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Written Answers - Departmental Schemes

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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 425.  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 number of farmers in County Offaly who will be affected by the announced reduction in the disadvantaged areas scheme; the number of farmers in County Offaly affected by reductions in the REP scheme; and the projected loss of income to the county as a result. [6278/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is widely recognised that the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is a very important one for this country, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland’s total land area. From an economic perspective, the Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of in excess of 100,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment and, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions. The Scheme, which is co-funded by the EU, is an integral part of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan, 2007/2013, and as such, any proposed change to Scheme criteria requires the agreement of the EU Commission. In this regard, therefore, the changes announced in the context of the recent Budget have been submitted to Brussels; the Commission’s response is expected shortly.

The budgeted expenditure under the 2012 Scheme will be reduced from €220 million to €190 million and, in order to achieve the €30 million saving in expenditure, it is proposed to introduce specified changes to the Scheme eligibility criteria for 2012. This will be achieved by making technical adjustments to the Scheme criteria to ensure that the aid payment is focused on farmers, whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in Less Favoured Areas and [512]who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme. It is not possible to give a county by county breakdown at this stage.

The savings will be achieved without the need to reduce the existing rates of aid and, in addition, there will also be no reduction in the maximum area payable — 34 hectares. The proposed changes are designed to ensure that the payments under the Scheme are focused on those farmers who (i) are farming exclusively in Disadvantaged Areas, (ii) make a significant contribution to the maintenance of a viable rural community and (iii) contribute to the enhancement of the environment.

With the intention of targeting those farmers who are farming exclusively in Disadvantaged Areas, it is proposed that digressive payments will apply for farmers whose holdings consist of land situated in both Disadvantaged Areas and non-Disadvantaged Areas.

I remain committed to supporting farmers who choose to farm to environmentally friendly practices and to ensuring that these farmers are rewarded for their efforts. However, given the state of the public finances, I had no option but to announce a 10% cut in the rate of payment to existing REPS participants, including 717 farmers participating in REPS 4 in Co Offaly. The cut, which will apply to 2012 payments onwards is subject to the approval of the Commission. I am not yet in a position to indicate how the change will affect applicants on an individual basis or impact on the distribution of payments at county level.

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