I want to ask the Tánaiste about the changes being applied by the Government to the beef genomics programme. This represents a bad deal for farmers. Lest the Tánaiste is not aware of it, it is being talked about across all counties in the country as a bad deal for farmers. There is serious concern about the current structure of the programme, which has serious implications for productive farmers, many of whom have told me that this scheme is unworkable and needs to be changed. Farmers continue to highlight that the scheme is over-complicated and will impose excessive costs on participants and that the conditions attached to the scheme are turning away potential applicants.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, has put in place a rule that will bar any new applicants to the scheme following the close of applications, even if desirable changes are made to the scheme in the future. The draconian rule which provides that all payments made over the lifetime of the programme will be clawed back should a farmer withdraw from the scheme is totally unreasonable and will have a negative impact on farmers who are forced to withdraw from the scheme due to a change in personal circumstances. Farmers should also be allowed to make application to the scheme based on the size of their suckler cow herd this year rather than for 2014, as proposed, as this places an unnecessary limit on those who want to expand their herd size into the future.
The outstanding issues in regard to the six-year rule, the star ratings and the overly bureaucratic nature of the scheme need to be urgently addressed. Can the Tánaiste confirm that she is aware of the farmers' concerns and will she ask Government to request the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to take on board the concerns of farmers and agri-organisations in relation to this scheme? Will she further confirm that the Minister will, at least, return to Brussels and attempt to renegotiate a better deal?