FF backing changes to Fair Deal - but still has reservations
Fianna Fáil will help the Government get changes to the Fair Deal scheme - aimed at helping farmers - through the Dáil before the end of the year.
However, the main opposition party has reservations about some of the 'safeguards' being put in place to ensure a new three-year cap on payments taken from farmland to help fund nursing home care are not abused.
Mary Butler, Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on older people, is concerned by a stipulation in the proposals which requires the farm to be worked by a close relative once the farmer retires to a nursing home.
The Irish Independent revealed yesterday that ministers had agreed changes to the scheme that will put farmland and family businesses on a similar footing to the family home.
Under the current regime, farm and business owners are required to give the State 7.5pc of the value of their land for every year spent in a nursing home. This will now be capped at three years.
Speaking after yesterday's Cabinet meeting, Minister for Older People Jim Daly confirmed he had received approval to immediately begin work on the necessary legislation to introduce change.
Mr Daly said he had been made aware of cases where some farmers were putting off moving to a nursing home because of the financial implications.
"With immediate effect, we'll join the legislation queue for autumn schedule," he said.
Mr Daly said the legislation should be "straightforward" because it is focused on just one significant change, rather than a wider range of additions that had been sought by some lobby groups.
"It's essentially a measure of fairness and that everybody is treated equally. There's no going back now," he said, while he acknowledged the role organisations such as the Irish Farmers' Association had played in convincing his colleagues to agree the measure.
The Cabinet decision was given a "cautious welcome" by Fianna Fáil, with Ms Butler saying her party has been calling for "common-sense changes to the Fair Deal scheme" for some time.
"The three-year cap is only right and proper, and I look forward to it being enacted as quickly as possible," she said.
But the Waterford TD added that there was "one area" which needed further investigation.
"I am uncomfortable with the requirement that in order to receive the three-year cap, an applicant must have their farm farmed by a close relative.
"In most circumstances, this will not be an issue. However, for single farmers and for farmers without close relatives able or willing to farm the land on their behalf, they will not benefit from the cap," she said.
Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) Neil McDonnell said they believed the new cap was a "good idea".
"It's a sensible idea. Everyone pays something if they can afford to do so and nobody gets bled by the process," he said.
Nursing home residents who have been in care for more than three years will not be able to recoup contributions they have made beyond that period.
However, the changes will be backdated so that, once introduced, the cap will benefit anybody who has been in care for less than three years.
There will also be a 'claw-back' mechanism, which means that farm or business assets sold or leased within six years of a person entering a nursing home will be subject to the annual 7.5pc charge.