It is widely recognised that the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is a very important one for this country, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland’s total land area. From an economic perspective, the Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of some 95,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment and, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions.
While the budgeted expenditure under the 2012 Scheme was reduced from €220 million to €190 million, I can confirm that the budget was subsequently increased to €195 million for the 2013 Scheme. Funding of the 2014 Scheme will be maintained at this level.
With regard to the funding reduction for the 2012 Scheme, prompted by the financial crisis, rather than simply apply an across the board cuts to all participants, it was decided to achieve the necessary saving in expenditure under the 2012 Scheme by making changes to the Scheme eligibility criteria. This was designed to focus the aid payment on farmers, whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in Less Favoured Areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme. However, being particularly mindful that any proposed changes in scheme qualifying criteria, regardless of how focused and targeted their aim, would result in anomalies, specific provision was made for those farmers, whose stocking rates in 2011 were less than required, by putting in place a formal procedure to cater for all who considered that their inability to meet the revised scheme requirements was due to force majeure/exceptional circumstances. Those affected were invited to outline such details to this Department, with each case then being considered on its merits. The Scheme, which is co-funded by the EU, is an integral part of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan, 2007/2013, and as such, the changes to the 2012 Scheme criteria required the agreement of the EU Commission, which was sought and obtained.
While the Terms and Conditions governing the 2014 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme have yet to issue to farmers, I can confirm that there are no changes for 2014. The Terms and Conditions booklets are currently with the printers and it is envisaged that these will be posted to all farmers during the first week in April.
I should also point out, however, that maps have recently issued to all farmers, with the request that these be closely examined and any necessary changes notified to my Department as soon as possible. While recent media coverage has focused on the need for farmers to identify and remove ineligible areas, there are also cases where all eligible areas should be included - given the need to ensure the accuracy of my Department’s land parcel database, it is critical that farmers take the time to carefully scrutinise these maps and notify my Department of whatever changes are identified.