Ceisteanna—Question. Oral Answers. - Reclassification of Disadvantaged Areas.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when cattle headage grants will be paid in the reclassified severely handicapped areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will sanction the inclusion of the Gortnaskehy, Lyre and Lyrebarry areas of north Cork in the disadvantaged areas scheme.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the reclassification of the disadvantaged areas will take place; if his statement regarding the delay in reclassification will have an effect on the extension of the disadvantaged areas boundaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will initiate a survey to include new areas in the disadvantaged areas scheme.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if in the event of the European Commission accepting proposals already submitted by the former Government regarding the reclassification of less severely disadvantaged areas to severely disadvantaged he will ensure that headage payments will be made to those farmers who will be affected by this in 1987.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the present status of the Government application to the EC for increasing the disadvantaged areas.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he is aware of the severe losses and hardship suffered by people in the Mulcair catchment area as a result of frequent heavy flooding; and the steps he is taking to have the area declared severely disadvantaged.


asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the up-to-date position regarding the reclassification of land as disadvantaged in respect of which an application was made to the European Commission some time ago.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 3, 5, 8, 15, 21, 22 and 25 together.

On a point of order, Question No. 25 has been nominated for priority. My experience of this procedure yesterday was that it deprived me of the right to ask any supplementary questions. Question No. 3 on today's Order Paper is in my name. Do I have the right to ask supplementary questions?

The Deputy is entitled to ask a supplementary question now, but he would not be entitled to do so during the time nominated for priority questions. He may ask a supplementary question or two as soon as the questions are answered.

The submission which was lodged with the European Commission on 4 February 1987 is concerned solely with the reclassification of all the existing less severely handicapped areas as well as areas where mountain sheep headage grants are paid to more severely handicapped status. While we are pressing to have these proposals approved, the final outcome will largely depend on the attitude adopted by the EC Commission.

As regards extension to the disadvantaged areas, no application has been made to the European Commission and this process will take a considerable time to bring to fruition, given the detailed field survey work involved. The position in each of the different areas throughout the country will be most carefully considered in this review.

No funding was committed in the Estimates for 1987 by the previous administration to cover the costs of reclassification which must be fully met by the Government in the first year. In this situation, it was not possible to make the necessary provision for the additional headage payments in this year's budget. However, I can assure the House that this does not deter me from pressing ahead with the Irish case for reclassification of areas with the EC Commission and the groundwork for extensions to the disadvantaged areas. I am most anxious to have both these matters finalised so that the accruing benefits can be enjoyed by Irish farmers.

I am sorry to hear that the application was made as late as February 1987 and that there is no funding in the Estimate for reclassification. Can the Minister tell us the cost of reclassification of these areas and the number of counties involved?

If the reclassification proposals were to be approved by the Commission, the extra cost involved would be of the order of £15 million national expenditure. That would only apply to the redesignation of severely handicapped areas. There seems to be some confusion abroad that applications were submitted for extension of the disadvantaged areas to areas not covered. That has not happened.

That never was the case.

I understood that there were publications to that effect.

Does the Minister accept that the normal procedure in previous reviews was that when reclassification or extension was approved by Brussels a Supplementary Estimate was introduced to cover the additional costs?

No. The Deputy will appreciate that if one wants to have the benefit of support payments from Brussels in any one year, that must be matched by funding nationally.

That is not the question.

In view of the Government's position as announced so clearly by the Minister for Finance yesterday, expenditure which will accrue in any one year must be clearly determined at the beginning of that year. If there is a proposal for extra expenditure it should be made at the beginning of the year, but this was not provided for by the previous administration.

The Minister is now stating categorically that he is refusing to follow the procedures which were followed in previous years when Supplementary Estimates were introduced to cover any extension or reclassification. This did not necessarily involve extra money since it might have involved savings in other areas. That was the procedure last year and in previous years and I am very disappointed that the Minister has now indicated he is not prepared to follow that procedure in the current year. Am I correct in saying that a very substantial amount of additional land is involved? Can the Minister give the number of acres involved by way of reclassification of less severely handicapped areas to severely handicapped areas? Can he also tell me the number of extra acres for which we applied in relation to the reclassification of mountain sheep grazing land?

Regarding the first question, the likelihood of any funds becoming payable this year would be very remote in any event because of the fact that the Government only submitted the application on 4 February for redesignation from less severely handicapped to severely handicapped. The Deputy must be aware that full examination of this proposal by the Commission takes a very considerable time. It is very unlikely that they would have completed that examination before the end of this year. Accordingly the question of funding in 1987 does not arise. On the second question, the amount involved in the extension of the boundaries of the disadvantaged areas would be of the order of 85,000 hectares.

I take it the Minister will agree that while the formal application may not have been made until the end of January or early February, informal notice had been given to Brussels many months previously. The Minister will agree that an application has been made for the reclassification of Cavan and Monaghan, thus entitling the entire counties to headage payments. Will the Minister undertake to use his best endeavours to have a favourable decision in Brussels expedited? If such a decision is given before the end of the year, will the Minister confirm the undertaking given on behalf of his party during the election campaign that headage payments would be made in Cavan and Monaghan this year if it could be cleared in Brussels?

I wish to assure the Deputy and the House that despite the fact that the application for reclassification was submitted after the dissolution of the last Dáil and no application was submitted in respect of the extension of new areas, I will of course use the occasion in Brussels to press for early decisions in respect of what has been submitted and to make an application for the extension of disadvantaged areas to places already excluded. I will do that as soon as possible and I will also take the opportunity in my contacts with the Commission to ensure that we get an early and favourable decision on both grounds.

Will the Minister please assure the House that he will get on with the applications which have already been lodged and that he will not delay them by waiting until other applications are lodged? Will he ensure that the applications which have been lodged will be processed so that they can be paid this year?

That is precisely what I intend to do. In view of the delay over the past four years in doing anything in this area——


——an application was submitted on 4 February. I assure the House and the farmers concerned that I will do everything possible to make up for the time and money lost.

That is an outrageous statement.

May I ask the Minister if the areas in north Cork referred to in Question No. 3, Gortnaskehy, Lyre and Lyrebarry, are the subject of an application to his office? If so, do they meet the criteria for inclusion in areas in the recent review? Does the Minister agree it would be a grave injustice not to proceed expeditiously in respect of a disadvantaged area in Cork in view of the fact that practically all County Waterford is included in the scheme?

I understand that information has been submitted to my Department in respect of the areas mentioned by the Deputy namely, Gortnaskehy, Lyre and Lyrebarry. I will have this matter examined as expeditiously as possible for the reasons he mentioned and many others. I wish to assure him and any other Deputy who is concerned about the designation of new areas as disadvantaged that I will be addressing this matter as one of fundamental urgency. I hope I will be able to submit a scheme very shortly to Brussels but, as little or no action has been taken so far, there will be a delay which I hope the Deputies will understand.

An application was made on 4 February for inclusion in the fully disadvantaged areas of the largest single reclassification that has taken place since we joined the European Community. This consists of 1,250,000 acres and the application is now in Brussels. Is the Minister pressing to have this included in the fully disadvantaged areas? A precedent has been set by the German minister——

A number of Deputies are offering and I cannot fit them all in unless questions are brief and specific.

During the farm price negotiations this year will the Minister undertake to have the reclassification to which I referred included? Will he also provide, in a Supplementary Estimate, the £15 million required? We did not make an application to have the extensions changed until they had been revised at home. It is important to point that out to the Minister because he is trying to mislead the House.

That is not a question.

I am not misleading the House. I am trying to put the current position on the record so that no one can be in any doubt as to where we stand. No application has been submitted to Brussels to include new areas as disadvantaged.

We know that.

An application was made on 4 February after the dissolution of the Dáil which applied for the redesignation of certain disadvantaged areas to be included as severely disadvantaged. In view of the fact that that was only done last month, although it had been an issue for a number of years, the Deputy can be assured that I will use each and every opportunity in my contact with the Commission to try to bring it to fruition as quickly as possible so that the farmers concerned and the economy will benefit.

The position in Cavan and Monaghan is quite clear. They had always been designated as less severely handicapped but they now wish to be designated as severely handicapped. To my knowledge, such an application was lodged on 16 January last along with other areas. It had the goodwill of Brussels but it needed the commitment of our Government——

A question, please.

This will come as a major bombshell to the farmers in those areas who realised the commitment of the outgoing Government——

I am anxious to assist Deputy Boylan in eliciting information. Could he please ask a question?

Does the Minister intend making those payments this year because the farmers concerned have been looking forward to a sum of £4.5 million which would be of major benefit to such a deprived area?

The Deputy said that to his knowledge an application was made in January regarding these areas. I do not know the source of the Deputy's knowledge, particularly as he was not a Member of the House at that stage, but I have said the application was made on 4 February. I take it the Deputy will accept that as a fact. I have assured the Deputy that while that was done very late in the day I have already, in my constant contacts with the Commission, reminded it of the urgency of dealing with that application. I have also made the Commission aware of the fact that as soon as I can bring in an application for the extension of areas I wish to have it dealt with quickly as well. The Deputy made statements in good faith which have been published in local newspapers but as far as I know they are not in accordance with the facts.

Can the Minister say whether I am correct in recalling that an application by the German Government involving a very large part of Germany was agreed without delay? If that is the case, why does he feel our application would not be agreed to until after the end of the year? Do the Government intend to proceed slowly in this regard?

Obviously, our responsibility extends to this jurisdiction only. I do not know the position in regard to the application from the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany but in their interests, I hope it was submitted earlier than ours.


I assure the House that ours will be dealt with expeditiously.


Deputy Spring has a question tabled in respect of this matter.

In relation to the application of the submission of 4 February, did the Minister raise that submission on his highly publicised trip to Brussels to meet with his old colleagues, as he said? If he had discussions on this application, does he intend to pursue them? Could he give us some indication of a likely date for the next meeting to discuss those submissions further?

I assure the Deputy I raised almost every relevant matter possible of Irish interest in the course of those discussions and will continue to do that. In respect of this issue I will, of course, take the next available opportunity in my contact with the Commission to continue to press it. The Deputy will be aware that anyone who has had experience of Brussels knows that a matter submitted literally only within the last month involves very detailed examination.

Two months.

Sorry, almost two months now.


I have a matter I would like to raise on the Adjournment.

Order. I will communicate with Deputy Fitzpatrick. I am calling Deputy Deenihan who has a question tabled in respect of this matter.

I am still not satisfied there is a commitment from the Government party to ensure that if the Commission accepts the proposals it will pay the necessary headage grants. Let me add——

Ceist, a Theachta, led' thoil.

——that due to the two very bad summers which devastated farming in the west the former Minister responded. In his view it was one very easy way to aid farmers in the west in severely handicapped areas.

Deputy Deenihan, I am awaiting a question.

I would like to ask the Minister to confirm his commitment that if the Commission accepts the proposals immediately he will set about making the necessary finance available immediately.

I want to remind the Deputy and the House that the outgoing administration made no provision whatsoever——

It is your budget.

——for any payment in respect of extra disadvantaged areas for 1987. I presume all Deputies accept that as a fact, as emerged from the Book of Estimates. Clearly that means any extra money will have to be provided by the incoming administration if the applications are to be dealt with expeditiously. Certainly I will endeavour to do as much as possible to ensure that what was neglected for the last few years, particularly by the outgoing administration, in respect of this will be corrected as soon as possible.

Does the fact that we have made no provision this year in the Estimates or in the budget for the disadvantaged areas mean that our case will lag behind in Brussels? I believe other countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal have submitted very large applications under the disadvantaged areas scheme, and if we do not show——

Ceist, a Theachta, led' thoil.

Further, I would like to put to him——

Sorry, Deputy, I must ask you to proceed by way of question.

If we could get the disadvantaged areas scheme included or funded from Ireland this year, could the Minister see his way to incorporate it in his programme for alternative industries in the disadvantaged areas and other areas in the west?

I agree with the Deputy that our case would have been all the more persuasive in our discussions with Brussels if we could also say that provision had been made for financial allocations to support our share——

Could we make it? You are in Government.


When a submission was made on 4 February no provision was made by the administration here for any payments here. It would have been a more persuasive application had provision been made for financial allocations to support our share.

Despite that omission I will do all I can to ensure that the matter is dealt with quickly.

We have dwelt at some length on this question. We have devoted 25 minutes to this question. I am now calling Deputy Davern.

I have a priority question.

Will the Minister please ensure that discrimination in the reclassification of areas will not take place under this Government as it did under the last Government here, where vast areas of the Knockmealdown Mountains and the Comeraghs on the Tipperary side were not included, and that the prerequisite of having a Minister for Agriculture in the constituency will not be a condition under this Government?

I assure Deputy Davern that for understandable reasons that discrimination will not be continued.


Deputy Jim O'Keeffe's question has to be the final question on this matter. I am passing on to another question.

Apart from trying to throw dust in our eyes here, would the Minister accept that the facts should be put fully before the House and that they are as follows. This has to be approached on a two-part basis; first, the question of reclassification——

Is the Deputy embarking on the imparting of information rather than a question?

Will the Minister accept the facts that the reclassification procedure involves sending an application to Brussels where we have been given an indication that it will be successful, that that application has been lodged and that the normal procedure thereafter will be for the Government to provide a Supplementary Estimate of £50 million with 50 per cent reimbursement from Brussels? Is that correct? Secondly, in relation to the extension, does the Minister accept that there is a provision in the directive which permits increases in the less favoured areas and that on that basis a detailed review had to take place here so that we could submit the 85,000 hectares involved in filling such 1.5 per cent provision?

The Deputy is embarking on a speech.

The Minister's Goverment decided that such a review should take place but that rather than wait for the completion of that review the reclassification application should go in first, and secondly, that what I call the 1.5 per cent application——

I have given Deputy O'Keeffe a great deal of latitude.

I acknowledge that a detailed review is required before one can make an application for extension of the disadvantaged areas. Because that detailed review is required, I regret greatly the fact that the outgoing administration did not undertake that detailed review in time. Because of that I regret that no application was made by the outgoing administration to extend the area. For those reasons I intend to ensure that a sense of urgency will be introduced into the matter that was lacking over the past four years, as the facts indicate.

Deputy Leonard promised the money to the people in the election campaign.


Deputies in County Meath promised the same thing.


Deputy Leonard spoke for us, not Deputy O'Kennedy.


You promised——

Deputy Leonard is creating disorder.


The Minister is in possession. The Deputy is being unruly.

On a point of order——

There is no point of order. The Deputy is being disorderly.


Deputy Leonard is creating disorder.

I hope, after the information I have imparted to the House, that no more misleading information will be distributed through any channels as has happened.

We had enough of that today.