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Wednesday 28 June 2017

New rule limits access to National Reserve

Michael Fitzmaurice,Independent deputy for Roscommon-East Galway. Pic Tom Burke
Michael Fitzmaurice,Independent deputy for Roscommon-East Galway. Pic Tom Burke

Young farmers will be unable to access the €5m National Reserve Fund scheme for 2017 until they have "college certs in hand", Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has warned.

The Roscommon-Galway TD is calling on the Government and farm organisations to "come clean" on educational criteria needed to access the scheme funded by a linear cut to the value of all Basic Payment Scheme entitlements.

Speaking to the Farming Independent, Mr Fitzmaurice raised concerns on how changes in eligibility means many young farmers will "not be accomodated" under the highly anticipated scheme, set to open at the end of the month.

"New rules state that a young farmer must have a "cert in hand" to qualify and that situation has very serious implications.

"Teagasc and the colleges are just catching up on the backlog of farmers that wanted to do courses from 2015," he said.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed that in order to qualify for the 2017 National Reserve successful applicants must have completed their agricultural education course by May 15, 2017.

"An exception was made under the education criteria of the 2015 National Reserve which allowed students to qualify before completion of their agricultural course. However, this exception did not receive the approval of the EU Commission," a Department spokesperson said.

Mr Fitzmaurice described the alteration as "totally unacceptable".

"Young farmers need to know where they stand. All stakeholders must come clean and explain the situation," he said.

The farmer, turf cutter and agricultural contractor will raise the matter in Leinster House this week.

Macra na Feirme president Seán Finan said the change was made due to budget limitiations.

"The Department were very clear that they would have to implement a tightening of the educational requirement.

"While we acknowledge that it will restrict the number of young farmers eligible to apply, at the same time we have a limited budget.

"Obviously we would like it if it was more open, but the number one for us was ensuring a National Reserve was in place for 2017.

"In any negotiations there are trade-offs unfortunately, and securing the injection of funds was very, very important and we welcome it," he said.

An IFA spokesman said the organisation made a "strong case" for the 2015 concession to remain in place.

"The IFA made the point that any changes should have been signalled much earlier.

"However, the Department of Agriculture pointed out that this concession, which was available in 2015 and 2016, was no longer available because the EU Commission has insisted that from now on, applicants have to have their education completed at the time of applying," he said.


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