Written Answers. - Farm Retirement Scheme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

27 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the early retirement scheme was set up; the conditions at the time; the way in which these conditions have changed in the interim; if these changes apply to those already in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18936/03]

The first scheme of early retirement from farming commenced in 1994 and was one of the accompanying measures to the CAP reform programme agreed in 1992. The terms and conditions of the scheme are set down in the scheme document and guidelines that were published at its commencement.

In January 2003, I secured the agreement of the European Commission to two changes to the scheme designed to make it easier for transferees to continue to meet their commitments, and thus to safeguard the pensions of retired farmers. The changes limited the obligations on the transferee to have enlargement land and to engage in farming as a main occupation to the first five years participation in the scheme. Once the transferee has satisfied these conditions for five years they cease to apply. The transferee must continue to farm the pension lands, the lands transferred by the retiring farmer, for the full period of the pension, but not necessarily as a main occupation. These changes were welcomed by the main farming organisations.
The current scheme of early retirement commenced in November 2000 and is governed by the rural development Council Regulation 1257/1999. I have since secured the Commission's agreement to a change in this scheme. When it was being formulated in 1999, the Commission insisted that the widow's and widower's pension be regarded as national retirement pensions for the purposes of the scheme, regardless of the age of the recipient. It is an EU requirement that national retirement pensions must be offset against pensions paid under the early retirement scheme. Early in 2002, however, the Commission acceded to my representations that the widow's and widower's pensions should not be regarded as national retirement pensions until the recipient reached the national retirement age of 66. This change was made with retrospective effect and resulted in refunds being paid to a number of participants.
A number of changes to the current scheme that did not require formal Commission approval were included in a re-draft of the scheme document in May 2002. Most of these changes were for clarification purposes only, but two changes in particular were to the benefit of prospective applicants. One of these was a change in the way non-farm income is reckoned in joint ownership cases; the non-farming spouse or partner's off-farm income is no longer taken into account. The other change made in 2002 was that a revocation clause may now be included in leases of pension lands and may be invoked once the pension has been paid for five years.