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Independent.ie

Saturday 18 November 2017

Farm assets are back in the firing line as fresh third level grants row erupts

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Plans to include capital assets such as farmland in means-testing for third level grants will put college education out of reach of the children of farmers and agricultural workers, former agriculture minister Brendan Smith has warned.

Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has confirmed that a report from the Capital Asset Implementation Group, due next month, will include proposals on the inclusion of capital assets in means-testing of students applying for grants in the 2013/2014 academic year.

Mr Smith described the decision to include capital assets as a damaging move that would discriminate against thousands of farmers and self-employed workers and have long-term economic and social effects.

"Including their capital assets in the means-testing for grants will give an inflated impression of their earnings, and will put farming families in an extremely difficult situation when it comes to third level costs," Deputy Smith said.

Farm organisations have reacted angrily to the proposals, insisting that farmland should be classed as a productive tool and not a capital asset.

The most recent figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show that in 2010, 8.9pc of new students were from a farming background.

Children of farmers accounted for 39.7pc of third level grant payments. Almost 64pc of children of agricultural workers, whose incomes are lower than farmers, received a grant that year.

ICMSA taxation chairman Lorcan McCabe said farm families were worried that Minister Quinn had not fully grasped the critical distinction between the 'tools' of the farmer's trade and an easy-to-liquidate asset.

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Eligibility for grants should be based on income only, which was the fairest and most transparent measurement, Mr McCabe said.

ACCUSATION

ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin accused Minister Quinn of not understanding how farms operated.

"Essential capital assets such as farm buildings and machinery do not equal money in the bank," he insisted.

He pointed out that last year cattle and sheep farmers had an average income of less than €31,000 on farms up to 250ac in size.

"Assets which appear to be substantial do not support significant income for the majority of farmers," he insisted.

IFA president John Bryan said productive assets such as farmland were required by self-employed businesses to generate income and were not a measure of additional ability to pay.

"The minister and the review group have a responsibility to ensure whatever changes are brought in do not restrict low-income families from any sector from access to third-level education."

The fight to exclude farm assets from means-testing is set to continue in the coming weeks as Minister Quinn has said that any proposals will require both Government agreement and legislative amendment before they can be implemented.

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