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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 23 Apr 1998

Vol. 490 No. 1

Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - Control of Farm Pollution.

Paul Connaughton


1 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reasons he has not introduced a replacement for the control of farmyard pollution grant scheme; if his attention has been drawn to the many farmers being debarred from entry into the REP scheme due to the absence of a farmyard pollution control scheme; if his Department has estimated the total number of farmers who may wish to apply for this scheme; if he has been in contact with the European Union regarding the scheme; and if the Government will fund this scheme in the event that the European Union will not co-finance it. [9527/98]

Under the current Operational Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry some £100 million was made available for the control of farmyard pollution. Due to the high level of demand relative to the funding provided it was necessary to suspend the acceptance of new applications on 27 April 1995. In the context of the mid-term review of the Structural Funds in which the European Commission was involved, additional funding of £20 million was made available to the scheme in July 1997. A further £9.5 million was allocated from Exchequer funds in the 1997 Supplementary Estimate. Therefore, considerable funding has been made available for this measure under the current programme and a large number of farmers have availed of the scheme. Additionally, the capital allowance for necessary pollution control works was increased from £20,000 to £30,000 in this year's Finance Bill.

There are no funds available at present under the Structural Funds programme to facilitate the reintroduction of the control of farmyard pollution scheme. I am monitoring the situation and in the event that additional funds become available as a result of decommitments on projects in the Community Support Framework, I will press that the scheme is given priority in the disbursement of such funds. There are currently no plans to provide Exchequer finance for a new scheme.

That is all bad news. We all recognise that scheme was useful. However, between 25,000 and 30,000 farmers would apply to join a new scheme if one were introduced. That is because they are dairy farmers with livestock and have a pollution problem on their farms. Given that and that many of them are pulling back from signing up for the REPS, the position will become worse. The Department must be monitoring the number of farmers it considers would join a new scheme and I ask the Minister to elaborate on that. Does he agree that as many as 30,000 farmers might join a new scheme?

As we approach 1 May this is the time of the year——

I would prefer the Deputy to ask a supplementary question as this is Question Time.

Farmers are deciding how they will house their animals next winter and this is a crucial time for them. Will the Minister give the farmers a direction as to whether a farmyard pollution scheme will be introduced which they could then join?

This was a beneficial scheme, but it was costly and there was a degree of front-loading in relation to it. Initially £100 million was made available under the scheme and that was supplemented by an additional £20 million under the mid-term review which became available last July. A further £9.5 million was made available to meet the requirements of those schemes in the pipeline. Capital allowances were increased from £20,000 to £30,000 which will be of considerable benefit to those who can avail of them. I reiterate I am keeping a close eye on this matter and, if additional funds become available because of under utilised funds under headings under any of the operational programme schemes, I will seek those funds for this scheme. In the annual Estimates, which will be prepared next autumn, I will seek, as I did last year, an increase in capital allowances to assist farmers as much as possible under this heading.

Will a scheme be introduced this year and does the Minister agree between 25,000 and 30,000 farmers would join such a scheme? Will he give a straight answer because farmers are looking to him for a direction in that regard?

Approximately 18,500 farmers have availed of the scheme since 1994 and farmers are still being paid under it. For example, in 1997 £47 million was paid out to farmers under it and to date this year £8.5 million has been paid out under it. Farmers are continuing to avail of capital allowances under the Finance Acts. I am not in a position to say how many farmers would avail of a new scheme if one was introduced, but I am conscious of the importance of this scheme. I realise the good work it has done and if further moneys are freed up under any other operational programmes this scheme is earmarked for them. In the context of this year's annual Estimates, I will fight for additional resources for that scheme.

If that is what we have to depend on, the Minister is talking about lollipop money, given the number of farmers who want to join a scheme. The Minister has bad news for the farmers today.

It is a pity the scheme was ever suspended.

It is a pity it was promised it would be continued during the last election campaign.