Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Joe Walsh

Question:

119 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry if he will have arrangements made to pay the 20 per cent balance due to farmers since 1 January 1997 on the 1996 special beef premium and suckler cow premia. [4046/97]

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

120 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry when the last instalment of the 1996 sheep premium will be paid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4050/97]

John Ellis

Question:

122 Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry when he will commence payments of the balance of premium payments for 1996 to livestock farmers. [3930/97]

John Ellis

Question:

124 Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry when he will commence payments of extensification payments to livestock farmers. [3932/97]

I propose taking Questions Nos. 119, 120, 122 and 124 together.

Payment of the balance of special beef premium and suckler cow premium will commence early next week. Payment of the final instalment of the 1996 ewe premium will commence this week following publication on 8 February 1997 of the EU regulation setting the rate.

With regard to the 1996 extensification premium, it is anticipated that payments will commence in May 1997 in accordance with the commitment outlined in the Farmers' Charter which stipulates that payment will be made in the period April to June in the year following the year of application.

Joe Walsh

Question:

121 Mr. J. Walsh asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the efforts, if any, which are being made to ensure that the offshore islands will receive additional incentives and assistance under the reviews of the rural environmental protection scheme, agri-tourism scheme and the Leader II programme in view of the extreme peripherality and additional transport costs faced by island communities. [3917/97]

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.