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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Mar 2001

Vol. 533 No. 5

Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Foot and Mouth Disease.

Seymour Crawford


1 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the plans he has in place to make payments of farm grants given that Department staff cannot carry out farm visits; if he can utilise the information he has available through CMMS to bring payments forward; if he can allow work to commence and go forward under the control of farmyard pollution and dairy hygiene schemes provided that they can be agreed by desk discussions and where they meet planning regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9234/01]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): As a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK in February 2001, my Department cancelled on-farm inspections for all farm income support and investment schemes.
If, during 2001, it is found that because of foot and mouth disease difficulties it is not possible to comply with all the requirements governing on-farm controls, then the possibilities for providing alternative assurance as to the veracity of applications under the premium schemes, which the wider use of the CMMS database in 2001 may allow, will have to be considered. My Department has already been in touch with the European Commission about the problems.
With regard to farm investment schemes, it is my intention to process payments for projects completed and inspected. However, on the basis of the advice received from the expert group chaired by Professor Michael Monaghan, it is not possible to carry out any farm visits either to inspect completed works or to process new applications for on-farm investments. In this context, it is also considered inappropriate to approve works to proceed on farms which would involve the entry of contractors, builders, etc, on to the farms. I assure the Deputy that the position generally regarding payment of premium and grant aid will be kept under continual review.

Is the Minister aware that many farm families cannot sell store cattle or calves or get pigs to factories? Their situation in relation to income is desperate but they cannot get money that is owed to them because of minor technicalities relating to headage and area aid schemes. I urge the Minister to ensure that the logjams that exist are cleared as quickly as possible.

Regarding farm building and other grants, is it possible to allow new structures to be built given that on-farm visits by administrators cannot take place? These jobs are carried out by qualified contractors and the facilities can be guaranteed if qualified contractors are used. I urge the Minister to ensure that dairy hygiene and farmyard pol lution projects can go ahead. As he is aware, there was a 12 month delay in securing EU approval for these projects and many of them are long overdue.

I acknowledge the consideration Deputy Crawford, his party and the Labour Party have shown for the distress being caused to farmers in general because of the restrictions on animal movements and the various measures that have been taken since 21 February. Farmers in County Louth in particular are facing enormous difficulties, but they are making sacrifices that are in the best interests of the remainder of the country.

The tradition is that store cattle are sold on. In my part of the country, there is great difficulty with regard to dropped calves while the problems regarding a number of services farmers need, particularly AI services, are becoming acute at this stage. I intend to use the CMMS, if it is appropriate, to assist with regard to payments. I have put forward a case in relation to farm buildings under the farm waste and dairy hygiene schemes to the expert group under Professor Monaghan. The expert group has allowed certain low risk activities to go ahead and I want to know how soon inspections can be carried out to allow these necessary works to commence. In relation to payments generally, I confirm that all up to date payments have been made. Any payments due in the next few weeks will be made expeditiously.

Is the Minister aware that many payments are still outstanding and that, according to departmental officials, farm visits are required before these can be made? However, they cannot take place. Given that these farmers will be due other payments in the future, would it be possible to make either part or full payments to them while making it clear that sums could be withheld in the future if problems emerge? Much of farmers' income now is based on premia for headage and suckler grants. There is no way they can exist without some money being made available to them now, given that they cannot sell any products. In some cases, farmers cannot even move their animals out to grass.

Since 1 January 2001, 383,000 cheques, with a total value of £168 million, have been issued in the post. Since the start of March, payments worth £46 million have been issued, mainly under the various premia schemes. I will ensure that any direct payments which are due will be paid. If the CMMS is likely to be helpful, it will be used.

I will put the case to the expert group in relation to capital works on farms under the dairy hygiene, farm waste and other schemes. I will base my decision on the scientific advice available to me. If the group says that certain low risk visits can take place to enable various schemes to go ahead, arrangements will be made in that regard. If a farmer has completed a job and only requires a visit from an agricultural inspector, arrangements will be made if the expert group says that can be allowed under certain controlled conditions.

Willie Penrose


2 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the level of compensation being put in place to support farmers who have been affected by the compulsory culling of their animals to curb the spread of foot and mouth disease; if steps are being taken to inform farmers with regard to the intended animal culls as a measure to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9400/01]

I am acutely aware of the hardship, both emotional and financial, being experienced by farmers in the vicinity of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Proleek in County Louth. The herds of farmers in the 1 km. and 3 km. zones have been compulsorily slaughtered. However, I am sure there is general consensus on all sides of the House and in the farming community and the wider public that this work, while traumatic for those involved and unpalatable for us all, is absolutely necessary.

In each case of compulsory depopulation, my Department has arranged for valuations of the relevant animals by experts prior to slaughter so that the farmers in question can be paid the full market value for their stock. My Department will ensure that these payments are processed as quickly as possible to avoid any exacerbation of an already difficult situation for those affected. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, in conjunction with my Department, has put in place arrangements to fast track assessments for eligibility under the farm assist scheme in cases of particular hardship. Compensation received for compulsory depopulation will not be taken into account in the assessment of means under the farm assist scheme.

Regarding the provision of information to farmers whose herds are likely to be depopulated, I assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to contact those affected as soon as possible after the decision is made in each case. Arrangements have been put in place to decide, where possible, on the following day's cull by 6 p.m. each evening and to provide the necessary information to Teagasc in the first instance to enable it to contact the farmers concerned. A list of farmers affected is also being supplied to the local IFA branch to allow farmers to check through that channel in the event that they are in any doubt about their inclusion in the following day's cull.

While the prior notice given to farmers will be short, there is little alternative in the circumstances obtaining at present. I am satisfied that, however traumatic the experience will be for the farmers concerned, undue delay in giving effect to a decision to cull animals will only serve to exacerbate the situation and magnify any risk of transmitting the disease. I have arranged a follow-up visit by Teagasc and-or departmental officials to individual farmers whose herds or flocks have been depopulated.

We are all aware of the sense of shock and devastation experienced by farming families in the north Louth area. The core of the economy in the region is being dismantled. Does the Minister agree it is important that the compensatory procedure is implemented as a matter of urgency because many of those farmers have been without incomes for between five and six weeks? Given the compulsory disposal of stock, will the Minister agree his Department should contact the Revenue Commissioners and ask them to take cognisance of the fact that there will be artificially inflated profits on these farms for the year ending 5 April? This will not arise as a result of normal disposal but as a result of compulsory disposal initiated by the State, and rightly so. What back-up team is available? Will the Minister consider putting in place an interdepartmental task force, incorporating the multi-departmental agency approach, to provide advice, assistance and counselling? Has he been in contact with the co-ops and banks, particularly the associated banks, who have made enormous inflated profits, some of it on the backs of farmers throughout the country, requesting them, as a gesture of solidarity and goodwill with the farming and tourism community, to waive the interest chargeable on the gale days over the next three to six months?

I have instructed the payments section of the Department to pay out the compensation to farmers who have had their herds depopulated. This will be done expeditiously. I also met the valuers concerned and my understanding is that there is market value and there has not been any difficulty in relation to valuation. While I do not have a direct line of communication to Revenue, I accept the Deputy's point that farmers who paid for depopulation, which was a force majeure, did not wish to do so, therefore, any profits are illusory as these stocks will have to be replaced and built up again. I will take that matter on board.

On the question of a multi-departmental task force, such a task force is in place and it held its first meeting on Monday. There are very good lines of communication in place, including a help centre, which is generally organised by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. The task force also involves all the other Departments and it has met in Dundalk.

I have met the co-ops. The co-ops in the general region of Counties Louth and Monaghan have been quite helpful in relation to milk collection. They have been doing a very good job in installing filters, milk tankers and so on to allow a very difficult situation to be ameliorated for dairy farmers. I have not contacted the banks but there is no doubt they are doing extremely well from the Irish economy and the farming community in general. I expect they will take a benign and considered approach in this matter. I will make direct contact with the banks and take the issue up with them.