Fairness and college grants

Wed, Aug 15, 2012, 01:00

Sir, – Throughout the recession we have heard endless reports of how farming is the one sector which is bucking the trend, with booming incomes and record prices for farm produce.

However, the second that they heard that farm assets could be means-tested for third-level grants, farming organisations poured forth with warnings of poverty and destitution not seen since the famine, with poor rural shawlies cowering in fear as the Revenue Commissioners arrived to put a value on the thatched hovel above the heads of their college-bound children.

I voted for Fine Gael so that it would do everything possible to put this country back on track. Now it seems its backbenchers are rising up to defend the one sector of society which (according to the bragging of farmers themselves) can afford to take some pain. Farmers can’t have it every which way. Their hypocrisy and opportunism needs to be faced down. – Yours, etc,


Mount Tallant Avenue,

Harolds Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Discussion of third-level grant qualification reminds us that assessing wealth testing is a tricky issue. If we look at simple cash earnings, any rich man may appear poor over a short space of time, while a poor man may appear rich. Imagine a senior civil servant who takes a career break, versus a writer who struggles on no income for years, then finally publishes a successful book. Over a number of years they may earn the same, but depending on when a means test occurs one will qualify and one will not.

People who manage their own businesses can choose not to realise earnings immediately but leave them in the business as cash reserve, or use them to pay off loans, invest in stock, equipment etc. A top-of-the-range Mercedes 4x4 makes a great farm or business vehicle, apparently. Stories abound of wealthy families whose children went through college on full grants by manipulating their visible incomes in this way.

To dig deeper and assess assets, debts, etc, is not generally feasible, and those intent on doing so can manipulate these also. However business owners can only bury so much of their earnings for so long. Eventually profit has to be realised to be spent. Thus the fairest way to simply assess wealth is to take into account prior earnings over an extended period and to work out an average income, rather than looking at only a single income period. A lifetime’s declared income is readily available on the revenue database for this purpose. – Yours, etc,


Shamrock Street,

Phibsboro, Dublin 7.

Sir, – Seán Flynn reports that the Minister for Agriculture said that “while many farmers were asset rich, their cash flow and income level was well below the national average” (Front page, August 14th). That suggests that many farmers are incapable of earning proper returns on the capital invested in their enterprises.

Continued financial support from the Irish or European taxpayer is unwise, and inefficient farmers should be removed from the industry.

I suggest a series of land acts under which such farmers might be bought out and the land aggregated into large holdings, owned by well-capitalised companies that could appoint efficient managers to run the farms. – Yours, etc,


Stradbally North,

Castleconnell, Co Limerick.