Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Regional, Rural, Gaeltacht & Island Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the Minister for Social Protection to reverse his decision to limit new contracts under the Rural Social Scheme to three years.  He described the move as regressive and said that it would penalise small farmers.

Deputy Ó Cuív explained, “The Rural Social Scheme was set up to provide off-farm income and employment to low-income farmers, which would help them supplement their household earnings as well as delivering high quality services within local communities.

“The scheme has been a magnificent success, providing top class services up and down the country, including care services; village enhancement; maintenance of community facilities such as football pitches, community halls and green spaces; and the development of walkways.

“The RSS has provided huge stability for farm families by guaranteeing financial security for those on the lowest incomes.  By imposing a time limit on the scheme, Minister Varadkar is plunging these families back into financial and job insecurity, undermining many people’s livelihoods. It will also inhibit their ability to develop their farms and borrow money because it limits their long term financial security.

“As well as the financial and economic benefits, the scheme also reaps social dividends.  Social isolation has become a big issue in the farming community leading to mental health issues and depression.  People living alone, who may otherwise feel lonely or isolated, are placed at the heart of the community through their work they carry out as part of the RSS, which is as much about social inclusion as it is economics.

“I am also calling on Minister Varadkar to reverse the RSS means test that was introduced by his predecessor Joan Burton, which has led to a significant reduction in payments to families.  I am aware of many families who are only in receipt of €20 a week for 19 hours week, which amounts to a payment of €1 an hour.  This is deeply unfair and should be addressed as a matter of urgency”.