Speaking in the Dáil this week, deputy Kenny asked the minister for his plans to restore a National Reserve, highlighting the cases of returning emigrants and the so-called forgotten farmers who are under 40, but established their farm more than five years ago with little or no BPS entitlements – thus being excluded from current start-up support schemes.

Minister Creed said that “at present, there is practically nil in the reserve fund” from automatic replenishing through claw-back of unused untitlement and the sale of land without entitlements. He also clarified that returning emigrants who meet the same age, training and start date criteria as Irish residents would be eligible to the National Reserve – should there be one next year.

“Decisions on the National Reserve for 2017 will be considered once the position on potential funding has been established,” the minister added, echoing the position he has stated repeatedly in recent months. This will happen after consultation with the direct payments advisory committee, comprising members of the main farming organisations, agricultural education and farm advisory bodies, he added.

We are talking about taking it from the very top and putting it into the bottom where it is needed

Deputy Kenny argued that the National Reserve could be replenished by cutting the BPS payments of around 300 farmers, who receive more than €100,000 by 5% to 6%, generating €3m; and those of around 2,300 farmers receiving more than €50,000 by 2%, generating another €2m.

“We are talking about taking it from the very top and putting it into the bottom where it is needed. I believe we should try to find a consensus on doing something of that nature,” he said, supporting a proposal made by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association earlier this week.

Minister Creed replied that allocating the average entitlement to the 3,900 identified forgotten farmers alone would cost €12m, leaving a €7m shorfall in deputy Kenny’s proposal. Those figures have been known since the forgotten farmers issue came to the fore more than one year ago. He also said that Ireland would first have to get official EU recognition for forgotten farmers before they could benefit from the National Reserve.

Linear cut

The only option to replenish the National Reserve would be to apply a “linear cut” to all BPS payments, the minister added. This the language in the EU regulation governing BPS and National Reserve. It states that “where Member States consider it necessary, a linear reduction of the value of payment entitlements under the basic payment scheme” can be used if not enough entitlements are surrendered to cover the needs.

This means that BPS payments would be cut by the same amount for all farmers – just like the 3% applied in 2015. There is no provision for a specific cut to higher payments, as suggested by deputy Kenny and the INHFA. The debate therefore goes back to whether or not the Government should apply an unpopular BPS cut to all farmers to replenish the National Reserve – a decision it could not resolve itself to make this year.

“My calculation is on the back of an envelope, but it must be assessed,” deputy Kenny insisted. “To be fair, I cannot proceed on the basis of the back of an envelope, nor can I proceed in breach of EU regulations,” Minister Creed replied.

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