Minister asked to subsidise meals for small farmers and pensioners

Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring.

A Fianna Fail TD’s Christmas wish that the Government would provide small farmers or pensioners with vouchers to subsidise their meals in local restaurants was dashed last week.

In the Dail, Wexford TD James Browne tabled a written question to Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring asking him if he had considered introducing a scheme in which small farmers or pensioners can avail of vouchers to subsidise the cost of spending on meals in small local restaurants.

However, Minister Ring passed the Santa Claus role onto his colleague, Regina Doherty, saying his Department’s supports for groups in rural and urban communities do not extend to the provision of subsidies or income support for individuals, and he would see this matter as more relevant to his colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

TDs may be taking Minister Ring for a soft touch, after he recently said the best Christmas present you can get an older relative or neighbour is to register them for the Seniors Alert Scheme.

The scheme supports vulnerable older people through provision of free personal monitored alarms, which can be activated by a device worn as a pendant or on the wrist like a watch.

Minister Ring said: “The amount of participants on the Seniors Alert Scheme has doubled in the last year, as a result of increased investment in the scheme.

“By late 2017, there were just over 18,000 participants.

“This had increased to over 35,000 participants by late September of this year, and many more have signed up since then.

My Department was originally allocated €2.3m in 2018 to administer the scheme but due to a huge surge in demand we have already spent €5.4 million this year.

He also urged people to keep an eye on their elderly neighbours at this time of year.

The alarms are provided free to users, including the first year of monitoring.

The monitoring cost for year two is about €65 plus VAT.

The Department of Rural and Community Development was established last year to deliver on the Government’s commitment to greater co-ordination and cohesion in work for rural Ireland and for communities.

The Department’s revised Estimates for 2018 set out gross capital expenditure of €87.5 million and current expenditure of €144 million.

The biggest expenditures up to December were €56.5m on regional development, and €120m on community development.

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