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Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 11 March 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ceisteanna (19)

Deirdre Clune

Ceist:

19 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding ongoing European Commission discussions in relation to the review of eligibility criteria for inclusion in the disadvantaged areas scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11952/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The Court of Auditors has criticised the procedures for the designation of intermediate Disadvantaged Areas in the European Union. These criticisms are based on the number and variety of criteria used to designate such areas — Member States have used more than one hundred criteria — and the lack of transparency. The Commission has made a number of attempts to address these criticisms:

During 2004/2005, the Commission proposed these areas be designated using criteria based on area classification, reflecting poor soil qualities and climate conditions (e.g. average cereal yields, stocking density, percentage of permanent grassland, etc.) but this approach was rejected by the Council of Ministers.

In 2007, the Commission commenced working with its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to establish a common soil and climate criteria that would support the delineation of Disadvantaged Areas. The intention was that a Commission proposal would be submitted to the Council in early 2009 for adoption by the Council of Ministers by the end of 2009. However, this was also abandoned by the Commission, in favour of the current approach, using biophysical criteria such as soil and climatic criteria to designate areas of natural handicap.

Currently there are three categories of Disadvantaged Areas in the EU viz:

Mountain Areas — none in Ireland but covers 16% of land area across the EU;

ntermediate Less Favoured Areas — over 99% of Ireland's Least Favoured Areas (LFAs);

Areas of Specific Handicap — 0.4% of Ireland's LFAs (Coastal Regions).

The areas, which are subject to the current review, consist of almost all of the Disadvantaged Area in Ireland.

The Disadvantaged Areas, which, according to the Commission's suggestion, are to be re-titled as Areas of Natural Handicap, would be delineated by Member States using soil and climatic criteria, based on the following:

Climate, including Low Temperature and Heat Stress;

Soil, including Drainage, Texture and Stoniness, Rooting Depth and Chemical Properties;

Soil and Climate, including Soil Moisture Balance and Soil Moisture Deficit;

Terrain, including Slope.

The discussions on this matter are still at the preliminary stage. The Commission have asked each Member States to use the suggested biophysical criteria that is relevant to farming in its territory to delineate, on a preliminary basis, the areas identified as Areas Of Natural Handicap. The Commission's intention is to submit a proposal to the Council some time in the second half of 2011 with a view to adopting it in advance of 2014 when it will come into force. Council Conclusions were unanimously agreed at Council in June, which essentially summarise the work carried out to date on the revision of intermediate LFAs and the objectives, basis and methodology for future work.

This is a very important issue for Ireland as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland's total land area. From an economic perspective, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of in excess of 100,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions in Ireland.

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