Dáil Éireann - Volume 418 - 29 April, 1992

Adjournment Debate. - Farmyard Pollution Control Scheme.

Mr. Connaughton: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to raise a matter which is causing widespread unrest and dissatisfaction among farmers, particularly in the west. I am shocked that in this day of so-called, overall management techniques which are supposed to exist in the Department of Agriculture, it is necessary to suspend this useful scheme of pollution control from 14 April. I am [2106] sure that telephone calls to the Minister's office have indicated the depths of frustration in the country.

I acknowledge that the scheme was one of the best introduced for quite a long time. I have to accept that it is not the first time the Department of Agriculture have done something like this but why was the impression given to every farmer who wanted to control pollution that the EC funded grant would be available for the duration of the five year programme? Why, half-way through the period, did the Minister's office ring all the FDS offices around the country and instruct them not to take any more applications? It would not be so bad if a date had been given and that any applications sent to the office by that date would be eligible for the grant, but the decision was much worse. It meant that farmers who had made an application, who in certain cases had made deals with their bank managers and who had visits from departmental officials, having applied for planning permission, are now in limbo. They do not know whether their applications will be accepted.

Will people who have already received approval be allowed to go ahead with their plans? Will the Minister also outline the position in regard to people who have approval but who had to apply for planning permission which has not yet been granted? I also understand — correct me if I am wrong — that it is intended to write to people who have outstanding approvals and to give them three months in which to complete the job. Failure to do so will mean they will not get the grant which will be redistributed to others on the waiting list. I am not criticising the concept of ensuring that a farmer will not have approval for an undue length of time but why was it necessary to suspend the scheme? The officials in the Department must have known the number of people who were in receipt of grants and they must have been able to monitor exactly what was happening. Why was it necessary to bring down this blunt instrument [2107] on 14 April just before the silage season? I do not have to inform the Minister of how important this time of the year is to farmers. It was a very insensitive decision which will mean that people will not bother trying to control pollution. This will even apply to those who were visited by a fisheries inspector and a member of the local authority to ensure that there would be no pollution——

An Ceann Comhairle: I would be grateful if the Deputy would bring his speech to a close.

Mr. Connaughton: I had a lot more to say but it will have to wait for another day. I hope the Minister will reply specifically to the points I raised because there is a great deal of anxiety.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Hyland): I should like to thank Deputy Connaughton for raising this matter. I fully agree that the scheme is a very important one. It is to the credit of our farming community that they have responded in such a positive way to the problem of dealing with farm effluent, which is obvious from the very large number of applications received.

The scheme for the control of farmyard pollution (CFP) was introduced here in 1989 as an operational programme. The scheme was to last until 1993 and estimated expenditure was £94 million. A sum of £66.4 million was allocated out of the Structural Funds to finance this expenditure.

To date 27,000 farmers have applied for the scheme and approvals have issued in 25,000 cases leaving over 2,000 to be dealt with. These approvals exhaust the estimated expenditure of £94 million and the corresponding expenditure of £66.4 million from the Structural Funds.

It is possible that all the outstanding approvals will not reach completion in which case there would be money available [2108] to finance some more approvals. It has been decided, therefore, to cancel those approvals where the completion date has expired in an effort to find out how many approvals are likely to be completed.

I am glad Deputy Connaughton acknowledged that this was a useful exercise within the Department because there is no point in having many applications on departmental records without having at least some indication as to whether they will be implemented. I do not have to remind Deputy Connaughton — who has experience in the Department — that to proceed without trying to establish whether these grants would be taken up, would be wasteful in terms of the money allocated to them.

Mr. Connaughton: That could have been done in another way.

Mr. Hyland: It is expected that the situation will be clarified within a month or so. If by them it is established that a certain number of applicants are not going ahead with their approved work, additional approvals can be issued. While it is too soon to make a definite forecast of the outcome it is likely that it will be possible to deal with a substantial number of the applications on hands within the current financial allocation. While new applications will continue to be accepted it will not, however, be possible to deal with them pending a commitment from the EC as to additional funding.

I am aware of the importance of this scheme in the control of farmyard pollution and the interest which farmers have in it. For this reason, in the programme being prepared by the Government for submission to the European Community for a new allocation of Structural Funds, additional finance for this scheme will certainly have priority. In my recent discussion with Agricultural Commissioner Ray MacSharry I specifically pointed out that there were not sufficient funds to meet the current Irish [2109] demand. I impressed on him the importance of increasing the allocation under this subhead to meet the level of applications currently in the Department.

I share Deputy Connaughton's concern and I assure him and the House that we will be doing everything possible to ensure that all the applications within the Department are implemented by way of additional funding as quickly as possible. I should like to pay a tribute to the agricultural community who have responded magnificently to this essential national scheme.