Coveney opposed to farming assets being assessed for third-level grants
A SENIOR Fine Gael Minister has signalled his opposition to any change in the assessment system for third-level grants that would include the value of capital assets such as farms in the process.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney yesterday said that no decision had yet been made on the issue and he expressed confidence that any changes in the system would be fair to farm families.
The Minister said he had seen the draft report prepared by the Capital Asset Implementation Group set up by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn on the issue. He was reassured by what he had seen but no decision had been taken yet on any changes, he added in an interview during an engagement in Co Cork.
“Every department needs to look at ways it can save money and the ways it can distribute money more equitably in relation to financial supports that people need at difficult times, so it’s in that context that Minister Ruairí Quinn is looking at this area in some detail.
“I think he’s right to do that but from the point of view of using assets as part of the assessment process for means, I have a difficulty with that but this is something we need to discuss around the Cabinet table before we make definitive public comment on it.
“If you look at traditionally how means have been measured, whether it’s the Revenue Commissioners or social welfare, it has been on the basis of a person’s income and I think that is probably the most appropriate way to assess a person’s means.”
Mr Coveney said he expected the matter to be discussed fully at Cabinet in September and a decision taken but there seemed to be a misconception among some that farm families are receiving some preferential treatment in relation to third-level grant support.
“In case people think there’s some kind of preferential treatment for farm families in relation to third-level grants – there isn’t,” he said. “Six per cent of people who get grants at third level come from farm families and about 6 per cent of the workforce are farm families so there is no preferential treatment.”
Mr Coveney said it was his job to look after the interests of farm families and he was well aware of concern among Fine Gael TDs about possible changes as the matter had been discussed at a parliamentary party meeting.
“I am very confident that Minister Quinn understands the sensitivities of the issues here for Fine Gael backbenchers, particularly those in rural constituencies, and that’s why I have reassured Fine Gael backbenchers as has Minister Quinn that no decision has been made yet. I think Ruairí Quinn recognises that you can’t discriminate against any one section of society in terms of how you means test. What he’s doing at the moment is looking at the various options and he’s right to do that.
“I believe we will come to a satisfactory outcome that won’t disadvantage anyone on the basis of the type of income they have or whether their income comes from small business or farming or if they are self-employed or employed by others.”
Earlier this week, Labour Party chairman Colm Keaveney expressed concern that farmers and other self-employed people can manipulate their income by increasing capital expenditure in a given year so that their children can qualify for third-level grants.
Mr Coveney yesterday said he did not believe there was any tension between Fine Gael and Labour on the issue and he fully expected Mr Quinn to be open to a full and frank debate and discussion as he has been in all his dealings with him to date in Cabinet.
“Obviously people are concerned when you are going through a review process at the possible outcomes of that review process – that’s why you have very strong comments coming from rural Fine Gael TDs and that’s understandable.
“But it’s also understandable why you would have people like Colm Keaveney outlining why Minister Quinn is doing what he’s doing. There may be some changes, but I am confident that after this review these changes will be fair to farm families and other families.”