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 Header Item Agriculture Scheme Eligibility (Continued)
 Header Item School Accommodation

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 844 No. 3

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes] GLAS is an environmental scheme and all measures proposed under the scheme must make a clear contribution towards better environmental management of agricultural land. As I have already explained, a two-tier system is being put in place to guarantee commonage owners prioritised access to GLAS: Top priority will be given to those who can achieve 80% or more participation in the collective, but if a minimum of just 50% participation can be secured, that will guarantee second-tier access to the scheme. I hope that clarifies the position for Deputy McConalogue. I believe this concession, which was introduced last month, will significantly ease the burden of securing agreements, while at the same time providing a critical mass for management of the commonage, which can be expanded upon in future years.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue Unfortunately, the reply does not address a couple of the key concerns I put to the Minister, which farmers raised this morning. They felt they had to come to Dublin to protest. I outlined that the average beef farm income is €15,000 and the average sheep farm income is €11,000. By and large, farmers with commonage attached have small incomes. The key point I made to the Minister is that under REPS and previous schemes, which were much more financially viable for farmers, only 24% of farms with commonage signed up to them. What is required for farms with commonage is that at least half of the farmers involved in the commonage must sign up to GLAS at the same time in order for anyone to be able to participate. Given the history of such schemes that simply will not be possible. The Minister is blocking one tenth of farms across the country from participating in GLAS. A higher proportion of farms in Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Connemara and Kerry in particular will be affected. The farmers will be blocked from participation in a valuable scheme. Unless the Department changes its approach it will defeat the entire purpose behind the scheme. Under previous environmental schemes an individual farmer could apply and did not need 50% of farmers using commonage land to sign up at the same time. Individual farmers could introduce environmentally friendly measures on their farms and on the commonage areas. What will be achieved is blocking any farm with commonage attached from participation in the scheme. Even farms that no longer use the commonage will not be able to apply because they cannot meet the terms of the scheme. The Minister must rethink the scheme and listen to what was said by the farmers who came to Dublin to make their views heard and to get the attention of the Ministers in the Department. Unless the Department completely changes its approach it will cut out one tenth of the lowest income farm families in the country from a very important scheme, which would be instrumental in allowing them to continue in farming.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I wish to be helpful on the matter. I assure Deputy McConalogue that we are open to hearing suggestions on the scheme. Last night at 8 p.m. we met the farmers who were protesting. In the next two weeks we will meet the IFA to discuss the matter. We have agreed on a course of action. The programme has not yet gone to Brussels but when it does it must be acceptable in order to qualify for grant aid. Most of the money for the scheme will come from Europe. We should not send out the message that the scheme is an income-based one. The scheme is an environmental one and it will not be accepted unless we can prove the measures it contains will help the environment.

One cannot compare it with the previous REP scheme to which anyone could sign up. It involved a more simplified approach but we are living in tighter economic times and we must justify the money that is being spent. Deputy McConalogue did not mention the 80% and 50% options. The planner who is required for scheme applications can bring together those who own the commonage. There is a way around the problem from an environmental point of view. We are open for consultation. We will meet the IFA. I will facilitate anyone who wishes to discuss the matter but one must remember that the bottom line is that it is an environmental scheme and it is wrong to send out the message that it is an income-related scheme. It might be treated in that way by some when they are lobbying, which is fair enough, but the reality is that when the plan goes to Brussels it must stand up from an environmental perspective. The measures it contains must be viable for the scheme to be successful. If the scheme is rejected money will not be sanctioned. I hope that clarifies the position. We are open to talk to people in general and to the farming organisations.

School Accommodation

Deputy John O'Mahony: Information on John O'Mahony Zoom on John O'Mahony I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this urgent matter as a Topical Issue debate. I understand the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, is abroad on Government business. Accordingly, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, for responding to the issue.

It relates to Gort Sceiche national school, Annefield, Hollymount, County Mayo, which has applied for additional accommodation because of a big increase in numbers from 26 at present to 44 in September this year, to 53 in September 2015 and it is expected that numbers will grow to 57 in 2017. The junior room pupils will increase from 19 to 26 in September this year and up to 34 in September 2017.

The reason for the sudden increase in numbers is twofold. First, it is an excellent school with the highest standards achieved by staff and pupils both in educational areas and extra-curricular activities. As well as the increasing numbers in recent years it has now emerged that another small school in the locality is closing at the end of June and nine pupils from the school have enrolled in Gort Sceiche national school for September 2014. In addition to the existing increased demographic trend, the situation has been accelerated further because of the closure of the adjoining school which means there is a critical need for additional accommodation.

In its letter outlining the reason for the rejection of the original application, the Department stated, "I wish to advise you that the main focus of the Department is to provide essential classrooms in areas of demographic growth". That is exactly the situation in this case because the school is an excellent one and another factor is the closure of an adjoining school.

The problem comes more into focus when one takes the rapid increase from 19 to 34 in numbers of junior pupils. That would entail 34 students fitting into a 49 sq. m classroom when 80 sq. m is the Department's current accepted standard size for a classroom. I urge the Minister to consider the application again in light of the facts I have outlined.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I thank Deputy O'Mahony for raising this very important issue. I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Quinn, who is on official business in Brussels. It gives me the opportunity to remind the House of the significant challenges facing us in terms of meeting increasing demand for pupil places throughout the country in the coming years and the opportunity to clarify the position in relation to the application for additional accommodation in respect of Gort Sceiche national school, Hollymount, County Mayo.

The Deputy will be aware of the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. Primary enrolments, which have already risen substantially in recent years, are projected to rise by approximately 70,000 pupils by 2019 and post-primary pupils are expected to rise by more than 35,000 pupils over the same period.

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