ICSA call on government to ‘do no harm’ in upcoming budget

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association has launched its pre-Budget submission, calling for vital farm schemes to be protected from cuts and a tougher stance on public sector pay and allowances.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association has launched its pre-Budget submission, calling for vital farm schemes to be protected from cuts and a tougher stance on public sector pay and allowances.

The document - Ireland’s Agriculture: A Key Part of our Economic Recovery - outlines the crucial role of agri-business in the effort to reverse the downturn, and highlights a number of key points necessary for progress both nationally and within the farming sector. In it, ICSA warns that in the absence of the ability to provide fiscal stimulus, the Government must strive to ‘do no harm’ to the industry.

Commenting on the recommendations within the document, ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin highlighted the organisation’s key concerns for Budget 2013.

“Support schemes which constitute an essential part of family farm incomes must not be targeted for further cuts. For example, the Disadvantaged Area Scheme (DAS), which is vital for many livestock farmers, has taken a cut of more than 25% over recent Budgets; while 62,000 farmers are gradually being taken out of REPS before it closes down completely in 2014, to be replaced by an agri-environment scheme (AEOS) that is far more restricted in scope and funding.

“The Government has a stated policy of expenditure cuts rather than tax increases to meet fiscal targets - but this is sharply curbed by the contents of the Croke Park Agreement. It is now glaringly obvious that the Government cannot continue to bury its head in the sand with regard to savings within that Agreement. The focus on reducing staff numbers rather than pay is hindering any real progress. The refusal to target increments and failure to make savings on allowances means that a disproportionately high number of cuts are made to vital schemes, front-line services and capital investment.

“Farmers could argue all day long that vital payments such as the DAS and REPS form part of their core pay - but it would fall on deaf ears and continue to be vulnerable to cuts. The Government needs to apply some fairness in the treatment of the public and private sectors and tackle increments and allowances head-on.”

Mr. Gilmartin sounded a warning note on private pensions.

“For farmers and other self-employed people, pension planning is a huge challenge. We have a serious concern that the environment for private pensions is in peril and the Government must tread carefully to avoid destroying it altogether. As a minimum step, ICSA is calling on the Government to remove the 0.6% pension levy, and allow the Universal Social Charge and PRSI to be taken into account when calculating tax relief for pension contributions.”

Competitiveness and the cost of doing business is also a major concern for ICSA.

“A lot of thought and effort is put into cutting costs and staying competitive every day by farmers. The Government must step up and make a similar effort to enable the agri-food industry to thrive. For instance, ICSA is calling for an immediate 10% reduction in electricity costs, which are a huge burden on the sector.”

Mr. Gilmartin concluded, “We are also calling on the Government to provide a 100% grant to any household required to carry out upgrade work on their septic tanks. Rural dwellers must be treated equally with their urban counterparts and this is the only way that can be achieved.”