asked the Minister for Agriculture if he is aware of the EEC proposal for an amending directive, 72/159/EEC, to the effect that as of 1 January 1978 the Irish Government may only grant aid to farmers classified as transitional and who are under 55 years of age if they undertake to keep accounts for not less than five years and that aid may only be granted in respect of a maximum investment of 10,000 units of account, approximately £7,000; his attitude to the proposal; and when it is likely to be finalised.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Aid to Farmers.
The Commission proposal referred to would allow continuation of the current higher levels of aid to farmers who could meet the conditions outlined. Aids at a lower level would continue to be available to other non-development farmers. The Commission proposal extends the higher support system to farmers outside the present development category and for this reason I can endorse it. I would be concerned to see that it applies to the widest possible stratum of farmers. It is not possible at this stage to predict when precisely the Council of Ministers will reach final decision on the proposal.
Does the Minister accept that there should be a maximum in respect of capital investment and that there should be the requirement that transitional farmers should undertake to keep accounts for at least five years in order to qualify?
The maximum investment clause would encourage more farmers to come into the development category, and this is what we should be aiming at. There is a possibility that the figure of £7,000 may be increased a little. Our aim should be to try to get as many farmers as possible to go into the development category and thus qualify for the higher aids available for development farmers.
Is the Minister in favour of the maximum investment clause? Is he aware there are many farmers in the west, the area which he is supposed to represent, who are not qualified for the development category and who will not qualify no matter what penalty clause is involved?
I have not said any such thing. I am saying this is one of the things being considered at present.
Is the Minister aware this is a draft directive the contents of which have been public knowledge for a considerable time and the Minister should have an opinion for or against on a matter of this kind?
The Deputy should refrain from making a speech.
I have told the House that my hope is to get as many transitional farmers as possible into the development category, thereby qualifying for the higher rates of aid.
Is it not the case that to get into the development category transitional farmers have to show they can achieve a comparable income, and does not the Minister know that there are many farmers in the west who cannot reach that level under the present arrangements? Does the Minister accept that there should be a maximum investment clause?
How many farmers are affected?
I have not got that information.
Has the Minister not got the statistics?
It is a separate question, not on the Order Paper.
The Minister has not answered the question I asked him which is one of the utmost concern to farmers in the west, whom the Minister seeks to represent.
The Chair has no control over the type of answer the Minister gives.
Can the Minister give us the percentage of farmers who will be able to avail of the scheme and move into the development category? I understand it is low.
I have not that information available, but only about 20 per cent of our farmers are in the development category. In the west the percentage is only about two.
Are the Government making any effort to ease the conditions so that more and more farmers can avail of the scheme? Have the Government made any representations to the EEC Commission?
They have. Every effort is being made to get more farmers into this category.
Has any attempt been made to ease the conditions, the comparable income clause which is an impossible one as far as many farmers are concerned?
I have said three times that any attempt to bring more of our farmers into the development category will be fully supported by the Government.
Deputy Bermingham rose.
We have spent a long time on this question and it is beginning to develop into a debate.
I will ask one more supplementary. Is there a proposal by the Government to ease the comparable income clause so that more of our farmers can qualify?
The Government have made representations to the EEC in an effort to overcome the comparable income condition. This is being considered at the moment in the light of EEC directives.
Will the Minister accept that the average expenditure on farm development has averaged £2,500 in the past three years and that therefore the limit of £7,000 is a three-fold increase?
The impression has been given that the only people who benefit from this directive are the development farmers? That is not so. Many people who are referred to as transitional farmers—I do not entirely agree with that term—have benefited to a great degree and qualify for the same grants as other farmers except in regard to the purchase of machinery.
The remaining questions will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper.