Friday 19 January 2018

FG TDs rebel over plan for farm assets in means testing

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FINE Gael backbenchers are rebelling against Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's latest plan to include farm and business assets in the means test for student grants.

The review of the means test has been a long running source of tension in the Coalition because many Fine Gael TDs rely on votes from farm families and small business owners. It is expected to be raised at the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting tomorrow.

Mr Quinn is planning to mount a five-year trawl of assets owned by farmers and business people whose children are applying for the college grant in September. He is going to include assets worth in excess of €750,000 in the means test – on top of how much income is being earned.

But the move has sparked a backlash from FG backbenchers, with the party's Cork North West TD Michael Creed dismissing it as "impractical" and "tokenism".

And in a blow to Mr Quinn, state farm advisory body Teagasc rejected reports that it had provided figures to back up his proposal for means testing farmers.

It said it had not estimated that a farm worth €750,000 would generate income of €41,000 - which is the cut off point for college grants.

It came after farmers' organisations estimated that such a farm would be only 60-70 acres – and that only a super-efficient dairy farmer would make €41,000 on such a farm.

IFA president John Bryan said the calculations were "deeply flawed - and again outlined his opposition to including any farm assets in the means test."

"We're already going to have property tax valuations. Are we going to have every farm and business being valued as well to see if they are worth over or under €750,000?" he asked.

Currently, the student grant is only assessed on the income of the parents in the year running up to the application for a college place – and does not include assets.

Mr Creed said that bringing assets into the means test was "ridiculous".

"A hundred acres in the Golden Vale would have a very different value to 100 acres in the hills of Donegal. A nightclub in Macroom (in west Cork) would have a different value to a nightclub in Killarney, even though they are only 30 miles apart," he said.

Fine Gael Waterford TD Paudie Coffey said the changes could exclude children from farm and business families who were genuinely struggling.

Irish Independent

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