::: Education Minister Ruairí Quinn
I've let it be known within the Parliamentary Party, and publicly, that I intend to strongly oppose plans to means test many farmers out of the third-level maintenance grants scheme.
Conscious that the proposals would have a disproportionate effect in the dairying heartland that is Waterford and the South East, this could be a make or break issue for FG backbenchers.
Many feel this issue has the potential to drive a wedge between the Coalition partners. I'm not alone in contrasting the proposed change in grant rules with Labour’s protectionist approach to public sector pay. Indeed, if Ruairí Quinn spent a bit more time dealing with the unions and less time trying to tax farmers out of existence we would all be better off.
The Education minister wants to include more farmers, publicans and other business people in the student means test, starting in September. Members of the Cabinet, their advisors and senior civil servants were given details of the proposition a couple of weeks ago.
Based on a five-year asset assessment including savings, shareholdings, and other ‘non-productive’ assets, any self-employed persons with property estimated to be worth €750,000 or more would be ineligible.
Though loans can be offset against supposed asset values, the measure could affect up to a third of the country’s working-farm families — with agri-lobby groups reckoning anyone with 60–70 acres may be hit.
The proposed income threshold is based on farms of that value having the capacity to generate €41,000 per annum – the cut-off point for full college grants to PAYE earners. However, Teagasc has rejected these calculations.
The IFA has already pledged a vigorous campaign saying “there is no relation between the value of land and the income derived from it.”
I entirely agree. This is assumed income — it has little or no basis in fact. Up until now the parents’ income for the previous year is what’s been taken into account when applying, which is only right.”
This measure will be opposed at every step within Fine Gael and needs to be stopped in its tracks. The Minister obviously doesn’t understand how farms are structured and how fragile farming incomes are.
€750,000 euro sounds like a fortune but many farmers with assets worth that amount on paper are just getting by. Ruairí Quinn’s proposal demonstrates how little knowledge there is in Labour Party circles about the farming community.
Minister Quinn has got his methodology and figures wrong according to Teagasc and I think he needs to pause before going any further with this measure.
I also think it’s time for senior figures in Fine Gael to stop pretending they aren’t aware of this issue and start getting involved. If they aren’t going to step in and do something about these proposals we have a serious problem within our own party.
One of the reasons we have a massive shortfall in our revenue stream is that the Labour Party has protected labour unions for the last two years. They are not going to make up that shortfall on the backs of the farming community.