Written Answers. - Land Reclassification.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

622 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the criteria for reclassification of less severely handicapped areas to more severely handicapped areas; whether the criteria has changed since the disadvantaged areas scheme was introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16312/96]

The general conditions for designation of areas as less-favoured are laid down in Council Directive 75/268/EEC of 28 April 1975. The specific conditions relating to Ireland are set out in Council Directive 75/272/EEC of 28 April 1975, as amended by Council Directive 85/350/EEC of 27 June 1985.

Areas which satisfy the criteria as specified in the above Directives may be designated as less favoured. These areas are classified as less severely handicapped, and farmers in the areas qualify for payments as laid down in various headage schemes.

However, member states are authorised, under Article 7 of 75/268/EEC, to vary the conditions of headage schemes depending on the severity of the permanent natural handicap affecting farming activities. Ireland has used this authority to classify certain areas as more severely handicapped, and farmers in these areas can qualify for higher payments. Additional categories of animals also attract payments in these areas.

Between 1975 and 1985, areas for reclassification as more severely handicapped were generally identified by the poor nature of the land and the observed difficulties for farming. All mountainous and peatland areas in the west were included, as were most of the higher mountainous areas in the midlands and east. However, there were also areas of poor quality land which did not fit into these categories, so for the Fourth Review of disadvantaged areas (1989-1991), specific criteria were established to aid in identifying these areas. The criteria which applied in 1989-91 were as follows:—

— The income should be no higher than 40 per cent of the national average, compared with 80 per cent for less severely handicapped areas;

— The percentage of the workforce engaged in agriculture should be at least 40 per cent of the total workforce, compared with 30 per cent in less severely handicapped areas;

— The land quality index should indicate the poor nature of the land;

— The proposed areas must be contiguous to the existing or proposed more severely handicapped area boundary.
For the Fifth Review (1992-1995), it was agreed that the above conditions would be modified, as follows—
— Income of an area must not exceed 60 per cent of the National Average Income;
— Land Quality must not exceed 4 on the land assessment scale of 0 to 9.
— the area must form a homogenous block and be contiguous to an existing more severely handicapped area OR if not contiguous, form a homogenous block of at least 15,000 hectares.
It should be noted that while a member state can set the criteria by which areas are identified as suffering a higher degree of handicap than others, EU Commission approval is required before these areas can be reclassified. The Commission must be satisfied that these criteria accurately identify such areas, and that the areas meet the criteria, before they will approve requests for reclassification.