Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Adjournment Debate

Single Payment Scheme.

8:00 am

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Some €160 million is paid in single farm payments every year and a number of concerns have been raised regarding delays in these payments. In the majority of cases farmers acknowledge they have made mistakes and, if this is the case, the Department of Agriculture and Food should review the form involved to see if simplification of the application is possible. If a large number of mistakes is found payments to farmers across the country will be delayed.

In some instances the Department has made the mistake and this was the case with two of my neighbours in County Wexford. Despite the fact the mistake was not the fault of the farmers involved, they have been told there is no guarantee payment will be received in December. I believe this is very unreasonable.

The forms were returned, as requested, last April via the Teagasc adviser but the Department sent a letter in September saying the forms were not received. I am surprised a system acknowledging receipt of forms from farmers is not in place. The neighbours in question sent the forms again in early October and again received no response. They contacted the office in Portlaoise and were again informed the forms had not been received, however a subsequent phone call confirmed the forms had been found and were with the Department. Clearly a mistake was made by the Department, but these farmers were told they would not receive payment. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, investigate this immediately.

The farming community cannot afford such delays in payments and family farm incomes are far lower than the €170,000 the Minister is receiving. This relates not only to farmers' income but to the payment of costs incurred in running their farms. We are all well paid in this House and we sometimes forget there are people who are not paid as well. We need to make amends in this regard and I ask the Minister to investigate this.

I can give the Department the names of the individuals in this case to speed up payments so they will not have to wait until the new year. A significant burden has been placed on the individuals involved because they have outstanding debts they had promised to meet with this payment.

I also ask the Minister for information on the number of single farm payments made in County Wexford and the number not paid to date due to difficulties with the application form or difficulties experienced at Department level. If there is a significant problem with the system it should be examined.

Agriculture is not as important to the economy as it once was but is still important to rural constituencies like County Wexford and the single farm payment forms a significant part of income for the farming community. It is important the Minister ensures there are no delays in receipt of that payment. I can pass on the names of those involved to the Minister and I also ask that she address the other questions I have raised.

9:00 am

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Meath, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy and if he had given the Department of Agriculture and Food the names of those involved we would have made inquiries about them. However, his question is of a general nature and does relate specifically to those cases.

One of the main objectives of the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, since assuming office as Minister for Agriculture and Food, has been to ensure the efficient implementation of the decoupled single payment scheme, the most significant change to agricultural support since our accession to the European Community. It has been a great success. This huge task was successfully implemented when over €1 billion in single payments issued to 118,500 farmers in December 2005. Since then payments have been made to 127,800 farmers who hold entitlements and applied for the single payment scheme in 2005. A few hundred 2005 cases, largely involving inheritance, remain to be paid at this stage and payments continue to be cleared on a regular basis once the documentation is received by the Department. I think the cases referred to by the Deputy may be under the 2006 scheme.

This is an annual payment scheme with payment due in December 2006. However, the Minister sought and secured approval from the European Commission to make an advance payment of the single payment scheme in 2006. The processing of an advance payment was quite complex and my understanding is that only one other Member State paid the advance.

On 16 October 2006, thanks to the excellent work of the Minister and the Department, 114,000 farmers received advance payments under the 2006 scheme amounting to €526 million. Since then an additional €37 million in advance payments has been made to a further 4,800 farmers and these advance payments continue to be made as applications are fully processed. I hope the Deputy understands that if he is referring to a 2006 application advance payments of money due in December 2006 are in question. Some 93.5% of applicants holding entitlements have received an advance payment, up to six weeks ahead of the normal payment commencement date. Balancing payments under the 2006 scheme will commence on 1 December 2006. In anyone's book this has been a huge success story.

In common with the coupled schemes, which the single payment scheme replaced, delays in processing can be caused by many factors, including incomplete application forms, errors on applications and discrepancies highlighted following computer validation, which must be resolved via correspondence with the applicant. There may also be cases, as mentioned by the Deputy, where forms appeared to have been posted but did not arrive at the Department. In many cases, payment could not be made because applicants did not submit an application to transfer the single payment entitlements, with lands, by way of inheritance, gift, lease or purchase. Many of these applications were only received after our Department made direct contact with the farmers in question during recent weeks, and some have yet to be submitted. This may reflect the situation mentioned by the Deputy.

In other cases, over claims on commonage lands need to be resolved before any of the claimants concerned can be paid. Similarly, cases where given parcels are subject to dual claims must also be resolved before any of the parties concerned can be paid. In 2006 the incorporation of sugar into the single payment scheme added to the complexity of clearing cases for payment.

The objective of the Department is to make payments to all of those farmers who have yet to receive their payment or are entitled to a supplementary payment as soon as their cases are cleared for payment. Every effort is being made by my Department to resolve the outstanding cases, but many of them are extremely complex. In other cases, my Department is still awaiting documentation and applications for the transfer of entitlements before payment can be made. A number of payment runs continue to be made each week as the more complicated files are cleared.

The successful introduction of the single payment scheme in 2005 and its smooth operation in 2006 is testimony to the efforts of all concerned. It is the Department's intention that this success will be built on. Payments will continue to issue to farmers as their applications are processed to completion in accordance with the EU legislation governing the single payment scheme.

If the Deputy wishes to furnish details of the individuals involved, the Department will make inquiries. I assume the applications in question have only been with the Department for a number of weeks.