Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
161. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers that will face a reduction in their payments under the disadvantaged area scheme as a result of the changes announced in budget 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7111/12]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney): It is widely recognised that the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is a very important one for this country, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland’s total land area. From an economic perspective, the Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of in excess of 100,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment and, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions. The Scheme, which is co-funded by the EU, is an integral part of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan, 2007/2013, and as such, any proposed change to Scheme criteria requires the agreement of the EU Commission. In this regard, therefore, the changes announced in the context of the recent Budget have been submitted to Brussels; the Commission’s response is expected shortly.
The budgeted expenditure under the 2012 Scheme will be reduced from €220 million to €190 million and, in order to achieve the €30 million saving in expenditure, it is proposed to introduce specified changes to the Scheme eligibility criteria for 2012. This will be achieved by making technical adjustments to the Scheme criteria to ensure that the aid payment is focused on farmers, whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in Less Favoured Areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme.
The savings will be achieved without the need to reduce the existing rates of aid and, in addition, there will also be no reduction in the maximum area payable — 34 hectares. The proposed changes are designed to ensure that the payments under the Scheme are focused on those farmers who (i) are farming exclusively in Disadvantaged Areas, (ii) make a significant contribution to the maintenance of a viable rural community and (iii) contribute to the enhancement of the environment.
In view of the above, it will be appreciated that, given the range of variables, it is not possible to be definitive as to the effect the changes will have on farmers in any given county. You should, of course, also be mindful of the need to obtain the agreement of the EU Commission to the implementation of the proposals.
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