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Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Eligibility

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 775 No. 3

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Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Eligibility

 52. Deputy Michael Moynihan Information on Michael Moynihan Zoom on Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the timeline for the receipt of applications in respect of derogation in stocking density under the disadvantaged areas scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40425/12]

 54. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the date on which payments will be made under the disadvantaged areas scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40427/12]

 61. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the expected savings from changes to the stocking density ratio in the disadvantaged area scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40419/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I propose to take Questions Nos. 52, 54 and 61 together.

The budgeted expenditure under the 2012 disadvantaged areas scheme, DAS, was reduced from €220 million to €190 million. To make the necessary savings it was proposed to make technical adjustments to the scheme criteria to ensure the aid payment is focused on farmers whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in disadvantaged areas scheme areas and are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the scheme. These are defined in the governing European Union legislation as follows - to ensure continued agricultural land use and thereby contribute to the maintenance of a viable rural community; to maintain the countryside; to maintain and promote sustainable farming systems which, in particular, take account of environmental protection measures.

It was decided that real efforts should be made to focus the scheme on those farmers who are most actively contributing to achieving the aims of the scheme, namely, ensuring continued agricultural land use thereby contributing to the maintenance of viable rural communities, maintaining the countryside and maintaining and promoting sustainable farming systems which take account of environmental protection measures. As the disadvantaged areas scheme is co-funded as part of the rural development plan, the approval of the European Commission was required. Following protracted discussions, the necessary approval was granted last August.

Payments will start issuing tomorrow, on schedule. These payments are worth in the region of €150 million to 70,000 farmers and payment runs will continue on an ongoing basis, with individual cases being paid as their eligibility is confirmed.

In terms of savings for 2012, it is too early to give precise figures. Given the approach taken in adjusting the terms and conditions of the 2012 scheme, with the changes designed to better focus the scheme on the more active farmers, namely, those who are contributing most to achieving the aims of the scheme, and the options of six possible forms of derogation, it remains to be seen what will be the precise outcome for the scheme in 2012 in terms of savings. The need for applicants to maintain a minimum of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare for six consecutive months, while also achieving an annual stocking average of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare, means that some applicants will not become eligible until later in the year. Furthermore, farmers who met the 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare in 2011 or will receive a derogation may have decided not to buy the required stock this year for whatever reason. However, while those farmers who have yet to satisfy the average stocking density of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare for the year have the remaining months of the year to do so, such cases can only be cleared for payment once this requirement has been confirmed. Therefore, we must wait until closer to the end of this year to quantify savings.

Last year, we could have taken the option taken by the previous Government, namely, reduce the payment per hectare to all farmers or reduce the number of hectare for which farmers could apply for a payment. However, we decided not to take that approach and opted for a more intelligent approach. We have been successful in maintaining full payment in disadvantaged areas for farmers who farm all year round, even where they have low stocking rates. We introduced new criteria last year with a view to removing from the system farmers who while farming in, for example, County Kildare, were taking land in, for example, County Sligo to enable them to draw down payments. We reduced payments to farmers with land both inside and outside disadvantaged areas on a ratio that was in accordance with the amount of land they hand in disadvantaged areas. We also changed the stocking rate following consultations with farming organisations on what would be the appropriate stocking rate. We wished to keep the rate as low as possible while ensuring it was also reasonable. We also discussed for how many months in one year farmers would be required to have stock to qualify as being actively involved in farming rather than having flocks of sheep being passed from one farmer to another for the minimum period required to qualify for a disadvantaged area payment, namely, three months. That practice is a luxury we can no longer afford. We wish to focus the limited funding available to us on farmers who are actively farming. If some farmers were caught out unfairly by the change in criteria last year, they have access to a generous derogation system. I understand more than half of those who are seeking a derogation have been granted one. If a person is not satisfied with a decision not to grant him or her a derogation, he or she can avail of an independent appeals mechanism. If anything, we will not make the savings we were hoping to make in the disadvantaged areas scheme.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Exactly.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We will make savings, although we may not achieve the target of €30 million. If we do not achieve this target, we will have to examine the issue in the context of the budget.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív As the Minister is aware, no one objects to the change in the criteria as they apply to farmers from outside disadvantaged areas who are in receipt of payments under the disadvantaged areas payment scheme and vice versa. Having submitted a freedom of information request to the Department, I understand the savings achieved in that element of the scheme are tiny.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney They all add up.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The major saving will be achieved from the change in stocking rates. How many letters issued to farmers on stocking density and how many of them responded by applying for a derogation? When will a decision be made on the preliminary round of applications for derogations? Many farmers need the money provided under the scheme. As a result of the Minister's actions, they will have to wait an inordinate length of time for their cheques.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I have pointed out about three times that people will not have to wait an inordinate length of time for their cheques. Many of those who qualify for a derogation will receive cheques this week. It would be helpful if the Deputy were to at least accept the facts as I outline them.

  On the derogation, almost 9,500-----

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Is it the case that those who will receive a cheque this week were not informed of that in writing?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister has the floor.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney They have applied for a derogation and if they qualify, they will receive a payment.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív They will receive the payment without being informed that their appeal was successful.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Yes, if that is the case. I will provide the figures. Almost 9,500 applications were received, of which decisions have been made on-----

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív On the basis of how many letters?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Some 9,500 farmers applied for a derogation.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív How many letters were issued indicating to farmers that they did not meet the stocking density requirements?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I do not have a precise figure on that.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I believe it is 10,000.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Given that 9,500 people sought a derogation, that figure appears to be reasonably accurate. What is the Deputy's point?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív My point is that the vast majority of the people in question were not in the categories ascribed to them.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney A fundamental misunderstanding has arisen and it needs to be clarified because Deputy Ó Cuív is either deliberately trying not to understand the position or has not read the rules. Those who apply for a disadvantaged areas scheme payment do not automatically qualify for payment. Applications are usually rejected because the applicant did not meet the stocking rate requirements for last year. Farmers who apply for a derogation are effectively asking me to make an exception for them. The reasons vary and include that they are full-time farmers or had good reason to have a low stocking rate last year, for example, owing to a death in the family, the farm being handed over to a son or daughter or they have particularly poor or stony land which prevents them from meeting the stocking rate requirement. They are seeking a derogation because they did not qualify for a payment. We have made decisions on approximately 4,000 of the 9,500 applications received for a derogation, while a further 950 applicants have been requested to furnish additional documentation because the Department requires greater clarity. Work continues apace on processing the balance of the cases. All applicants are being advised, in writing, of the success or otherwise of their applications and unsuccessful applicants are being afforded the opportunity of appeal to the DAS derogation appeals committee.


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