Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Crawford: I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House. In reply to my question last Thursday about those who were not paid, the Minster for Agriculture and Food ignored the problem and spoke about those who have been  paid. He ignored the fact that people who in his Department's words “have done no wrong” are not being paid solely because they were picked out at random for inspection by the computer. One example is a young family who were inspected early in August. They were advised that everything was in order and payment was being processed. The farmer phoned the local office to find out how long the process would take. He also phoned Castlebar to find out when the cheque would be paid. He wanted it for his bank manager, amongst other things. He found out with difficulty that there is a dispute. I applaud the fact that the Department was trying to integrate the system, but they obviously did it without consulting the staff. Someone was taken out for inspection and for no other reason they are not being paid the 80% which others are paid. The reason for the 80% payment was to compensate farmers in some way for the horrendous weather conditions this year. The EU fund was under spent but there was no effort to obtain specific additional funding. The fund was paid quickly.
The Minister spent last Thursday telling of the great job being done for the 83%. There is no point in the Ceann Comhairle or the staff of the House telling the individual who did not receive his cheque at the end of the month that all others were paid. Bank managers, family or business advisers only want to know whether there is a cheque. It is bad enough if someone makes a mistake and a cheque is held up, but there is no mistake in this case. Applicants were told that because a piece of paper cannot be transferred from one place to another in August they are not being paid and cannot be told when they will be paid.
This is the most serious issue of all and I do not blame the Minister of State for it. I walked across the House because I like to do things quietly but when I mentioned it to the Minister for Agriculture and Food he seemed to be unaware of it or did not care about it. That is the reason I put this matter down tonight. I feel for the young family concerned. They have come through a traumatic situation as a result of being encouraged into deer farming by the same Minister. They lost their shirt and now they have not been paid. This is just an example. I hope that the Minister of State will not reply tonight with the same sort of crap, to be blunt about it, as the Minister did last Thursday, describing all of the good things. I want an answer and I want it now. When will this farmer and the many other like him be paid? According to the figures produced by the Department of Agriculture and Food there are 11,000 farmers who have not been paid and we are now approaching Christmas.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Aylward): I thank Deputy Crawford for raising this matter. I hope the Deputy does not refer to this as “crap”– the farmers who received the cheques would not regard them as “crap”.
Mr. Aylward: Under the 2002 suckler cow premium scheme 54,325 farmers, representing 85% of applicants, have received their 80% advance payments. This amounts to €155.3 million and compares very favourably with the position this time last year when 58% of applicants had been paid €79.3 million. The vast majority of unpaid cases are under query for one reason or another and cases are being cleared on a daily basis. Over 1,300 cases which were selected for inspection since 16 October 2002 have been paid their advance payment. Less than 1,000 cases which were selected for inspection prior to 16 October 2002 have not been inputted for payment following inspection because of a disagreement between my Department and the staff union involved on matters relating to the inputting of inspection results generally. It was expected that this matter would have been fully resolved by now but, unfortunately, that is not the case. My Department is actively engaged in efforts to solve the problem with a view to having the relatively small number of outstanding cases finally processed for payment. Meetings took place yesterday and today and will take place tomorrow morning to try to resolve the difficulty.
The general position with regard to payments is that in the period since 1 January 2002 to date almost €1.2 billion has been paid to farmers under the various premium and compensatory allowance schemes, of which some €706 million relates to payments made under the 2002 schemes. The corresponding amount paid at this time last year under the 2001 schemes was €453 million. Normally, advance payment of 60% of bovine premia may commence on 16 October and full payment of arable aid entitlement may be made from 16 November. Ewe premium can be paid in full from 16 October. This year the Department secured EU approval to have the advance payment under the bovine schemes increased to 80% and to make a 50% payment under the arable aid scheme on 16 October. These arrangements have resulted in the highest level of payment ever achieved at 16 October.
I fully appreciate the Deputy's concerns, particularly the hardship cases to which he referred. I have explained the reasons why payment has not commenced. My officials are making every effort to resolve this matter. Plans were made this evening to try to bring this to a conclusion tomorrow. The Department will ensure that the relatively small number of farmers who have not been paid will be paid as quickly as possible. I hope that will be very soon.
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