Written Answers. - Disadvantaged Areas.

Brendan Smith

Question:

93 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress, if any, made in finalising the criteria for designation as a severely disadvantaged area; the proposals, if any, submitted to the European Commission in this regard; when this new designation will come into effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8264/98]

The criteria established to facilitate selection of area for reclassification as extremely disadvantaged were as follows: the areas must be already designated more severely handicapped, and should not extend beyond the boundary of the original MSH designation of 1975; there must be a high proportion of "rough grazing" land in the areas; the areas must be subject to extreme climatic conditions; to ensure homogeneity of physical characteristics and farming types, areas must be at least 20,000 hectares in extent. All potential areas were examined for compliance with these criteria, and proposals were prepared which were formally submitted to the EU Commission on 9 October 1996.

Subsequent to the submission, the Commission raised the issues of conservation and overgrazing in connection with the REPS and special areas of conservation. It is concerned to ensure proposals affecting the extension and reclassification of land in the disadvantaged areas do not have an adverse effect on areas which are being targeted by the REPS and SAC's as requiring special attention.

In this regard, the Commission has made it clear that discussions relating to overgrazing and conservation must be concluded before proposals affecting disadvantaged areas can be finalised. I have been in contact with the Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Franz Fischler, to impress on him the importance of finalising these issues, and I will continue to press for an early decision on the third tier proposals.