My preceding question:
Dear Minister Burton,
I am writing to you requesting an immediate review of plans to change the means assessment for the Farm Assist scheme which, as proposed, will have a detrimental impact on small holders who rely on this payment to remain in farming and as such contribute to food production in Ireland.
I am seeking the review on the basis that the scheme changes as proposed by your Department fails to consider a core principle of the scheme; the need to take into consideration the income volatility in agriculture particularly in low income farm families. It must be remembered that in 1999 the impetus for the introduction of the scheme stemmed from the then financial difficulties facing low-income farm families, as a result of persistent poor weather condition causing income collapse.
The design of the scheme was such to ensure that climatic conditions were taken into consideration when evaluating total farm means for the purpose of the scheme. A disproportionate number of recipients reside in the Midlands and West/North West of Ireland mainly due to the poor draining and as a result poor quality of land, as well as the limited size of the farm holding. This makes such farmers very susceptible to variations in the level of rainfall.
I’m attaching a recent table presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment by the Office of Public Works on flooding in the Shannon Callows which highlights the recent increase in frequency of flooding in the area, which is directly associated with rainfall within the whole River Shannon catchment north of Lough Derg.
The OPW data indicates that the incidence of severe summer rainfall over the last decade has been more frequent than has been the case during any period since the 1940’s, a factor which impacts directly on farmers in the West, North West, and Midlands. In fact this year, according to the Met Service total summer rainfall was above average across the country but the South and Midlands was worst hit.
In August most stations in Cork recorded above average rainfall, with many reporting their wettest August in 13 to 15 years. Mullingar and Cork Airport reported their wettest summers since records began, while Claremorris and Knock Airport in Co Mayo recorded their wettest summers since 1985 and 1996 respectively. Yet such climatic changes are now to be ignored by the changes proposed to be introduced in the Dáil next week, through the removal of 100% of the income disregard for the Farm Assist Scheme.
What I cannot understand is the fact that there is a clear understanding by the Department of the need to consider the volatility of income due to climatic conditions when it comes to the fishing industry, as the Department of Social Protection continues to allow for a 30% variation in income to address issues such as weather, yet after one of the worst decades on record when it comes to summer rainfall, the Department will from next April is make no allowance for such volatility when it comes to farm family income.
The projected savings in 2013 for these changes are €4m, but as your officials are well aware the means-testing of farm incomes is intensive and time-consuming and this will require a re-allocation of resources, and as a result of this change, reassessments will be far more frequent, in order to try to take into consideration weather vulnerable incomes, which will impact on the overall level of potential savings accruing to the Department of Social Protection.
I would therefore ask you to revisit this decision in the interests of equity, fairness, and effective use of resources. I am willing to sit down with your officials and outline the potential anomalies that will be created on foot of this proposal, if you feel that I can be of assistance.
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