Northern Ireland

Cross-border talks over EU farming subsidies

Cows on farm (generic)
Image caption Farm subsidies will be discussed

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill has said she has held "useful" talks with the European commissioner for agriculture in Dublin on Thursday.

The talks with Dacian Ciolos were over planned changes to reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy.

The NI Assembly's agriculture committee accepted an invitation from an Irish parliament committee to lobby Mr Ciolos on EU farming subsidies.

Ms O'Neill said the CAP reform process was at an early stage.

"Much more work needs to be done in order to obtain the necessary improvements to the reform proposals," she said.

"Since the proposals were published in mid-October I have continually highlighted the importance of a strong and well resourced CAP.

"I have also made clear my concerns about the transition to flat rate payments, the definition of active farmers and the greening proposals.

"Other areas that clearly require further discussion include the future basis for payments to farmers, regional flexibility and simplification.

Shared interests

Earlier, speaking on the train to Dublin, the agriculture committee chairman Paul Frew said the Irish Republic's farming interests are very similar to those of Northern Ireland.

"I believe we have an ally there in trying to shape an important policy," said the DUP MLA.

Image caption Paul Frew said the Republic's interests were similar to Northern Ireland

He recently told a committee at Westminster that as a region of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has a different agricultural landscape than at least some of the other regions.

"In Northern Ireland, agriculture remains an important and critical employer with a labour force of 46,948 directly involved in agriculture, contributing £378m gross value added to the local economy.

"This is more than double the UK average," said Mr Frew.

The committee has said the UK government should seek to negotiate a greater share of the rural development budget and allocate this to the regions as an acknowledgement of the different requirements of Northern Ireland compared to England.

The agriculture committee is concerned that the complex nature of the proposals could lead to more bureaucracy and unnecessary monitoring of farmers.

BBC Northern Ireland Rural Affairs Correspondent Martin Cassidy said: "While negotiations on the agricultural reform package are at an early stage, the Stormont committee is clearly mindful of the influence Ireland may have on key decisions when it assumes the EU presidency early in 2013. "

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