Written Answers. - Grant Payments.
91 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the number of local offices throughout the country which process applications for premium payments; when moneys became available to the Exchequer from European sources for payments of premia due on 16 October 2001; the method of dealing with applications during the retention period of application for premia, that is, until 16 June 2002; if applications can be processed and approved and made ready for payment during that period; his views on whether it is satisfactory that payments of the 80% premia normally due for payment by 16 October 2001 are being delayed for many months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3981/02]
The position is that there are 26 local offices throughout the country, which process applications under the ewe premium and suckler cow premium schemes. Special beef premium and slaughter premium scheme payments are processed in a central unit in Portlaoise.
Some €749 million has been paid to farmers to date under the various 2001 schemes. Under EU rules premium payments are pre-financed from national funds and recouped from the European Commission on average six weeks later.
Different retention periods apply in regard to the schemes but in the case of the 2001 suckler cow premium scheme the application period ran from 2 January to 29 June 2001 and most of the 66,900 applications were received in the May-June period. The retention period ran for six months from the time of application so that the retention period for June applicants did not finish until December 2001. Under the protocol on direct payments to farmers advance payments of 60% were due to commence on 16 October. Where the retention period was completed by 16 October all eligible advance payments were to be made by 1 December. In other eligible cases such advance payments were to be made within 30 days of the end of the retention period. However, following strong representation by me to the European Commission, it agreed to increase the advance payment to 80% of entitlement for 2001.
Payments commenced on 26 October, the day the EU regulation giving effect to the increased payment was published. To date, 80% advance payments valued in excess of €153 million has been paid to all eligible applicants under the suckler cow premium scheme, representing 92% of all applicants. Balancing payments – 20% – commenced on 31 January 2002 in line with our commitment in the protocol on direct payments to farmers. To date, some €30 million has been paid to 71% of applicants. These balancing payments will continue over the coming months with a view to ensuring that all eligible cases are paid by 30 June 2002 in accordance with the protocol and EU rules. Those farmers who have not yet received their advance payment will, assuming that their application is in order, receive 100% entitlement at balancing payment stage.
Experience over the years has been that a small percentage of applications remain under query during the month of January before balancing payments commence. In all cases the farmers concerned have been made aware of the problem with their applications and cases are being cleared for payment on an ongoing basis. My Department is obliged to carry out a range of checks and controls including cross-checks against the bovine animal database CMMS with a view to ensuring,inter alia, that the animals applied on were in the herd at the time of applications; the animals supplied on – or suitable replacements – remained in the herd for the full retention period; and the heifer-cow ratio is respected. Some of these checks are carried out during the retention period. Obviously, the retention period check itself can only be made after the full retention period has expired.
My Department has been making progressive use of databases in processing applications since 1997-98. In line with EU requirements cross-checks against the CMMS have been intensified since January 2000. The relevant regulation stipulates that premium can only be paid in respect of an animal which is properly recorded on the CMMS.
Under the 2001 suckler cow premium scheme, more than 1.1 million animal tag numbers have been cross-checked in this manner and difficulties initially arose in respect of about 30,000 tags or 2.7% of animals. These difficulties mainly relate to farm-to-farm movements where, unfortunately, either the seller or buyer or both fail to notify the movement to the CMMS. In a number of cases, animals being supplied on as cows were, according to the CMMS, heifers at the time of application. It has also transpired that some farmers who have already received an advance payment now appear to have slaughtered cows before the end of the retention period without notifying my Department of eligible replacements. There are also other outstanding queries under this scheme relating to issues such as area aid problems, milk quota, etc. In all such cases the farmers concerned have been advised of the outstanding problem.
My Department is making every effort, through contact with individual herdowners, to have all outstanding cases cleared for payment. Therefore it is most important that farmers respond promptly to queries. In light of the foregoing, I believe that the delivery of payments is highly efficient.