Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, answered orally.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Application Numbers

Questions (10)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

10. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applicants for the disadvantaged payments last year who had penalties imposed on them; the number who had a 100% penalty or disallowance imposed; the total number of applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29349/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

All applications under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme are subject to administrative check, in addition to which a percentage are also subject to field inspection. The basis of both these checks is laid down in the governing EU Regulations.

The administrative checks and systems validations confirm compliance with a variety of requirements, including confirming that the application was received on time, that the land declared by the applicant was not also claimed by another Scheme applicant, that the necessary minimum stocking density levels have been achieved, etc. Failure to respect one or more of these Scheme requirements must result in a penalty be applied.

The annual round of field inspections covers both the eligibility of the land declared to draw down payments and also cross compliance aspects, to ensure compliance with EU regulatory requirements in the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare. These inspections are mandatory and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually.

Land eligibility inspection (either on-farm or by remote sensing) must be carried out on at least 5% of applicants. These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes. In order to be eligible to draw down EU funding, it is a requirement that all land eligibility inspections must take place before any payments can issue to any farmer in the country in a given year.

Furthermore, under the 2012 Scheme, applicants’ holdings were required to have met a minimum stocking density of 0.3 livestock units per forage hectare in 2011, or have successfully applied for derogation; in addition, applicants’ holdings were also required to have met a minimum stocking density of 0.15 livestock units for a minimum retention period of six consecutive months in 2012 and also have achieved an annual average stocking density of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare for the twelve months.

Payments in excess of €208 million have been delivered thus far to farmers under the 2012 Scheme have issued to 95,449 farmers. To date, 7,188 cases have been subject to partial penalty; these penalties represented, on average, 6% of the individual payments concerned. These penalties arose due to a variety of factors, including late submission of applications, over-declaration of land, cross compliance, etc. In addition, there were 310 cases subject of a full penalty, where no payment issued because the extent of breach of the Scheme requirements was above the threshold allowed.

In addition, 2,903 applicants did not meet the revised 2011 stocking density level required for the 2012 Scheme. Of these, to date, 1,506 unsuccessfully sought derogation, in some cases having gone through the available appeal processes In addition to the 2,903 cases already referred to, a further 3,832 have not, to date, satisfied the general 2012 minimum stocking density requirements. This latter number is subject to change in the event that individual applicants demonstrate compliance with the minimum stocking requirements.

Afforestation Programme

Questions (11)

John McGuinness

Question:

11. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views regarding the accuracy of the new digitisation process being used by his Department to measure afforestation schemes; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that applicants under forest schemes question the accuracy of these measurements, and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29372/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In 2006, the Forest Service introduced IFORIS which is its computerised geo-spatial and payments system. Like the Single Farm Payment and other schemes, this system uses ortho-photography, which is geometrically corrected aerial photography overlaid onto maps. The IFORIS system captures an image of an applicant’s claim map and calculates an accurate measurement of the area being claimed. The process of electronically capturing the claim map is called digitisation. This is not a new process but has been widely used for many years. To ensure accuracy and consistency, digitising is performed using well established standards and procedures.

The Forest Service has not introduced any new technology since 2006. It has simply availed of the Department’s constantly updated ortho-photography, which is used to detect potential over-claims and overpayments. A simple example would be where a forestry plantation is initially established, the trees planted are not visible when viewed in contemporaneous photographs. However, when viewed on later photography, maturing trees in the plantation will be visible but the more recent photographs may show gaps where trees have failed, were removed, or were never planted. The updated photography therefore provides an effective audit tool to ensure that claims made under my Department’s schemes are accurate.

The technology used is not new and has been used internationally for many years. Tolerances are applied when capturing and measuring claims in order to avoid penalising applicants due to minor inaccuracies in their claims. My Department has no concerns over the accuracy of ortho-photography and geo-spatial systems for measuring areas. Digitising accuracy depends on the applicant’s claim map – if the applicant submits a claim map which does not accurately define the area planted then the digitised image will obviously reflect that.

Forestry companies are also increasingly relying on their own geo-spatial technology. Furthermore, they now submit 93% of all applications for approval to plant through the Department’s IFORIS Online System . This enables them to submit maps digitally and to verify measurement of the area to be planted and claimed.

Where over-claims by applicants under the forestry schemes have resulted in overpayments, the cause has sometimes wrongly been attributed to digitisation by some parties. In fact, such overpayments are due to claim maps claiming an area greater than that actually planted, or to an applicant continuing to claim for a plantation that failed or was destroyed, or to trees being removed from the plantation, or to administrative error. My Department detects such overpayments through random or risk analysis driven inspections; through Single Farm Payment queries by applicants or their neighbours; through forestry queries by the applicant himself; by formal audit of files; or by the Department reviewing newer aerial photography. In the contentious circumstances of an over-claim and overpayment, while measurement of the area involved is often disputed by the applicant, the digitisation process is not relevant in this context – the crux is that the applicant must prove that the all of the area that he is claiming is eligible for payment under the scheme.

In all cases, my Department is obliged to recoup all public money that has been overpaid. But, each case is dealt with on an individual basis and, where my Department judges that there may be mitigating circumstances in a case, it will moderate the penalty or recoupment as appropriate.

Rural Development Programme Projects

Questions (12)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

12. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the process involved in approving and implementing the rural development programme 2014-2020; the time frame within which it is expected that each element of the programme will be rolled out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29361/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The negotiations on the CAP reform package have been ongoing during the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU. As part of this process, the Rural Development proposal (EAFRD) is being actively progressed together with the other three proposals which form the overall package. The aim of the negotiations is to reach political agreement by the end of the Irish Presidency.

Under the current proposal, Ireland must undertake an ex ante evaluation, a public consultation, and complete a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and a needs assessment. My Department has contracted an independent evaluator, following a public procurement process, to prepare the ex-ante evaluation report and to advise on the SWOT and drafting of the RDP for the next round. In addition, the initial consultation process has been completed with a further consultation to take place in mid July on the SWOT and needs assessment. Based on the outcome of these processes, my Department will prepare a draft programme and again engage in further consultation.

At the present time it is intended to have a draft RDP submitted to the Commission as early as possible in 2014. This process will be interlinked with the submission by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform [DPER] of the overall Partnership Agreement which will form the framework document for EAFRD funding and the other structural funds. It is expected that a period of negotiation of several months with the Commission will follow the submission of the RDP.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Eligibility

Questions (13)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

13. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the maximum size of farm approved for the agri-environment option scheme 3; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29358/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Despite the challenging budgetary constraints facing my Department, last year I allocated €20 million annually to fund the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) and re-opened the scheme to new applicants (AEOS 111). AEOS III will build on the success of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and both AEOS 1 and 2 in delivering an annual payment to farmers in return for farming to high environmental standards.

I decided on a maximum payment of €4,000 per annum for individual applicants under the re-opened scheme which, on the basis of previous experience in implementing the scheme, would allow roughly 6,000 new participants to be accepted into the scheme.

A total of 9,703 applications were received by my Department under the re-opened scheme. Based on the annual budget available and following the ranking and selection process, a total of 6,000 applicants have been approved for participation in the scheme based on the prioritised ranking and selection criteria set out in the published scheme documentation as follows:

- Applicants within a targeted area of the Boora region of Co. Offaly who select Wild Bird Cover Option B (Grey Partridge);

- Applicants with eligible Natura land;

- Applicants with at least 0.5 hectares of Utilisable Agricultural Non-Natura Commonage land;

- Farm Partnerships;

- Previous Participation in REPS;

- Farm Size (Favouring smaller holding) based on the utilisable agricultural area;

- Location of farms in Less Favoured Areas.

4,483 applicants selecting Grey Partridge, Natura and Commonage actions and Partnership farmers were approved into the scheme. The remaining 1,517 applicants approved had all previously participated in REPS and had a reference area of 22.06 ha or less on their 2012 Single Payment Scheme application.

Because of the funding constraints and as a result of the selection process, farmers that previously participated in REPS and had a farm size bigger than 22.06 hectares were unsuccessful in their applications as were those who had not previously participated in REPS.

All approved applicants were awarded a commencement date of May 1 2013, and so their contracts will run for a period of five years and 8 months which will extend their duration beyond the expiry of the current programming period of 31st December 2013. Participants in the scheme will be offered the opportunity to adjust their commitments for the remainder of the period of their contract to the legal framework of the next period which is currently under negotiation. If such an adjustment is not acceptable to the participant he/she may withdraw from the schemes without any requirement for reimbursement of aid already received.

Rural Development Programme Funding

Questions (14)

Niall Collins

Question:

14. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the allocation under the 2007-2013 Common Agricultural Policy programme broken down by axis and measure; the spend to date, broken down between Exchequer and EU spend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29365/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The table sets out the measures funded under the Rural Development Programme 2007 – 2013 [RDP]. The expenditure performance is based on the quarterly returns to the European Commission and this table reflects the position up to March 2013. Under the current approved financial plan in the Programme close on €4.8Bn is allocated at programme level. This amount includes an allocation of EAFRD funding of €2.49Bn and €2.3Bn of Exchequer funding. Since the launch of the RDP expenditure under the programme up to the end of March 2013 amounted to €3.8Bn. This represents close on 79% of the total value of the Programme and 85% of the EAFRD amount. Axes 1 and 2 of the Rural Development Programme are administered by my Department while Axes 3 and 4 are delivered by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Details of the allocation and expenditure per measure per fund source under the RDP up to the end of March 2013 are set out in the table below. This table does not include funds already committed but not as yet claimed.

The programme, like all national spending, is subject to ongoing budgetary constraints but is configured to maximise all available EU funding. Spending under a number of measures may continue until the end of 2015 and this will provide considerable scope to allow all measures to spend up to their full allocation. Adjustments have already been made to the RDP financial plan and further adjustments are currently being made in order to achieve the fullest possible draw down of available funds. These adjustments must take expenditure to date and commitments to the end of the programme into account and have regard to the available national funding.

Axis / Measure

Current

RDP

Allocation

EAFRD

Allocation

Total

Exchequer

Allocation

EAFRD

and

Exchequer

Expenditure

2007 – March 201

Of which

EAFRD

Spend

Of which

Exchequer

Spend

AXIS 1 – Competitiveness

Vocational training (REPS)

5,675,440

3,458,613

2,216,827

7,227,927

4,120,729

3,107,198

Installation Aid

12,261,081

7,471,903

4,789,178

12,892,430

6,504,938

6,387,492

Early Retirement

219,188,239

133,592,630

85,595,609

216,450,154

115,915,664

100,534,490

Farm Modernisation

154,570,446

92,992,230

61,578,216

80,054,052

47,251,733

32,802,319

TOTAL AXIS 1

391,695,206

237,515,376

154,179,830

316,624,563

173,793,064

142,831,499

Axis 2 – Environment and land management

-

-

-

-

-

-

Less Favoured Areas

1,617,984,198

634,141,309

983,842,889

1,295,213,902

712,367,647

582,846,255

Natura 2000

528,582,998

308,720,649

219,862,349

89,717,139

50,226,637

39,490,502

Agri-environment

1,922,493,570

1,058,314,930

864,178,640

1,929,663,382

1,076,014,860

853,648,544

TOTAL AXIS 2

4,069,060,766

2,001,176,888

2,067,883,878

3,314,594,423

1,838,609,144

1,475,985,301

Axis 3

-

-

-

-

-

-

Broadband

17,884,000

13,413,000

4,471,000

0

0

0

TOTAL AXIS 3

17,884,000

13,413,000

4,471,000

0

0

0

Axis 4

-

-

-

-

-

-

Competitiveness –

Food Projects.

5,000,000

4,250,000

750,000

89,554

76,120

13,434

Implementing

Local Development

Strategies – Quality of Life

265,470,511

182,632,819

82,837,692

118,145,071

78,894,141

39,250,930

Co-operation Projects

7,878,000

5,885,653

1,992,347

2,124,193

1,505,080

619,113

Running of LAGS

62,464,000

46,666,854

15,797,146

52,727,893

33,935,170

18,792,723

TOTAL AXIS 4

340,812,511

239,435,326

101,377,185

173,086,711

114,410,511

58,676,200

Axis 5 – Technical Assistance

-

-

-

-

-

-

Technical Assistance

6,000,000

3,000,000

3,000,000

1,441,575

720,789

720,786

OVERALL RDP

4,825,452,483

2,494,540,590

2,330,911,893

3,805,747,272

2,127,533,508

1,687,213,786

Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Questions (15)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide an update on the planned sale of State assets, including the harvesting rights to Coillte; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29379/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Further to the Government decision that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte’s forests be considered for sale, NewERA, Coillte, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department examined the financial and other implications of developing the potential of Coillte's forest assets. This examination included the identification of the forestry assets involved, the determination of their value and the consideration of a number of issues associated with the proposed sale of the harvesting rights. These included, inter alia, the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land and potential impacts, both environmental and social.

The overall analysis on the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights was finalised recently, the outcome of which was then considered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and myself. It is my intention to bring a Memorandum including recommendations to the Government this afternoon for consideration.

Natura 2000 Issues

Questions (16)

Mick Wallace

Question:

16. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to address the delays in the carrying out of appropriate assessments of Natura 2000 sites in order to assess their suitability for Oyster farming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29383/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The European Court of Justice declared in case C418/04 that, by failing to take all the measures necessary to comply with Article 6(3) of Directive 92/43 (Habitats Directive) in respect of authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under that Directive.

In the negotiations to address the judgment a process was agreed with the European Commission which would lead to full compliance by Ireland with the relevant EU Directives. This process includes the following steps:

- a detailed data collection in 91 Bays/Estuaries;

- detailed analysis of raw data collected;

- setting of Conservation Objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in respect of each site;

- carrying out Appropriate Assessments of each licence application/fishery plan against the detailed Conservation Objectives set; and

- determination of Licences/Fisheries on the basis of the Appropriate Assessment and other relevant factors.

The data collection programme is substantially complete. Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue.

While the Appropriate Assessments are carried out on a bay by bay basis, each licence application within the bay must be assessed individually. Factors to be considered include location within the bay, species, scale etc. In addition to the Natura requirements, under the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive all licence applications must undergo an Environmental Impact pre-screening assessment. This requires significant input from the Department's scientific and technical advisers. All applications, in compliance with the requirements of the Aarhus Directive, are advertised in order to facilitate public consultation, and submissions or observations received must be considered as part of the licence application determination process.

Conservation objectives had been set in relation to a significant number of bays and Appropriate Assessments have been carried in four bays (Castlemaine, Dundalk, Lough Swilly and Roaringwater). I am pleased to inform the Deputy that as a result of the above process I have made aquaculture licence Determinations in respect of applications in Castlemaine.

The prioritised list of bays is kept under continuous review by my Department so as to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays including those where oyster farming takes place.

It is important for all involved in the aquaculture industry to understand that the sustainable development of the industry and the creation of long term employment from aquaculture into the future can only take place if there is full compliance with all EU and national legislation on environmental protection. Ireland's reputation as a producer of top quality seafood is predicated on the implementation of a sound regulatory system which has the confidence of the public in general and also the EU Commission.

My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of aquaculture licence applications having regard to the need to comply with all relevant national and EU legislation.

Common Fisheries Policy Reform

Questions (17)

Clare Daly

Question:

17. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine with regard to the Common Fisheries Policy reform, the reason the fully documented ecosystem and precautionary approach was not included as previously promised. [29216/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

It is assumed that the Deputy is referring to the concept of ‘fully documented fisheries’ as this is what the CFP had always promised to deliver and not to ‘a fully documented ecosystem’ which is a concept which does not exist, as such. This would mean that it was possible to know and quantify what every living thing in the entire marine ecosystem is doing at any given time – which is clearly impossible. I am responding therefore on the basis that what the Deputy is actually referring to is ‘fully documented fisheries’ (where the activities of individual vessels are effectively monitored) and that what is being asked here is whether or not (i) fully documented fisheries; (ii) the ecosystem approach and (iii) the precautionary approach were included in the basic regulation. I thank the Deputy for raising these important but complex aspects which I will now deal with separately.

(i) Fully Documented Fisheries

The requirements for all Member States to ensure detailed and accurate documentation of fishing trips is contained in article 15.8 which stipulates that:

- Member States shall ensure detailed and accurate documentation of all fishing trips and adequate capacity and means for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the obligation to land all catches, inter alia such means as observers, CCTV and other. In doing so, Member States shall respect the principle of efficiency and proportionality.”

(ii) The Ecosystem approach

The requirement to consider the broader marine ecosystem is provided for in Article 2.3 of the basic regulation, which states that:

- The Common Fisheries Policy shall implement the ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management to ensure the negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised, and shall endeavour to ensure that aquaculture and fisheries activities avoid the degradation of the marine environment.

(iii) The Precautionary approach

The precautionary approach is provided for in Article 2 of the basic regulation, which states that:

- “The Common Fisheries Policy shall apply the precautionary approach to fisheries management, and shall aim to ensure that exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. This exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015, where possible and by 2020 for all stocks at the latest.” Recital (9) provides: “Sustainable exploitation of marine biological resources should be based on the precautionary approach, which is to be derived from the precautionary principle referred to in the first subparagraph of Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), taking into account available scientific data.”

It is important to bear in mind that reform of the Common Fisheries Policy has been a significant achievement for the Irish Presidency and when taken as a whole, delivers on not just a resolution to the long term difficulty of discards but also provides the means for new ways of sustainable fishing, a more transparent and competitive market, as well as empowering fishermen by giving them a central role in decision making for their fisheries.

Food Safety Standards Regulation

Questions (18)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

18. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason the same standards do not apply to the import of horse meat for human consumption into the EU from the US as apply to the slaughter of horse meat for human consumption in the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29374/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

There is no direct importation of horsemeat into the EU from the USA. The slaughter of horses for human consumption within the US ceased in 2006. I understand however that significant numbers of live horses are exported from the US for slaughter in both Canada and Mexico. Some of this meat is then exported to the EU. I am not aware that any of this meat has ended up in Ireland, where the level of consumption of horsemeat is very low.

The Regulations relating to the import of meat from third countries are set at EU rather than at domestic level. The basic requirements for imports of meat are set out in Regulation (EC) No 853/2004. The third country of dispatch must be on an approved list for that product and the individual establishment from which the product is dispatched must also be on an approved list. These lists are published on the EU Commission’s website. There is also a requirement that imports of meat are only allowed from countries with an approved residue monitoring plan.

The EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) conducted audits in Canada (in 2011) and Mexico (in 2012). These audits raised some concerns about the identification of US horses being slaughtered in both countries and the question of compliance with standards equivalent to those provided for by EU legislation in relation to non-treatment with certain medicinal substances.

The EU Commission is I understand in close contact with the countries involved to have the FVO audit recommendations followed up satisfactorily.

Aquaculture Licences Application Numbers

Questions (19)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

19. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applications on hand for aquaculture licences; the year they were lodged; the number it is hoped to approve this year; the plans he has to expedite this process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29370/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

At present there are in the order of 600 aquaculture licence applications awaiting determination. This number comprises of both new licence applications and applications in respect of renewal applications for existing licences.

The backlog has developed over a period of approximately nine years and largely arises because the majority of areas for which aquaculture licences are sought are located in areas designated as Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (known as ‘Natura areas’). In 2007, the European Court of Justice issued a judgement against Ireland for a breach of the Birds Directive which is indicative of the seriousness of this issue and the need for full compliance with the relevant Directives.

To ensure compliance with the Birds and Habitats Directives, all applications in ‘Natura 2000 areas’ are required to be appropriately assessed. This has required the putting in place of a significant work programme which has considerable time and resource implications. An additional factor is that all aquaculture applications now undergo Environmental Impact pre-screening assessment which requires significant input from the Department’s scientific and technical advisors.

My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura 2000’ areas. This data collection programme is substantially complete. Analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue. The Appropriate Assessment of aquaculture applications is being dealt with on a bay-by-bay basis.

It is expected that successful completion of the Appropriate Assessment process in respect of the above over the summer/early autumn period will facilitate between 180-200 licence determinations this year.

In addition to the continued progress made in relation to Natura areas, 115 Ministerial determinations were made in 2012 in non-Natura areas.

My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of all aquaculture applications having regard to the complexities of each case and the need to comply fully with all national and EU legislation .

Rural Environment Protection Scheme Applications

Questions (20)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

20. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of farmers due a rural environment protection 4 payment or an agri-environment option scheme payment for the year 2012; the number that had penalties imposed on them; the number who had a 100% penalty imposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29351/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the EU Regulations governing both REPS and AEOS and other area-based payment schemes, a comprehensive administrative check of all applications, including cross-checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, must be completed before any payment can issue. Successive EU audits have made it clear that compliance with the Regulations must be strictly adhered to and that all administrative checks must be passed and eligibility conditions met before payment issues. As a result, the Department is obliged to ensure that individual payments do not issue until all aspects of a farmer’s application are in order, all outstanding documentation provided and all queries resolved. These administrative checks can result in the reduction of payments or the application of penalties, in cases where breaches are identified.

Furthermore under these Regulations, on-the-spot inspections must be carried on 5% of all applications to deliver assurance that farmers are complying with the actions they contracted to carry out under the terms and conditions of the Scheme. Any non-compliances or breaches of these conditions will result in sanctions being applied in accordance with the penalties laid down. Farmers have the right to appeal these penalties if they feel the sanction is not warranted.

A total of 29,500 REPS4 farmers have been paid in respect of 2012, leaving approximately 800 applicants still to receive payment. The applicants have been written to where officials in my Department require additional information to resolve these applications. The outstanding cases are being resolved on an ongoing basis as queries are resolved.

A total of 11,650 AEOS 1 and 2 participants have received payment for the 2012 Scheme year. A total of 2,100 farmers are awaiting payment for 2012 under AEOS 1 and 2. Officials in my Department are processing these cases on an ongoing basis with a view to finalising them as quickly as possible and, again where additional information is required, the applicants concerned have been written to. The majority of the outstanding AEOS issues arising relate to inaccurate or incomplete capital investment claims. The Department continues to actively engage with farmers in these cases in order to expedite payment.

Under REPS, participants have undertaken to deliver a number of measures and a penalty schedule applies where there is non-compliance with these measures. The severity, extent and permanence are taken into account in determining the appropriate penalty.

Together with the discovery of irregularities at the on the spot inspections, all applications are subject to an administrative check which can also lead to reductions. The number of applicants who had a penalty imposed to date in respect of 2012 payments was 1,795. To date, it has been established that 28 of these have a 100% penalty.

Similarly AEOS applicants undertake to carry out certain actions that they have selected from a menu of options. Penalties are imposed where non compliances are discovered whether through on the spot inspections or through administrative checks. Under AEOS, the number of penalties applied for 2012 applications was 642, with 342 applied to AEOS 1 payments and 300 applied to AEOS 2 payments. Further penalties may be applied as outstanding cases are dealt with and resolved. While the exact number of 100% penalties has not been finalised it should be noted that 100% penalties are applied only in a small minority of cases. Such penalties would apply in respect of a most serious breach of the Scheme conditions such as in the case of non-compliance with underlying GAEC and SMR baseline standards.

Suckler Welfare Scheme Application Numbers

Questions (21)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

21. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applicants for the suckler cow welfare scheme last year who had penalties imposed on them; the number who had a 100% penalty imposed; the total number of applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29350/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme was a five-year programme for beef breed animals which were born during the period 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2012. This Scheme was fully funded by the Exchequer. Over the five year duration of the Scheme, in excess of €155 million has already been delivered in support to suckler cow farmers. The Scheme has made an important contribution to improving the genetic quality of the national suckler herd and enhancing the welfare standards for animals produced from the suckler cow herd. A number of outstanding cases remain to be finalised.

Applicants undertook to carry out and notify to my Department, details of the required measures as outlined in the Terms and Conditions from their year of entry into the Scheme up to the end of 2012. Because of the nature of the Scheme, failure to comply with its requirements in a given year could give rise to exclusion from the Scheme in subsequent years.

Turning specifically to the 2012 tranche of the Scheme, 33,365 eligible applicants continued to participate in the Scheme. A total of 650 of these herds were found to have no beef breed animals in their herd in 2012 and therefore are not due any payment. Thus far, penalties ranging from 1% to 5% have been imposed on 4,204 of these applicants where a low degree of non –compliance with the requirements of the Scheme has been identified. Some 4,909 cases remain to be finalised because a range of outstanding issues remain to be resolved. These relate in the main to failure to provide requisite information in relation to measures taken, or where it has proved necessary to contact applicants to resolve details relating to individual animals.

Thus far, almost €20m has been paid under the 2012 element of the Scheme and payments continue to be made as details of required measures are received and as individual issues are resolved.

In December last, I announced the introduction of a new Beef Data Recording Programme for beef animals born between 1 January and 31 December 2013. This Programme will build on the progress achieved under the Suckler Welfare Scheme, in particular, by continuing to provide farmers with a comprehensive database which will assist them in making their breeding decisions with the objectives of improving the quality of beef produced and the overall competitiveness of the Irish Beef industry.

Aquaculture Development

Questions (22)

Joe McHugh

Question:

22. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to develop aquaculture sites in the deep sea off the country's Atlantic coast. [29224/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) has submitted an application for an aquaculture licence for the cultivation of finfish near Inis Oirr in Galway Bay. The application and its accompanying Environmental Impact Statement are currently being considered in accordance with the provisions of the 1997 Fisheries (Amendment) Act.

My Department has also issued a Site Investigation Licence to BIM in respect of potential sites off the Mayo coast.

I also understand that BIM is currently engaged in preliminary work with a view to a possible application to my Department for a Site Investigation Licence for an area off the coast of Donegal.

Rural Development Programme Funding

Questions (23)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

23. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the level of EU funding that will be available under Pillar 2 in 2013 compared to 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29360/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The amount of EU co funding due in 2013 under 2007 – 2013 Rural Development Programme (Pillar I) for measures administered by my Department is estimated at €176 million. This compares to €294.4 million in EU co funding received in 2012.

The lower figure for 2013 reflects the likely amount of EU funding remaining to be drawn down under the programme based on the estimated eligible expenditure on programme measures this year.

LEADER and rural broadband, which are also part of the RDP, are the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources respectively

Fodder Crisis

Questions (24)

Denis Naughten

Question:

24. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to prevent a re-emergence of a fodder shortage later this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29221/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

It is important that we do as much as we can over the next few months to ensure that Irish farmers are not faced with the same issues and difficulties next Winter as experienced earlier this year in sourcing adequate fodder for their animals. Accordingly, Teagasc’s Interagency Fodder Committee is currently monitoring the fodder situation while also examining and co-ordinating the next steps required to ensure that there is a strategic approach to fodder production and conservation to ensure continuity of supply.

I have also asked the Interagency Fodder Committee to report to the High Level Implementation Committee of Food Harvest 2020 which I chair, on the outlook for the rest of this year and also to detail the actions being taken to ensure adequate fodder is available for next Winter.

It is also important that farmers are maximising grass production and fodder conservation in the coming period and I have asked Teagasc to prioritise this policy in their advisory campaigns over the summer months. In this context, adjustments to the Nitrates regulations recently agreed with the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government will provide support to farmers to maximise grass growth and conservation into next Autumn.

Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Questions (25)

Joan Collins

Question:

25. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether the sale of the harvesting rights to Coillte will go ahead; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26634/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Further to the Government decision that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte’s forests be considered for sale, NewERA, Coillte, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department examined the financial and other implications of developing the potential of Coillte’s forest assets. This examination included the identification of the forestry assets involved, the determination of their value and the consideration of a number of issues associated with the proposed sale of the harvesting rights. These included, inter alia , the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land and potential impacts, both environmental and social.

The overall analysis on the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights was finalised recently, the outcome of which was then considered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and myself. I am bringing a Memorandum with recommendations to Government today for consideration.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Payments

Questions (26)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

26. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated expenditure on agri-environment schemes, rural environment protection, agri-environment options scheme this year and the projected expenditure on the same schemes next year based on the current number of participants in AEOS 1, 2 and 3 as well as REP scheme 4; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29344/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I want to take the opportunity to again emphasise both my own and the Government’s commitment to the agri-environment schemes as operated by my Department. These schemes put environmentally friendly farming at the forefront and recognise the vital role farmers play in delivering public goods in protecting the environment and the natural heritage for the benefit of society as a whole. This commitment is evident in the fact that more than €750 million was spent by my Department on agri-environment schemes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 alone.

There are currently 29,300 active participants due a REPS 4 payment for the scheme year 2013 and the numbers participating in the scheme in 2014 is estimated at 17,000. The projected expenditure in 2013 under REPS is €148.5 million.

There are currently 14,000 active participants in AEOS 1 and 2 combined, while a further 6,000 were recently approved under AEOS 3. Estimated expenditure in 2013 for AEOS is €51.8 million.

Funding for both REPS and AEOS in 2014 will be determined in the context of the 2014 Estimates process. In accordance with the terms and conditions of the scheme, participants in AEOS will be offered the opportunity to adjust their commitments for the remainder of the period of their contract to the legal framework of the next EU programming period which is currently under negotiation. If such an adjustment is not acceptable to the participant he/she may withdraw from the schemes without any requirement for reimbursement of aid already received. My aim will be to provide sufficient funding to meet all liabilities arising under both scheme in 2014.

Ash Dieback Threat

Questions (27)

John Browne

Question:

27. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide an update on the disease chalara fraxinea fungus and its implications on ash plantations here; the long-term effects it will have on the hurley making industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29213/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

To date, 36 forestry plantations have tested positive for the disease, all planted with imported stock. The disease has also been confirmed at 15 horticultural nurseries, 13 roadside landscaping projects, 13 farms (REPS/AEOS), 3 garden centres and 2 private gardens.

As a precautionary measure in order to reduce the potential spread of the disease, my Department has written to approximately 175 forest owners instructing them to remove and destroy all ash trees from sites where the disease has been confirmed, as well as from sites where the disease has not been confirmed but was planted with trees from known infected consignments. Approximately 535 hectares of ash woodlands have been identified for removal so far. Eradication is also being carried out under Departmental supervision at the non-forest locations (i.e. roadsides, horticultural nurseries, garden centres, AEOS/REPS farms and private gardens).

A support scheme has been introduced for forest owners who have been instructed to remove ash trees from forests planted under the forestry grant schemes. The Reconstitution (Chalara Ash Dieback) Scheme is providing funding to forest owners towards the cost of removing and destroying infected or potentially infected trees and replanting affected sites with alternative tree species.

I am conscious that ash dieback disease could potentially have serious long term effects for the hurley making industry if the disease becomes established in Ireland. For this reason, in order to try and minimise the risk of the disease becoming established, last November I introduced legislation restricting the importation of ash plants and ash wood. This has, in some cases, resulted in ash wood supply arrangements being changed to meet the new requirements but we understand that it has not had a significant impact on the current supply of ash to the hurley making industry. In anticipation of any supply issues, Coillte brought forward the sale of some 40,000 hurley planks and are working with sources in the UK to import additional supplies.

Part of our long term strategy is to breed ash trees for resistance to the disease and my Department is involved in research efforts with our colleagues in the UK to test Irish material planted in several areas in the south east of England in heavily Chalara invested sites. I understand that there are some positive signs around Europe of ash trees showing resistance to the disease.

I would like to re-emphasise that my Department is currently eradicating this disease wherever it is found. Department officials with their Teagasc counterparts recently carried out a series of 22 meetings around the country to raise awareness of the disease and what to watch out for in order that as many people as possible are on the lookout for the disease and will report anything suspicious. My officials are working very closely with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and I am glad to report that to date there is no confirmation of the disease spreading to the wider environment here or in Northern Ireland.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Eligibility

Questions (28)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

28. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of eligible farmers that were not approved for the agri-environment option scheme 3 due to the prioritisation of certain types of farmer for the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29359/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

A total of 9,703 applications were received by my Department under the re-opened Agri-environment Options Scheme and, based on the annual budget of €20 million available and following the ranking and selection process, a total of 6,000 applicants have now been approved for participation in the scheme.

4,483 applicants selecting Grey Partridge, Natura and Commonage actions were approved into the scheme and the remaining 1,517 applicants selected had all previously participated in REPS and had a reference area of 22.06 ha or less on their 2012 Single Payment Scheme application.

The approval of applicants was determined by the following priority selection criteria:

- Applicants within a targeted area of the Boora region of Co. Offaly who select Wild Bird Cover Option B (Grey Partridge);

- Applicants with eligible Natura land;

- Applicants with at least 0.5 hectares of Utilisable Agricultural Non-Natura Commonage land;

- Farm Partnerships;

- Previous Participation in REPS;

- Farm Size (Favouring smaller holding) based on the utilisable agricultural area;

- Location of farms in Less Favoured Areas.