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Adjournment Debate. - Scheme to Control Farmyard Pollution.

Wednesday, 8 May 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 465 No. 1

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Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh Zoom on Joe Walsh I wish to share my time with Deputy Ned O'Keeffe.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. J. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh Zoom on Joe Walsh This is a serious matter for farmers. The scale of the problem is highlighted in a letter from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Farm Development Service under the heading, "Scheme for the Control of Farm Pollution”. It states:

I am to refer to your approval for aid under the above Scheme and your notification of completion.

The works have now been inspected and are deemed to be satisfactorily completed. I am to advise you that in line with the Letter of Approval issued to you on 28/11/95 the claim will be processed for payment in early 1997.

It is unsatisfactory and unacceptable that a claim will not be processed until 1997, although a letter of approval was sent on 28 November 1995. This is a good scheme, although it is expensive for farmers. However, its costings have not kept in line with the cost of materials or inflation. It is two years since the costings were upgraded and this shows the Government's lack of credibility and integrity.

The Government states nationally and internationally that our food products are produced on Irish farms under the most hygienic conditions and there is quality control from the farm to the factory and to the consumer. How can the Government say that, while refusing [328] to pay farmers who upgrade their facilities, install the best equipment and build slatted floors and housing? These people are told that if they wait for two years, their applications will be processed for payment. If we want a chain of excellence from the farm to the consumer, then I ask the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Deenihan, to pay the farmers who have spent this money to improve their holdings.

Several months ago a charter of rights was published. Its implementation will cost tens of thousands of pounds and we were told there would be great improvements. This document does not have a shred of credibility now. The payment schedules listed show that the maximum time between lodgement of valid applications — that is, when works are completed — and payment under the control of farmyard pollution scheme was two months. How does two months compare with two years? This is a scandal.

I call on the Minister to ensure that farmers who have worked to improve the standard of their farms for the production of good Irish food are paid on time.

Mr. B. O'Keeffe: Information on Batt O'Keeffe Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe I am disappointed that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry has failed to come into the House this evening to answer this important Adjournment matter. I know the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, is a capable man and I admire him for his work in rural development. However, it is serious when the Minister abdicates his responsibility, because the buck stops with him.

There is a stop go policy about agriculture. This Government came like a thunderstorm and published a charter of rights for agriculture. The Minister recently borrowed a man from the farm centre to work for him. The control of farmyard pollution scheme is important. Jobs have been completed and inspected but farmers do not know when they will be paid. Many farmers borrowed heavily on the strength of [329] receiving the grant. They now have accumulated borrowings and are under pressure from bank managers because no money is coming forward. The people concerned deserve the grant.

County councils will put increased pressure on farmers as we approach the silage season. The forecast is for dry weather and usually during such a spell of weather there is heavy pollution of our streams and rivers. Farmers are, by and large, environmentally friendly; they do not like to interfere with nature but what can they do? They are not getting co-operation or leadership from the Department despite the ballyhoo about the charter of rights for farmers.

I appeal to the Minister of State to examine the matter and refer it to the Minister. He will probably have to talk to Proinsias De Rossa who appears to be the leader of the country and has a major influence on Fine Gael, a party that was supposed to represent farmers and agriculture. Deputy De Rossa runs the show and the money that rightly belongs to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the farming community is being transferred to other areas. This grant aid must be brought forward and, instead of cases being processed in 1997, they should be processed this year. The Department should also ensure that the moneys are paid to these deserving applicants.

There are many such farmers in north Kerry, the Minister of State's constituency. He is aware that the average farm in that area is quite small and the farmers cannot afford to be at the loss of such sums of money. There are enough pressures on families in this day and age without additional pressure from a bank manager.

The Minister should be in the House to present the bad news as well as the good news. He has become an image Minister.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan): Information on Jimmy Deenihan Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan I agree that the money was transferred to other schemes. However, [330] it was transferred before this Government came to power and followed the revision of funds under the first programme. As a consequence of the shrinking billions in the Cohesion Fund, this programme was underfunded.

The scheme for the control of farm pollution was launched in September 1994 and, due to the extremely high level of demand compared with the funding provided, it was necessary to suspend the acceptance of new applications on 27 April 1995. A precedent had been set by the previous Minister when he suspended the FIP scheme in December 1994. There was inadequate funding to meet commitments to applicants under the scheme on an annual basis. Since then, the agreement of the Government has been given to the provision of adequate funding to meet the demand from existing applicants.

In May 1995 new procedures were introduced which enabled my officials to process the outstanding applications while recognising the budgetary provisions inherited from the previous Government. To deal with the unapproved applications, approvals were issued on the basis that payment would be guaranteed but deferred until funds became available. This was made clear to all applicants. In these circumstances, approvals issued from that date were on the basis that payment would be made in 1997. To date, some 85 approvals representing a grant commitment of about £700,000 have been completed and lodged for payment. These people were glad to be given approval even if payments were deferred. The works concerned have been inspected and the claims are being lodged in order of receipt for payment in 1997. The applicants concerned who were advised of the process at the time of the approval are being informed again in writing of the procedure in respect of payment.

In September 1995 my Department introduced revised processing procedures to enable officials process outstanding applications. Under these procedures applicants are requested to forward drawings showing existing and [331] proposed buildings. Where appropriate, applicants are required to get planning permission or the consent of neighbours for the proposed developments. These must be submitted with the drawings. To facilitate dealing with these applicants in a fair and equitable manner they are asked to complete this exercise within six months. At this stage, all 18,500 applicants under the scheme have been contacted and the funding necessary to meet the claims will be provided over the period of the operational programme.

[332] Up to 3 May 1996, a total of £38 million was paid to some 4,700 applicants who completed work to the Department's specification. In addition, a further 75 claims, representing a grant commitment of £618,000, are being processed for payment. I expect these payments will issue in the coming weeks. There is no delay in the issue of payments in respect of claims where the approved works are completed.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 May 1996.

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