Adjournment Debate. - Sheep Subsidies.

Tuesday, 9 May 1978

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 306 No. 4

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Mr. Treacy: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  From that legendary day on which the lovely red haired woman won the ladies race to the top of Slievenamon and thereby secured the coveted title as the wife of Fionn Mac Cumhall down to the present day, farmers have been rearing sheep on famed Slievenamon. To many of them it is not merely a way of life, it is essentially a means of livelihood as well. To my knowledge these men are independent, industrious, self-reliant sheep farmers and are essentially people of honour and integrity. They seek nothing more than what they are entitled to, what they have possessed for the past number of years and what has been taken from them by this Government. My purpose in availing of the Adjournment debate is to seek redress from the Minister concerning the flagrant injustice which was done to certain sheep farmers in the Slievenamon mountain area by withholding from them grants under the EEC sheep headage payments scheme for the year 1977, grants which heretofore were paid to these farmers. They qualified for them for the past number of years, virtually since the scheme was introduced, and now their entitlement is being called into question. For the first time these farmers have been refused the appropriate highland grant despite the fact that there has been no change in circumstances in respect of the four farmers to whom I refer. They qualified for the maximum sheep subsidy grants under the Coalition Government and before that under the Fianna Fáil Government. They live in the very same homes and their sheep graze the same mountain area.

[643] Why has their entitlement to these grants been denied on this occasion? One can only assume that the reason the higher grant has not been paid was simply that it is an economy measure devised by the Minister and his Department. If that is the case it is a shabby trick. It is the gesture of a Government who are in dire financial straits, if not on the verge of bankruptcy, that they should seek to economise at the expense of these unfortunate mountain farmers. The Minister could not have picked a worse time to victimise these people by denying them the money they have been paid in the past because all of them have suffered heavy sheep losses due to the exceptionally severe winter. Many sheep farmers throughout the country are now losing lambs and sheep because many of the sheep are still weak and undernourished as a result of the sufferings they endured during the inclement weather. Sheep losses are high and lamb losses are high, therefore, instead of taking money from these unfortunate farmers by this shabby device the Minister and his Department should come to their rescue with additional money and assistance to compensate them for the losses incurred.

I have tabled a Dáil question on this subject and I hope that when it is dealt with by the Minister he will find it in his heart to be generous and will ascertain the extent of the sheep and lamb losses and will devise a scheme to compensate for them. The withdrawal of the maximum sheep subsidy grants on this occasion could not have come at a worse time and to the farmers in the Slievenamon area it is really adding insult to grievous injury. Before taking this ultimate step of raising the matter on the Adjournment I tried desperately to secure justice for the sheep farmers through the normal channels. I made strong representations to the Minister's Department and received no satisfactory reply. I raised the matter in the House by way of a Dáil question not once but twice and discussed the matter with the Minister and with his private secretary to no avail and that [644] is why we are discussing this matter here tonight.

Any right-thinking person will agree that a grievous injustice has been done in this instance. I express an ardent hope that the Minister of State, whom I respect as a man of integrity, has not come in here with a fixed file and a closed mind but that he is open to persuasion on the merits of this case. It is not just a question of money but a question of honour. The integrity of these men has been called into question by the refusal to pay the grants which they normally receive. If it was all right to pay the grant last year, why is it wrong this year? If it was all right to pay the higher rate of grant to these men virtually since the scheme commenced why is it called into question now? If these sheep farmers are not entitled to the higher sheep and lamb subsidies now, the clear implication is that they were not entitled to them all along and it is here that the Minister impugns the honour and integrity of these men.

Let the Minister and the Department tread warily here. There is a very high principle at stake. I contend and assert that the refusals to pay these grants in these four cases that I will outline will not stand up to investigation by any fair-minded man or any tribunal which the Minister may establish. I assert that the reasons given by the Minister in reply to me are not true and cannot be substantiated. The four farmers I speak for reside high up on the slopes of Slievenamon. Few if any reside higher up that mountain than they. I want the four farmers I represent to be identified to the Minister. They do not care to whom they are identified because their case is just, but rather than give full names and addresses I will refer to them by their initials. In relation to TF of Glenaskough, his house has been gauged to be 900 feet over sea level. When he stepped outside his back door, he stepped on to the wild, barren mountain of Slievenamon. He possesses grazing rights over 182 acres of that mountain. In case there is any doubt as to his right to graze there I shall quote the rates demand note which I am sure is on the Minister's file from South [645] Tipperary County Council, Account No. 03/0203, TF, Glenaskough, 182 acres 27 perches. Is it seriously suggested that the upper regions of Slievenamon are not designated a disadvantaged area and that his sheep are not maintained on the grazing of this acreage?

TF and his family have had a long tradition over many generations as sheep farmers. He has a wife and seven children. Having regard to the number of sheep and lambs he has he is entitled to a grant of approximately £230 under the EEC scheme of headage payments on mountain lambs and hogget ewes as heretofore. The Department are denying him that grant and applying instead the lowland grant which applies to hogget ewes only, excluding all lambs and he has been paid a grant of only £66. By a mean and shabby pretence he is robbed of about £164.

I next come to HL, another sheep farmer. He is old stock on the mountain and has been grazing this area for many years. He would be entitled to a grant of £1,600 approximately. Last year under this scheme, under the Coalition Government he got a grant of £1,400. This year under Fianna Fáil he is being offered a paltry £504. He has already sustained serious losses to sheep resulting from the snows and he is being deprived of his rightful amount of £1,096.

Similarly, JL of Brenermore who should qualify for a grant this year of approximately £570 has to make do with a grant of £135. He is being deprived of £435.

Again, there is MS of Brenermore, a neighbour living high up in the mountain, who normally qualified for the maximum grant. He anticipated a grant this year of £154 and received one of £33.

The latter three farmers do not possess grazing rights as such but they are seed, breed and generation of farmers who have been grazing this part of the mountain over a long period and during that long time their right to graze in this area has never been objected to by any tenant, farmer, or [646] landlord. It is a bit late in the day for an Irish Minister to object or to raise a question now on this matter. I have referred to the higher slopes of Slievenamon as allegedly not included in the disadvantaged areas scheme. If that is so that scheme is a farce and a fraud.

I want the Minister to right this wrong, which is a blot on the Department and on his own good name. It is a serious reflection on and an insult to the decent people I represent and must be rectified as quickly as possible. If the Minister feels that he cannot restore the full grants now, I appeal to him not to attempt to finalise this matter to-night. Let him defer it and cause an impartial investigation to be held. The wrong is so obvious and the damage so great that I would insist on an impartial investigation into the whole matter. I have no doubt the outcome would be that right, truth and justice on our side and on the side of the people I represent would prevail.

The Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Gibbons, met the people I represent and they put their case to him. He expressed himself as wholly on their side and expressed astonishment that a question should have been raised or that there was any doubt about their entitlement to the continuation of these grants. He assured them of their full support. If the Minister of State, Deputy Hussey, is in doubt about this matter I ask him to consult the Minister for Agriculture, if he has not already done so, because his views are vital as the Minister directly concerned. He has merely delegated powers to his junior Minister, Deputy Hussey. The irony, absurdity and hypocrisy of this situation are best illustrated and understood if I say that the type of grant I now seek for these sheep farmers is the very same type of grant paid to the same people in the very same circumstances by the same Minister, Deputy Gibbons, when he was Minister in the previous Fianna Fáil Government and continued by Deputy Clinton, the former Minister for Agriculture, and his Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy M.P. Murphy for the past four years.

[647] The House, the country and especially the men of Kickham's county and Slievenamon are entitled to have the truth of the whole matter as to why the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Gibbons has changed his mind, if he has done so.

I want the Minister, or the Minister in charge of agriculture, to say how he feels about this mean and petty act done in his name to the sheep farmers of Slievenamon. In particular, the views of Deputy Gibbons on this subject would be very illuminating and I ask his junior Minister to ensure that he is not pre-empted from giving that information to the House. I conclude by saying that if the Minister feels that the farmers of Slievenamon would be content with the sop he has given them and the treatment he has meted out to them, he has another guess coming. In the words of a certain well known lady, so far as they are concerned, it is not “bloody likely” that they will accept this from any Minister.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Hussey): Information on Thomas Hussey  Zoom on Thomas Hussey  First, I want to refute the allegations made by Deputy Treacy that the present Fianna Fáil Government are depriving those sheep farmers of their grants because the main cause of the delay in having this matter clarified is a new clause which was incorporated in the scheme on 1 June 1977 during the term of the last Coalition Government which required herd owners to declare the townland and district electorate division in which their sheep were substantially maintained. So, it is not true that the present Fianna Fáil Government are depriving those farmers of their grants because the new clause in the regulations was introduced by the Government of which Deputy Treacy was a supporter.

The seven flock owners in question have mountain grazing rights in the [648] district electoral division of Garrangiven, which is not designated as a disadvantaged area. Three of the seven also claimed to have mountain grazing rights in other district electoral divisions, Cloneen, Kilcash and Kiltinan which are only partially designated as disadvantaged. They have, however, been unable to furnish evidence of their stated rights in these areas. Consultations with the Land Commission have also failed to establish that any of these flockowners have grazing rights in the area.

The district electoral divisions concerned are located on the mountain of Slievenamon which reportedly is largely unfenced. Sheep put to graze on the mountains effectively have access to the whole of the upper reaches. It is proposed to have a general inspection of the area undertaken with a view to establishing once and for all to what extent the flockowners concerned have access to suitable mountain grazings for their sheep. I suggest that perhaps Deputy Treacy arrange with the individual flockowners concerned to submit to the Department an authenticated statement indicating, first, the period over which they have traditionally grazed their sheep on the mountains and, secondly, the particular areas of the mountain to which their sheep had access. If, as he claims these people have grazed their mountain traditionally unchallenged over a period of years they may well have legally established grazing rights for the areas of the mountain grazed by their sheep. I can assure the Deputy that if he submits this evidence to my Department there would be no delay in having the grants paid.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  Will the Minister allow some concession in relation to the Comeragh mountains if the owners submit the same type of evidence?

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 10 May 1978.

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