I am pleased to have this opportunity of making a few brief points to the Minister for Agriculture and Food in the hope that he may respond positively to the very serious problem throughout the length and breadth of rural Ireland. Members of the farming community find it almost impossible to gain their lawful entitlement under the EC special beef premium scheme. Having served for some years in the Office of the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Minister will be aware that this is a very bleak time of year for the farming community and there is not as much work available as might be at other times of the year. The cheques coming into farming households are few and far between. The one cheque, in the form of subsidy, that was guaranteed at this time of year was the special beef premium. This year, unfortunately, due to an over-emphasis on the bureaucratic nature of the administration, thousands of farmers have been disqualified almost arbitrarily at the stroke of a pen. The Minister must act on this without delay.
The application form the Minister agreed with his former colleague, Commissioner MacSharry, is causing considerable hardship. It is at the root of the problem. One would need to be an expert in administration, dare I say that one would need a degree in business studies, to complete the application form. The Minister knows the farming community are least likely to produce people with a business or administrative background than any sector of the community and filling in this form is causing very real hardship for thousands of farmers.
Prior to Christmas the Minister had to deal with considerable problems in the headage payment scheme and promised to set up a task force to deal with the problem. May I suggest to the Minister for State that the setting up of a task force to deal with this matter is an exercise in prolonging the bureaucratic nature of the administration. Why do we need a task force when the answer to the problem is quite simple? The Department do not wish to pay the 35p in every pound that is going into the farmers' pockets. Every conceivable administrative delay has been sought by the Department to ensure the scheme of payments is drawn out for the longest time possible.
I hope the Minister will give some glimmer of light to the many thousands of farmers who have received the notice of refusal of payments. The most frequent error made completing the form is in listing the sex of the animal. I understand there are many genuine cases of confusion when the number on the form does not correspond with the number of the animal's tag. In view of the crisis in farm incomes — I am sure the Minister is familiar with this — I hope he will solve this problem.
I also hope the Minister will consider having an early meeting with the EC Commissioner to simplify the procedures which will then ensure that this lawful benefit is available to farmers without undue form filling and administration.
I admit there may be a small number of fraudulent claims, but one cannot categorise each and every member of the farming community as a person who would deliberately make a false declaration. I hope the Minister will act with due haste.