Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 01 July, 1999

Written Answers. - Advisory Assistance for Farmers.

45. Mr. M. Brennan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on whether greater advisory assistance and support needs to be provided to farmers to meet with the complex process of filling forms and meeting the many new EU requirements; the plans, if any, he has in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16532/99]

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): My Department has been actively involved in recent years in simplifying, as far as possible, the application forms used in connection with the various schemes for direct payments to farmers. Helpsheets and checklists to assist in correct completion accompany all application forms. The application forms and information leaflets are reviewed annually prior to issue in consultation with the main farming organisations under the auspices of the Charter of Rights for Farmers review group. The review has concentrated on simplifying the forms and reducing to a minimum the amount of information required to support an application. This approach is consistent with the commitment in my Department's customer service action plan not to ask unnecessary questions. The review and amendment of helpsheets and checklists concentrates on addressing matters that gave rise to errors or confusion in the previous years scheme. Our success in simplifying the process has been recognised by a senior official of the EU Commission who, in a recent presentation to the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Strategic Management Initiative, confirmed that the forms used in Ireland are among the simplest in the EU. Simplification of forms and targeting information more specifically at customer and client requirements are key elements of our customer service action plan and I am committed to making further improvements in this area.

Officials of my Department are becoming increasingly involved in participating in information meetings and seminars in conjunction with the farming organisations to improve farmer awareness and understanding of the scheme requirements. This process will be continued and developed further as the detailed rules for implementing the Agenda 2000 package become available.

Of particular importance is the remit of Tea[898] gasc in providing advisory, educational and training services to farmers. It is my intention to explore the possibility of Teagasc taking an even more active role in advising farmers in relation to scheme requirements.

Any farmers who have difficulty in understanding the requirements of a scheme or in completing an application form should contact their local office where the officials will be only too happy to assist and advise them.