Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has criticised the Government for withholding €204m in farm payments under the Rural Development Programme (RDP).

Deputy McConalogue explained, “Public representatives have been inundated with calls from farmers who are frustrated because they are still waiting for their RDP payments to be processed. Many of these farmers are already under serious financial strain and urgently need these payments to ensure that bills are paid in the run up to Christmas.

“I have questioned Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed on this issue. The information contained in the latest parliamentary reply that I have received from the Minister is alarming. He has informed me that his Department has €204m in funds allocated for RDP schemes for 2016 which remains unspent. This represents 42% of the overall budget for the year. It’s simply inexcusable that this money remains unspent with just a week to go to Christmas.

“Minister Creed has serious questions to answer as to why this money remains unspent. Farmers are in urgent need of these payments and have already factored them into their budgets. Now the Minister has left them high and dry with less than two weeks to go before the end of the year.

“What’s even more worrying is the fact that 96% of the GLAS budget for 2016 has gone unspent while there is a significant underspend of 82% for TAMS. 30% of the budget for the Beef Genomics Scheme also remains unallocated and 40% of the AEOS budget is yet to be spent.

“The delay in issuing these payments is causing significant hardship for farming family’s right across the country. It’s becoming increasingly evident that Fine Gael simply do not care about rural communities. The Minister must immediately clarify if all the 2016 budget allocation for the RDP will be spent before the end of the year. Will emergency arrangements be put in place by his Department to ensure farmers receive the payments they are due?

“I am calling on Minister Creed to immediately guarantee that all outstanding payments will be issued next week. Farmers urgently need these payments to allow them deal with the pressing challenges in managing their cash flow and investing in vital equipment upgrades.”