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Other Questions - Agri-Environmental Options Scheme

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 7.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  if he has finalised arrangements to the agri environmental options scheme 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7072/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney This question relates to the agri-environmental options scheme, AEOS, for this year. Rather than providing the Deputy with a long dissertation on the REPS and the AEOS, I will outline the facts as I see them.

At budget time I stated I would like to introduce a new AEOS but that it would be targeted at a specific group of farmers. I have repeatedly stated those who are farming in special areas of conservation, SACs, or in areas in which restrictions apply as a result of environmental considerations such as those relating to ecosystems which must, from the perspective of EU law, be protected should receive some recognition. We cannot afford to provide an AEOS for everyone who exited the REPS in the latter half of last year or who is due to exit it this year. I want to put in place a much more targeted AEOS which will not be as expensive and which will target Natura scheme areas and SACs in order that financial recognition will be provided for farmers who are restricted in what they can do in obtaining a commercial return from their farms. This will require the putting in place of additional mechanisms to evaluate whether the type of farming engaged in is sustainable and in sympathy with the environment. We will try to keep the scheme as simple as possible in order that it will be easy for farmers to implement and for us to monitor. As soon as I have details of the scheme, I will pass them on to Deputies.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I look forward to receiving the information to which the Minister refers. Regardless of the industry in which they are involved, farmers need to know what will be the level of their income in order that they can plan for the year ahead. The longer we leave those involved in the farming community without this knowledge, the more difficult it will be for them to prepare for the scheme. Is the Minister in a position to indicate when the proposals relating to the scheme will be ready?

[91]Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney My officials have been working on them this week and draft proposals may be ready as early as next week. However, that is not to state they will be agreed at that point. Let us be clear about the process which must be gone through. I will be obliged to obtain approval from the Department of Finance to introduce a new AEOS. That will not be straightforward because it is difficult to get that Department to agree to any proposals for new schemes that will cost the Exchequer money. In order to get the proposal through, I will be obliged to identify savings elsewhere. It must be remembered that, potentially, the ceiling on my Department’s expenditure for next year may lowered again. I suspect we will be considering opening a limited AEOS prior to the summer, with a view to the first payments being made early next year. The scheme will have to be contemplated within the framework of next year’s rather than this year’s budget.

The discussion on this matter is only in the preliminary stages. This is because I have not yet approved a proposed scheme and obtained approval from the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform to proceed with such a scheme. When I obtain that approval, I will be happy to bring details of the scheme to the attention of the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture or give them directly to the party spokespersons on agriculture.

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