Whether or not Ireland should push for the full flattening of farm payments was the dominant topic during a Dáil debate on the next CAP on Wednesday.
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue began by saying the European Parliament was pursuing a “prescriptive approach” on payment redistribution, demanding 100% convergence.
Minister McConalogue said he wished to see as much flexibility as possible for the decision on convergence to be made in Ireland.
“What works in Malta will not work in Maam Cross and what works in Croatia will not work in Carndonagh and we cannot ignore this fact,” he said.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture Matt Carthy said the previous CAP had flexibilities on convergence and the Irish government pursued the “absolute minimum of 60% that was permitted”.
Carthy said he supported full convergence, as it would deliver more income to 72,000 family farms, 60% of Irish farms. He demanded that the Minister make his position known.
Minister McConalogue said: “My position is that we should be able to have a national debate and discussion on this matter.
“I do not see it as my role to go out unilaterally and arbitrarily at European level and set convergence without consultation with farmers across the country.”
Sinn Féin TDs Pauline Tully, Mairéad Farrell, Claire Kerrane and Martin Browne were among those to express support for full convergence.
Fianna Fáil TD for Cork East James O’Connor said he was “gobsmacked” to hear numerous Sinn Féin TDs slamming the Government for not seeking 100% convergence.
“Do they have any idea or clue of the effect that would have on the provinces of Munster and Leinster? It would be devastating for people working in dairy farming and tillage,” O’Connor said.
His Fianna Fáil colleague from Galway West Éamon Ó Cuív gave an opposing view.
He said farmers with high output and very good land should make their money on price and that basing payments on reference years from the early 2000s was foolish.
His views were shared by Independent TD for Sligo-Leitrim Marian Harkin, who said it made no sense to base payments on historical production.
Along with full convergence, Sinn Féin TDs called for 20% of direct payments to be ringfenced for front-loaded payments to protect small- and medium-sized farmers with large entitlements.
Front-loaded payments would come in the form of top-up payments on the first hectares of a farm at a rate set by Ireland. These would be funded from a linear cut to all direct payments.
Chair of the Oireachtas agriculture committee Tipperary Fianna Fáil TD Jackie Cahill said: “Front loading would probably help people on low payments per hectare, but it would require a linear cut across all farmers' payments.
“Given all the changes that are happening, I do not know whether another linear cut on top of the cuts that are already coming due to the present round of CAP is feasible for farmers.”