Some of Ireland’s so-called “forgotten farmers” have described a commitment from Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to issue them financial aid as a “step in the right direction”.

However, issues around eligibility criteria and who exactly will benefit remain unresolved.

The forgotten farmers group, thought to include up to 3,500 individuals, are those farmers who missed out on installation grants, young farmer top-ups and other schemes in the last CAP.

These farmers are now to receive a once-off payment of up to €5,000 from the Government, the Irish Farmers Journal understands.

Forgotten farmers will also get access to the 60% grant aid rate in TAMS and be eligible to apply to the National Reserve in the next CAP.

The maximum €5,000 once-off grant is set to be funded by the Exchequer because it cannot be paid through the next CAP under EU rules.

Farmer reaction

Adrian Gallagher – Donegal IFA sheep chair

Adrian Gallagher (right), Donegal IFA sheep chair.

Donegal sheep farmer Adrian Gallagher, who has been advocating for forgotten farmers for several years, said the minister’s commitment seemed to “have everything we had in our proposal, if that’s what comes”.

“A lot of people would be happy with that but we’re looking for the minister to come out in public now and be clear on the criteria around eligibility.”

Gallagher described how some farmers who didn’t make getting the Green Cert a priority may now be “left out of the loop” in relation to the once-off payment or grant access.

He said the 3,500 figure was never confirmed by the Department and that it’s very difficult to get clarity on who this will actually apply to.

Caroline O’Neill Walsh – Cork dairy farmer

Caroline O' Neill Walsh, Crohane, Ballinascarthy, Co Cork. \ Donal O' Leary

Cork dairy farmer Caroline O’Neill Walsh said there was “no great positive reaction” in her forgotten farmers WhatsApp group following news of the minister’s plans because “we’ve been here before”.

Before welcoming the minister’s commitment as a “positive step in the right direction”, she said “the definition [of a forgotten farmer] is going to be the most important thing”.

She said that the Department wanted such farmers to come up with a definition themselves but warned that asking them to “cut out our own” is unacceptable.

“We’re not stupid; 3,500 farmers won’t come near it. The Department must be clear on who this will apply to.”

O’Neill Walsh suggested that some of the 60% grant aid access for TAMS will have to be backdated as many forgotten farmers have already made the necessary farm investments. She said they must now be compensated.

John Crowley – Wexford tillage farmer

Wexford tillage farmer John Crowley.

Wexford tillage farmer John Crowley, said that “first and foremost, we must define a forgotten farmer”.

“My fear is that it’s not going to go to the farmers who need it. Once we know who our forgotten farmers are, we can then decide our position on the minister’s plans. My excitement will be quite reserved before then.

“While it is a step in the right direction in righting a wrong, it’s only a drop in the ocean in what we’ve missed out on.

Crowley believes a “means test would be a much better system” and called on the Government to take this approach.

John Keane – Macra president

Macra president John Keane. \ Philip Doyle.

Macra president John Keane also acknowledged Minister McConalogue’s plans as a “step in the right direction”.

However, he expressed disappointment that Minister McConalogue had not yet formally engaged with his organisation on the detail.

“What I’d like to see is the minister coming directly to the farm organisations with his suite of measures, especially Macra. We’ve been on this for the last 10 years.”

While he welcomed the access to the 60% grant aid rate for TAMS and access to the Capital Reserve under the next CAP, Keane was more hesitant on the €5,000 once-off payment.

He said that this package around the missed installation aid for some young farmers will mean some may miss out on what they’re fully owed.