Thursday, 25 March 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Ms Leonard: I thank the Minister for taking this Adjournment matter. I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to re-examine the areas in County Monaghan which have not be included under the severely handicapped scheme. In recent weeks the EU approved the application made in 1997 for severely handicapped areas. Unfortunately, 15 per cent of County Monaghan is outside this region. We are grateful that 11 per cent of the county was included, approximately 15,000 hectares, and I am aware that 79 per cent of the disadvantaged area is considered severely handicapped. We are fortunate that 85 per cent of the disadvantaged areas in County Monaghan are considered severely handicapped. However, an anomaly remains for those areas excluded.
It appears that the data used to compile the submission to Brussels was based on a survey carried out in 1989 in conjunction with the Small Farmers' Association and the IFA. These organisations agreed with the results of that survey. As a result of the data compiled the areas were decided upon in 1995. At that time 38,000 hectares were to be included in the application. However, we underestimated the severely handicapped areas in County Monaghan. When the data was revisited it appeared that the application could be re-submitted to include 53,000 hectares. This application was made in 1997 and the results were announced a few weeks ago.
However, 15 per cent of the land in County Monaghan remains excluded. Farmers in these areas find it difficult to accept that their neighbours have better land. These people are being excluded based on data compiled in 1989. The area involved is a small strip of land in the middle of Monaghan and is the only area in Ulster or Connacht to be excluded. It is difficult to justify the exclusion of this 15 per cent of the land. Everybody knows about the drumlin hills and soil in the area. It is wet, hilly land with poor drainage. Parts of the south of the county, closer to the Minister's locality, are of different quality. Indeed, there are amazing variations in the quality of land across the country.
It is difficult to understand how this part of the county has been excluded. In response to inquiries I have made with the Department I have been told that a possible reason this section of County Monaghan has been excluded is that while it is recognised there is bad land, the county has good  farmers but that does not put extra money into people's pockets.
This submission was made in 1997 but it has taken two years to decide which areas need to be reclassified. It is hard to understand why it has taken so long. It is for the Government to decide, following Agenda 2000, what areas, if any, are to be reclassified.
While I appreciate it is probably not feasible to undertake a further study, there is a need to engage in further tests on the 15 per cent of the land that has been excluded. One would not have to be qualified in agriculture to know that, in many cases, the land is of very poor quality.
Will the Minister explain why 15 per cent of the land of Connacht and Ulster has been excluded? Given the amount of the land involved, is there a possibility of further re-examination? A review could mean up to £1,000 annually for each farmer in the area concerned, a very significant amount given the present state of agriculture. I ask the Minister to relay the concerns of the farmers in my area to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. We seek an explanation for our exclusion.
Mr. D. Ahern: On behalf of the Minister for Agriculture and Food I wish to respond to the points raised by the Senator. When the disadvantaged areas appeals panel commenced its examination of areas for reclassification in 1992 it was decided, following agreement with farm organisations, that it would base its recommendations on data gathered in the 1989 survey. This data has been used in the previous fourth review to select areas for reclassification, based on an income criterion of less than 40 per cent of the national average income and the presence of at least 40 per cent of the working population being engaged in agriculture.
It was agreed that if the income limit was raised to 60 per cent and the working population limit was disregarded, then the data would allow the  selection of a significant number of additional areas. A further condition was that the land must be rated at 4 or lower on the quality scale of 0 to 9, and also that selected areas must adjoin existing more severely handicapped areas. Using these criteria the appeals panel selected an additional 30 per cent of County Monaghan for reclassification as more severely handicapped and this was approved by the EU Commission in November 1995, bringing the total more severely handicapped area of the county to 73 per cent of the total land.
Following representations from farmers, farming organisations and public representatives, such as the Senator, regarding areas not included, it was decided to carry out a complete recheck of the less severely handicapped areas of County Monaghan, including those reclassified in 1995. This recheck highlighted a number of areas which the appeals panel has inadvertently omitted from its original recommendation. A supplementary proposal to the EU Commission was prepared and submitted in April 1997 to include these additional areas.
Due to pressure of other work, the Commission did not examine this proposal until November 1998 and it was finally approved by the STAR Committee in February 1999, bringing the total more severely handicapped area in County Monaghan to 85 per cent. I am satisfied that, based on the data at the disposal of my officials, all areas of County Monaghan which could be shown to satisfy the criteria of more severely handicapped status have now been reclassified.
I acknowledge the Senator's remarks given my knowledge of the quality of the farming personnel in County Monaghan, especially those contiguous with my county. I will pass on her comments to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and I suggest that she subsequently take up this issue with him.
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