West Tyrone Sinn Féin -- Building an Ireland of Equals

Our Place Is In Europe

Published: 29 October, 2015

Our Place is in Europe As the debate over exiting the EU continues it is important to consider the implications for rural areas such as West Tyrone. Sinn Féin adopts a policy of 'critical engagement' with the EU and as someone with a good deal of experience in the community sector, I am acutely aware of the red tape and bureaucratic burden that the EU impresses upon us. In West Tyrone, we have seen how the citing of EU habitat legislation has stalled the A5 dual carriageway and how farmers are heavily penalised for the slightest of errors on their Single Application Forms. On a wider scale, I share concerns over how decisions are made in the EU, particularly in the context of the current discussions around TTIP. Whilst there are many issues and challenges of EU membership, there are many advantages of membership, particularly in the context of a London-centric Tory government which has applied swinging cuts across all sectors and has their axe sharpened for more austerity. EU Support In 2014, £248 million was paid directly to farmers in Single Farm Payments (SFP). In addition to this, £26.3m was paid in LFACA and £20m in Agri environment schemes. In the constituency of West Tyrone, £33,855,985 was paid out last year in SFP and £36,874, 125 was paid out in the Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency. In addition to this, £11,597,586 and £15,159,132 was paid out through other RDP measures. This is support that our farmers and rural communities depend on to survive. It is estimated that 80% of farmer's income is derived from EU direct payments. Without SFP and the other measures in the Rural Development Programme (RDP), our farming families would be forced off the land and large parts of our rural community sector would collapse. The benefits of EU membership were seen most recently when Minister O Neill secured £5.1m targeted aid package for the north. This also underlines the importance of having a locally accountable Minister overseeing this important department. Supporters of an EU exit argue that instead of contributing to Europe that the money should instead be re-allocated across Britain and the north. Do they seriously believe that a Tory administration would allocate £97.5m per annum to farmers and rural communities in West and South Tyrone and Fermanagh? Unfortunately, the evidence is to the contrary. During the CAP negotiations in 2013, when France negotiated an additional 1billion for their RDP and the Irish government secured an additional 100million, the Tories actually negotiated a 22% cut. This can only be explained by their unwillingness to match fund the EU share and again highlights the disregard they have for the needs of rural areas. This cut was passed on to our Executive but thankfully our own locally elected Ministers do see the value in developing rural areas and committed additional money to the EU allocation to secure a RDP of £623 million. In local communities the new RDP will be implemented in the form of the £250m Farm Business Improvement Scheme, rural broadband improvements, cross-border projects, rural tourism development, increased access to basic services and environment schemes. Other challenges Exiting the EU would introduce many other challenges. We already have seen how the border creates trade barriers in terms of the labelling of our local produce, currency volatility and the issue of 'nomadic' cattle. These problems would increase tenfold in the context of leaving the EU as the market would be much less accessible for our agri-products, of which over 80% are exported. Along with fellow members of the Regional Development committee, we met the chief Executive of Derry Port last week. As the most peripheral port in the EU, Derry plays a pivotal role in the agrifood industry importing over 400,000 tonnes of animal feed per year and thousands of tonnes of fertilizer which is blended and bagged on site. The port serves the entire island and in the words of its chief executive, leaving the EU would be 'catastrophic'. I share these sentiments and support the case that in the interest of all of our hard pressed rural and farming communities, our place is in the European Union.