Dáil Éireann - Volume 281 - 29 May, 1975

Ceiseanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Farm Modernisation Scheme.

3. Mr. S. Flanagan, Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Calleary asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (a) the number of farmers in County Mayo who have applied for classification as development farmers (b) the percentage to date who have been classified and (c) the estimated final percentage of farmers expected to be classified as development farmers for the purpose of the appropriate EEC Directive.

Mr. Clinton: At 30th April last, 1936 farmers in County Mayo had applied to participate in the farm modernisation scheme. The number of these applicants then classified for the purpose of the scheme was 871 of whom 24 or 3 per cent were in the development category. It would not be possible at this stage to say what number of farmers in the county might eventually be classified as development farmers. The recent introduction of a lower comparable income figure for western counties, together with the impending implementation of the directive on disadvantaged areas should result in a significant increase in the numbers qualifying for development status.

Mr. Callanan: Surely the Minister is now aware from the figures which he has before him—out of 871 in Mayo 24 are development farmers— [1265] that the directive is not suitable for this country? As far as I know the income figure is £1,700. In the figures published by the Agricultural Institute the average for the whole country was only £1,500 but it still will not bring in very many in the western counties. Would the Minister not consider an intermediate scheme, as the directive seems to be excluding the vast majority of farmers in the western region?

Mr. Clinton: I want to say in reply to Deputy Callanan that the scheme is not mine nor was it my predecessor's because it was adopted eight months before we entered the Community. It is an EEC scheme, which we cannot just change overnight. I have said on numerous occasions before that there is no point in our going for any significant changes in this scheme until we can say we have proved in practice over a period of at least 12 months that it is unsuitable in so many different ways. This is the only way we can put up a convincing argument and we intend to do this.

Mr. Callanan: I was convinced from the very beginning but, of course, I am only a Joe Soap.

An Ceann Comhairle: A brief supplementary, please.

Mr. Callanan: I am trying to be brief. I do not want to hold up the House very long but this is an important supplementary. Is the Minister now convinced that the directive is completely unsuitable for this country? He should be convinced now after giving it a try. What effort does he intend making to try to have these directives changed.

Mr. Clinton: I am convinced that the scheme needs to be changed if it is to be more suitable for this country but it represents a significant improvement on what was available to farmers prior to its introduction.

Mr. Leonard: When the Minister says he agrees it needs to be changed does he not think that an immediate change is necessary if damage is not [1266] to be done to farming organisations before the change is made?

Mr. Clinton: Deputy Leonard will have to accept that it is not sufficient for me to be convinced that an immediate change is necessary in the case of Ireland. I have to convince eight other member states as well that this is so. We have the best scheme, incidentally. We have used the variable aspect of this to the extent that we have by far the best scheme in Europe.

4. Mr. J. Gibbons asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if he will state, having regard to the findings of the recent survey of farm income carried out by An Foras Talúntais, the proportion of farmers in the country as a whole who will qualify as development farmers under the farm modernisation scheme.

5. Mr. J. Gibbons asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if, having regard to the fact that the great majority of Irish farmers cannot hope to achieve development status under the farm modernisation scheme and will therefore have access to a much smaller range of aids, which will be of much less value, he will indicate the compensatory measures he contemplates of such farmers.

Mr. Clinton: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

The results of the farm income survey by An Foras Talúntais, which relate to 1973, do not provide a reliable basis for estimating the number of farmers likely to qualify for the development category. My Department have estimated that 30 per cent to 35 per cent of farmers would be capable of achieving development status over the next seven or eight years. An earlier study of An Foras relating to land potential for grazing here confirmed that this estimate is attainable.

The acceptance by the EEC Commission of the Government's proposals to apply regional comparable income figures this year and the impending benefits under the EEC disadvantaged [1267] areas directive are expected to increase appreciably the numbers qualifying as development farmers, especially in western areas.

Those not qualifying for the development category are, of course, eligible for a wide range of investment aids which are only marginally different from those open to development farmers and which are generally better than those available under previous schemes.

Mr. Callanan: The Minister did not answer me last time in relation to the figures produced by the Agricultural Institute which give the average of £1,500. How can he arrive at the conclusion that the change will have a big difference in the number of people who will come within the directive seeing that the average figure which we must accept as correct, which was published by the Agricultural Institute is £1,500?

Mr. Clinton: Deputy Callanan knows that figures can be used in many ways and to serve many purposes.

Mr. Callanan: Is the Minister accusing the institute of fiddling with the figures?

Mr. Clinton: I am accusing Deputy Callanan of using the institute's figures to make his case. I could use them that way and I could use them the other way too. I do not want to waste the time of the House.

Mr. Leonard: Is the Minister saying that we should not take the figures provided by An Foras Talúntais as genuine figures?

Mr. Clinton: Perfectly genuine figures.

Mr. Leonard: Properly researched.

Mr. Clinton: If you started to play about with these figures you could get many different results by using them in different ways. That is all I am saying.

Mr. Leonard: The Minister said that 1973 was not an appropriate year [1268] to take. In that year farm incomes were very high in comparison with 1974.

Mr. Clinton: I did not say 1973 was not an appropriate year to take.

Mr. Leonard: The Minister gave that impression.

6. Mr. J. Gibbons asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if he will state in respect of County Kilkenny (a) the number of farmers who have applied for classification under the farm modernisation scheme (b) the number of such farmers so classified (c) the number of grants paid to date under the scheme and (d) the number of completed works for which grants have been sanctioned but which still await payment.

Mr. Clinton: As at 30th April last there were 987 applications for participation in the farm modernisation scheme in County Kilkenny and 665 of these had been classified. The number of grants so far paid under the scheme is 21 and there are 25 participants who will be paid shortly for works which have been completed and approved. Incidentally, that represents about 40 per cent development.