Irish farmers are to get a Christmas gift from Brussels of more than €27m that had been taken from their direct payments during the year — but they may have to wait up to 10 months to receive it.
A total of €868m will be reimbursed to EU farmers — their direct aid was reduced by this sum to establish the agricultural crisis reserve, and to keep the agriculture budget within the agreed ceiling.
However, the money was not needed despite the compensation paid to farmers who were losing out as a result the Russian ban on products following the EU’s sanctions over Ukraine.
Instead money from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund were used to prevent a cut to the direct payments for the year.
European Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said: “It’s a good day for European farmers — they will get €868m back. This money was reduced from their direct payments in 2014. The money was not used and will now return to farmers.”
However, farmers would prefer to get the money sooner, rather than wait until next October, said ICSA president Patrick Kent.
“We welcome the return of this money but we see no reason why it cannot be paid back at the earliest opportunity.
“Farmers have suffered a lot of financial hardship this year and the ICSA would like to see these payments made in time for Christmas.”
The money used to compensate those suffering from the Russian ban, estimated at €5bn, will however come from next year’s budget.
Plans to take €465m from the Common Agriculture Policy to fight ebola were rejected by the European Parliament and by the member states earlier this month. The money was to come from the milk super levy fine.
But 21 EU states, including Ireland, said this would reduce the reserve from €433m to €89m, which would mean not enough to meet other emergencies in the sector.
However the Department of Agriculture had some better news with the announcement that 120,000 farmers are to receive the balance of their single farm payments from next week.
The total sum being dispersed will be €550m, bringing to €1.3bn the value of payments from the disadvantaged areas schemes and the Single Farm Payment over the past two months.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said he was aware that there were farmers still waiting for payments.
“Every effort continues to be made to clear the small number of remaining cases, and I can confirm that regular payment runs will continue to be made on both schemes on a twice weekly basis.”
He said that the payments performance over the past two months had been particularly good, and he acknowledged that it was needed especially by farmers who had financial problems because of developments in the beef sector.