While the RSS had until now provided farmers and fishermen on certain social welfare benefits with additional community paid work without time constraints, Minister Varadkar has said that this would change for the 500 new places promised under Budget 2017.
“All new entrants to the scheme will have to be over 25 years of age,” he told the Dáil. “There will, however, be a six-year limit for new entrants as we want some turnover within the scheme, rather than people being on it for life, and we want other people from the community to have the opportunity to take part,” he added.
Early 2017 allocation
The minister said that his department had sought expressions of interest from the local bodies implementing the scheme and received requests for 1,000 places. He said he intended to allocate the 500 new places “as early as possible in 2017”, taking into account “the number of places already allocated, the demand for places in particular areas, work opportunities available and the numbers of farmers and fishermen and women in receipt of income support”.
The additional funding will bring the total number of RSS places to 3,100, for an annual budget of €47.6m.
During the Dáil debate, Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan expressed concern based on his contacts with the bodies running the scheme that the overall six-year time limit to participate in the scheme may be broken up into three-year maximum consecutive periods. Minister Varadkar did not respond to his comment.
IFA rural development chair Joe Brady described the proposed changes to the terms and conditions of the RSS as “unacceptable”. He, too, was aware of proposals to break up participation in the scheme into two three-year periods. “The proposal to impose a three-year limit on any farmer who takes up one of the 500 new places on the scheme is a retrograde step as the RSS must operate in a flexible manner and give certainty to those farmers who partake in it,” said Brady, adding that the 25 minimum age would undermine the progress offered by additional places.
Farm Assist boost from mid-March
Minister Varadkar also said that the measures introduced in Budget 2017 to reverse cuts to the Farm Assist scheme would apply from 15 March.
Farm income and other income from off-farm self-employment will then be assessed at 70%, down from 100%, for means-tested access to the scheme. An additional annual disregard of €254 will apply for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and other children.
Increase of €5 in weekly rate for Farm Assist in Budget 2017