Wednesday, 29 June 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. P. 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.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. 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: 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: 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: 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: As I have said several times here during the past few weeks, it has been a condition of the scheme  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.
Mr. P. 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: 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: 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. 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: 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. 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. 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  completed, will the Minister grant extensions?
Mr. 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. 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.
Mr. N. 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: 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.
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?
Mr. 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. E. 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: It is a condition under the farm modernisation scheme  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. 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: 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. Connaughton: The current examination  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: 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?
Mr. J. 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. J. 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: 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: 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.
Mr. H. 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.
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