Dáil Éireann - Volume 429 - 07 April, 1993

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - National Development Plan.

12. Mr. Connor asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry if he will confirm that in the preparation of the National Development Plan 1994 to 1999, the application for EC Structural Funds, he will insist that the proportion of funds sought for agriculture and rural development in the application will be in the region of 20 per cent of the total fund and that appropriate specific programmes and plans will be drawn up in order to achieve this proportion of the funding.

[819] 23. Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the next phase of EC action using the Structural Funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

27. Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the next phase of EC action using the Structural Funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

33. Ms. McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry if he will confirm that a recent study presented to the Government by the NESC on the spending of the last tranche of EC structural funds recommended a switch from headage grants to grant to rural development and alternative farm enterprises, if the Government intends to act on the recommendation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

40. Mr. L. Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the next phase of EC action using the structural funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

49. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry if he will ensure that funding for the agri-tourism scheme will be increased substantially for the next operational programme for rural development and that grant aid for low income farmers will be increased to 80 per cent in all areas.

51. Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the [820] next phase of EC action using the Structural Funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

77. Mr. Noonan (Limerick East) asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the next phase of EC action using the Structural Funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

78. Mr. McGahon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the approach he intends to adopt to the definition of agricultural development and to the development of the food industry in the context of the next phase of EC action using the Structural Funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. J. Walsh: I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 23, 27, 33, 40, 49, 51, 77 and 78 together.

My general objectives in relation to the next round of Structural Funds will be to secure a modern efficient and competitive agriculture and food industry attuned to added value content and to the needs of the market; to capitalise on our green image as a producer of high quality agricultural and food products through the achievement of high standards in terms of the environment, food quality and safety; to secure a vibrant rural society through maintenance of the maximum number of viable farm households and the development of the wider rural economy.

The objectives for the agriculture and food area in the period 1994-1999 have also to be set against the background of the Common Agricultural Policy reform changes and more liberal international trading arrangements which are likely to follow when the GATT Uruguay Round is ultimately concluded.

The importance of securing competitiveness and greater market penetration in an area which is so vital to Ireland's economic growth and employment creation and maintenance is something [821] that cannot be lost sight of in considering how we use the next round of Structural Funds. Towards this end I am seeking very considerable levels of funding in all areas within my Ministerial remit from primary production to maketing as well as in the areas of rural devlopment and forestry.

In relation to the general agriculture area my aim will be to continue the various schemes already in place such as the control of farmyard pollution which has been independently evaluated and recognised as an important instrument in protecting the environment, and the farm inprovement programme which I am proposing to expand to help farmers conform to new EC dairy hygiene and animal welfare regulations.

Under the Programme for a Partnership Government, we are committed to a specific operational programme for the food industry.

As regards rural development, I am looking at a combination of a continued and much expanded Leader initiative alternative farm enterprises such as animal diversification, horticulture, agri-tourism etc., and headage compensatory payments including accommodation for a third category of disadvantage.

As regards forestry, my plans will be to underpin the planning objective of 30,000 hectares per year to the year 2000 and they are also formulated with a view to facilitating the development of a competitive downstream processing and marketing industry.

This is only a broad outline of the various proposals for achieving the objectives I have set out. Programmes in the research, training and advisory areas will be vital inputs in all of the areas I have mentioned and these will have to be given considerable support.

I presume the study referred to is an evaluation study, prepared by the ESRI and still in draft form. This study was commissioned by the Department of Finance to evaluate spending of the Structural Funds in the 1989-1993 period and to make recommendations for the post 1993 period. As this sudy has not been finalised, it would be inappropriate to [822] comment on it in any detail. However, the position as regards headage payments is very clear. The objectives are set out in EC Regulation 268/75 as follows: to maintain a reasonable level of income for farmers; to conserve the countryside from an environmental aspect and to prevent further depopulation in rural areas.

These objectives apply throughout the disadvantaged areas of the Community and have been agreed at the level of Council of Ministers. In my view, and in the view of the EC Council of Ministers, these payments make a very valuable contribution to the maintenance of populations in rural areas and as such will continue to be funded from the guidance side of the FEOGA fund.

As regards the amount of funding, the position is that, in the next round, the overall level of funding for Ireland will be substantially increased. This should ensure that all Departments can expect to secure considerable extra funds over the next six years. I expect that the allocation for my Department will reflect, the relative importance of agriculture, food and the rural economy generally in Irish life. Decisions on the level of funds for individual measures will have to await developments on the global allocation to my Department.

An Ceann Comhairle: Before I call Deputy John Connor, I observe that a number of Deputies have tabled questions on this subject. I would like to facilitate them all, but brevity is essential because of the time factor involved.

Mr. Connor: It is a pity the Minister was not as brief as I will be. The Minister did not reply specifically to my question. I am sure he agrees that almost 20 per cent of the total fund in the first tranche of Structual Funds 1989 to 1993 was directed towards agriculture. In the negotiations for this tranche will the allocation be close to that figure? Will the Minister comment on a credible television programme, “Euro Focus” which quoted a leaked Department of Finance document which stated that the Department was [823] seeking 13 per cent for agriculture in the negotiations for Structural Funds from 1994 to 1997 or 1999?

Mr. J. Walsh: I cannot answer specifically because negotiations are still in progress with the Department of Finance and any Deputies familiar with negotiating with that Department will understand that such negotiations are long and protracted.

Mr. Connor: Does the Minister deny this statement?

Mr. J. Walsh: I have not seen the leaked document to which the Deputy referred.

Mr. Cox: Does the Minister have a contract?

Mr. J. Walsh: I am seeking a substantial increase in the level of funding which will reflect the importance of agriculture——

Mr. Connor: Will it be as good as the last one?

Mr. J. Walsh: ——food, forestry and rural development.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order. I will call Deputies present in the House in the order in which their questions appear before me.

Ms. McManus: In relation to the study which was carried out, I am not sure whether the Minister accepts the report which indicates that it would be more productive if there was a switch in emphasis from headage payments towards rural development and alternative farm enterprises. Will the Minister clarify that point? In relation to the whole question of headage payments and environmental protection, there is a very good example in areas of Galway and Mayo where there are considerable problems of soil erosion because of over-grazing by sheep, a direct result of that policy [824] in the past. Will the Minister have that problem reviewed in future expansion plans?

Mr. J. Walsh: While rural development programmes are beneficial to many areas, nevertheless many individual farmers do not benefit directly from them. I am strongly of the view that headage payments should continue to be of assistance to individual farmers. I will be insisting that payment of headage and the resources allocated to it will continue. To that extent I do not accept the findings of the ESRI report that a substantial part of the funding should be diverted from headage.

Mr. Dukes: Arising from the Minister's reply, can we take it that his clear and concise exposition of the role and function of headage payments is a direct warning by the Minister to his colleague, the socialist yuppie Deputy for Dublin 4, Minister of State, Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald, to keep her hands off the headage payments and that there is no intention of perverting the use of headage payments to relieve Government expenditure on Social Welfare?

An Ceann Comhairle: Members' titles are used in the House, Minister of State, Minister or Taoiseach, as the case may be. Appendages should not be applied to them.

Mr. Dukes: It is very appropriate.

An Ceann Comhairle: No, I do not think so.

Mr. Dukes: Can I take it that my interpretation is correct?

Mr. J. Walsh: No, the Deputy cannot.

Mr. Dukes: Will the Minister of State be allowed to do it?

Mr. Crawford: I take it the Minister is committed to headage payments. I hope he is also committed to the extension of the disadvantaged areas scheme and that [825] Cavan-Monaghan will be included. There is no point in obtaining an increase of 20 per cent in Structural Funds for some areas while other farmers cannot avail of them. I am glad to hear the Minister's commitment in respect of the third category of payments which will be essential for areas around west Cavan. Because of the increased funding available headage should be paid to farmers in west Cavan.

Mr. J. Walsh: I assure Deputy Crawford and the other Deputies in the House that I am trying to expedite the outcome of the review on the disadvantaged areas and their extension to include areas such as the Deputy's constituency. I am personally familiar with an area in Cork south-west which could well be redesignated and reclassified.