Dáil Éireann - Volume 338 - 02 November, 1982

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers - Western Drainage Scheme.

14. Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan) asked the Minister for Agriculture the average delay between the date of lodgment of application for a grant for land reclamation or improvement under the western drainage scheme and the date of approval.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Cowen): Because of the very large number of applications under the western drainage scheme the average time between the date of lodgment of an application and the date of approval for a project is now about a year.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Is it not a fact that applications have been outstanding since the beginning of last year?

Mr. Cowen: The western drainage scheme came into operation on 1 January 1979 and initially provided for field drainage of 100,000 hectares over a five-year period. The scheme was extended in July 1981 to provide for field drainage of an additional 50,000 hectares up to 31 December 1986. Due to the very large number of applications received initially, approximately 60 per cent in 1979, and the limited acreage provided for in the programme, it was found necessary in the interests of fair and reasonable administration of the scheme to process applications in strict order of date of receipt.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): It follows from what the Minister has said that there is a waiting time of at least a year. Has the Minister any proposal to speed up the processing of the applications [409] so that the applicants will know where they stand?

Mr. Cowen: Applications received in 1979 and 1980 have been investigated and processing of applications made in 1981 is in progress.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I am asking the Minister whether he has any proposal to speed up the processing of these applications so that farmers may get on with the work and know where they stand.

Mr. Cowen: Due to the very large number of applications initially there is a backlog, and there has been a backlog since the scheme was introduced. That backlog is being decreased yearly.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister will agree that very little progress is being made. If there is a year's delay, if a farmer who puts in an application on 1 November 1980 has not yet got a decision as to whether his scheme is acceptable, surely the Minister will agree that that is entirely unsatisfactory. Has the Minister any proposals to put further staff on the job or to get on with the work to encourage production?

Mr. Cowen: Due to the fact that applications have decreased in the last year or so it is only proper and right that I should say there would be an improvement and from now on applications can be dealt with in a period of eight or nine months.

Mr. Nealon: Is there not the additional fact that all of the applications received before September 1981 would exhaust all the acreage grant-aided by the EEC and that they are not being entertained anyhow? If that is so, will the Minister explain what applications are being made to the EEC for extension of the acreage?

Mr. Cowen: In reply to Deputy Fitzpatrick, I stated that the position at 30 September 1982 is that over 42 applications have been received under the scheme. Approval has issued in over [410] 24,000 cases covering 130,000 hectares. Applications received in 1979 and 1980 have been investigated and processing of applications made in 1981 is in progress.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Did the Minister say 42,000 or 42?

Mr. Cowen: I said 42,000.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): How many have been processed?

Mr. Cowen: Approvals have issued in over 24,000 cases and I emphasise that that covers 130,000 hectares.

Mr. Nealon: Have the Department estimated that all of the applications received up to the beginning of September 1981 would in fact exhaust all of the acreage which has been grant-aided and sanctioned by the EEC and that, therefore, they are not entertaining, even for consideration, applications received after that date? If that is so, what efforts are being made to get extra acreage grant-aided by the EEC?

Mr. Cowen: I would not agree with the Deputy's supplementary question.

Mr. Nealon: Is the Minister saying that it is not true?

Mr. Cowen: It is not true. Up to now 130,000 hectares have been covered by the number of applications processed and approved. On that basis and on the basis of the extension in July 1981, bringing the total acreage to 150,000 hectares, there is a gap of 20,000 hectares in question.

An Ceann Comhairle: A final supplementary, Deputy Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Does the Minister know that it is commonly believed all over the country that applications received after September 1981 are not even date-stamped in the offices in which they are received, that they are being ignored, and that that [411] would seem to bear out what Deputy Nealon says?

Mr. Cowen: I would not agree with the Deputy on that point. What I stated in my reply does not coincide with what he said.