Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 16 January 2017

Government accused of 'slowly snuffing small farmers out of existence'

Published 27/11/2016 | 06:05

Farmers eye up the cattle at Cillin Hill Mart, Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.
Farmers eye up the cattle at Cillin Hill Mart, Kilkenny. Photo: Roger Jones.

Changes to the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) have been heavily criticised by Sinn Féin spokesperson on Rural Affairs and Regional Development, Peadar Tóibín.

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He says the changes appear to be an initiation of the phasing out of the scheme, as well as discriminating against younger farmers.

Speaking today an Tóibín said the Rural Social Scheme has been a massive support to farmers, both economically and socially.

He said the government has now made changes to the scheme so new entrants have to be at least 25 years old, and cannot avail of the scheme for a period of over six years.

“Previously those who qualified for the scheme could stay on it for a substantial period of time. Now it appears that participants in the scheme will not be able to avail of it for periods longer than three years at a time.

"Quietly and cunningly the government have introduced what are effectively nasty stealth cuts, by the imposition of these stringent conditions," he said.

According to the Sein Fein Deputy payments to the scheme were cut drastically two years ago.

"Now it seems that a phasing out of the scheme has been initiated," he warned.

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"The vast majority of farmers availing of the scheme are over 55 years of age. It seems as though the government are looking to impose finite time restrictions now, so that the scheme will be redundant in less than a decade.

“Minister Varadkar claims that he wishes to align the RSS with other employment schemes – but they cannot be comparable. This scheme was not introduced as a labour market initiative, but was designed to encourage people to continue farming. It offered financial support and security as well as having vital social benefits.

“Farms are becoming increasingly unsustainable. Younger farmers in particular are at risk of leaving the land entirely and seeking alternative work. Often smaller farms are sold to plantation companies for monoculture farming, which can further fracture what are often very isolated communities further, with the absence of people and families in these holdings.  

“The human cost of government policy which has had utter disregard to rural Ireland, and the West of Ireland in particular, is devastating. What’s more, Fine Gael policy is supporting the shift of land from small, independent farmers into the control of wealthier individuals and companies.

“I would ask Minister Leo Varadkar to review the changes to the Rural Social Scheme as they go against the sustaining and development of farms and by proxy, vibrant rural communities,” he said.

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