It comes as no surprise to read this morning that farm incomes in the West of Ireland are up to 70% lower than those in the rest of the country. We are dealing with family farms here in the West and the emphasis over the last number of years from successive Governments and from farm organisations has titled the balance, especially in CAP, towards the larger farming operation. I have always maintained that if we want to rebuild rural Ireland one major part of that rebuilding is to protect family farm income.
The new Minister must now address this situation and ensure that the CAP payments system is tilted back in favour of the area from Donegal down to Clare. We must realise that 85% of all suckler cattle in the country is based in the West and North West. If this trend in farm incomes that we are reading about this week continues young people in the West of Ireland will not want to become involved in farming. I have always said that the policy successive Governments here and the EU will eventually make a theme park out of the West of Ireland. There should now be a focus that family farms get priority and are preserved. If family farms are viable then the local shop and the local school and the local community will all survive.
It is my belief that agriculture must be one of the main pillars that we have to address in the revival of rural Ireland. If the Government does not take this matter seriously then we are looking at the further demise of rural areas. The age profile of farmers, incomes, and the mountain of rules and regulations being imposed on farmers must be addressed. Now is the time for the people in the west and their politicians in particular to stand up on this issue. The farming organisations who negotiated with the Government on the CAP deals also have a huge role to play and they must see the reality of what they have done throughout the years and put it right.