Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Farm Modernisation Scheme.

Wednesday, 29 June 1983

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 344 No. 4

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5.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  asked the Minister for Agriculture if all of the farm modernisation grant applications which were not processed prior to budget day will be considered for grant aid when the new scheme is introduced.

[750]Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Connaughton): Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  It is intended to introduce a revised system of grant aid under the farm modernisation scheme later in the year with the emphasis on basic livestock housing. It will be open to farmers whose applications have been affected by the recent modifications to the scheme to make application at that stage for any works they intend to carry out provided that the investment proposed is eligible for grant aid under the revised scheme.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Would the Minister accept that many farmers were forced to commence modernisation because they required buildings and particularly silage pits. They were approached because they had an overall plan to commence work on these. Those people should be considered. As I said yesterday, there are 400 in my county in financial difficulties as a result of this drastic action taken by the financial institutions.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  As I said yesterday, a condition of the scheme was that written approval had to be received and, as the Minister pointed out today in response to a previous question, certain problems have arisen and we are having an in-depth investigation of the situation.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Will the Minister consider those farmers who have begun to carry out works? In other words, will the scheme be retrospective or will farmers have to receive approval after it is introduced?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  They will have to have written approval for the new scheme.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Is the Minister aware that thousands of farmers are being left in the lurch and may be put out of business as a result of what is being done in this instance?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  As I have said several times here during the past few weeks, it has been a condition of the scheme [751] always that one had to have prior written approval. That is the only way in which there can be any type of organised building programme in the farm development section.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I will allow a final supplementary on this question.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  The Minister of State, who comes from a farming background, should be realistic. Will he not accept that in bringing about better conditions for farmers there should be retrospection in order to accommodate those farmers who work to an over-all plan? What the Government are doing in respect of this scheme is unfair. In view of the small amount of money involved, particularly in the west and in the north-west, would the Minister not consider making the scheme retrospective? What alternative has the Minister in mind? Is he thinking, for instance, of people in the west and in the north-west being able to avail of drainage grants within the terms of the programme for western development?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  That is a different question.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  It is one that does not suit the Minister.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  It is question that appears further down on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deasy: Information on Austin Deasy  Zoom on Austin Deasy  The Deputies on the other side are all at sea.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  There is a certain category of farmers who were involved in the farm modernisation scheme and who were perhaps half way through that development.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  They had completed the development.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  If they had completed it, they would have had to have written permission beforehand.

[752]Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  The work was done.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Deputy Byrne knows well that it has been a condition always that before this type of work is started on a farm there must be written approval. However, I am considering the situation in which farmers were caught half way through their building programme. We will be having a close look at problems arising from that situation.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Liam Anthony Naughten  Zoom on Liam Anthony Naughten  If in the case of a farmer who had almost completed the works, an officer from the Department having called and given verbal but not written approval will that farmer be included in the scheme?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  As I have said, this is the type of problem that I am looking at closely.

Mr. Leonard:  Is the Minister prepared to recognise the plans that were drawn up in conjunction with ACOT advisers so that the thousands of people who have commenced works on their farms will be given special consideration? If the Government act otherwise they will ruin confidence in any farm modernisation or development plan. Would the Minister not agree that it would be tragic that any farmer who was in the process of providing winter housing for cattle should be caught by the change?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I must reiterate that down through the years it has been a condition of the scheme that before one was entitled to grant aid, written approval had to be received from the farm development service. That is a sacrosanct rule and it is applied for obvious reasons.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  There was no question of the scheme being discontinued until the Minister decided to do so.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Are the Deputies suggesting that grants should be given to people who did not receive written approval?

[753](Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Order, please.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  Why, then, did the farm development officer bother to go out to these farms?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This sort of conduct is bringing the House into disrepute.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  Is the Minister aware that some farmers are being evicted because of not being able to pay their rates?

Mr. S. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  By his action, the Minister is bringing the farm development officers into disrepute.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  It is sheer nonsense to talk of farmers being evicted.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Again, I am calling on Deputies to be orderly.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  In cases where the farm development officer called to farms, I am having a close look at the situation and at the allied problems that have arisen as a result of written approval not having been given.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael J. Noonan  Zoom on Michael J. Noonan  (Limerick West): Is that a commitment?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I am looking at the problem.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  We are moving very slowly through questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Chair has been trying to advise Deputies to allow Question Time to proceed.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  In view of the fact that the termination date is 30 June, where it can be shown conclusively that as a result of circumstances outside the control of the applicant, the works could not have been [754] completed, will the Minister grant extensions?

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  That relates to Question No. 9 on the Order Paper.

Mr. Kenny: Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  But it may not be reached.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I am calling Question No. 6.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  On a point of order, I have not had an answer to a supplementary to my own question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is not a point of order.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  In relation to the western programme, would the Minister be prepared to waive the condition in relation to the 55-years age limit?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I am ahead of the Deputy on that, having taken a decision in that regard a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  What age must one be now to qualify under this programme?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The age has not been changed. I changed the scheme so as to relate it directly to the farm modernisation scheme and to ensure that a farmer who is over 55 but who has a son or daughter on the farm will be entitled to participate in the western scheme.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher  Has the Minister waived the age limit?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I would not be so irresponsible as to do so and I am surprised that the Deputy should suggest that the age limit be waived having regard to the whole problem of farm inheritance. I cannot think of any scheme in respect of which there is no age limit. I have brought the western package into line with what was the situation under the farm modernisation scheme. The Deputy's party were in office long enough without doing anything about this.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Even if Deputies [755] insist on confining Question Time to merely a few questions, I suggest that they do so in an orderly way. I am calling Deputy Treacy.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Arising out of the Minister's original reply can he assure the House that standard general farm developments that up to now were grant-aided under the farm modernisation scheme will continue to be grant-aided in any future or amended scheme so as to ensure that productivity levels on all farms will be up to general standards?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  That is a very general question.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  It is a very simple question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This is a general debate. Can we move on now to the next question?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The new range of grants that will be brought in in the late autumn has to be decided exactly and before that is accepted by the Department I cannot say what that will be. The review is on at the moment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I would like to point out to Deputies that Question Time is for the benefit of Members and, if they think this is the best use they can make of it, that is a matter for them.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  Is the Minister aware that many farmers had budgeted under the impression that the grants would be paid and some are now under threat of eviction by the banks? These farmers have not been made aware whether approvals have been granted and the banks are also unaware of this and during the shortfall they are putting in the boot. Would the Minister have a sympathetic look at the position of those farmers?

6.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael J. Noonan  Zoom on Michael J. Noonan  (Limerick West) asked the Minister for Agriculture if farmers who lease land qualify for grants under the farm modernisation scheme.

[756]Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Farmers who take land on lease for a period of not less than 12 years are eligible for grant aid under the farm modernisation scheme.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael J. Noonan  Zoom on Michael J. Noonan  (Limerick-West): Do I take it from the Minister's reply that the farmers will, when the modernisation scheme is reintroduced, qualify in the same way as if they were the owners of the farms?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Yes. The general intention is that under the new grant structure farmers—perhaps tenants would be a more appropriate term—on a 12-year lease will be eligible.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael J. Noonan  Zoom on Michael J. Noonan  (Limerick-West): Will be eligible as if they were owners?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Yes, but we have to accept that the new legislation will be implemented in the autumn.

Mr. Noonan: Information on Michael J. Noonan  Zoom on Michael J. Noonan  (Limerick-West): That is the land leasing. Farmers who lease land will be included?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  It is the 12-year lease and, so far as I can see, a tenant would in fact be eligible for grant aid under the scheme.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  Arising out of the Minister's reply, does that mean a landless person who leases a farm now on a 12-year lease will qualify?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Yes. That will be the case under the reconstituted scheme.

7.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Agriculture the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork was not paid a grant under the farm modernisation scheme; and if this was due to procedural weaknesses in the farm modernisation scheme because of the extreme amount of paper work and the time lost in ACOT and FDS corresponding with each other.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  It is a condition under the farm modernisation scheme [757] that a project to be grant-aided must form part of a farm plan. As the item in question was not on the farm plan at the time of purchase and in addition was purchased without the prior written approval of the farm development service, it is not eligible for grant aid.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  The necessary documentation was lodged in the office in Cork on 21 May and the return did not arrive in Fermoy until 4 June. I cannot understand why there was such a delay and why this man should be victimised to the extent of losing a substantial grant. He is a very valid contractor in my area and I am asking the Minister would he at this stage have a thorough investigation carried out? There may be others in a similar position.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I shall be delighted to carry out an investigation but from the information I have it would appear this man did not actually make application in the normal way.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  That is not correct. He made application and the documentation was lodged on 21 May 1981 in the office in Cork—and the documentation necessary to qualify did not arrive at the FDS office in Fermoy until 4 June.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  For the Deputy's information the item in question was purchased on 1 May 1981 and an invoice which was not marked paid—it is important that it should be—was received by the farm development service in the Fermoy office on 7 September 1981.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  I can only tell the Minister what I have.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  And I have told the Deputy what I have.

8.

Mr. E. O'Keeffe: Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will make the study of the effectiveness of the farm modernisation scheme as compiled by his Department available to the Dáil.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The current examination [758] of the farm modernisation scheme, which is being carried out by the staff concerned in my Department as part of their on-going work is not intended to result in a report for publication. Details of the revised system of aid will of course be published in due course.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Is the Minister telling us silage enterprises will not be grant-aided, milking parlours will not be grant-aided, mobile equipment will not be grant-aided, fencing, et cetra will not be grant-aided, under the revised scheme?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is a separate question.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I said and I repeat that all aspects of the farm modernisation scheme are being looked at at the moment.

Mr. O'Keeffe:  Is the Minister saying all these will be grant-aided?

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Will the Minister make the report available?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  No.

Mr. N. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Are the farming organisations being informed of the investigation and will the outcome be made available to them? Will they be treated differently from the Members of this House?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Not at all, I am in constant touch with them as they are with me on all aspects relating to farming and farming building.

9.

Mr. J. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will extend the 30 June deadline for the completion of farm buildings under the farm modernisation scheme, in view of the exceptionally bad weather up to mid-June this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I have been considering this matter and I hope to make an announcement about it shortly.

[759]Mr. J. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  Would the Minister agree a decision should be taken shortly because the time limit under the western drainage package is 30 September? I cannot see why there should be a delay, particularly remembering the number of applicants involved.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I sympathise with the Deputy's concern. It is a concern I share. I shall do everything possible on this score. I think tomorrow is the deadline for these works and I should like to point out to the House that a fair amount of leeway has been given. Some farmers have had approvals for two and two-and-a-half years and it is very difficult to have a structured type of grant system of payment unless one is sure of what is actually being done inside a relatively short time. I take the Deputy's point and because the year was such a bad one it is important we should have a sympathetic look at this.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  Could I ask the Minister, if there is to be an extension, that it should run to 1 September in line with the other grants that have been extended? I would like to add to what he has said about the two-and-a-half years. Because of the bad financial running of the country by the previous administration, some of the people involved were not able to take advantage of the scheme.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  A Deputy may not make a speech.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  Would the Minister not make an announcement today that he will delay this until 30 September? This is very important because, as the Minister knows, farmers are very busy at this time of the year and cannot devote themselves to other business.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  I shall give sympathetic consideration to it and I shall do everything I can to facilitate farmers.

Mr. H. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  Will the Minister make the announcement?

[760]Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  No.

Mr. F. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  When will we have results from all the “negotiating”, “looking closely”, “examining” and so on which was the reply to every question asked today? When will we see action?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Deputies have asked the same question at least ten times so I am giving the answer at least ten times.

Mr. F. Fahey: Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Answer the question.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  At the end of the autumn.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  Does the Minister agree with the Taoiseach's statement about the condition of the farming community?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Of course I agree with the Taoiseach. He is the first Taoiseach who said it for a long time.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  I should like the Minister to answer my question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  It is a separate question.

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  The Minister referred to it and said he did not agree with the Taoiseach.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Of course I agree with the Taoiseach.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. S. Byrne: Information on Seán Byrne  Zoom on Seán Byrne  Does the Minister agree with the Taoiseach?

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Of course I agree with him.


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