Written Answers. - CAP Rural Development Plan.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

141 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources if he will award premia grants to landowners who planted forests prior to 1999 under the CAP Rural Development Plan 2000-2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7479/01]

Following discussions with the European Commission, the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, announced, in March last, significant increases averaging 30% in the rate of afforestation grants and premiums for those planting from 1 October 1999.

The afforestation grant is a once off payment, made in two instalments, which is aimed at compensating farmers for the costs associated with the establishment of the plantation. I do not intend to extend increased grants to those who planted before 1 October 1999. I am, however, attempting to secure increases in the level of annual forest premiums for those who planted prior to 1 October 1999. Despite protracted negotiations, the European Commission refused to agree to co-fund similar increases in the forest premiums paid to those who planted before that date.

I am now considering possible funding from the Exchequer for those who planted prior to 1 October 1999. The estimated annual cost of such at present is £3.4 million. In view of the State aids aspect, any decision to have the cost borne by the Exchequer would also require European Commission agreement.