Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Agriculture & Food Éamon Ó Cuív is accusing the Agriculture Minister of continuing his concerted attack on low income farmers.  Deputy Ó Cuív has expressed concern over the viability of the Rural Social Scheme following a review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“The Rural Social Scheme is a vital resource in rural communities.  It’s provided to low income farmers who are unable to earn an adequate living and who carry out community services in their local area.  The scheme benefits both the farmer and the taxpayer as it enables local people undertake community work at a fraction of the cost.  The scope of the work ranges from environmental maintenance to social care, as well as village and countryside enhancement projects.  It’s been an extremely successful programme since it was introduced in 2004 and I have grave concerns about any plans to abolish or change it”, commented Deputy Ó Cuív.

“The scheme ensures community services are maintained and improved, while at the same time compensating low income farmers for the work they carry out.  If the current system is changed, it could result in the withdrawal of essential services.

“I’m concerned that the Government is planning on tampering with another essential rural service without affording due regard to the impact the changes will have on the communities in question or the farmers who participate in the scheme. 

“The Department of Social Protection and the Department of Public Expenditure now claim that the Rural Social Scheme is out of line with Government policy and want to focus on integrating income support schemes with labour market activation.  In other words, they want to limit the length of time a farmer can stay on this programme as well as introducing a back to work element to the scheme.  This simply won’t work.  Farmers who participate in the RSS are already working, but are unable to earn enough to sustain their families.

“Any proposals to change or try to wind down this scheme must be resisted.  This is a programme that has rural Ireland’s best interests at its core.  Instead of trying to cut back on its remit, Ministers should be trying to increase the number of participants to facilitate an even wider range of services in local communities.  The recommendations in this review are extremely short sighted and typical of this Government’s attitude to rural development.  I would urge Ministers Burton and Howlin to reconsider any moves to alter or modify the scheme, and to instead invest in this programme which is an integral part of rural communities across the country”.