In the second part of our investigation, Grace Treston explores a disturbing discovery regarding the infamous Green Cert.
Yesterday’s article covered the plight of Forgotten Farmers and Old Young Farmers. These Irish agri-workers have lost out on thousands in grants, and are waiting for help. Yesterday’s article explored the reality of where funding can come from, and what the Department should have been doing since the beginning of the issue. Read the exclusive report here.
Today, it’s time to realise where our education regulations are coming from.
What is the Green Cert?
Another major and shocking issue that has arisen for farmers who fall under the Young Farmer age bracket involves the Green Cert.
The Green Cert, according to course provider Teagasc, refers to a list of land-based courses which qualify a person as a ‘trained farmer’. These could be in horticulture, agriculture, forestry or equine studies.
“Having a ‘Green Cert’ is one of the conditions of stamp duty exemption on the transfer of a farm to a son or daughter. It also meets the criteria for schemes or grants that may be available from time to time e.g. Young Farmers Scheme and some horticulture grants.
“It takes a minimum of 2 years to complete this training and the content gives graduates the skills to run a farm business.”
The government’s published guideline to the Young Farmers Scheme clearly states that farmers must have completed a Green Cert / FETAC Level 6 course to be eligible for the grants provided.
The problem is that in 2016, the deadline for having it completed was bumped up to May 2016, causing a huge surge in applications, waiting-lists of those wanting to do the Cert with Teagasc, and thousands being frozen out of the scheme as a result.
The Department did their best to help Teagasc increase the places available on the course, but according the Minister’s team, nothing else can be done since it’s dependent on EU regulation.
However, the real core of this issue echoes closely with the problem the Forgotten Farmers are having. The Department, when pressed about this particular issue, once again cites the EU as the non-flexible and overriding source of legislation that farmers are fighting. According to the Department, Ireland is unable to go against the educational rules imposed by the EU.
There is evidence that this is not the full truth.
Ciarán Staunton, a Mayo-born politician who has lived in the US since the 1980s and is co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, has delved deep into this issue, and also into the issue of the National Reserve’s ‘sweetheart leasing deal’ which will be dealt with in tomorrow’s article. Working closely with Staunton, we’ve learned more about the issue.
What we’ve been told by the Department
The government’s Young Farmer Scheme eligibility criteria says:
“S/he has successfully completed a recognised course of education in agriculture giving rise to an award at FETAC level 6 or its equivalent. Alternatively s/he must commence such a course by 16th May 2016.”
Clearly stated, the Department says that farmers are only eligible with the completion, or commencement of, a Green Cert equivalent course.
When asked about the fairness of this matter by Eamon Ó Cuív in the Dáil on Tuesday 17th May 2016, Minister Creed categorically, on the record, within an Oireachtas Debate, stated that the EU Commission, in September 2015, ‘notified Ireland that the proposal to allow applicants to commence their agricultural education on a date after the date of submitting an application for the National Reserve and/or Young Farmers schemes is contrary to the EU Regulations governing the schemes’.
He added that ‘there is no flexibility within the notification from the EU Commission to allow applicants to commence their FETAC Level 6 course on a date after the submission of the application under the Young Farmers Scheme’.
You can read the official exchange in full below, which we strongly recommend you do:
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine why under the young farmers scheme 2016 it is a requirement that applicants must have started their agricultural education by 16 May 2016; if he will change this condition, given the long waiting lists to get on qualifying agricultural educational courses; if he will change this requirement to having evidence of an application to attend such a course, rather than the commencement of such a course by 16 May 2016, conditional on no payments being made to applicants, until attendance is verified; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Michael Creed): In line with the introduction of the new Basic Payment Scheme in 2015, Ireland introduced the National Reserve and Young Farmers Schemes which are designed to encourage and facilitate the entrance of young farmers and new entrants to farming. To ensure that the benefits of the ‘young farmer’ and ‘new entrant’ categories are targeted at those who have a genuine interest in farming as a career, Ireland included agricultural education at FETAC level 6 standard or its equivalent as a requirement to qualify for the schemes. In order to maximise the number of young farmers for eligibility under the 2015 National Reserve and Young Farmers schemes, it was decided that any person who meets the other qualifying requirements and commenced a relevant agricultural course anytime up to and including September 2016 would be accepted under the National Reserve and Young Farmers Scheme in 2015.
In September 2015 the EU Commission notified Ireland that the proposal to allow applicants to commence their agricultural education on a date after the date of submitting an application for the National Reserve and/or Young Farmers schemes is contrary to the EU Regulations governing the schemes. Following this clarification my Department immediately took action and made arrangements to have FETAC Level 6 beginners courses made available to all applicants to the 2015 National Reserve and Young Farmers Schemes at the earliest possible date to comply with the notification received from the EU Commission.
In light of this notification from the EU Commission, and in order to comply with EU Regulations pertaining to the implementation of the scheme, all applicants to the 2016 Young Farmers Scheme are required to have commenced their FETAC Level 6 course prior to submitting their application for the scheme in 2016. There is no flexibility within the notification from the EU Commission to allow applicants to commence their FETAC Level 6 course on a date after the submission of the application under the Young Farmers Scheme.
The above is an unambiguous statement from Minister Michael Creed. However, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) were requested, at the behest of Ciaran Staunton through Matt Carthy MEP’s team, to provide evidence of the official legislature on the ‘EU Regulations governing the schemes’, in particular the legislature laid out in the ‘notification from the EU Commission’ (Creed, 17th May 2016).
The response from the EPRS was clear. The key phrase in the response is this:
“It is up to Member States to define the training requirements.”
This is in absolute conflict with Minister Creed’s claim that ‘there is no flexibility within the notification from the EU Commission to allow applicants to commence their FETAC Level 6 course on a date after the submission of the application under the Young Farmers Scheme’.
It is unclear what notification from the EU Commission this is in reference to, given that the EPRS has confirmed clearly that member states may enforce their own educational requirements as they see fit. Such a notification from the EU Commission would be unprecedented, given the nature of the regulation. This strict educational requirement to be eligible under the Young Farmers Scheme is seemingly untraceable back to the EU.
Under Article 30 (11) (b), of Regulation 1307/2013 by the EU, the situation is described as follows:
“11 (b) 'farmers commencing their agricultural activity' means natural or legal persons who, in the five years preceding the start of the agricultural activity, did not have any agricultural activity in their own name and at their own risk or did not have the control of a legal person exercising an agricultural activity. […]
“Member States may establish their own additional objective and non-discriminative eligibility criteria for this category of farmers as regards appropriate skills, experience or education.”
Below you can see the questions posed to the EPRS, and the EPRS’ full response:
1) It is my understanding that according to Article 30 of Regulation 1307/2013 Member States are free to identify additional qualification criteria for the payment of young farmers from the national reserve. I would just like a clarification from the EPRS over whether there are any other Regulations that deal with how these educational requirements should be implemented, or, whether it is completely up to the Member State how to implement them (what level of education, start date of educational training etc.).
Yes, Member States may define further criteria for young farmers applying for the national reserve and for payment for young farmer’s scheme, such as appropriate skills and/or training requirements (It is up to Member States to define the training requirements)
In fact, according to Article 30 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 and Article 50.3 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013, Member States may define further objective and non-discriminatory eligibility criteria for young farmers applying for the payment for young farmers as regards appropriate skills and/or training requirements.
The implementation of the YFS - Article 50 of Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 is compulsory for Member States.”
The European Parliamentary Research Service states that under EU legislation for the Young Farmers’ Scheme, the implementation of educational requirements (if any) is at the discretion of the member state, ie. the Republic of Ireland in this case.
Therefore, the claim by Minister Creed that not only does the EU implement educational requirements, but also that it implements a strict deadline on these requirements, sent out as notifications from the EU Commission, is incompatible with the EU legislation on the Young Farmers Scheme from what we can clearly see.
Matt Carthy MEP has stated that ‘it is clearly a misleading assertion on the part of the government’.
“My office in Brussels has investigated this matter at EU level and we have received confirmation that the educational requirement for the Young Farmers scheme is a rule set at national level. Under Regulation 1307/2013 on Direct Payments, It is completely up to EU Member State Governments whether to enforce educational criteria at all. In fact only 10 EU Member States chose to apply educational criteria, Ireland being one of them.”
“Furthermore, there is no EU legislation governing how they should enforce those educational requirements if they do decide to. This means that there is nothing in EU Regulations preventing the Department from changing the date of enrolment, or any other criteria so that anyone who has applied to take part in an educational course can avail of the payment.
“It is unfair for Minister Creed to scapegoat his own responsibilities. His failure to address this matter honestly has resulted in countless young Irish farmers being denied access to crucial funding that could be the difference between having a livelihood in farming or not.”
Here at That’s Farming we ask why the Minister for the Department of Agriculture, in an Oireachtas debate with Éamon Ó Cuív, Teachta Dála Fianna Fáil, laid direct liability for uncompromising regulations on the EU Commission.
It’s arguable, in fact, that the requirement of a Green Cert, when the true use of it is understood, is unnecessary in the first place. Staunton has aptly labelled it an ‘elitist’ method of keeping our farmers under control. Farmers do not, at their core principles, need to be educated in the specifics put forward by the Department to be ‘good’ farmers.
The news that the Green Cert is not traceable back to EU regulation is worrying. Perhaps the government has an explanation for their inflexibility, perhaps there was a notification from the EU that actually contradicts the entire EU body’s current legislation; but we believe farmers deserve an explanation either way.
We want to know what you think. Let us know.
Tomorrow’s article will cover the third discovery in our investigation: why hasn’t the National Reserve been replenished like it should be?
Yesterday’s article covered our investigation into how proactive the government has been in the fight for Forgotten and Old Young Farmers.