Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Rural Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív TD says the long-term future of the Rural Social Scheme is now is serious doubt.

Deputy Ó Cuív raised the issue today in the Dáil today following newspaper reports this week saying the scheme is under review.

Deputy Ó Cuív said: “The Rural Social Scheme (RSS) provides increased support for small farmers through their employment on community projects. It is one of the most cost effective schemes in the state.

“There are over 2,500 participants on the scheme because of the consistent employment it offers. I raised this matter in the Dáil today with the Minister for Social Protection. However, the Minister did not bother to attend the debate and in her stead the reply to my question was given by Minister Phil Hogan. In the reply read out by Minister Hogan, he clarified the scheme would continue in operation in 2013 but he could not give any commitment regarding the scheme after next year.

“He also refused to give a reply in relation to whether the Government, as is reported, carried out an evaluation of the scheme and whether such an evaluation recommend the scheme’s cessation.

“This scheme is of huge social and economic importance to farmers and provides vital services in communities. All of the participants in the scheme and the communities who benefitted from it should be aware there is significant doubt about its future. We must all work together to ensure the survival and development of the scheme.

“Why pay people to do nothing when you literally have people queuing up to give services to their local community. With the changes in farm assist announced in the budget, it would appear the Minister has a totally anti-rural bias and that no scheme in rural Ireland will be safe from her swinging scythe.”