Extra education hurdles being imposed by Irish Government – MEP

The Irish Government, acting unilaterally, is preventing young farmers from accessing vital funding, according to Sinn Fein MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy.

Carthy was speaking having gotten a reply from the European Commission, regarding the eligibility of young farmers for National Reserve Funds.

Under Article 50 (3) of Regulation 1307/2013 on Direct Payments, educational requirements for farmers are optional for member states. However, says Carthy, new parameters set by the Irish Department of Agriculture back in March have been attributed to the EU by Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed.

“The uphill battle faced by young farmers for accessing the National Reserve continues, with the Department refusing to come clean on decisions it is taking. Announcements in March that only those who have already completed their agricultural education course will have access to crucial funds, were a blow to thousands of young farmers,” Carthy said.

“In order to continue working and meet the educational requirements set by the Minister, many young farmers study part-time. This could mean being denied access to National Reserve Funds for any number of years, by which time those farmers probably will be disqualified by other criteria.”

Carthy noted: “This latest new criterion comes despite the Minister being exposed on statements that these rules were being devised in Brussels.

First we had the Minister denying responsibility for setting these criteria, despite clear wording in Article 50 (3) of Regulation 1307/2013 that further educational requirements are optional for member states. In fact, only 10 member states, including Ireland, require such education.

Carthy elaborated: “Last month I wrote to the European Commission asking for them to clarify whether it had a part to play in the new criterion that Young Farmers were to have finished their studies, as opposed to previous years where enrolment and ongoing studies were enough to qualify.

The answer I have received from the European Commission this week states that ‘the commission does not give any formal approval as regards additional criteria for young farmers’. This confirms the fact that the Irish Government, one of only 10 EU countries applying the educational criterion, is responsible for these extra rules.

Carthy said that the European Commission had confirmed that the Minister was responsible for the additional requirements.

He proceeded to berate the Minister, stating: “The Minister cannot continue to hide behind the European Commission when it is his department that decided to invoke educational criteria in the first place and when the legislation clearly puts this as a national competence.

The department should be going to extra lengths to encourage young people into farming, rather than continuing to place obstacles in their way.