Written Answers. - County Donegal Seed Potato Growers.

114.

asked the Minister for Agriculture the number of letters which he had issued in his own name to seed growers in County Donegal prior to the date of the by-election informing them that he was authorising anex gratia payment of a maximum of £295 per tonne; the number of these ex gratia payments which have now been paid; the total amount authorised by him; and if he will give the names and addresses of the growers to whom he has written.

Following representations from a number of the individuals involved I corresponded with 23 farmers in County Donegal in October last who had their crops of seed potatoes rejected for certification in 1979 under my Department's seed potato certification scheme. The reason for rejection was the same in all cases — the crops contained a mixture of the two varieties Pentland Ivory and Pentland Dell. The foliage of these varieties is very similar and varietal differences are only apparent for a short period during the flowering stage.

The likely source of the problem has been traced back to a consignment of Nucleus Stock seed potatoes which was distributed from my Department's Potato Research Centre, Raphoe, in 1974. This particular consignment was multiplied by a small number of specialist seed growers from whom two local merchants purchased a quantity of certified seed potatoes — produce of the mixed Nucleus Stock — and subsequently disposed of it in 1979 to the growers with whom I corresponded. The growers concerned suffered a considerable loss in having their crops rejected for certification and were forced to dispose of them on the ware market at substantially reduced prices. While my Department have no legal liability for the losses suffered by the growers, the fact that the Nucleus Stock originated at the potato centre and the produce was subsequently certified by Department personnel, clearly placed a moral obligation on my Department to recompense the growers for loss of income.

In March last my Department wrote to the two merchants from whom the mixed seed had been purchased and through them offered to replace the seed or, alternatively, to make anex gratia payment of an amount equivalent to the cost of replacing it. This offer was subsequently rejected by a substantial number of the growers involved. Following a meeting I had in early September with representatives of these growers — at their request — I undertook to have the case reviewed. On further examination and following exhaustive inquiries at local level it was considered that the growers concerned had incurred an average loss of £295 per tonne of seed planted.

No payments have yet been made pending the return of completed forms of indemnity by the growers concerned. The total amount of theex gratia payments will be £8,935.50. The Deputy will appreciate that it is not the practice to give details of individuals when replying to questions in the House.