Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the Minister for Agriculture to immediately reopen the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).
Deputy Ó Cuív said that Fianna Fáil has appealed on numerous occasions for the Minister to amend the terms and conditions of AEOS, make the criteria more flexible and the scheme more workable for farmers.
“The scheme needs to have a maximum payment of €5,000, which is a modest figure in itself.
“I am now asking the Minister when he intends re-opening the AEOS and whether this scheme will be open to farmers on non Natura 2000 sites and whether it is proposed to retain the stonewall maintenance option.
“The Minister has not heeded the advice of the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Tom Moran, that the AEOS should be reopened this year. The Minister promised to reopen a limited scheme but we have not seen that yet either.
“There was much anger and upset among thousands of farmers across the country in April when Minister Coveney said there would be no new AEOS scheme this year,” he warned.
The backlog in payments from 2010 and 2011 also remains of huge concern and must be sorted as a matter of priority, according to Éamon Ó Cuív.
“Some farmers are still waiting for AEOS applications in 2011 to be paid, this is not good enough. These protracted delays simply cannot be tolerated. Thousands of farmers who are depending on this State support have been left in serious difficulty for months on end. I am urging Minister Coveney to start taking an active interest in ensuring these outstanding payments are made as a matter of urgency.
“Farmers who have recently come off REPS 3 made plans based on the reasonable assumption that they could join AEOS this year. They need some degree of certainty about their financial future. Given the massive under-spend in AEOS/REPS in 2011, surely the funds will be available for payments this year. If the Minister is serious about supporting smaller farmers and helping them to stay in business, he will have no hesitation reaffirming to commitment to an AEOS this year.
“It is increasingly obvious that Minister Coveney’s main priority is protecting large, wealthy farmers at the expense of smaller farmers who are in greater need of support.”