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 Header Item Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Eligibility (Continued)
 Header Item Forestry Sector

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 775 No. 3

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney] This committee will be chaired by Padraig Gibbons who has kindly agreed to chair it and whom I am confident will have much credibility with farmers, particularly in the west. Deputy Ó Cuív cannot have every which way. He cannot say we have to make savings but then look for us to make a derogation for everyone. We need to make savings but we are also trying to be fair to farmers. What I have tried to avoid doing is what the Deputy did in a previous Government which was to take money off everybody in disadvantaged areas because it was the easiest option.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív This Government takes the money off the poorest on the most marginal land. The Minister's policy is to hit the guys on the hill and marginal land. He does not care about them because they just have poor land and in his numbers they do not stack up in production.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Where is the Deputy's evidence for that?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív From all the Minister's actions.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Deputy cannot back that claim up with facts.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Of the 4,000 decisions made, how many were in favour and how many were against derogation?

  If farmers appeal to the independent appeals committee, is it likely they will have to wait until 2013 for payment before the committee has finished its hearings?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney No.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine wrote to 10,000 farmers asking them to state whether they were in the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, or the rural environmental protection scheme, REPs. The Department which actually runs these schemes could not match its own files as to which farmers were in AEOS and REPs.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney What is the Deputy's point?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív The Minister is holding up the hill farmers and those on marginal lands. He has created a huge bureaucracy which has little purpose and that will save him for very little moneys.

The Department then asked farmers if their lands were designated as a special area of conservation, SAC, special protection area, SPA, or a natural heritage area, NHA. However, the Department has maps of every inch of every farmers' land, as well as maps of every SAC, SPA and NHA. With all this technology, why could the Department not match this up? If it had, it could have given the derogations a long time ago. Will the Minister explain why the Department asked farmers for this information?

Of the 4,000 decisions made on derogation, how many were favourable to the farmer? When can we expect the independent appeals committee to complete all of its work? Why do we have the farcical situation of the State writing to farmers for information on schemes of which it was the originator and holds on its own files?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney To be honest, the Deputy is trying to find fault where there is none.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív There is a fault.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Regarding the timing of this, it is a bit ridiculous to ask when will the appeals be finished when they actually have not come in yet. We must wait and see how many appeals come in before we decide.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív That is it – the farmers can wait.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney One cannot decide how long it will take to hear appeals until one knows with how many appeals one has to deal. Will the Deputy ask a rational question?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Mair, a chapaill, agus gheobhaidh tú féar. Ar chuala tú é sin riamh?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I understand that more than half of the cases of derogations have been successful but I can get the exact figure for the Deputy later.

  It is imminently sensible that if one is going to write to 10,000 farmers to outline the rules for qualification for the disadvantaged areas scheme, DAS, then one would use that opportunity also to check where they are farming, under what schemes, and so on.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Yet the Department knows that already.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I do not believe farmers have a significant problem with ticking a box as to whether they are farming in a commonage area if they are successfully getting a derogation. The Deputy is trying to create an issue where there is none.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I am not creating an issue because I am the one they come to when they have difficulties with the forms, particularly the older farmers. What they cannot understand is why the Department had to write to them when it already had the information. The Department knows from its area aid maps, which are satellite pictures and not maps in the conventional sense, exactly to the inch the eligible forage area of every farm in the country. All it had to do was superimpose those maps on the SAC, SPA, and NHA maps and then on the commonage framework maps. The Department also knows which farmers are in AEOS and REPS. Without even writing to the farmers, it could have gone through this information, granted the derogations and the farmers concerned could have got their cheques this week instead of having to wait due to the Minister's delays which hit the poorest, weakest and the vulnerable.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The whole point of doing this is so we are not hitting the poorest and the weakest. While the Deputy gets up on his soapbox, trying to create an impression that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is only interested in commercial farming, the facts do not bear it out. When one looks at the prioritisation measures under the AEOS, farmers in NHA areas, less-favoured areas, those coming out of REPS and using farm size as a basis have all been prioritised.

However, the Deputy would not even think to look at the detail. Instead, he is trying to paint a picture of a Minister who is only interested in commercial farming because he talks much about Food Harvest 2020, a significant policy. That is not the case. When one looks at how we put the budget together last year, one will see we have taken farmers out of the DAS who do not live in disadvantaged areas because they do not belong there.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív It is a minimum saving. We agree on that.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Deputy does not want to hear the facts.

We have focused our payments on small farmers in genuinely disadvantaged areas. It does not suit the Deputy's argument to look at the facts on what we have actually done and the choices we have had to make with the limited amount of money we have to spend. We have prioritised protecting the income of farmers in disadvantaged areas and, where appropriate, we have prioritised small farmers over larger farmers. We will continue to do this in disadvantaged areas.

Forestry Sector

 53. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney his plans to sell off the Coillte Teo forest crop; the progress made regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40408/12]

 55. Deputy John Browne Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the way he will ensure that the rural recreation aspect of the work of Coillte Teoranta will be protected in the event of the forest crop being sold to private interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40411/12]

 60. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the steps that have been taken to ensure the continued viability of the timber industry here in the event that the forest crop is sold to private interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40414/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I propose to take Questions Nos. 53, 55 and 60 together.

  The Deputy will get my official answer, so I will deal with what I suspect will be-----

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Why does the Minister not read it out like we used to do?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I would like to give the Deputy added value if I could.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív When I was Minister, the official answer was my answer not the civil servants' answer. If I thought there was something in it that should not be there, then I took it out.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt The Minister is in possession.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív Will the Minister give us his answer? Presumably, his answer is the answer that will be in the record.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Sorry, Deputy but we do not have much time.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Maybe the Deputy might try and put me under pressure with his questions rather than heckling.

The Government has made a decision to look at the possibility of selling harvesting rights for Coillte forests. This autumn we are in a process of working with NewERA and the company to see how we might best do that in a way that would not damage the broader timber and forestry industry. This has been done in other countries, most recently in New South Wales in Australia.

We are looking at ways of meeting a commitment to the troika to realise value from State assets that do not have to be strategically in State ownership. We have made it clear in the case of Coillte that we will not be selling any Coillte lands or the company. However, we are looking at changing the ownership structure of the forests on the company's lands. This is a little bit like selling a crop ahead of time except for forestry it will involve a 50 to 80 year period. We have been through a valuation process for the commercial forestry estate. To protect the public interest we need to ensure, for example, the supply contracts that many private sawmill operators have with Coillte can be protected. We need to ensure public access to State-owned forests remains intact.


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