Wednesday, 29 June 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West), Mr. Kitt and Mr. H. Byrne asked the Minister for Agriculture if the scheme for western drainage will be extended; and if an extra area of land will be included for drainage.
Mr. Connaughton: The western drainage scheme, which came into operation on 1 January 1979, provided for field drainage of 100,000 hectares. Because of the very large number of applications received, it was extended to provide for an additional 50,000 hectares up to 31 December, 1986. A number of applications at present on hands cannot be catered for within the limit of 150,000 hectares and consideration is being given to how best they can be dealt with. An extension would, of course, involve the commitment of substantial additional resources from the Exchequer and would also require the approval of the EEC which meets 50 per cent of the cost.
Mr. Noonan: (Limerick West): Is the Minister aware that there is a backlog of about two years in dealing with applications? Is he further aware that an Exchequer injection into this scheme would repay itself one hundred fold?
Mr. Connaughton: Applications registered up to 30 September 1981 are the only ones that can be catered for at present. There are a few major problems involved. A survey was carried out in the last few months of 1982 to find out what kind of approvals were issued which had not been taken up. It appears there will be 9,000 applications under the 150,000 hectare level that cannot be dealt with. There is enough money in the Exchequer at present to keep the drainage programme going until the end of this year. After that it will be necessary to review it with a view to seeking aid from Europe.
Mr. Kitt: How much money have the Government made available under the western drainage scheme? If an application is not made for a further extension  of the acreage and for more money would we not be losing money from the EEC as we are under the farm modernisation and other schemes which are funded on a 50-50 basis by the EEC?
Mr. Connaughton: The initial application to Brussels for 100,000 hectares was regarded as a good scheme. In 1981 the Coalition had to go back for another 50,000 hectares. That is almost gone now. There is a lot of drainage work being carried out but until such time as we reach the limit we cannot go back to Brussels. I will look at the position at the end of the year.
Mr. J. O'Leary: Is the Minister aware of the grave dissatisfaction among farmers who submitted applications subsequent to June 1981? They are most anxious to have these grants allocated in view of the fact that the inspectorate staff are marking out schemes for farmers who do not intend to go ahead with them. Will he do what he can to see if applications from progressive farmers who want to go ahead with drainage schemes can be taken out of order?
Mr. Connaughton: That would be a dangerous precedent. Part of the Deputy's argument is quite valid. In recent times my Department asked farmers participating in this scheme to dig the main drain. This would indicate their willingness to go ahead immediately. This has stopped the taking up of approvals without using them and as such has been successful. Only 60 per cent of the schemes have been completed and paid for. The other 40 per cent has to come in yet.
Mr. Connaughton: This was mentioned before. There are many farmers who received grants under this scheme and who now want to do more work. One could argue that these people are more likely to complete the second phase but it would appear inappropriate to allow them to do so when there are people waiting on the list for the first time.
Mr. McCartin: Would the Minister agree that having spent money on the reclamation of land in the west of Ireland there is no extra lifestock on the land? Does the Minister agree that it might be desirable to consider incorporating the western drainage package into a comprehensive farm development plan which would take account of whether farmers are able to stock the land and whether they have utilised the land to the maximum possible in its present condition? Would the Minister not agree that we should consider whether the farming enterprise is deserving of that kind of investment?
Mr. Connaughton: That is a big subject. There is no doubt that it would be beneficial if we could prove conclusively that money spent by the State resulted in extra production on farms. It is difficult to get a combined scheme that would work on all fronts at the same time. While one can argue that the western drainage scheme has not resulted in more livestock on the farms, we are poised for a reasonable increase and part of that will be due to the drainage of the wet lands.
Mr. Connaughton: A recent survey has shown that applications received up to 30 September, 1981 can be accommodated within the ceiling of 150,000 hectares provided for in the western drainage scheme but it may not be possible to accommodate applications received after that date. Consideration is being given to how best to deal with such applications in the light of the present economic and budgetary position.
Mr. Leonard: Is the Minister aware that in my constituency there are 2,200 applications? These two counties have the best record of the 12 for the type of work carried out. I would agree with Deputy McCartin that they have made good use of the land in that county. The Minister indicated in reply to a previous question that the Coalition Government went to Brussels in 1981. Prior to the election in 1981, Fianna Fáil——
Mr. Connaughton: For obvious reasons, as I said in my previous reply, I have to wait until the scheme is taken up. I could not proceed otherwise to look for further aid. I have the matter under review. I sympathise with the problem in County Monaghan because it has been one of the better counties of uptake and because of that and because of the amount of land that has to be drained we could not have the entire programme concentrated in County Monaghan. The other counties must get attention as well. I would like to see some drainage done in Galway as well.
Mr. Leonard: If the Minister waits until it is all taken up it will take too long. Can the Minister not indicate to the EEC now that there would be sufficient applications  for the money that will be available? Can he not ask for further allocations on that basis?
Mr. Connaughton: As the Deputy is aware, there is a long time from the date of approval until the grant is taken up. Therefore there will be sufficient time after the end of the year to negotiate for any extra allocations we want.
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