Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Other Questions.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

3:00 pm

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 12: To ask the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food the number of applications under the agri-environment options scheme processed to date; the expected expenditure on the scheme in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45271/10]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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A total of 9,236 applications were received by my Department under the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, by the closing date of 17 May 2010. All these applications have been recorded and examined by my Department. To date, 5,706 applications have been found to be fully compliant with scheme requirements and the applicants have received notification from the Department approving their participation in the scheme.

A further 2,585 applications have been processed and my Department will be issuing the letters of approval over the next few days. In a number of cases, approval for entry into the scheme will be conditional on minor queries and obvious errors being resolved by the applicant. This will bring the total numbers approved by the end of November to 8,291.

There are 921 applications that require more detailed investigation by the Department, some of which must be resolved in correspondence with the applicants before approvals can issue. The Department is working through these applications with a view to reaching a decision on entry into the scheme in each case as soon as possible.

The remaining 24 applicants have withdrawn their applications. The Department has been concentrating on processing the applications and once this process is complete, arrangements will be put in place to commence payments.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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I would like to ask a few questions to follow up on that. Can the Minister guarantee that a scheme will be opened up next year to those who are exiting REPS 3 on this year's payments? According to the four year plan, €35.7 million will be saved in this area next year. Does that figure relate to the 10,000 people who are exiting the various schemes? Can the Minister explain the figure? As I was not here for the previous answer, the Minister may have said that the figures will be confirmed in next week's budget. If the Minister is saying he cannot confirm that a scheme will be opened up, will he be able to do so next week? I ask because farmers who are going to the banks for funding - we know how popular the banks are at the moment - are being asked to provide credit guarantees. They need to know what the Government's plans are.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The specific level of funding available to the Department under the different subheads in 2011 has not yet been finalised. No decision has been made on the re-opening of the agri-environment options scheme to new participants in 2011. That will be done during the normal process of finalising the Department's budgetary matters, including its Estimates.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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When will it be decided on? Will the decision be made next week? When will it be decided on? This scheme is co-funded by Europe. If it is not opened up to the people I mentioned because we cannot provide our own Exchequer funding for it, will Ireland lose funding from Europe as a result?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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No. If there were no new applicants for the AEO scheme, we would still draw down our full funding from Europe. We do not need new applicants for the scheme to draw down our maximum funding from Europe. That is the position. We will know our exact current and capital budgetary allocations next week, when the budget is announced. Decisions on the various Votes - the amount of funding to be provided under each subhead - will be made subsequently.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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When will those decisions be made?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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At an early date.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Will it happen within a month?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, at an early date following the budget.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Has the Minister read the article by Darragh McCullough and Caitríona Murphy in this week's farming section of the Irish Independent? The article in question refers to a "€35.7m cut in the Department of Agriculture's budget for REPS and the Agri Environmental Options Scheme (AEOS) next year".

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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I am sure the Deputy is aware that quotes are not allowed on Question Time. He can refer to the article.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I apologise. I can paraphrase the document.

Photo of Seán ConnickSeán Connick (Minister of State with special responsibility for Fisheries and Forestry, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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It is too late. The Deputy has said it and it is out there.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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The article, which suggests that the remaining €294 million in the Department's budget will cover just 9,000 farmers, gets to the nub of the issue. The farmers in question need a response from the Minister. I ask the House to forgive my ignorance when I say I did not follow what the Minister said, to be frank.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I said that the definitive amounts to be provided for under each of the Department's subheads - the funds for each scheme - have not yet been finalised. That is normal. They will be finalised when the budgetary process is complete. The actual funding under each subhead will be decided on subsequent to the budgetary process.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Can the Minister guarantee the future of the AEO scheme?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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This time last year, we had no AEO scheme. The Minister for Finance allocated funding of €50 million per annum, over a five-year period, in last year's budget. The scheme runs for five years to enable 10,000 applicants to participate in it. We were told a year ago that the new scheme would not even receive 2,000 applications. As I said earlier, in response to questions asked by other Deputies, some 9,236 applicants have joined this scheme.