asked the Minister for Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry if he will outline his proposals in the revised submission, under the western package, for private afforestation in view of the poor take up of the previous scheme.
Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Private Afforestation.
The operation of the various measures introduced under the western package, including the scheme of forestry grants, is at present being reviewed by the EC Commission. In that connection I have made certain proposals to the Commission on the revision of the forestry elements of the package involving the level of allowable expenditure per hectare and aid towards promoting the scheme.
Does the Minister agree that because of the hopeless takeup of the last scheme, which in the first three and a half years accounted for only £646,000 out of the available £18 million allocated, the scheme should be made more attractive and there should be substantial changes in it?
Lack of promotion had a lot to do with the small takeup. In November 1985, therefore, the Department launched a campaign — it cost £80,000 — and as a result we had 576 inquiries about grants in October and November and 197 requests for advisory inspections. That compares with 37 and 41, respectively, in the previous two months. In December and January following the campaign the figures were 143 and 214, repectively. It seems that the benefit of the campaign explaining the advantages of the grants to farmers and others needed to be spelled out. I agree with the Deputy that perhaps more could be done, and I am doing it at EC level. I am trying to get the scheme improved under both headings. Part of the problem has been lack of information to the general public, particularly farmers.
The scheme was introduced in 1981 and it was only in 1985 that the Minister made an effort to promote it. I claim that I did as much to promote it in my constitunency as the Department did. Unless there is an inbuilt system in the scheme which gives annual benefits to applicants the scheme will not serve the purpose for which it is designed. Has the Minister examined the system in England and Northern Ireland in regard to grants for private afforestation?
The Deputy should remember that we have not been in Government continuously since 1981. The Deputy's party were there when the scheme was begun and perhaps the lack of publicity started then. When the scheme was publicised last November we could see the results, which were very significant. I agree with the Deputy in his general remarks. I compliment the Deputy on advertising the scheme, but from what we have seen the takeup was not so good until the Department put it before the public very forceably.