"In my view, the CAP is essentially a payment for a service.

We are paying farmers to deliver food to the highest standard in the world, under the most stringent regulations in the world, to protect the land, protect biodiversity, treat their animals well, and play their part in climate change mitigation.

"Like any service, you have to pay for it. We cannot expect to get a better level of service from farmers in 2024 than we did 15 years previously for a lot less money," so says Sinn Féin agriculture spokesperson Matt Carthy.

Carthy on climate change targets

"I’ve been talking to ministers and trying to ask questions as to what will this mean for agriculture.

"So we know that biogenic methane is going to be treated differently, but will there be separate targets for it?

"If we’re going to plan out what is going to be a very difficult process, then I think we need to be straight up and say 'this is what it means for Irish farming'.

"And then we can have the conversation in terms of how we reach that, but, at the moment, it’s happening in a vacuum, so we know what the targets are in terms of the climate action bill, it’s 50% reduction by 2030, that’s within this decade.

"Put the question to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives, it’s brushed off; when it's put to Green Party ministers they receive waffle in return about just transition and diversification and all the rest of it.

"We need to move to a point very quickly where we’re actually spelling out what is expected of agriculture, so that, in the first instance, we can set out whether or not that’s possible and we can collectively decide whether they are realistic targets and then, secondly, we can start extrapolating what measures would be suggested in order to deliver that."

Quality the key

"If we try to compete in international markets on a cheap food basis, we are going to lose. What we can compete with, and do incredibly well, is on quality food, we can win that battle.

"I don’t just mean the quality of the food, but also the quality of entire life cycle of the food, in terms of welfare, environmental standards.

"We need to market our best products - the clean, green suckler family-farm grass-fed product that people internationally think they're buying when they buy Irish food.

"We need to take seriously the fact that 16% of our beef is actually coming from factory feedlots. That's undermining our image abroad, and that's a race to the bottom that I don't think we can win."

Sinn Féin's agricultural spokesman Matt Carthy is interviewed by Pat O'Toole in the Irish Farmers Journal offices. \ Philip Doyle

Matt Carthy voted against unfair trading practice (UTP) legislation in the European Parliament. Why did he oppose something that most farmers believe is needed?

"I followed the unfair trading practice legislation in the European Parliament. I voted against it primarily because I don’t believe that the vast majority of farmers will see any benefit from it.

"Some small producers will, and that’ll be great, and I hope that I’m proved wrong.

"What I would have liked to see is an EU ban on below-cost selling. I think that would have been a game-changer in terms of how food is appreciated and understood and how we market food.

There was huge resistance and most of that came from Irish sources

"There was huge resistance and most of that came from Irish sources - the Irish commissioner at the time, other Irish MEPs and the Irish Government fought tooth and nail against my efforts.

"Removing the groceries order for fresh product was a retrograde step. It would be important if we’re doing it (banning below-cost selling) at a national level that we do it on an all-Ireland level.

"The difficulty is the majority of our food is exported, but it would be an important symbolic move, I’m not sure if it would be the game changer that it would have been had we introduced it on an EU-wide basis."

Asked whether he would be in favour of the moves made in France to make farm costs an integral part of food prices, Carthy responds positively.

"I had advocated and asked that we carry out an analysis of what the true cost of production was.

"Of course, it would have to be based on averages, but, by and large, every farmer would be better off in terms of prices. It is something I am looking at delivering at a national level.

"I would have liked the Minister to have ensured that unfair trading practices that were banned included mechanisms that wouldn’t have allowed the factories use things like the 30 month or the four-movement rules, these are arbitrary rules that are impediments to farmers getting a fair price.

If they meet their own targets, we will still be seven years behind the EU average

"There is no scientific basis for them, there is no commercial basis for them. When you or I go into a supermarket or restaurant, we don’t know and probably don’t care whether our beef is 29 or 31 months old, yet the farmer who has produced it has paid a penalty if it’s the latter. That is an unfair trading practice in every sense of the word."

On organic farming

"It's quite shameful when you consider the global green reputation that Irish food has that we have only 2% of our land under organic farming.

"I think most people internationally would be shocked to hear that, and the Government have a really disappointing ambition in that regard.

"If they meet their own targets, we will still be seven years behind the EU average.

"I’ve asked the Minister to carry out a comprehensive analysis, bring all sectors together, to actually plan how we promote organic farming.

"My fear is that the instinct will be to encourage larger farmers into the organic scheme as opposed to a lot of smaller farmers. Smaller family farms have the most to potentially benefit.

"Key to all that is if we’re moving to organic farming, which is clearly about the production of a premium product, that needs to be matched to a premium price.

"Our premium products are our organic fresh family-farm products and our suckler beef - best-quality beef product in the world. Those products need to have a premium price.

"There has been nothing, no Government action that has delivered on that. Even if you look at the Government’s approach to protected geographical indication (PGI), it’s about pleasing everyone, and ending up delivering for nobody, in terms of having a PGI status for Irish beef that incorporates 90% of Irish beef.

"There'll be no price benefit, only a price cut for the 10% who don't meet the PGI specification - another cut."

Missed opportunity

One striking example of the change in the dynamic of Irish politics was Sinn Féin's endorsement of Ian Marshall as an independent candidate in the recent Seanad by-election.

Ian Marshall is a farmer from Armagh, a unionist, and a former leader of the Ulster Farmers Union, which could be called an establishment organisation in Northern Ireland.

"People will recall that when Ian stood previously (in 2018) and was elected, Sinn Féin TDs voted for him," says Carthy.

"I really think it was a wasted opportunity, in terms of the Taoiseach's nominees and in terms of the vacancies that arose in the Seanad that neither Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil saw fit to appoint representatives from any community in the North, but I think it would have been a constructive step had somebody like Ian Marshall secured Government support.

"When they were given the option of supporting someone from a northern, unionist, Protestant, farming background to put them in the Seanad, they decided to do a grubby deal among themselves."

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The problem isn’t convergence, the problem is the CAP budget - Carty