Budget lowered expectations for many farmers

WITH Finance Minister Noonan’s tax changes yet to come, the cuts in expenditure announced on Monday last by Minister Howlin will have a negative effect on all families, especially those who were already struggling to make ends meet.

For farm families in particular, the amendment to means testing for farm assist, and the capital asset test for determining whether farmers’ children can apply for a college maintenance grant, were two significant announcements in the small print of Minister Howlin’s Comprehensive Expenditure Report 2012-2014.

There is probably more devil in the detail yet to come out — but these two measures, coupled with cuts to disadvantaged area payments, child benefit in larger families, a 10% reduction in REPS payments, an increase in college fees, an increase in VAT, the introduction of a septic tank charge, a residential tax, increased healthcare insurance costs, can be added to the hangover from the plethora of tax increases and other cuts from previous years.

You’d better not be farming in the west of Ireland with a young family, with expectations of your children attending third level education. Such smaller scale or part-time farmers based in the west of Ireland, predominately in cattle and sheep farming, contribute much to their communities, ploughing whatever money they earn back into their local economies.

Although very far from the high rollers of the Celtic Tiger years, in the boom, these farmers and their families often supplemented their income through part-time work, availability of which has since diminished considerably.

In today’s relative farming boom, these farmers probably had a good chance of benefiting from rising demand for food, because of the potential to farm their marginal land more intensively — if they could afford to invest in doing so. In my opinion, the budget was a lost opportunity for them. We should have been fostering local community employment and the redevelopment of our indigenous economy.

Inspirational figures such as Fr James McDyer of Glencolmcille spring to mind. It was Fr McDyer who in 1953 organised the building of a community hall by voluntary labour. He collected funds to buy a community park. A road improvement scheme was started, as was the first piped water scheme, and the bringing of electricity to the community. He persuaded Gaeltarra Éireann to establish a factory to manufacture Donegal tweed. He set up a vegetable processing and fish processing plant.

Ultimately, our fate rests in our own hands. I know that the Government does not have the financial resources to provide all things to all people, but it should act as a catalyst to support and develop its people and their future.

Next week, I will look in greater detail at the implications for farmers arising from the budget.

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