Dáil Éireann - Volume 420 - 28 May, 1992

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Beef Premium Scheme.

4. Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is still considerable dissatisfaction concerning the operation of the beef premium scheme; if he will set up local task forces to see that all genuine applications are accepted for payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

118. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the final review of rejected applications for beef and cow premiums has been completed; if there are indications as to an increase in the number of approvals; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Walsh: I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 118 together. I acknowledge that there were problems at an earlier stage with the 1991 special beef premium scheme but new arrangements [1045] put in place earlier in the year have already resulted in the clearance of most of the problem cases and in particular those involving genuine accidental error. To date, some 88,717 applicants who lodged applications in the summer of 1991 have been paid and it is expected that all cases which can be paid will be cleared shortly.

There was a second application period for 1991 premium in December 1991 and it is expected that a further 4,500 to 5,000 applicants will be paid on foot of these applications. Over 1,500 of the December applicants were paid premia this week and the payments will be concluded over the coming weeks. The present position, therefore, is that over 90,000 applicants have already been paid under the 1991 special beef premium scheme. This figure which should increase by a further 3,000 to 3,500 is well in excess of the total number of payments made under the 1990 scheme when 87,899 applicants were paid; even the number of summer applicants paid under the 1991 scheme alone exceeds the total 1990 figure.

These figures are a clear indication of the success achieved in the operation of the 1991 special beef premium scheme. In these circumstances I do not believe that there is any necessity to set up local task forces. Some cases will inevitably fall outside the tolerances allowed by the EC for errors and these cases must, unfortunately, be refused. My Department have no discretion in such cases.

I am satisfied that everything possible has been done to resolve the 1991 problem cases and I am confident that the new arrangements which are being put in place for 1992 will result in a smoother operation of the special beef premium scheme in the future.

The position in relation to the 1991 EC suckler cow premium scheme is that close to 78,000 applicants have already been paid. Some further payments are due to issue over the next week and I expect the final outturn for 1991 to be close to the total number of payments under the 1990 scheme.

Mr. Deasy: It gives me no pleasure to [1046] be at odds with the Minister but his reply does not coincide with the facts. The operation of the scheme is a disgrace. The Minister set up a task force to monitor cases of controversy, but Deputies on all sides of the House repeatedly receive complaints about people being disqualified on trivial grounds. Something must be done about this matter. It is the worst case of abuse of bureaucracy I have ever witnessed.

An Ceann Comhairle: Questions, please.

Mr. Deasy: The Order Paper is full of written questions every day about nonpayment of beef premia. I would ask the Minister to agree to the suggestion that local committees should be set up within each county to monitor the position, comprising representatives of the Department and the farming organisations. There is a crisis and the Minister does not seem to appreciate that.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, the question is going on too long, to the detriment of the Deputy's next question.

Mr. Deasy: I can suffer that.

Mr. Walsh: I repeat that I am making no excuses whatsoever. The scheme has been unsatisfactory and its administration has caused tremendous problems. As 100 per cent of the funding comes from Europe the only people suffering are the individual herd owners. This is one of the problems I addressed on my appointment. Early next week I hope to have simplified forms and help sheets issued to ensure that the people in Teagasc and the regional offices are of more assistance to people when applying for these premia. The substantially increased premia for the future should ensure a smooth operation of these schemes. It will be in my interest to ensure that this year and in the future all applicants are paid in the calendar year in which they apply.

Mr. Deasy: If the Minister is not prepared [1047] to set up local committees — I can understand that he may have objections to that — would he be prepared to set up an all-party committee of this House, comprising the spokespersons of the parties and one or two Ministers of State, to discuss the matter? The administration of the scheme is unsatisfactory. People are suffering and that is unacceptable. Would the Minister agree to my suggestion rather than have Deputies clogging up the Order Paper with numerous questions on the issue? Obviously, the task force has not worked.

Mr. Walsh: When the recommendations of the task force were presented to me only a few weeks ago I immediately arranged for the simplified forms to be delivered to the printers. They, together with the help sheets, have been printed and within the next few days I will introduce——

Mr. Deasy: That is no good to the people affected in 1991.

Mr. Walsh: No, it is not, but only a very small number of problem cases relate to 1991.

Mr. Deasy: There are a few dozen cases in my constituency.

Mr. Walsh: I would be very glad to meet the Deputy to discuss those cases because, as I have said, I am offering no excuses for the problems that have arisen.

Mr. Deasy: May I ask——

An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, I must now proceed to other questions.

Mr. Deasy: Would the Minister give a quick reply to Question No. 5?