Thursday, 18 April 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. S. Ryan: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity of raising this issue and I thank the Minister of State for coming in to respond. The scheme I refer to, unlike its predecessors, is fully funded by the Government and the taxpayer. Because of this it is imperative that this scheme, or indeed any scheme, is operated fairly and transparently.
Notwithstanding the replies to my parliamentary questions on this issue this afternoon, an injustice has been perpetrated on at least one applicant to this scheme. The applicant to whom I refer has operated a large scale family-run potato production business in Fingal for the past 15 years. In recent years the family has invested over £350,000 from its own savings and borrowings to upgrade facilities so that it can remain competitive and successful. The problem is that the family has no refrigerated storage facilities of its own, which puts it at a competitive disadvantage, especially as it is required to rent storage space from competitors who have received grand aid from the Department for investment in storage facilities and who do not produce anything like  the amount of potatoes produced by this company.
It has been accepted by departmental officials that in terms of production, packaging and marketing this successful company is at the top of the scale of professional growers in this country. The application to the Department for funding of over $10,000 was professionally prepared and submitted in full and on time. The Department and indeed the selection committee dealing with the applications had no questions or queries about the application. The same cannot be said of the other applicants – with one exception, all the applicants were required to provide additional detailed information. The exception was the applicant to whom I refer – one of the 25 had all the information in detail and the others did not. Four of the 25 applicants who received funding under this scheme had also received it under previous schemes. One of these had received €650,000 out of the €2.1 million available at that time.
At all stages this applicant met the main requirement of the scheme – he was applying for a grant towards the provision of storage facilities. There has to be a mistake here. The scheme was directed at the construction of new storage facilities and the installation of storage-related equipment. This application is tailor-made for the scheme and meets all its criteria. I would like the Minister to explain why a scheme operated within his Department seems to reward the same people with grant aid time and again. As I mentioned here this afternoon, four applicants received money in the past for the facilities the scheme is there to provide, but other producers do not seem to get a look-in. A grave injustice has been perpetrated in this case. I ask the Minister to see that this person's application is reviewed. If the applicant cannot provide these important storage facilities in the future he will possibly lose his house.
In the context of the information made available this afternoon, other questions must be asked. I am asking for nothing but equal treatment for all applicants. I am convinced that this efficient, hardworking farmer has been unjustly treated and the consequences of this will be serious for the family involved. As a Dáil Deputy, if I did not highlight this case on the floor of the House I would be neglecting my responsibility. I am not prepared to turn a blind eye to injustice. I ask the Minister, who is known to be compassionate, to review the case of this applicant and see whether he can be accommodated. He deserves to be because of what he is producing.
Mr. Davern: This matter relates to the recent allocation of funding made under the capital grant scheme operated by my Department for the marketing and processing of agricultural products. This particular scheme applies to projects at or near farm level in the horticulture, potato, eggs, grain and livestock marketing and processing sectors. My Department is responsible for  that part of this measure which does not fall within the remit of the development agencies or alternatively is not covered by the Department's on-farm schemes.
The amount available for disbursement by my Department for the potato sector in the recent call for proposals was €2.1 million and the amount committed to date is €1.796 million. Eligibility alone does not confer an entitlement to grant aid and all applications are required to undergo a competitive assessment and selection process. Of course, all projects must also comply fully with the provision of the EU guidelines for state aid in the agriculture sector and certain other conditions. To attract funding, projects must comply with certain provisions and must demonstrate financial viability.
A total of 28 applications were received from the potato sector, all of which were evaluated by reference to viability, target markets, their sectoral and regional impacts, particularly at primary producer level, and the extent to which they would improve the saleability of the primary product. Two of the applications were found to be ineligible while a third was subsequently withdrawn, leaving a total of 25 to be considered. Between them, the 25 applications in the potato sector had a grant aid requirement of almost €10 million while the funding available amounted to €2.1 million. Following the assessment process, six projects involving grant aid of €1.796 million were recommended and approved by my Department. The unallocated balance of approximately €308,000 will be allocated shortly.
The funding allocated to the potato sector will allow it to continue to grow and improve its facilities. This sector also attracted significant levels of grant aid under the FEOGA marketing and processing schemes in the two previous funding rounds covering the periods 1989-99. A total of €21.08 million in national and FEOGA funds was paid out in respect of 70 projects. The FEOGA grants paid to the sector represents 7.63% of grants paid across all sectors under the two funding rounds.
In addition to awards under the FEOGA funded schemes, funding was also provided to the sector under the on-farm investment schemes. Over €8.89 million was paid out in respect of 450 projects under two funding rounds covering the periods 1991-93 and 1994-99. Under the regional operational programmes of the NDP 2000-06, a total allocation of €5.5 million is available for the scheme of investment aid for the potato sector. Under this scheme, only projects involving total eligible costs in excess of €10,000 and less than €150,000 are considered.
I appreciate that there are disappointed clients. I can only reiterate that my Department made its selections in a fair and equitable manner. The funding available necessarily restricted the number of projects selected. There will be further calls for proposals over the lifetime of the NDP with the next call due in 2003.
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