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Written Answers - Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 24.  Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  the steps he is taking to support agricultural development in less favoured areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7008/12]

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 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 who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme.

Faced with the task of achieving significant savings in the annual budget for the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, I chose to take the opportunity to make the Scheme more targeted, rather than simply apply an across the board cuts to all participants. By focusing the proposed changes 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, these savings will be achieved without the need to reduce the existing rates of aid. Furthermore, there will also be no reduction in the maximum area payable — 34 hectares.

I am, however, particularly mindful that any proposed changes in scheme qualifying criteria, regardless of how focused and targeted their aim, will result in anomalies, because of which I have already indicated that specific provision will be made for those farmers, as described by the Deputy, who may find that their stocking rates are less than now required. Specifically, I have directed that a formal procedure be put in place to cater for all who consider that their inability to meet the proposed revised scheme requirements is due to force majeure/exceptional circumstances. Those affected will be invited to outline such details to my Department, each case then being considered on its merits. Again with specific regard to the proposed stocking provisions, where individuals can show that their inability to meet the revised requirements are due to their participation in a recognised environmental programme, for example, the necessary allowance will be made. Consideration will also be given to new entrants to farming.

I would again stress that, in proposing the changes in question, the intention is to better focus the Scheme, which is to the benefit of the majority of those farming in areas with recognised constraints, while at the same time attempting to cater for those genuinely prevented from achieving the revised minimums.

[108]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.

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