Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Grant Payments.

Avril Doyle

Question:

3 Mrs. Doyle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry if he will ensure that all premia and headage payments will be paid on a given date within the year in which entitlement is established.

Edward Nealon

Question:

7 Mr. Nealon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have applied under the 1993 ewe premium scheme; the number of farmers who have received payment to date under the scheme; the amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are awaiting payment; and the amount of money currently outstanding under the scheme.

Frank Crowley

Question:

11 Mr. Crowley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have applied for and are eligible for payment of extensification premium under the 1993 special beef premium and 1993 suckler cow premium schemes; the number of farmers who have received payment of extensification premium to date; the total amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are awaiting payment under this scheme; the total amount of money outstanding under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

Frank Crowley

Question:

15 Mr. Crowley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received full payment under the 1993 deseasonalisation premium scheme; the number of farmers who have received partial payment under this scheme; the total value of premium paid out to date under this scheme; the total number of applications under this scheme; the total amount due under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

Seán Power

Question:

25 Mr. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the total amount paid under the 1993 ewe premium scheme; when the final instalment was paid; and the way in which this payment date compared with that in other member states.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

27 Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment, that is, in respect of June 1993 and November 1993 applications under the 1993 suckler cow premium; the amount of money paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are awaiting 60 per cent advance payment; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; when farmers will receive the final 40 per cent payment under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

John Browne

Question:

29 Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 horse headage scheme to date; the total amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are still awaiting payment under this scheme; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

James Leonard

Question:

32 Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the main problems with regard to forms in respect of the 1993 November special beef premium scheme.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

42 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 beef cow headage scheme to date; the total amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are still awaiting payment under this scheme; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

Donal Moynihan

Question:

47 Mr. Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of cheques issued to farmers in April 1994; and the total value of such cheques.

Michael Creed

Question:

52 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 special beef premium scheme; the amount of money paid out to date, in respect of January-February 1993, June 1993 and November 1993 applications; the number of farmers who are awaiting 60 per cent advance payment under this scheme; when farmers will receive the final 40 per cent payment under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

Matt Brennan

Question:

57 Mr. M. Brennan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry his views on whether forms in respect of the 1994 headage and suckler cow schemes are complex; the reason for this; and the advice, if any, he would give to farmers for the completion of such forms.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

60 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 cattle headage scheme to date; the total amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are still awaiting payment under this scheme; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

James Leonard

Question:

64 Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry whether there was an improvement in the filling of forms for the special premium scheme in November 1993 compared with June 1993.

John Browne

Question:

68 Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny) asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 sheep headage scheme to date; the total amount paid to date under this scheme; the number of farmers who are still awaiting payment under this scheme; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

69 Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the number of farmers who have received payment under the 1993 suckler cow premium for small scale dairy producers to date; the number of farmers who are awaiting 60 per cent advance payment; the amount of money outstanding under this scheme; when farmers will receive the final 40 per cent payment under this scheme; and when all payments will be made.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3, 7, 11, 15, 25, 27, 29, 32, 42, 47, 52, 57, 60, 64, 68 and 69 together.

EU regulations preclude any payment under the suckler cow premium and special beef premium schemes before November and even then limit the payments to 60 per cent advances. Payment of the balances under both of these schemes is covered by EU requirements relating to the ceiling on eligible animals and stocking density. Member states are in fact obliged to process all applications received from a particular applicant during the course of 1993 before paying out the 40 per cent balances. The applications made in November 1993 are therefore a factor in the payment of these balances. However, payment on foot of November 1993 applications commenced at the beginning of April. This in turn has allowed for the commencement of payment of the balances for all 1993 schemes which commenced in mid April. To date 41,847 suckler cow applicants have been paid their final instalments and over 110,000 final payments have been made under the special beef premium schemes.

Exept in duly justified exceptional; cases, EU regulations require payments of 1993 suckler cow and special beef premia to be made not later than 30 June of this year. I expect that all but the most difficult problem cases will be paid within this time-frame. Payment of extensification premium is automatic — there is no application procedure. This payment too is linked to stocking density regulations and extensification payments have now commenced. Disadvantaged areas' headage payments other than for sheep are normally on the basis of advances.

The ewe premium scheme is payable in accordance with EU regulations. Normally payments are made by way of three instalments. Payment of any of the instalments cannot be made until the EU Commission fixes the amount to be paid and until up to seven days have elapsed from the date of publication of that decision in the Official Journal. In 1993 it was decided that the first and second instalments could be paid together following publication of the second instalment decision in the Official Journal on 2 June 1993. In Ireland's case payment of the first and second instalment commenced on 27 July 1993. The EU Commission's decision fixing the third instalment was published on 7 March 1994 facilitating payment by 15 March. In Ireland's case well over 90 per cent of farmers were paid their final instalment before the end of March.

Our performance in delivery of all payments compares more than favourably with that of other member states. No advance payments of either special beef or suckler cow premia were made in several member states in 1993. Our time-frame for paying the 40 per cent balances and extensification is also in line with that in other member states. In so far as the ewe premium is concerned, Ireland is consistently among the first to make payment.

I believe that farmers are entitled to the earliest possible payment of their headage and premium grants and since becoming Minister I believe that the record shows that considerable progress has been made in getting payments to farmers. In the year ended 31 December 1993 over 500,000 payments totalling £377 million were made to farmers under the various premium and headage schemes. This figure exceeded by £28 million the previous record level of payments achieved in 1992. Since the beginning of this year a further 350,000 payments totalling over £145 million have been made. During the month of April alone, close to 180,000 payments amounting to over £50 million issued to farmers under the various headage and premium schemes. The current position is that close to £385 million has been paid out to farmers under the 1993 schemes. With the exception of the extensification premium and the November 1993 applications where payments are ongoing in general all non problem cases have now received either an advance payment or full entitlement. Where farmers make the effort to complete forms accurately there is no inordinate delay in making payments.

In regard to problem cases I expect that many of these will eventually get payment but farmers who are careless with their applications or who fail to supply all necessary details will at best suffer delay in receiving payment and at worst no payment and exclusion from a scheme for up to two years. In the light of the problem cases, it is not possible to be precise on the value of 1993 payments which will ultimately be made.

My objective and that of my Department is to resolve problem cases as quickly as possible but we cannot do this if farmers ignore requests for necessary material. For example, the area aid application form is the cornerstone for ensuring entitlement to all payments. To date 129,479 1993 area aid applications from livestock farmers have been processed. The error rate in completion of these forms was in the region of 30 per cent — in other words over 38,000 applications were incorrect and delayed payments under all other schemes. The June 1993 special beef premum scheme also proved particularly problematic. My Department had to write to up to 40,000 farmers — almost 50 per cent of applicants — concerning problems with their applications. The problems here ranged from failure to submit cattle identity cards quoting invalid tags to omitting age of animals and submitting female cards. There has been a considerable delay by farmers in responding to these queries despite several written reminders in many cases and newspaper advertisements advising farmers that payments cannot be processed in the absence of replies. Up to 20,000 farmers have not yet responded and consequently their applications cannot be processed.

The more recent evidence, however, suggests that farmers are indeed coming to terms with the difficulties. The November 1993 tranche of applications has shown a marked improvement and is proving much less problematic.

I fully recognise that as a result of CAP reform a considerable administrative burden fell on farmers and on administrators during 1993. The schemes are quite complex and farmers have found it necessary to devote much time and effort to the completion of the necessary backup documentation which is an essential part of the new regime. My Department in conjunction with Teagasc have made great efforts to give the necessary information and help to all farmers. Given that the schemes involve considerable amounts of money — as much as £640 million per annum — it is not unreasonable that the European Commission lays down very strict conditions for the filling of forms and the meeting of other requirements.

I have put considerable additional resources in place in my Department to deal with the headage and premium schemes. Last year a new unit with up to 100 staff was set up in Portlaoise to deal with the special beef premium scheme. Earlier this year I announced a £4.8 million investment to develop and upgrade computer facilities and other resources particularly in local offices of my Department with the objective of achieving the optimum delivery of services to farmers and with special emphasis on the timely payment of headage and premia grants. Given the very substantial increase in the volume of applications in 1993 and the new integrated control system introduced under EU regulations, I believe that the record level of payments achieved speaks for itself. The additional resources which I have obtained from the Government will result in an even higher level of payment being achieved in 1994 and should enable the payment of all eligible premium claims within three months of application next year. This objective is in line with the Government's commitment in the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

My objective is to secure a streamlined system for the delivery of all direct payments to farmers, one which is as simple as possible while remaining consistent with EU regulations and at the same time enabling payments to be made as early as possible. I am satisfied that considerable progress has already been achieved and I am determined that my objective will be fully realised.

The length of the Minister's reply is indicative of the extent of the problem that exists among the farming community due to non or partial payment of headage and premia payments. Is the Minister aware that west of the Shannon 80 per cent of farmers' income derives from compensation payments under the CAP reform and east of the Shannon up to 50 per cent of farmers' income derives from such payments? I would hate to ask the PAYE sector to wait up to 15 months for 50 per cent or more of their salary. They would not do it. Will the Minister explain how, to use his own words, he intends to provide a "streamlined system for the delivery of all direct payments to farmers" so that farmers are not waiting up to 15 months for the cheques? John from County Wexford has not yet received £1 of his 1993 ewe premium. He has been told nothing is wrong and his is not a problem case. Will the Minister explain to John the reason for the delay? He is depending on his ewe premium.

I must intervene to say that time is fast running out for dealing with Priority Questions.

This is priority, Sir.

Does the Minister understand that the crippling winter has put added financial pressure on farmers, that farming is in crisis and that the cheques are urgent?

I am not receiving co-operation.

Will the cheques be paid by 9 June, 1994? Are they being held up, as many seem to think? Double payments were made before Christmas 1986 after a bad winter. They could be paid before the general election——

The Chair is very anxious to ensure equity and fair play.

The Minister abused the privilege of this House by reading out a reply of seven pages. No other Minister ever did that.

The Deputy has heard me say many times that the Chair has no control over ministerial replies.

Mr. Byrne

The Deputy asked a question and the Minister answered it.

The Minister's reply is worthwhile but our time has gone.

We asked him a simple question but he gave us a monologue.

Mr. Byrne

By keeping it going the Deputy is missing out on the information.

We are discussing what Deputy Doyle accurately describes as compensatory payments. The reality this year is that there is no compensation requirement because prices are high. Compensatory payments were made in anticipation——

Devaluation.

The Minister could have given a short answer. Why did he drone on?

One Deputy only may intervene at this stage.

What is the position in regard to the 1993 payments?

Compensatory payments were made by the European Union, on foot of CAP reform, in anticipation of a fall in prices but this did not occur last year or this year, thankfully. Farmers have been paid £385 million in supplementary payments; this year alone they have been paid £145 million. This compares more than favourably with the figures for all other member states. All eligible applicants, except in cases where there is a problem or difficulty, have been paid. All other eligible applicants will be paid before 30 June this year.

Will the Minister agree that compensatory payments were made, not only because of the threat of a reduction in prices but also because of cutbacks in production? Will he also agree that farmers cut back production in a range of agricultural enterprises, as they were required to do under the Common Agricultural Policy, at great cost to themselves? That is why they are entitled to the compensatory payments. I am surprised that the Minister tries to make the case that farmers were not entitled to receive these extra millions. That is what he implied.

The Deputy has had a fair innings.

If the Deputy checks with the CSO, she will find that farm incomes increased by 37 per cent in the past two years.

Did they cut back production?

We will continue to make these very valuable, considerable, substantial and generous payments to farmers.

What would their incomes have been if they did not have to cut back production? This is compensation for cutbacks in production and quota controls.