Dáil Éireann - Volume 665 - 30 October, 2008

Written Answers. - Afforestation Programme.

Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason EU financing was not sought for the sustainable forestry programme; if he will review this decision in view of changed economic realities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31340/08]

  Deputy Brendan Smith: The provision of 100% grants for the establishment costs of afforestation has been a key element of national forestry policy and is considered essential to overcome the traditional reluctance to plant and in recognition of the long-term commitment of land to forestry. However, the maximum grant aid available to applicants in Ireland for any afforestation scheme co-funded from EU and Exchequer funds under the Rural Development Regulation 1698/2005 is 80% and it was decided, therefore, not to include the forestry measures under the RDP. However the EU has no objection to Member States paying a higher rate of aid on a national basis. In fact, the EU makes specific provision in its state aid rules for a 100% rate of aid, by countries like Ireland, where forest cover is particularly low. The possibility of Member States providing top-ups to the 80% co-funded rate, through national exchequer funding, was not allowable.

The overall amount of EU support for rural development in Ireland for the period 2007 to 2013 was fixed at €2.339 billion in 2006. The full amount of EU funding is already committed to various schemes in Ireland’s Rural Development Programme. The maximum level of drawdown will be achieved as a matter of course over the period 2007 to 2013 through the roll-out of these schemes. Therefore the decision not to include the forestry programme in the Irish Rural Development Programme has no bearing on the total amount of EU support for rural development in Ireland. All available EU funds will be fully drawn down by the end of the period in 2013.

Question No. 68 answered with Question No. 64.