I thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue and I thank the Minister for coming to hear what I have to say. I should like to congratulate him on his appointment. This scheme, which was introduced last year by the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Lenihan, through the EEC, is of great benefit to the farming community, and I wish to compliment him on it, this £22 calf premium. It is actually a calf rearing premium. If calves are reared to the age of six months and if they can be identified after six months, the farmer who reared them, or whoever buys them, can get a £22 premium per head.
I am raising this because I have been asked by many farmers who have reared calves that were born between 20 May 1982 and 30 June 1982 and who have forwarded the necessary documentation to the Department to have these calves inspected and to get the payments on them, to inquire why they have not been paid. They have asked me what is the delay, and why. These calves are almost 12 months old now and some of the farmers are anxious to sell them but they cannot sell them because they have not been inspected and they do not know whether they will be paid for them. I read from the Farmers Journal of 5 June 1982 how to claim the £22 calf premium. It reads:
Only calves born on or after May 20th last and reared to six months will be eligible for the subsidy.
Calves have been reared for six months and beyond it and still they have not been inspected for the subsidy.
I would like to refer to a recent statement by the Minister for Agriculture a few weeks ago which many farmers were concerned about and which influenced a drop in the price of calves at the time. A report in The Irish Independent last September stated that “Price drop follows shock announcement for the calf trade”. I will quote:
Our nation-wide calf trade got a severe shock this week with the announcement that our national calf premium was in danger. The Minister for Agriculture on the previous Wednesday announced that in the EEC farm price negotiations he may not be able to secure the continuation of this calf premium.
Since them he has secured the continuation of it. The previous Minister, Deputy Lenihan, stated in this House that it would be a continuing one and that he hoped that the scheme would be renewed when the first year cycle had been completed. I feel that the Minister in making the most recent announcement did a lot of damage to the calf trade. Definitely it was a damaging statement and any Minister should not have made such a statement which depressed the calf trade at the time. I will read another extract from the Farmers Journal:
If our Minister was to reach such a decision that the calf premium would not be continued he would face a major farm revolt, not alone from the dairy farmers who are of course very much concerned with the future of the calf subsidy, but also from thousands of farmers who are rearing calves for the beef market. When all the talk is over a £22 paid calf subsidy will continue to be a part of our livestock industry, and farmers can be confident that it will not be taken off.
That proves that the farmers were confident and that the Farmers Journal were confident that this scheme would be continued but the Minister saw fit to say that the scheme was in danger of not being continued and definitely a lot of concern was caused among the farming community. With bad weather this year and less income because of the weather conditions, it was very depressing for the farmers to hear that this scheme would not be continued. The delay in payments under the existing premium scheme is also causing grave concern. I will read the instructions from the document received by the farmers from the Department on payment. It states:
If an application is found in order after inspection it will be approved as soon as possible after the youngest calf listed in it reaches six months of age, and will be paid within 90 days of approval.
Calves born before 30 June 1982 are almost 12 months now and still payments have not been made. Farmers have to buy a lot of fertilisers and feeding stuffs to offset the bad weather and are probably not in a position to pay for them. They are in debt to firms. When they get the bills for these debts from the firms and cannot pay there is an interest charge. I wonder will the Department offset the late payment by adding on interest on these late payments.
I will read from Deputy Lenihan's speech in the Seanad on another matter raised on the Adjournment. Senator Hourigan said that this scheme would be very beneficial to the Irish farmers because we carry the administration to the existing agricultural offices and the money is direct cash to farmers. There are no overheads and no deductions. There are overheads in this scheme and I will read from paragraph 5 of the Department of Agriculture document, about identifying and recording calves:
The farmer who wishes a calf born in his herd to attract the premium in due course, must buy from his artificial insemination station, or its agents, quoting his herd number as he does, a Calf Premium Scheme eartag and affix it securely on the calf's right ear with the appropriate tagging pliers within 42 days of the birth of the calf.
So the farmer has to buy the pliers and the tags, speaking of which reminds me to say they are most inferior. Farmers have trouble with these tags — which I believe are imported, which is a shame — because, having been applied with the pliers, many of the tags subsequently fall off the calves' ears, causing further difficulty to the farmers and to the officers operating this scheme.
I hope the Minister will take note of all of these problems, and especially the delays in payment. It is a great scheme and of great benefit to the farmers and I trust he will take the necessary steps to ensure that the payments will be made as soon as possible, more quickly than at present. Perhaps he will also do something about the pliers and the tags.