Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 17 October 2017

No preferential treatment for farmers in Fair Deal - Leo

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned farmers they will get no preferential treatment over other business owners ahead of the planned overhaul of the State’s Nursing Home Support Scheme. Stock Image
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned farmers they will get no preferential treatment over other business owners ahead of the planned overhaul of the State’s Nursing Home Support Scheme. Stock Image

Niall O'Connor and Gavin White

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned farmers they will get no preferential treatment over other business owners ahead of the planned overhaul of the State's Nursing Home Support Scheme.

Mr Varadkar yesterday said he believes the long-awaited changes to Fair Deal will take place this year - despite serious legal concerns being raised by the Office of the Attorney General.

But Mr Varadkar warned that farmers will be treated in the same way as small business owners, who also face huge financial burdens when looking after their elderly loved ones.

Under the scheme at present a claimant's payment is calculated based on 80pc of their annual income, as well as a 7.5pc annual charge on their overall assets.

Assets that have been transferred within the previous five years are also means-tested.

Farmers have for months claimed the scheme in its current form places at risk their efforts to pass the farm on to future generations. One of the country's most powerful lobby groups, the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA), is seeking sweeping changes to the Fair Deal scheme, arguing it does not acknowledge a farmer's asset-rich but cash-poor status.

The suite of proposals put forward by the IFA would result in 90pc of farm assets being exempt from consideration when it comes to nursing home bills.

According to briefing documents seen by the Irish Independent, the lobby group also wants to reduce the period within which the State can target assets that have been transferred onto the farmer's children in the context of Fair Deal from five years to three.

Also Read


But it was revealed yesterday that a special deal to slash nursing home costs for farmers has run into difficulties because the Attorney General is concerned such a deal could prove to be unconstitutional. This was confirmed by Minister for Older People Jim Daly, who said he will examine mechanisms to address the AG's concerns in the coming weeks.

Other senior Fine Gael figures yesterday said farmers need assistance through changes to the State scheme.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys said the Government is particularly conscious of the pressures facing farmers in relation to nursing home fees.

"I have come across some very sad cases where there was a huge financial burden placed upon them and they were unable to continue their farming activity as a result," the Cavan-Monaghan TD said. "So this is something the Government is committed to looking at not just for farmers but for small businesses, and we have to obviously check any changes out with the Attorney General.

"We are committed to implementing the recommendations within this review and I think it's very important because if you look into the impact a sudden illness can have on a family farm, and I'd be familiar with cases myself, this is something that we're committed to reviewing," she added.

But speaking in Dublin, Mr Varadkar insisted farmers and business owners must be treated the same.

"On the Fair Deal, we have a Government commitment now to eliminate any discrimination that exists affecting farmers and people who own businesses, and they do have to be treated equally," Mr Varadkar said.

"A farm is absolutely a working asset, but so is a shop, if you own a shop, a business, a hotel, those are working assets. So our intention is to remove any discrimination against farmers and business owners and to treat them equally."

Asked when he expects the review into Fair Deal to be completed, he said he believes this will happen by the end of the year. "I imagine we will be able to do that this year but any change will require primary legislation and amendments to the Nursing Home Support Scheme Act," he said.

On the issue of the old age pension, Mr Varadkar said the exact size of the increase planned for the Budget will be worked out in the coming weeks. The speculation is that the pension will be increased by €5. The Taoiseach made the remarks at an event on childcare, in Temple Bar.

He and Children's Minister Katherine Zappone announced plans to provide €19m in supports to childcare providers around the country in a bid to create 5,000 extra places for children of a school-going age.

A billboard campaign has also been launched. Ms Zappone is encouraging families to visit www.affordablechildcare.ie to see what is available.

Irish Independent

Independent.ie Comments Facility

INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.

We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie