As processing of the 2012 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is not yet finalised, it is not possible at this stage to give precise figures as to the overall level of savings that will be achieved on foot of the various changes introduced to the Terms and Conditions of the 2012 Scheme. However, to date, payments worth in excess of €208 million have issued to 95,302 beneficiaries; a total of 102,070 applicants went identified as having declared DAS-eligible land under the 2012 Scheme.
It will be recalled that, arising from the 2012 budgetary process, savings needed to be found in my Department’s expenditure for 2012 to keep it in line with government targets. Accordingly, it was necessary to adjust the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. However, rather than simply apply an across the board cut to the rates payable or reduce the maximum payable area, I decided that real efforts should be made to focus the Scheme on those farmers who are most actively contributing to achieving the aims of the Scheme, namely:
- ensuring continued agricultural land use, thereby contributing to the maintenance of viable rural communities;
- maintaining the countryside; and
- maintaining and promoting sustainable farming systems, which take account of environmental protection measures.
I was also determined that those adversely affected by the 2012 changes should be afforded the opportunity to appeal, where they could show legitimate reasons for their inability to meet the new requirements. In total, my Department wrote to in excess of 10,000 beneficiaries under the 2011 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme whose holdings had not achieved the minimum stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare, as required under the Terms and Conditions of the 2012 Scheme. These appeals have largely been processed, with the residue of cases expected to be finalised in the coming weeks. It is only at that stage, therefore, that it will be possible to determine the definitive outurn.