Adjournment Matter. - Headage Payments

Thursday, 16 December 1993

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 138 No. 15

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Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  May I suggest, Sir, that you arrange to provide Senators with accommodation closer to the Chamber so that they are not impeded by traffic as they cross Kildare Street? I put my life at risk on behalf of the constituents of County Clare, who are currently experiencing difficulty because headage payments have not been paid before Christmas.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, for coming to the Chamber to respond to the issue. In my previous dealings with the Minister of State, I have found him exceptionally helpful and cooperative. I wish him well for Christmas and a happy 1994. I understand that he has a number of political plans in mind.

[1719] The major part of County Clare is classified as a severely handicapped area. Most farms are small or medium and the farmers qualify for headage grants and most types of premia. Many of them are small dairy farmers who no longer go to the creamery and they rely heavily on these payments as a major source of income. It is particularly important to them that the payments be made before Christmas. Unfortunately, to date there is quite a substantial number of farmers in County Clare who have not received any portion of their headage grant. I appreciate that there can be difficulties in relation to the administration of this but I ask the Minister of State and his Department to examine and recognise the serious position that many of these people find themselves in. Many of them are facing personal difficulties coming up to Christmas. If the Minister bears this in mind, I know he will do everything possible to ensure that cheques are received prior to Christmas, thus making it that much easier for them.

There is another difficulty in County Clare in so far as some owners have split herds. This means that part of their land is in a severely handicapped area while the other is in a mildly handicapped area. In those circumstances, I understand, it is the Department's policy not to make any advance payment prior to Christmas. That is extremely unfortunate because these people are experiencing similar difficulties to people in full severely disadvantaged areas. The situation cannot continue. A number of years ago practically 90 per cent of headage grants were paid prior to Christmas, but in recent years that system has dramatically changed. Some instalments are paid before Christmas while others are paid after Christmas. Last Monday a constituent complained to me that they had received no headage payment yet and that last year they did not get any portion of their headage until March. They made [1720] special representations to try to get an advance.

The Minister is fully familiar with the details. I appeal to him to make a special plea, given that there are only ten days to Christmas, to ensure that every farmer, whether they are in a severely disadvantaged area or have a split herd, gets a cheque in the post before Christmas to alleviate some of the financial difficulties that many of them are facing. One must recognise that this summer was bad and that many farmers are reaping the conequences of these difficulties, particularly in western counties. There are special circumstances because the rainfall there is much higher, double that in the east. The Minister is aware of the quality of the land and the particular difficulties that arise, such as the far greater length of time that cattle must be housed and the amount of feeding they must receive, as opposed to other areas where the land is much drier. Overall there is greater expense for the farmers concerned and much narrower margins in relation to profit, if profit arises at all for many. I am familiar with that through processing unemployment assistance applications for smallholders. The overheads and margins are extraordinary.

I appeal to the Minister of State and I recognise that he fully understands the position. As a junior Minister, he has been extremely helpful and I make a special appeal to him to try to respond positively to the situation.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Hyland): Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  In keeping with the Christmas tradition, I reciprocate the kind comments of Senator Taylor-Quinn. I thank her for her good wishes and I fully acknowledge her sincerity in raising the payment of livestock grants to farmers in County Clare. I know from what she said that she is well intentioned in relation to the problem facing many farmers and I acknowledge that fact.

[1721] Over £350 million has been paid to farmers to date in 1993 under the various premia and headage schemes. That represents an increase of 27 per cent on the £275 million paid during the comparable period in 1992, a year in which record payments were achieved. The record set in 1992 has already been surpassed and I expect a further amount of £30 million will be paid before the end of the year. The Senator will be pleased to hear this because she deserves a sincere reply. During the coming week an additional payment of £30 million will be paid to farmers.

These high payment levels are being achieved against a background of EU regulations which preclude payments under the special beef and suckler cow premium schemes before 1 November and even then limit the payment of 60 per cent in relation to advances. As the Senator correctly identified, 100 per cent payments had previously been possible. Disadvantaged area headage payments other than for sheep headage are normally on the basis of advance and this was the practice in 1993.

The introduction of CAP reform has had the effect of increasing the number of applications under the various measures. Total applications in connection with livestock schemes in 1993 are expected to reach £640,000; the comparable figure in 1992 was approximately £370,000. Arising from the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy the number of applications have almost doubled, as have the administrative problems associated with such a huge volume of new applications. As the Senator said, many of these scheme are complex from the farmers' and administrative points of view. It is a problem for personnel in the Department to try to adjust to the complexities of the various schemes which have been introduced.

I am often asked why there are so many schemes. We want to maximise the benefits to agriculture under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. We [1722] negotiated the maximum number of schemes dealing with the various livestock sectors in this country. The increase in the number of applications and new schemes has caused a serious administrative problem in the short term. However, we are making every possible effort to deal with the administration and to streamline the system so as to ensure farmers receive the payments to which they are entitled. I would not come to the House other than to defend a system which ensures farmers receive payments in the qualifying year. We are committed to this and officials are working hard to ensure that desirable situation is brought about.

To meet the various additional demands, the administration of the special beef premium scheme was centralised in Portlaoise and 80 additional staff are in place in that new office for the purpose of dealing with the special beef premium scheme. Today's The Farmers Journal acknowledged that the new system in place in Portlaoise is speeding up the administration of some of these schemes. I anticipate that we will be able to transfer more schemes to the new centralised computer controlled offices in Portlaoise.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Information on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  Zoom on Madeleine Taylor-Quinn  Well done Minister. Is there anything for Ennis?

Mr. Hyland: Information on Liam Hyland  Zoom on Liam Hyland  My objective is to secure the maximum level of payment to farmers during 1993 and to ensure these payments are made at the earliest opportunity. I believe this objective is being achieved and I am satisfied that my Department is coming to terms with the complexities and the extra administrative burden of the CAP reform arrangements. I will not be content until we overcome all the problems involved. I am currently reviewing all our systems in the interests of further improvements for the 1994 scheme.

I thank Senator Taylor-Quinn for raising this important matter in relation to [1723] farm incomes. I assure her we are doing everything possible to speed up these payments.

[1724] The Seanad adjourned at 4.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 17 December 1993.

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