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11 February 2009: Minister Smith confirms payment arrangements for Farm Waste Management grants worth over €500 million

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, today said that the Government had decided that the farm waste management scheme grants will be paid on a phased basis with 40 per cent being paid this year, as claims are approved, a further 40 per cent being paid in early January 2010 and the remaining 20 per cent in January 2011. The Minister said that the decision had been taken in the context of addressing the public finances and identifying significant savings in public spending this year.

The Minister said that Government's decision would ensure that 80 per cent of the cost of the outstanding farm waste management grants will be paid within the next ten months.

Minister Smith said that the scheme had served its purpose very effectively in assisting farmers to ensure that they had the necessary storage facilities to meet the higher environmental standards required by the Nitrates Directive and to protect farmers from the threats to EU payments, following a judgement of the European Court of Justice in March 2004 that Ireland was in breach of the Nitrates' Directive.

Minister Smith said that ¿continued failure to implement the Directive would have had very serious consequences for the country, including the prospect of substantial daily fines as well as the potential threat to EU funding for rural development schemes and the Single Farm Payment, worth €1.6 billion annually to Irish farmers.¿

The Minister said that ¿the generous level of grant-aid, worth up to 70 per cent in some cases, was designed to encourage farmers to invest in waste storage facilities, to meet the national deficit in such facilities and to take the action necessary to resolve the ongoing difficulties with the Nitrates' Directive.¿

Minister Smith described the scheme as ¿an essential infrastructural investment and as important to the agri-food sector as other major infrastructural investments were to other sectors of the economy,¿ and said that the phased payments of the grants, worth up to an estimated €550 million, ¿reflects the current public state of the public finances and the particular pressures on expenditure within my own Department, which will still exceed €3.4 billion in support of the Irish agri-food sector this year.¿

Minister Smith said that paying on a phased basis was ¿a more equitable approach than paying only a portion of claimants in full and ensured that each claimant received a significant proportion of their payment in 2009 with 80 per cent of the grant being paid within the next ten months.¿

The Minister said that his Department had already paid over €549 million in grant aid since 2006 to over 17,600 farmers and, while the final cost of the remaining 17,000 claims had to be confirmed, it is estimated that the total cost of the scheme to the Exchequer will be in excess of €1 billion, making it the most significant on-farm investment scheme in the history of the State. He said that the scheme was ¿an essential infrastructural investment in the Irish agri-food sector, which recognised the high value of the sector, not least given the value of agri-food exports, currently worth in excess of €9 billion annually.¿

Minister Smith concluded that ¿in recognition of the pressure that some farmers may be under for early payment of the grant, I have arranged to meet the main banks tomorrow and I will be making strong representations to them to facilitate those farmers who are due their farm waste management grant, which the State is committed to paying in full. I am confident that the banks will appreciate the phased basis on the which the grants are being paid and will be understanding of those farmers whose grants are guaranteed by the State.¿

Date Released: 11 February 2009