Farmers on offshore islands have benefited from a number of recent initiatives in relation to REPS. These include: a concession introduced in the 1996 budget, whereby the first £2,000 of REPS payment is disregarded for unemployment assistance means testing purposes — costs incurred in complying with REPS measures may also be offset against income for social welfare purposes — the inclusion of grazing rights in eligible areas under REPS; the employment by Teagasc of a planner, nominated by Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, to assist in REPS planning work on the islands.
The Deputy may be interested to learn that after a slow start, the level of REPS participation among island farmers has increased substantially over the last 18 months. My Department will continue to review the operation of REPS in all areas, including the offshore islands, to ensure that the scheme is applied in the most effective and practical way possible.
In relation to the agri-tourism scheme, higher grant rates, compared to those for the rest of the country, already obtain as regards capital investment projects on the islands. These take account of the additional costs involved in island communities. There are no plans to review the scheme in this context at the moment.
In relation to Leader, my Department is considering proposals for changes in the programme rules in the context of the mid-term review of the Leader programme which is under way at present.