Dáil debates

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Priority Questions

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

3:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 90: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the measures being introduced to ensure the take-up of the €28 million mixed grazing supplementary measure available to sheep farmers; the way the funds will be utilised should the take-up remain low; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19903/08]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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The mixed grazing supplementary measure is available to farmers joining REPS 4. Ultimately REPS is a voluntary, demand-led scheme and it is open to farmers to decide whether they want to take on the measure. It is still too early to judge how popular it is. On the basis of 3,800 applications for REPS 4 that were received and analysed by the end of last month, 240 applicants were opting for the mixed grazing measure. Last Thursday, 15 May 2008, was the closing date for REPS 4 applications for this year. When all applications have been processed, the position will become clearer.

Photo of Tom SheahanTom Sheahan (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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That was concise.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The reply was shorter than I expected.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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All the more time for the Deputy.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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All the more time for me. It is safe to say that when all the information is gathered on the €28 million promised in 2007, it will be found that only €900,000 had been drawn down by May 2008. It is safe to say there will be a sizeable surplus. Given that the only other measure applicable to sheep farmers was contained in the farm improvement scheme, which has been closed prematurely, there is surely room for manoeuvre.

In many ways, the mixed grazing initiative has been unworkable for many sheep farmers, not least because of the mixed grazing requirement per se. Many affected farmers have no conduit of funding other than through sheep farming because of the nature of the landscape on which they work. To have mixed grazing, they would have to have bovines and provide wintering facilities, which they were not enabled to do, to comply with their REPS 4 obligations and meet the environmental concerns. I ask that there be a little lateral thinking. There is probably at least €27 million remaining of the €28 million.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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That is if it ever existed.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The initiative was announced on 16 May 2007, as were some others. We must be a little circumspect in this regard. I am sure there is at least €27 million left and a little lateral thinking would allow it to be ring-fenced for the target group for which it was said to be intended.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Considerable lateral thinking has informed the background to the scheme. The Deputy will be aware that it was made very clear in the discussions with the Commission that the scheme is an environmental scheme, not a production scheme. We tried to include the sheep-only option but it was a step too far from the Commission's point of view because it wanted to ensure the measure was clearly environmental.

The scheme is demand-led and it is therefore a question of ensuring take-up on the basis of demand. The Deputy probably read the front page of the farming supplement of the Irish Independent this morning, as I did, and, if so, he will have noted that the reduction in sheep numbers is part of a bigger picture associated with the move from dry stock to tillage. There are also other factors, despite the ironic fact that stock prices have increased. This is perhaps because of supply and demand as much as any other factor. Consumption is reducing in our greatest export market, France.

There are broader questions to be answered with which it is not possible to deal in respect of REPS 4.

The timing of the question is greatly ahead of the Department's ability to evaluate the exact position. While one may speculate on the number of applications, the reason the answer was so short is it is not possible to provide much information at present until the information has been analysed in greater detail. At present, the Department is obliged to take account of the Commission's assertion this must be an environmental scheme, rather than a production assistance scheme.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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When the scheme was announced, it was stated that €28 million was available. I accept some lateral thinking took place. Incidentally, I contend that aid to stock-proofing, which is contained in the farm improvement scheme pertains to health security, especially in respect of disease transmission etc. It also has environmental issues. However, when arriving at the figure of €28 million, some background studies must have been done to establish this was the amount of money required and that the target group could draw it down.

For various reasons, the schedule of payments for REPS 4 was a major issue at the outset and delayed uptake of the scheme. It certainly delayed the transfer of people from REPS 3 to REPS 4. Considerable research must have been done to establish that €28 million was needed. No matter how many people enter the scheme, the estimate was off the mark and the final figures, whenever they are collated, will differ greatly from it.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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A total of €9,000 has been paid out.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is interesting to hear the Deputy make this point because I can imagine that were the scheme over-subscribed, there would be hell to pay, had the Department failed to put in place sufficient money——

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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A total of €9,000 has been paid out to date.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I prefer to have complaints that too much, rather than too little, money is in place for the existing demand.

Photo of Tom SheahanTom Sheahan (Kerry South, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State should come out of the fog.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Perhaps Members can agree the fund is not lacking and that adequate finance is available. Obviously it will require people to draw it down and this is where the information must be evaluated.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Is it workable?

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is the most workable scheme that could be arrived at——

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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A total of €9,000 has been paid out to date. It is a sham.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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——in co-operation with the Commission, on the basis it had to be environmentally-led. It allows for people to benefit from the REPS payment in addition to their existing REPS payments. Hopefully this will be of benefit to those who have applied.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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This concludes Priority Questions. We now will move on to——

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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It is bedevilled with red tape bureaucracy.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State pulled the wool over the farmers' eyes.