THE President of ICMSA, the state's specialist dairy farmer organisation, has promised that his association will immediately begin a campaign of lobbying against the changes they suspect likely to be recommended by the Capital Assets Implementation group, whose existence was confirmed by Minister Ruairi Quinn in a letter to ICMSA last week.
John Comer said that the farm organisation will have established contact with every Dail deputy by the weekend and set out, in the most unambiguous and trenchant terms, what they say is the manifestly unfair and unjust situation that will result if farmers' children find themselves declared ineligible for Third Level grants - not on the basis of their family incomes, but on the basis of an arbitrary value attached to the assets or tools used to earn that income.
Mr Comer said that it was a fundamental principle of fairness that eligibility in these matters would be decided on the basis of income. It was now becoming apparent, that the Government and Minister Quinn were prepared to move past that principle and decide eligibility on the basis of a certain, very specific – and in this case, very specifically anti-farming – context.
"We are absolutely determined that this attempt to effectively disqualify a large number of the children of farming families from any possibility of receiving Third Level grants will be resisted to the utmost. The Minister might like to pretend that that is neither the intention nor the likely effect; but that is to deny the facts of the matter and the logical consequence of the move already announced.
"Our submission to this Capital Assets Implementation group is that the value of farmland and associated farm buildings must not be included in any formula for assessment for grants eligibility. It should not be included on the simple basis that the market value placed on farm land bears absolutely no relation to the income being earned off that land by the owning farm family.
"The only fair and transparent means for assessing eligibility for Third Level grants is income. Bringing the value of farm land 'into the mix' is a deliberate move to discriminate against farm families in order to appease those who believe in what Minister Quinn himself is on record as describing as the 'urban myth' of farmers' sons and daughters being over-represented in the numbers of students qualifying for grant assistance", said Mr Comer.
"The Government and all its deputies, where they are intent on introducing a new set of rules in a matter as fundamental as this, are dutybound to ensure that the new system is fair, equitable and transparent.
"To include the value of agricultural land as an additional component to farm incomes in measuring eligibility is double-counting and it should be called what it is. It's an affront to fairness and a sop to that very vocal group in Irish society that is anti-farmer without any reference to the real financial facts of farming", concluded the ICMSA President.