Wednesday, 6 October 1993
Dáil Éireann Debate
The issue I want to raise is causing great concern to many farm families. In what has become a bureaucratically insane Common Agricultural Policy we now have a multiplicity of premium schemes to which people must have recourse for income. There are nine premium schemes in operation under which applications have either been made or are outstanding. In addition, we have the headage payments under the disadvantaged areas scheme and this year sees the commencement of the area aid scheme with its own plethora of systems and criteria, rules and regulations. It has reached the point where the IFA and FBD felt — rightly — that it was necessary to produce a guide to applicants for these various schemes. If one did not have such a guide one would need a computer programme, a special calendar and a diary to remind  one when to apply for these various aids forced on us by the bureaucracy of the Common Agricultural Policy.
All these payments assume a greater importance in the context of total farm income and, as CAP reform and the forthcoming GATT agreements are progressively put in place, these schemes will become even more important to the point where, in some farming systems and in some parts of the country, premium payments under these various schemes will account for almost the entire disposable income of a farm family. This means that prompt payment of these premia is a matter of the greatest importance for farmers and the record of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in this regard is extremely bad. The deficiencies under these schemes are widespread and I will give some examples.
There has been a delay so far of over four months in making payments of winter beef premium to 16,000 producers who are owed £14 million. Those people applied in May of this year for that premium. A sum of £82 million is due and still unpaid in headage payments under the disadvantaged areas scheme for 1993. There have been lengthy delays in payments under the special beef premium, the suckler cow premium and the ewe premium schemes and I would like to mention some of the cases where payments remain outstanding. They include the special beef premium scheme applied for in June 1992, the special beef premium scheme applications made in December 1992, the suckler cow premium scheme applications made in December 1992, the suckler cow premium scheme for small milk producers applications made in June 1992. Now, in October 1993, under those four schemes alone, there are substantial amounts of money outstanding on foot of applications made during the course of last year.
The situation is now so critical that the two organisations I mentioned a moment ago have drawn up a charter of farmers' rights and it is appalling that people have to campaign for prompt payment within  the calendar year of application and as soon as EC regulations permit.
I have been told that the payments under the area aid scheme cannot begin before 16 October, according to EC regulations. I have been told also that it is hoped to have “as many as possible paid by the end of November”. Judging from the record of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in this regard I predict that a substantial number of farm families will still be awaiting payment of these area aid premiums next Christmas. The Minister of State should listen to my predictions because I remember a previous occasion in this House I predicted to him that nobody would receive any payments under the review of the disadvantaged areas scheme before 1993. I was right; they do not have any hope of obtaining payments under that scheme until 1994.
I want the Minister to take this matter in hand. He has gone along with these crazy CAP reforms that have given us this multiplicity of premium schemes. He has gone along with the systems that have made the cheque in the post such an important part of farm income and he now has a responsibility to make this work. I call on the Minister now to make sure that all arrears are paid and all payments brought up to date by the end of November of this year at the very latest. If he does not do that he will be condemning a great many farm families around the country to the breadline this winter.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Hyland): I share the views expressed by Deputy Dukes concerning the importance of the speedy payment of all livestock and other grants owed to farmers but I do not accept his criticism in relation to the manner in which these schemes are administered in the Department.
Payments to farmers under the various livestock headage and premium schemes over the first nine months of 1993 amount to £200 million, a figure which represents an increase of some 25 per cent on the £161 million paid during the comparable  period in 1992, a year in which record payments were also achieved.
To date in 1993, over 70,000 farmers who applied for special beef and suckler cow premia in the November-December 1992 application period have been paid close to £36 million in aid. Over £68 million has been paid to flock owners on foot of the first and second instalments of the 1992 ewe premium. The remaining £96 million relates particularly to payments made in respect of June 1992 special beef and suckler cow premia, the final instalment of the 1992 ewe premium and various disadvantaged area headage grants.
In so far as the 1993 beef and suckler cow premium schemes are concerned, the EC regulations preclude any payment before 1 November. After that date an advance equal to 60 per cent of the premia can be paid subject to completion of the necessary administrative and on-the-spot checks. The intention is that payment of these advances along with disadvantaged areas headage grants will commence after 1 November. Payment of the deseasonalisation slaughter premium has now commenced and some 6,000 farmers should have received payment by the middle of the month. The remaining cases will be dealt with as quickly as possible.
The introduction of the CAP reforms has increased the importance of headage and premium payments in farmers' overall incomes. There has also been a considerable increase in the number of applications under the various measures and total applications are expected to exceed 600,000 in the case of 1993 livestock schemes alone. The comparable figure in 1992 was 420,000. In addition, area aid applications from farmers with livestock amount to 140,000. Many schemes are highly complex both from the farmers' point of view and in their administration. To meet the various additional demands, the administration of the special beef premium scheme has now been centralised in Portlaoise and some 80 additional staff are in place. Arrangements are being made to provide  additional resources in a number of local offices to deal with short term difficulties. Some other options are also being considered to facilitate speedier payments between now and the end of the year. The objective is to secure the maximum level of livestock premium payments for farmers in 1993.
Despite Deputy Dukes's criticism of the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers appreciate the value of the direct income support negotiated by this Government under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
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