I believe that the decision by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, to reduce the maximum payment available for farmers under the AEOS Scheme 2011 is unfair and unacceptable. As well as a reduction in the maximum amounts payable, the scheme will also introduce stringent new rules to limit the amount of famers eligible for remuneration under this scheme.
In an announcement earlier this week Minister Coveney outlined alterations to the AEOS scheme which will have a significant, detrimental impact on Irish farmers, particularly smaller or lower income farms who are reliant on such supports.
The funding for the new scheme is now capped at €25 million, with the result that the maximum individual payment is now €4,000 per annum. In addition to this approximately 2,000 farmers will now not meet the requirements set out by the new AEOS scheme.
For Minister Coveney to simply say that the funding is unavailable is a cop out. In the last budget I secured firm guarantees from the Government that this scheme would be protected and continued into the future. Minister Coveney has reneged on this promise. It is easy to look to the past Government and seek to pin the blame on them but the reality is that this scheme was intended to continue and it is the current Government who has amended it. Budget 2011 stated that AEOS would be re-opened to allow 10,000 farmers join the scheme with a maximum payment of €5,000. Since coming into office Minister Coveney has repeatedly delayed introducing this scheme and has now introduced a diminished version of it.
It is unacceptable to reduce funding and farmer’s entitlements without warning. We have many farmers coming out of the REPS scheme who will now be cut off. The new regulations could result in up to half of all applications received being rejected.
Countless farmers are reliant on these payments simply to stay afloat. This payment was seen as an integral part of farm income. Not only will these reductions affect farmers directly but it will also have a knock on effect on the whole rural economy from local shops to co-operatives and beyond.
The maximum AEOS payment has been reduced by €1,000, which by any objective standard is a considerable amount of money. This will have a particularly biting effect in Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas where farming practices are restricted.
I believe that farming and rural enterprises will be integral to Ireland’s economic recovery. The Government is further hobbling a sector that has already seen huge cuts to funding not to mention sharply rising costs. Farmers are having to work harder and longer, year after year simply to continue operations. If any other sector of Irish industry had such severe income drops in such a short number of years it would ultimately collapse. Farmers cannot sustain these decimating cuts to funding and to schemes, the Minister needs to take decisive action to support Irish agriculture with a view to helping Irish farming and the country get back on its feet.
I am therefore joining with the IFA in calling for Minister Coveney to reconsider his actions and in addition to guarantee all farmers that AEOS will continue into the future. The scheme in its current form will have a grave effect on farming families.