From 1 January 2023, €35m will be allocated to special individual European Innovation Partnership (EIP) projects around the country on various different topics. Last weekend, Minister Pippa Hackett announced a €60m spend on an EIP project to improve water quality. In total it will mean close to €100m on EIP funding will be allocated next year. This puts EIP spend up on a par with the Sheep Improvement scheme and TAMS spend.

We know the funding allocation to projects in the past has varied from a spend of €400,000 per project over five years to many projects getting between €1m and €2m over five years.

The Hen Harrier project is by far the biggest of the EIP projects and has had some €25m in funding allocated to it since it started. Some €64m has been spent in total over the last five years. At the EIP annual conference on Monday, it allowed time for reflection on many of the excellent projects that are ongoing for a number of years or short-term projects.

Just to touch on the background – EIP projects started in late 2016 when the then Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced a €29m pot of money as a completely new way of funding locally led projects to fund local groups dealing with practical problems in their areas. At the time, he said it was an opportunity for researchers, advisers, farmers and scientists to look at new practices. The aim of EIP projects is to pool expertise and resources with a focus on forming partnerships and using a bottom-up approach to drive change.

There is no doubt from the flavour of projects we have carried in this publication down through the years, and from the presentations on Monday, that there has been some real learnings, innovations, positive developments and great partnerships forged.


In my opinion, however, there needs to be a sharp intake of breath now, and maybe even a step back, to build on the success of the EIP projects. Going to the country with €35m and politically targeting money to various projects just because they might not have got money in the last round, or just because a group of people have a good idea, is no longer good enough. There was room for this in phase one, but phase two needs to build on this. There is no room for duplication with ongoing State investment.

On Monday, it became clear that there is a gap between the results and lessons of the local EIP projects and national schemes such as ACRES that are being rolled out. It was apparent that new ideas need support in the early stages. It also became clear that hiring full-time staff into short-term projects is difficult and can jeopardise the project, people’s careers and the livelihood of farmers involved.

My understanding is the Department hasn’t yet gathered the learnings from phase one on how different projects were organised, structured, reported on etc.

The money allocation is too big not to get the foundation stones right for the next phase of EIP projects. Even within the Department, I’m told the EIP division is completely separate to the ACRES division that is supposed to have learned from EIP-led projects.

Let’s take one example. In the last round of EIPs funded, there were a number of projects focused on uplands, commonages and mountain ranges.

Surely all the key people in the uplands EIPs should be brought together and the clear learnings distilled over what worked. Ideas on how they can be streamlined and broadened out should then be published. There is a skill in doing this. It has to be asked if Teagasc has a part role to play here? A plan should be developed on how to resource and manage the uplands from different perspectives – water quality, grazing, tourism, etc.

It has become obvious that it is too big a jump to go from a local EIP project to a national project – you need some sort of a stepping stone. For major projects like the Burren or the uplands project it takes time to earn respect between advisers and farmers, learn, plan and deliver.

The Department must now take time out, maybe take funding if required to get it completed, but importantly don’t lose the learnings of the €64m spent between 2017 and 2022.

Regulator will be judged on results

The appointment of a food industry ombudsman was part of the Programme for Government, driven by the need for a system to enforce EU unfair trading practices (UTP) rules.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue announced again this week that legislation is on its way having previously done so in April when the interim UTP Enforcement Authority was established to meet the deadline for compliance. Despite the repeated announcements, we don’t have a date, but we can take it that a new State body with a €4m budget is on its way.

The question is will it deliver the minister’s promise of making sure farmers are “rewarded appropriately”?This is a huge statement before we even begin to consider what value “appropriately” is.

UTP requirements are of limited benefit to farmers as they address issues like payment terms and contract issues that rarely apply in farmer dealings. The idea of a €10m fine is headline-grabbing but is it ever likely to be imposed? Only time will tell.

A regulator that will “promote and enforce principles of fairness and transparency” is worthy but what light will be shone on the value that is added beyond the factory gate when knowledge disappears only to return when the produce appears on the retail shelf or restaurant menu. Much will depend on the newly appointed regulator and they deserve a chance. However, the success of the office whenever it arrives, will be judged on results. See Phelim O’Neill’s analysis.