Topical Issue Debate

Thalidomide Victim Compensation

The Government committed in the programme for Government to address the issues of thalidomide survivors in Ireland and to compensate them. Two years later, we are still waiting for it to do so. It is hoped the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, will be able to give survivors, the number of whom is reducing, some hope of their issues being addressed. While many people have been waiting since this Government took office two years ago for address of this issue, many others have been waiting the more than 50 years, since they were first affected, for it to be addressed.

The drug, introduced in 1959, was supposedly safe, non-toxic, had no side affects and was an effective treatment of morning sickness, nausea and sleeplessness. Later that year, questions around how unsafe it was first emerged and deformities in foetuses and infants were highlighted in many reports up to 1961, following which many states withdrew the product from Chemie Grünenthal. However, the Irish State did not move as quickly as others and failed to inform mothers of the horrific consequences of their taking thalidomide, including deformed limbs, malformation of the heart, bowel, uterus and gall bladder, shortened life spans, deafness, weakened facial muscles and a range of other health problems.

In 1975, the then Minister for Health, Mr. Brendan Corish, convinced thalidomide victims, many of whom it was believed would not survive beyond their teenage years, to agree a lump sum. However, there are now a number of survivors whose needs we need as a society to address into the future, in particular their medical needs as they grow older.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue for discussion. I tabled this matter in the aftermath of the undeniable progress being made following the Taoiseach's statement on the Magdalen situation. I commend the Taoiseach on his remarks in that regard and on how he has dealt to date with that particular issue. The manner in which that issue has been dealt with has given rise to renewed expectations on behalf of two other groups in Irish society, the victims of symphysiotomy and the 32 thalidomide victims.

I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, has taken great interest in this matter, which she has demonstrated in a practical manner down through the years. It is regrettable that the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, has left the Chamber as this issue is being discussed. When in opposition, the Minister indicated a serious level of interest in this matter. Thalidomide survivors are inordinately disappointed with the lack of action in this particular matter on the part of the Minister for Health since taking office.

Quite clearly what they want are medical and social services provided on a statutory basis and adequate compensation. They are conscious of the fact that in other jurisdictions updated schemes of compensation and supports have been put in place, but they have not been put in place here and this flies in the face of the commitment in the programme for Government.

I hope it will be brought to the attention of members of the Cabinet that the Topical Issue system will not work unless we can depend on the responsible Minister coming to the House to answer the questions being tabled. It is the height of effrontery to leave the Chamber at a time when an issue of the significance is being taken.

I will pass on the Deputy's remarks to the Ceann Comhairle.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

On behalf of the Minister for Health I wish to say it was because this is directly after an hour and a quarter of questions and the Minister had something else timetabled. I am sure he has not only seen the response but is still very committed to this area. With regard to the previous debate we had on Question Time, it is significant that two Deputies, both from the Opposition, raised the same matter as a Topical Issue.

I am pleased to take this opportunity to outline the Government's position on Irish survivors of thalidomide raised by Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Ó Fearghaíl. The Government recognises that each individual survivor of thalidomide faces challenges. How could we not? In this context, the Government's aim is to address the health and personal social care needs of thalidomide survivors living in Ireland. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has stated he is willing to enter into discussions with the Irish Thalidomide Association and the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society on the basis of a health care package on a non-statutory basis, which I know is not what they seek; an ex gratia payment having regard to current financial circumstances; and a statement to the Dáil recognising the challenges faced by survivors. I genuinely believe if we get two out of three we will have the basis for engagement.

The current position is that in 2012 the Irish Thalidomide Association publicly announced it had ceased talks with the Government. The association's legal adviser has initiated personal injuries claims against the manufacturer and distributors of the thalidomide drug and the State. The Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society has sought guarantees on other issues, including an independent agency and a statutory health care package to include other aspects of their needs such as housing, heating, transport and clothing. These are outside the remit of the health sector. The Minister requested that the society consider, in good faith, proceeding with a health care protocol. The health care protocol envisaged appointing and training a multidisciplinary team, arranging a multidisciplinary health evaluation, identifying and documenting the health care needs and issues of thalidomide survivors and developing plans to address these needs. The Minister's position remains unchanged.

I would also like to outline for the House the financial supports provided to Irish survivors of thalidomide since 1975, which is in no way to say they are in any way a compensatory issue. The payments made by the State in 1975 to the survivors of thalidomide and their families were made because the State believed then that it was appropriate to make some provision for the survivors. The payments made were substantial and were designed to augment payments made to the survivors by a German foundation. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh correctly pointed out, at that point it was never envisaged that survivors would live into middle age or beyond. There are 32 Irish thalidomide survivors, and each survivor received lump sum payments from a German foundation and the Irish Government in the early 1970s. In 1975, the lump sums paid by the Irish Government ranged from €6,400 to €21,000. In addition, each survivor receives ongoing monthly payments from both the German foundation and the Irish Government. Combining the Irish and German payments, most individuals receive €30,386 per annum or €2,572 per month, tax free. The German and Irish monthly allowance is not reckonable for State benefits and each individual is automatically entitled to a medical card. The Government's response to the plight of thalidomide survivors from 1975 to date has been reasonable and compassionate in its provision of financial and other supports to augment payments made by the German foundation. The Minister's proposals to provide a non-statutory health care package and his offer of meaningful discussions around a financial gesture of goodwill towards survivors of thalidomide represents the Government's commitment in the programme for Government, very much recognising that the 32 people involved face substantial challenges every day of their lives.

Given the earlier debate, I am concerned that only two Deputies, whether Opposition or Government, tabled this matter as a Topical Issue because I presume we all received the same reminder about the issue.

Perhaps the Deputies are not as telepathically tuned in as the Government.

We do not have the resources of the Fine Gael press office.

We are dealing with the question of 32 survivors who struggle with everyday life. The amount mentioned by the Minister of State that they receive from the German foundation eases the burden but does not lift it.

It is an acknowledgement of the role the State has played since 1975, but given the fact they face substantial new challenges because of middle age and old age the victims have reasserted their call for the issue to be dealt with, as the programme for Government stated it would be.

We have all received correspondence from two extraordinary women, Maggie Woods from the Irish Thalidomide Association and Carmel Daly McDonnell from the Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society. The Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society has taken a more conciliatory approach, but it reports to us it has not seen much sign of conciliation from the Minister. Responses are not more readily forthcoming as a result of their conciliatory approach.

It is widely reported that in the aftermath of the first discussion and the first statement by the Taoiseach on the Magdalen issue that the Minister of State went to a Labour Party Parliamentary Party meeting and indicated her very strong dissatisfaction. She motivated many of her backbench colleagues to jump up and down and insist something meaningful be done for the survivors of the Magdalen laundries. I plead with her today to do the same thing for these 32 men and women who suffer on a daily basis as a result of the State having failed them for more than 50 years. The cost of doing justice will be minimal compared with the overall cost of State expenditure. We owe it to them. We have a moral obligation to do something for them. The Minister of State has the opportunity to do something about it and I trust her to do it.

I cannot possibly comment on what is reported in newspapers, as the Deputy knows. This is not an issue which has gone away. We need to continue to try to find a resolution to it. I will do my very best on this issue.

Treatment Abroad Scheme

I wish to question why current guidelines for the HSE treatment abroad scheme do not cover the costs of accommodation, baggage or travel agent fees for the travel companion of a patient who is unable to travel alone. I find it very perplexing that under current structures an individual who is unable to travel alone cannot receive financial support for the baggage, accommodation or travel agent costs of a person travelling with him or her.

We must remember we are not just dealing with guidelines or facts and figures, but real people who are actively and adversely affected by these decisions. The financial burden of their illness, as well as the emotional burden, is very real and distressing. In my constituency I have been dealing with the case of an individual who is not, and never will be, in a position to travel independently to receive his annual treatment in the United Kingdom. Thus through necessity his wife is required to travel with him, but under the scheme she must bear the financial burden of her accommodation, baggage and travel agent fees. To be honest I am bewildered as to why the treatment abroad scheme does not allow for the travel expenses of this woman. As far as the HSE is concerned, she should have to worry about paying these expenses as well as worry about her ill husband. The couple is in receipt of an invalidity pension and a half rate carer's allowance. They have to borrow money to cover these critical expenses.

This is unacceptable. We are dealing with individuals who, by virtue of the fact that they are covered by the scheme, are by definition unwell and vulnerable. We are not dealing with an extravagant request. In his instance the person has simply asked that as her husband is unable to receive the treatment he needs within the State, the HSE should cover the reasonable cost of somewhere for her to sleep. It is clear that the TAS do not cover these expenses but I feel strongly that this decision on the structure of the scheme must be revisited, in so far as is practicable.

These people are not looking for much. All they want to do is travel with a loved one who cannot travel alone, without the worry of putting themselves in debt. I think this is a reasonable request and I fail to see how anyone would find this situation tenable or sustainable for individuals in such circumstances.

I would like to thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The HSE operates a treatment abroad scheme, TAS, for persons entitled to treatment in another EU/EEA member state, or Switzerland, under EU Regulation 883/04 and Implementing Regulation 987/09 in accordance with Department of Health guidelines. Within these governing EU regulations and the Department of Health's guidelines, the TAS provides for the cost of approved treatments in another EU/EEA member state, or Switzerland, through the issue of form E112 (IE).

A decision is made on each application in accordance with this legislation and guidelines, and on the basis of a review by clinical experts. The cost of the treatment is not a deciding factor when approving an application. The treatment must not be available within the State or not available within a time normally necessary for obtaining it. The TAS allows for an Irish-based consultant to refer a patient who is normally resident in Ireland for treatment in another EU-EEA member state or Switzerland, where the treatment in question meets certain criteria.

The application to refer a patient abroad must be assessed and a determination given prior to the patient availing of the treatment abroad. Valid applications will be processed within 15 to 20 working days and a decision will be issued via letter. Appointments should not be scheduled prior to a decision being reached on an application. Appointments that are made prior to a decision will have no bearing on the review process or its expedition.

Following clinical assessment, the Irish-based referring hospital consultant must provide details of the patient's condition, the specific treatment being applied for and the provider of the treatment abroad. Under the regulations, there are no provisions obliging the State to make payments towards accommodation and baggage costs of people availing of treatment under the TAS. Nevertheless, in exceptional circumstances and despite budgetary pressures generally on the budget of the Health Service Executive, some discretionary assistance is made available on a case by case basis.

The treatment abroad scheme does not include a provision for travel and or subsistence expenses for patients or their relatives travelling abroad to avail of approved treatments. However, the HSE and specifically the TAS may provide assistance towards reasonable, economic air or sea travel fares for patients and a travelling companion where appropriate.

In an effort to standardise and provide equity of access and entitlements to approved applicants for transport costs associated with travelling outside the State for treatment, this policy is executed as national policy. The HSE treatment abroad scheme will implement this policy on travel expenses for such patients and in certain circumstances an accompanying family member or another travelling companion, as follows: the full cost of air or sea transport from Ireland to the relevant EU-EEA country, or Switzerland, will be provided for the patient availing of approved TAS medical treatment, subject to available funding; where the patient is under the age of 18, the full air or sea transport costs of one accompanying adult will also be provided, subject to available funding; in the circumstances that a patient over the age of 18 requires accompaniment on the basis of medical health or incapacitation, consideration can be given for the funding of such an escort's sea or air transport costs where the referring consultant certifies such a need, subject to available funding.

Once the patient has availed of an approved treatment abroad, the care of the patient reverts immediately to the referring Irish consultant. I hope this clarifies the issues for the Deputy.

I thank the Minister of State for her comprehensive remarks on the structure of the scheme. I understand the regulation under which the scheme operates and that there are certain restrictions. It is a good, necessary scheme which has worked very well in recent years. The Minister of State said that some discretionary assistance is made available on a case by case basis but that should be made clear to applicants. They should be aware that discretion is applied, particularly to people in difficult financial circumstances because they are exclusively dependent on social welfare payments.

In the case I am dealing with, we have a set of circumstances whereby an individual is required to be accompanied by his wife. By definition, he has a chronic condition and will never be able to travel alone. The people concerned will be travelling for a week. It is not possible to survive with one small suitcase for a week, particularly if a person does not have any washing facilities. Therefore the treatment abroad scheme should take account of the real situation facing those applying for it. It is necessary to provide some resources for relatively small amounts of baggage fees which may not be a challenge for the Minister of State or myself, but may be very difficult for a person in vulnerable circumstances. The scheme helps people to get well but it should not put people into debt when they are already in a very difficult situation.

There is a key piece concerning the discretionary element of the scheme, which is that the consultant should state that the person needs to be accompanied. People probably do not know about that, but they need to.

A discretionary scheme has flexibility that does not apply to other schemes, which is helpful. Nonetheless, that discretion is not often applied evenly across the country. Therefore, while it is a good thing to have such discretion and flexibility, it often does not have the result one would expect. It is an issue of communication both for people exercising the discretion and those applying for the scheme. That type of information needs to be available to applicants for the treatment abroad scheme. It would be helpful if the relevant data were part and parcel of the information leaflet on the scheme.

Social Welfare Code

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this matter. In the short time I have been in this House, one of the difficulties I have come across - I am sure other Deputies have faced the same situation - concerns the problems of self-employed people who attend constituency clinics. Their businesses have evaporated and collapsed in a heap thanks in no small way to the mismanagement of the economy for a number of years by the previous Administration, leading to the collapse of the construction industry. The vast majority of people who are being left in a limbo situation are those who were self-employed and either directly involved in the construction industry or those connected to the retail sector who have seen their businesses collapse in the economic meltdown that this Government is now trying to get the country out of.

On a number of occasions I have raised this matter by way of parliamentary questions to the Minister for Social Protection. In its pre-budget submission, the Small Firms Association has also identified this as a major issue. When people who have made substantial contributions by way of taxes and PRSI - both for themselves and, more importantly, for their employees - present themselves at a social welfare office when times get tough, there is absolutely nothing available for them.

I know the Minister of State's answer will be that a review has been established and that there is a class S scheme for the self-employed and class A1 for employees.

However, at present there is no way to allow people to make an additional contribution on a voluntary basis, on top of what they already are making, or to encourage them to so do in order that when times get tough, they would have something they could avail of, if that is what they desire. Moreover, there are many other anomalies in the system. For instance, I refer to the difficulty people who were self-employed encounter if they manage to get into a community employment scheme in respect of being reassessed or the difficulties they have in gaining access to retraining or any form of support from the State in the context of such support being assessed under spouse's income or being assessed on a holistic basis. This issue pertains to a group of people who are silent regarding the effect this is having on them. However, I firmly believe that were one able to drill down into the figures on the approximately 80,000 people who emigrate from this country annually thanks to the economic collapse, they primarily would be tradespeople such as carpenters, painters, plumbers or plasterers. The vast majority of this group were self-employed and have credit they cannot service. Moreover, the vast majority of them had people working for them, kept their taxes, paid their PRSI and were instrumental in making the economy work.

If this country is ever to return to having real growth in local communities, those who are the wealth generators must be looked after. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has identified the self-employed as being the new poor. This issue has been kicked around for several months in respect of a commission to establish and examine what will be done for them. There is a real sense of urgency in this regard because there will be a major problem unless something is done soon. I wish to make an appeal to the Minister, through the Minister of State, because unless the issue of how to treat self-employed people is dealt with, we will be storing up a major social problem for ourselves. Those concerned are not people who make up stories but are genuine people who cannot make ends meet at present. I appeal to the Minister of State, through his colleague in Cabinet, the Minister for Social Protection, to put this issue at the top of the agenda.

I am taking the debate on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection. Self-employed persons are liable for PRSI at the class S rate of 4%, which entitles them to access long-term benefits such as State pension, contributory, and widow's, widower's or surviving civil partner's pension, contributory. Ordinary employees who have access to the full range of social insurance benefits pay class A PRSI at the rate of 4%. In addition, their employers make a PRSI contribution of 10.75% in respect of their employees, resulting in the payment of a combined 14.75% rate per employee under full-rate PRSI class A.

In 2011 the Minister for Social Protection established the advisory group on tax and social welfare to meet the commitment made in the programme for Government. The advisory group is charged with, among other issues, examining and reporting on issues involved in providing social insurance cover for self-employed persons to establish whether such cover is technically feasible and financially sustainable. The advisory group's overall method of working is based on producing modular reports on the priority areas identified in the terms of reference. Where possible, the aim is to provide recommendations that can be acted upon in time for the annual budget, Estimates and legislative cycle and to allow the Government to best address its commitments under the EU-IMF programme of financial support. The group has been considering the issue of social insurance coverage for the self-employed and will submit its report once its examination of the various questions has been completed.

The third actuarial review of the Social Insurance Fund, as at 31 December 2010, was completed in 2012. The review covers a 55 year period from 2011 to 2066 and builds on the findings of the 2000 and 2005 actuarial reviews of the fund. One issue examined in the 2010 review was the long-term cost implications to the Social Insurance Fund and the break-even contributions rates required to provide invalidity pensions to the self-employed and to provide jobseeker's benefit for self-employed workers. The report found that the effective annual rate of contribution or the required contribution as a percentage of salary needed to provide the core full-rate State pension, contributory, which is the benefit currently available to self-employed contributors, is approximately 15%. This compares favourably with the 4% rate currently paid by the self-employed. An incremental increase in contribution rates from approximately 15% to 16% would be required if jobseeker's benefit in addition to core State pension, contributory, is provided. The average contribution rate required for the core State pension, contributory, plus jobseeker's benefit and the invalidity pension is estimated to be in the region of 17.3%. Any proposals to revise the social insurance system for self-employed persons by extending social insurance entitlements must be considered in a budgetary context, taking account of the finding of the actuarial review that the self-employed achieve very good value for money compared with the employed when the comparison includes both employer and employee contributions in respect of the employed person.

Self-employed workers may access social welfare payments supports by establishing entitlement to assistance-based payments such as jobseeker's allowance and disability allowance. In the case of jobseeker's allowance, they can apply for the means-tested jobseeker's allowance if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services. In general, their means will take account of the level of earnings in the last 12 months in determining their expected income for the following year and, in the current climate, account is taken of the downward trend in the economy. As in the case of a non-self-employed claimant for jobseeker's allowance or disability allowance, the means of a person's husband or wife, civil partner or cohabitant will be taken into account in deciding on entitlement to a payment.

One point that I, those who have made representations to me and others wish to ascertain is when the aforementioned report will be finalised and when action will be taken on it. As I stated, jobs are being haemorrhaged, primarily in the private sector and among self-employed people. The Small Firms Association also has identified a potential pitfall in this regard that it will be important to avoid from the perspective of the self-employed. It is that while the Minister of State has outlined the contribution that would be required in percentage terms, it cannot be regarded as some form of additional revenue-generating exercise into the future. It must be on a voluntary basis because, as I noted at the outset, there is no redundancy provision or safety net for self-employed people. These are the risk-takers in the State who create the wealth and the employment from which the rest of society can benefit. The State's public finances will not be dealt with in any meaningful fashion unless entrepreneurs and risk-takers return to generating jobs. Moreover, this will take place at the level of small or medium-sized entities. Given the manner in which such people have been treated heretofore and given that so many excellent people have been lost through the collapse in the economy on foot of the previous Government's maladministration, particularly in respect of construction, I believe now to be an opportune time to provide some element of hope to those who are about to take this risk again. They should do so in the knowledge that were they to relaunch a business and to take on people, there also would be something in place for them and their families. The sooner this is dealt with the better, because it is creating a huge amount of unnecessary uncertainty and ultimately it is holding back economic growth at a local level.

I have raised the issue with the Minister for Social Protection and, as the Deputy is aware, a working group is engaged on the issue. The work in this regard is quite extensive and is being carried out in a structured fashion. Given the financial aid programme in which the State finds itself, consideration obviously must be given for that and therefore a defined structure must be gone through. I accept absolutely the Deputy's points in respect of the self-employed. All Members deal with these issues in their constituency clinics and there is an issue that must be dealt with, although it must be done in a proper way. The issue raised by the Deputy regarding voluntary entry into a system must be prioritised in these considerations and I will relay this point back to the Minister.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht teacht anseo um thráthnóna agus an cheist seo a thógáil mar tá a fhios agam go raibh sé gnóthach le dhá lá anuas le Comhdháil na nAirí thall san Eoraip. I thank the Minister for coming into the House because he has been busy for the past few days. First, I wish to register my agreement and support for the Minister in respect of reference years. This has been an important change that has been achieved and I presume that in the case of Ireland, we will go for the 2012 reference year to avoid any dislocation of the market for land. I presume the Minister intends to make a positive statement in that regard in the Dáil today to stop once and for all the crazy prices that are being sought for land because people think there may be a windfall gain for many years to come arising from taking back land or seeking exorbitant prices for its letting.

It would be important to assure the country that if that remains the position next June, that the choice will be for 2012, the Minister will be absolutely adamant that he will maintain that as a red letter issue on which everybody in Ireland agrees.

I am very disappointed with the deal on sugar. I would have thought the Minister would have been able to persuade his colleagues in the Council to adopt the Commission's position, which is to cease the sugar quota in 2015. The Government made revitalising the sugar industry an important part of the programme for Government. I am told it can be done before 2017, if the quotas go. It is disappointing that we are now being told we must wait until 2017 for that.

He had to clutch at something.

I am addressing the issues.

It is outrageous.

That we should get a sugar industry?

The Government is outrageous.

It is. We know that.

The next issue is clarification of the decision about a national capping of the maximum amount of payment to any single farmer. Do I take it that, basically, the only option left as far as the Council is concerned is the capping à la the Commission only on a voluntary basis? If that is the situation, it is very retrograde. Furthermore, I am curious to know what type of battle the Minister waged to achieve even what he was seeking, which is the ability to have a national cap of €100,000 to any single farmer under the forthcoming CAP.

I congratulate the Minister on including the front-loaded or redistributive payment in the suite of measures that are now options in the Council document. Will he give details of whether the agreement specifies the level of redistributive payment that is achievable? That will be very important to protect the small intensive farmers, in terms of ensuring they get a very significant payment but that there is not a knock-on effect whereby the very large intensive farmers must also get it. Was there any minimum or maximum payment agreement? In other words, is there a proposal for a minimum payment in the proposals from the Council or was there any change or amendment of the internal convergence, which is based on the status quo and keeping as much as possible for those who have, and as little as possible for those who do not have? Was there any narrowing of that or is that proposal as intact as it was presented to me last spring?

I have an extra minute for interruptions.

Is the greening optional on an individual basis or on a national basis? Obviously, it is very much in the interests of the large farmers with the very high payments. Will the Minister also confirm the situation with stacking? Will people who are able to stack payments, in other words they did not have the land the last time, be able to re-stack the same payments or does stacking finish with this CAP under yesterday's proposals? In each of these cases, I refer to what the Council has agreed. I realise the Parliament and the Commission can trump the Council on any of these issues.

The Minister has four minutes.

The agreement on the CAP that was reached last night is a major stepping stone in the negotiations on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, which have been ongoing for over four years. Ministers from the 27 member states of the EU accepted a package of proposals tabled by the Irish Presidency and successfully concluded what is known as a general approach on the CAP reform package.

The agreement between the 27 member states is not the end of the road for these negotiations, but it allows the negotiation process on CAP reform to move to the final, so-called "trilogue" stage, in which the Irish Presidency will represent the Council in discussions with the European Parliament and with the Commission. The successful completion of the Council's deliberations means that the Irish Presidency's objective of an inter-institutional political agreement by the end of June remains on target. Moreover, the strength of the qualified majority given by the Council puts the Presidency in a strong position in the negotiations with the Parliament and the Commission.

Last night's outcome was good for the Irish Presidency, but, more importantly, it was good for Ireland. The Council endorsed the principle of flexibility in the way in which direct payments are to be distributed within member states. The compromise on which we secured agreement in principle on internal convergence and the flexibilities surrounding that three weeks ago was agreed and endorsed in full last night. There were no amendments to it in terms of a mandatory minimum payment or the like. However, there are many voluntary options available to countries in terms of how they wish to reshape and redistribute payments, and this country will have to make political decisions once we know what the full tool box is, hopefully at the end of June.

The Deputy has my script so I will answer his questions. The reference year issue is causing many problems on the land rental markets in Ireland, so I was anxious to have an amendment accepted which would give countries an option not just to apply 2014 or 2015 as a reference year, but to apply a past year, such as 2012 or 2013, as a reference year. We now have that flexibility. All I am willing to say at present is that we will give significant consideration to using 2012 as a reference year, but we will not sign off on that now. However, I have been telling farmers repeatedly for the last two years that they should not make significant investment decisions or over-spend on renting land on the assumption that 2014 will be the reference year. I have consistently said that, and now we have the option to use 2012 as the reference year should that be accepted in the negotiations with the Parliament and the Commission. Farmers should reflect on that. Hopefully, it will cool off the rental market. It badly needs cooling because people are involved in a land grab, essentially, for rented land on the assumption that 2014 will be the reference year. I have always cautioned against that and last night is proof of why I did so.

With regard to sugar, if the Deputy knew the lengths we went to last night to get an agreement on sugar, he would realise how farcical his comments are. This was the most difficult issue on which to get agreement. Every member state that has a sugar industry at present, with the exception of the UK, wants to extend sugar quotas until 2020. The European Parliament has already agreed that its position should be to extend sugar quotas until 2020. Essentially, that means they do not end in 2020 but just go on into the next round of CAP. In other words, it would be an indefinite extension of sugar quotas. I took a strong stand against that because countries such as Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and others would be locked out of sugar production as a result. Instead of getting a compromise that would allow Ireland to apply for some type of small, limited redistributed quota, which would be uncertain, the way to allow Ireland the option of reinstating the sugar industry is to get rid of sugar quotas as soon as politically possible. The soonest date that is politically possible is 2017. It was one of the last things we agreed last night. It was totally unachievable to get an earlier date. If the Deputy was following the discussions, he would have realised that.

On the issue of capping, there are more options on capping than the Commission had proposed, but it is only options for payments above €150,000. As regards the redistributive payment, we are not making any decisions at this stage on whether we will use that option, but it is important to have it. Therefore, when we conclude our negotiations in the co-decision process there is the option of a top-up payment for either the average farm size or up to the first 30 hectares on a farm. We have agreement on that. That is the option for countries. There is no mandatory minimum payment.

We secured practically everything we had sought in the compromise on greening. I believe that was welcomed by the Deputy. It has certainly been welcomed by farmers. We have taken a very pragmatic approach to greening to ensure it is easy to understand and, most importantly, straightforward to implement for farmers.

I will be brief as I understand the Acting Chairman is operating under time constraints.

On the redistributive or top-up payment, is there an upper limit on the amount of money that can be allocated towards this payment? In other words, what percentage of the total pool can be allocated to a top-up payment on the first 30 ha. or 32 ha. as in Ireland's case? While there is not a major difference between 30 ha. and 32 ha., I would prefer if the second figure were used as it corresponds to 80 acres. It would be significant if a limit were to apply to the top-up that may be provided. Is such a limit provided for and, if so, what is it?

I understand there has been some movement on the coupled payment or payment per head. Has an upper limit been placed on this payment? If so, how would it translate into payments per ewe or suckler cow?

On the proposal on the redistributive payment, which is being described as a front-loaded payment, this is essentially a top-up on a farmer's single farm payment for the first 30 ha. or 32 ha. in the case of Ireland if we opt for the full limit of an average area. This is an optional tool we may or may not decide to use.

What is the limit?

I believe it is 20% of the overall envelope but I will have to check the figure.

On coupling, considerable pressure was applied to significantly increase the potential to use coupled payments. The Presidency's proposal, which was the same as the Commission's proposal, was to apply a 5% limit in respect of countries such as Ireland that had decoupled and a 10% limit for other countries that still have coupled payments. We increased the figures to 7% for countries which have decoupled, including Ireland, and 12% for countries that continue to have coupled payments. If we chose to reintroduce coupled payments for certain vulnerable sectors, this proposal gives us an option of having a significant chunk of money available. This is, however, a policy decision that will have to be taken domestically when we know the detail of the final deal on the Common Agricultural Policy.