD with a memorandum of understanding, prior to the full letter of acceptance being issued, in order to allow the implementation of the proposed RDP measures for Northern Ireland with all possible haste.
“But irrespective of the detail, I expect the new RDP to be open for business in Northern Ireland well before the end of the summer.”
Mr Hogan was in Belfast for a series of meetings with local politicians including the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and the Agriculture Committee at Stormont. He was also the guest speaker at last night’s annual UFU dinner in Newry.
During the press conference Mr Hogan went on to stress the importance of the new funding measures for agriculture announced earlier this week by the European Investment Bank.
“In essence this will allow each region of the EU to draw down in loan form €5 for every €1 placed into a guarantee fund by the competent organisation concerned,” he stressed.
“In Northern Ireland the relevant body will be DARD. These soft loans will be paid back at extremely low interest rates over an extended period of time. The monies drawn down can be used to fund on-farm development projects, new dairy processing facilities and forestry related projects.”
The Commissioner expects the various regions of the EU to have plans drawn up in order to utilise the new Investment Bank opportunities over the coming months. A series of road shows, profiling these opportunities will be held at the end of June.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union was delighted to welcome Mr Hogan to Northern Ireland as the keynote speaker at its annual dinner on Friday evening.
UFU President Ian Marshall said: “This is Commissioner Hogan’s first time visiting Northern Ireland since he was appointed as the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and as the CAP implementation process here continues to limp along, his appearance is very timely. The reformed CAP is posing a number of practical issues on the ground and the Union has been pressing DARD for speedy, satisfactory resolutions.”
Speaking to a capacity audience, EU Commission Phil Hogan highlighted the importance of a Rural Development Programme focused on the farming sector backed up by new financial instruments from the European Investment Bank. The Commissioner said: “Just this week I announced a new financial package from the European Investment Bank to help drive investment in the farm sector which would create more agri-food jobs and secure a profitable future for farmers.”
The Commissioner recognised the significant role in which the agri-food sector plays in the Northern Ireland economy and said EU funding will continue to play a key role in driving the dynamism of Northern Irish Agriculture not just on farm but beyond the farm gate in the rural economy as a whole. The Commissioner also committed to adopting a pragmatic approach in dealing with simplification of the reformed CAP.
He continued: “I have already launched a comprehensive screening exercise of the entire CAP and I will listen closely to the farmers of Northern Ireland and of Europe, including the helpful submission from the UFU which I have already received.”
Mr Marshall concluded: “The Commissioner’s plans to simplify the CAP is welcome news to farmers and something the UFU whole-heartedly supports, especially as our current experience of implementing the new CAP has been less than smooth. We have always had concerns about how overly complicated the whole package is. At the time of its development we worked hard to see it simplified, and while we were successful to some extent, there is still much that could be done to make it more practical and farmer friendly, while still satisfying EU requirements.”
The UFU was also delighted to welcome Agricultural Attaché for the U.S Embassy Stan Phillips to the dinner, especially as preparations are already underway for the prestigious North America and European Union Agricultural Congress, which is being held in Northern Ireland in October 2015.