‘There is huge anger’: Farmers protest Fair Deal scheme

Families have had to sell off portions of land to meet nursing home costs, says IFA

The IFA and farm families protest outside the Department of Health of Tuesday. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

The IFA and farm families protest outside the Department of Health of Tuesday. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

 

Farming families have had to sell off portions of land to meet nursing home costs, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has said in criticising the Government for its delay in executing reforms.

Protesting farmers gathered outside the Department of Health in Dublin on Tuesday, nine months since they say structural changes to the Fair Deal Scheme – which helps finance expensive nursing home fees – were promised.

“There is huge anger. There is huge anxiety. There is huge stress,” said IFA president Joe Healy.

“There are cases [where land has been sold] and in other cases they have no choice but to put some of the land up for sale and that is causing a problem for succession as well because no young person wants to take over a farm with massive debt.”

To date, the levy imposed on family farms to contribute to nursing home fees has been more in line with the treatment of businesses than family homes - a difference the IFA say is unfair, and which has been acknowledged by Government.

As part of the scheme, assets are levied at 7.5 per cent although this is capped on family homes at three years. The farming community has sought, and received a commitment the same cap will be applied to farms.

The IFA has said that in the interim time since the Government made the pledge to amend the scheme but has not delivered, the real cost to affected families has been in the order of €40,000.

The Department of Health said the change is on the way but has been delayed.

Ageing population

Geraldine O’Connell, the IFA’s Farm Families representative for Co Clare, described the situation of one family paying toward nursing home fees of over €1,000 a week and who now fear for the future of their farm.

A young couple with two small children, Ms O’Connell said the mother has been forced to return to work to help pay the bills.

“The pension goes a little toward [the cost of nursing home fees] but it’s still €1,000 a week, €52,000 a year. Very shortly [the farmer] will have to sell land and that’s his livelihood. He is not at that stage at the minute,” she said.

It is that approaching precipice, however, that saw farmers turn out at the Department of Health even though there is confidence the Government will ultimately follow through. Ms O’Connell said many in the community have not yet had to contend with the problem, but with an ageing population it will become more apparent the longer it drags on.

“All farmers love their land and [selling it] is the last thing they want to do unless financially essential.”

In a statement the Department of Health said the policy change has been approved by Government but that legal complexities around it are now being worked out. Those who have paid into the scheme for more than three years, however, will not be refunded.

“Extensive work is ongoing. Subject to legal advice, Minister [of state Jim] Daly expects to bring the Heads of Bill to Government next month. The changes to the Scheme will come into effect in 2019 subject to the legislative process,” it said.