Further £19m for BSE and brucellosis control

 

An additional £63 million estimate adopted for the Department of Agriculture and Food will include significant increases in funding for BSE and brucellosis control.

Following negotiations with the European Commission, £24.5 million of the supplementary estimate will form a national system of agri-monetary compensation. This was put in place after green pound revaluations hit Irish farmer incomes early this year, while bad weather led to damage to cereals and other crops.

The revaluation payments will be broken down as follows: £15 million for the beef sector; £6.4 million for the dairy sector; up to £1.6 million for the cereals sector and £300,000 for the sugar beet sector. The balance of £1.2 million would be used "to relieve some exceptional cases of hardship for cereal- and other crop growers," the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Walsh, said.

Some £19 million is to be spent combating brucellosis and BSE, and disposing of high risk material, including meat and bonemeal stocks. "Brucellosis had become of major concern over the last year. Although we continue to have brucellosis black spots, only four counties - Donegal, Leitrim, Louth and Carlow - have been brucellosis-free in 1997."

Concerted nationwide action had begun, particularly to protect export trade in milk and dairy products. "If the position deteriorates further, I may have no alternative but to introduce further measures, including the tightening up of the pre-movement test requirement," he warned.

The estimate included an additional £15 million for farm investment schemes; a provision of £500,000 to support ferry services facilitating live exports of cattle; an additional £500,000 for the farm advisory and research body Teagasc and £3.3 million for administration, much of which relates to the work of temporary veterinary inspectors in BSE control and meat plant inspection.

The ominous implications of brucellosis could not be underestimated, Mr Paul Connaughton (FG, Galway East) said. "Whatever about BSE, which brought the beef industry to its knees, there is nothing like the contagious nature of brucellosis."

He criticised the speed with which destocking decisions were taken. "If Ireland is to lose its official brucellosis-free status, it will be very difficult to sell cattle anywhere."

Compensation for farmers who suffered due to the weather was most deserving, regardless of the greater public view that it is "money for jam". Delays in payments of headage and premiums to 25,000 farmers was causing additional unacceptable hardship.

He did not believe it would be physically possible to issue all payments - due since the end of October - by Christmas, as promised by the Department.

Despite the supplementary estimate, the bottom line was that the Department faced a £35 million cut for 1998, Mr Michael Ring (FG, Mayo) said. "There seems at present to be an attack on farmers from all sections of society. Farmers expect it. But with a bad year for farming, they would have expected better support from the Government."

PAYE workers pay four times as much tax as farmers, according to the Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy. A PAYE worker pays an average individual tax payment of £4,308 compared to £1,028 for farmers.

Self-employed other than farmers make an average individual payment of £4,020 the Minister said in a reply to a written question from the Democratic Left Leader, Mr Prionsias De Rossa.