Donegal Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue has called on the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to immediately reopen the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS).
“I have appealed to the Minister on numerous occasions to change the criteria for AEOS to make the scheme more flexible and workable for farmers. The maximum payment of €5,000 must also be restored,” said Deputy McConalogue.
“I am now asking the Minister to confirm when he intends re-opening the AEOS. He must also clarify if any new scheme will be open to farmers on non Natura 2000 sites and whether he proposed to retain the stonewall maintenance option.
“Minister Coveney's announcement last April that there would be no new AEOS this year caused much distress and anger among farmers in Donegal. The Minister even failed to listen to the advice of the Secretary General of his own Department Tom Moran, who indicated to the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee in May the AEOS should be reopened this year. In a bid to take the heat out of the controversy Minister Coveney then promised to reopen a limited scheme but so far we have heard nothing more about this.
“The backlog in payments from 2010 and 2011 also remains of huge concern and must be sorted as a matter of priority. Some Donegal farmers are still waiting for AEOS applications in 2011 to be paid. This is a disgrace. These farmers are depending on this State support and have been left in serious difficulty for months on end, particularly in light of the unseasonably wet weather. I am urging Minister Coveney to start taking an interest in the welfare of these farmers and ensure that the outstanding payments are issued urgently.
“Farmers who have recently come off REPS 3 made plans based on the reasonable assumption that they could join AEOS this year. They need some degree of certainty about their financial future. There are growing concerns that Minister Coveney’s main priority is protecting large, wealthy farmers at the expense of smaller farmers in the North West who are in greater need of support. Given the massive under-spend in AEOS/REPS in 2011, surely the funds will be available for payments this year. If the Minister is serious about supporting smaller farmers and helping them to stay in business, he will have no hesitation reaffirming to commitment to an AEOS this year."