O’Neill condemns south Armagh bomb attack

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has condemned the bomb attack in south Armagh which left one man in hospital with serious injuries.

Speaking at a public meeting in Clady, Co Armagh, the minister said: “This dreadful bomb attack on a south Armagh man yesterday by an organised criminal gang reinforces the need for all of us in positions of responsibility to act to close down criminal operation in rural areas.”

The meeting, in the social club in the village, was organised to help farmers understand new regulations under CAP reform but Minister O’Neill took the opportunity to voice her shock and dismay at the attack on the man as he removed a poster from a lamppost in Crossmaglen.

The minister went on to address local concerns about rising rural crime.

She told the meeting: “I am greatly concerned at the upsurge in rural crime along border areas, particularly livestock and machinery theft. I’m also concerned at the environmental impact which fuel crime is having on rural communities. I raised these issues yesterday with my counterpart Minister Simon Coveney at a North South Ministerial Council meeting and we’ve agreed to jointly explore further measures to tackle these crimes in the time ahead.”

On the issue of reform under CAP, the minister urged farmers to be prepared for the new regulations and said that her Department will do all it can to advise farmers on how best to make the changes work for them.

She said: “My department is working hard to make the new schemes as easy as possible to understand, to provide you with the support that you need, to continue to reduce the risk of disallowance, and to build on the level of online claims achieved in 2014.

“While, firstly I want to ensure that the important monies that CAP reform provides are more targeted, more equitable and easily accessible, it is also important to make clear that despite my desire for a simpler CAP regime, the new schemes are greater in number and more complex. Therefore, I want to ensure that you have all the information and tools available to help you make informed decisions about your businesses.”

The roadshow is one of a number of events being held across Northern Ireland. After the Minister spoke, an official from DARD delivered a presentation which took those attending through the new reforms step by step.

Minister O’Neill said that under the Basic Payment Scheme a set of new payment entitlements will be allocated to farmers who apply and meet the eligibility conditions of the scheme. One of the key conditions is that entitlements will be allocated to the person having decision making power in relation to the agricultural activity. This is referred to as the active farmer requirement.

And she said her department has undertaken a review of all farm businesses which submitted a Single Farm Application form in 2014 to identify businesses which may not meet the active farmer requirement and therefore may not be allocated entitlements this year.

The meeting was told that where it is found that individuals have artificially created conditions to attempt to meet the criteria to access support from the CAP, they will not only be excluded from benefiting from this support but also most likely face penalties.

She said: “It is important that all farmers are prepared as the new eligibility requirements are operational. To help farm businesses prepare and make an accurate claim for payment for the new schemes my department has recently sent farmers the most up-to-date mapping information which we hold about their business. It is in your interest to ensure that your map is up-to-date and that all ineligible areas are removed.”

Turning to the issue of young farmers, the minister said that a Level 2 qualification in agriculture is required in order to qualify for a payment under the Young Farmers’ payment.

She added: “An educational qualification provides both an incentive and a reward for young farmers and will assist in the development of a well skilled and professional industry.”