Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Priority Questions

Farm Waste Management.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 46: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how he will finance the commitments made under the farm waste management scheme for 2009 in view of the shortfall in his Department's Estimates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12210/09]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The arrangements for payment of grants under the farm waste management scheme on a phased basis have been confirmed, with 40% being paid this year as claims are approved. A further 40% will be paid in early January 2010 and the remaining 20% in January 2011. I have also announced that a special ex gratia payment not exceeding 3.5% of the value of the deferred amount will be made to farmers whose farm waste management grants have been partially deferred. This payment will be made in January 2011 along with the final instalment.

The Revised Estimates for the public service will be published following the budgetary adjustments planned for 7 April. Funding for my Department, including the allocation for the farm waste management scheme, is being considered in that context.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I assure the Minister that I am not seeking any budgetary figures and do not intend to probe into confidential Cabinet deliberations. Does the Minister accept there is a shortfall of €105 million in his Department's capacity to make the 40% payments in 2009? Farmers seek an assurance that the payments they are receiving under various schemes will not be reduced. In other words, there must be no robbing of Peter to pay Paul. Rather, supplementary funds must be allocated to meet the Government's liability under the farm waste management scheme. Will the Minister confirm that the suckler cow welfare scheme, for example, will not be further reduced in order to make up the Department's shortfall?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Provision will be made in the Revised Estimates to meet the commitments we have given to those farmers who are due grant payments under the farm waste management scheme. So far this year, of the 40% to be paid, almost €66 million has issued to almost 5,000 farmers. Departmental officials at local level are carrying out inspections as expeditiously as possible in order to ensure that appropriate payments are made at the earliest possible date. This is a scheme of investment of €1.1 billion over a short period.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister answer the question? Is there a shortfall of €105 million?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister should be allowed to respond without interruption. I will call Deputy Creed in due course.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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This represents the largest infrastructural investment ever made——

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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We are not interested in that. Will the Minister answer the question I have put to him?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should be interested——

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister must be allowed to answer the question in the way he chooses. The Deputy will be allowed to put a supplementary question. He should not waste the time allocated.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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This is the largest infrastructural investment ever made in on-farm facilities. It is funded entirely by the Exchequer. Grant aid of 70% in some areas and 60% in others was provided.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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We know all that.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Moreover, the maximum eligible investment ceiling was increased and the scheme was extended to include other sectors previously denied access to on-farm investment schemes. I assure Deputy Creed that the 40% payment to all eligible applicants will be made in the course of this year.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I will put my question to the Minister once again. Will he confirm that the shortfall is currently €105 million? Will he also confirm that in order to make up that shortfall there will be no cutback in other schemes under which farmers benefit? I mention, for example, the suckler cow welfare scheme. Will the Minister give an assurance that disadvantaged area payments will not be impacted? Will he give an assurance that access to REPS 4 will not be closed off as was done? If the Minister takes the liberty of repeating issues, I will take the liberty of recalling chapter and verse the cutbacks he has introduced already — disadvantaged area payments, installation aid and early retirement scheme. Are we going to have a further litany to make up for the mathematical bungling in the Department which did not provide adequate funding from the first day? Is the shortfall €105 million? Will there be no robbing Peter to pay Paul in the Department?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call the Minister for a final reply.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The question asked when people would be paid and if funding would be made available. I want to assure the Deputy as I have done previously that provision is being made to ensure that the 40% element of all eligible grant applications will be made during the early part of this year. Inspections are being expedited as rapidly as possible.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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How?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I already mentioned to the Deputy that almost €66 million was paid out during the first two and a half months of this year.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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How will the Government make up the shortfall? A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, are we not entitled to an answer to the question on the Questions Order Paper, which asks——

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I have no control over how the Minister answers.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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——the manner in which the Minister will finance the commitments made in view of the shortfall. Will he confirm the shortfall is €105 million? Will there be a Supplementary Estimate?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I call the Minister for a very final reply.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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As the Deputy is well aware this is an Exchequer-funded scheme and the Minister for Finance provides the funding to the relevant Department to meet obligations under different schemes. We will not be getting the money from Europe but from our own Exchequer.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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So there will be a Supplementary Estimate. There will be no cutbacks in the Department.