Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture Michael Moynihan has said that revelations of a massive under-spend in the Department of Agriculture last year expose false claims by Minister Simon Coveney that the previous Government didn’t leave enough money for farm payment schemes.

Deputy Moynihan was commenting on confirmation of a €220 million under-spend in the Department of Agriculture in 2011. This includes a €60 million under-spend on REPS and AEOS in 2011, a €30 million under-spend on the Suckler Cow Scheme and an under-spend of over €20 million on TAMS.

Deputy Moynihan commented, “In April last year shortly after coming into power, Simon Coveney re-opened a reduced AEOS scheme amidst great fanfare. He attempted to justify his decision to scale back the scheme by claiming the previous Government didn’t make adequate financial provision for it.  This was simply untrue.

“The previous Government made more than adequate provision for last year. Budget 2011 published by Fianna Fáil allocated €337 million to REPS and AEOS. Yet the Department only spent €277 million.  If there wasn’t enough money to protect AEOS and REPS, why was the Department’s budget so far in the black last year? 

“Minister Coveney spent last year blaming the previous Government for the reductions he has made to various schemes. He won’t get away with this any longer.  Last year in relation to AEOS, the Minister said things were “very challenging” and he had “one hell of a job” trying to fund the scheme.  When I questioned him, he asked me where I suggest he finds an extra €50 million for the scheme. Now it turns out €60 million allocated to AEOS and REPS wasn’t even spent.

“He has now completely contradicted himself by tellingthe Dáil last week that 2011 was never the problem. He said: “There was never a problem funding last year’s Agri-Environment Options Scheme … last year’s Budget was never a problem, there was always money available for it.”

“This casts a very different light over Minister Coveney’s decision to re-open the scheme in April amidst great fanfare.   Why did he delay in opening the scheme when the finance was available? 

 “Almost 9,000 farmers were approved for AEOS payments in 2010. The scheme plays a vital role in providing an incentive to maintain the highest environmental standards that Irish agriculture has built its reputation on. It also forms a vital part of farm profits for many small farmers.  I am calling on Minister Coveney to explain the under-spend last year and to clarify how this will impact farm payments this year.”