Anger over plans to include farmland in grant assessment

Farming organisations have reacted angrily to proposals to include productive assets, such as farmland, in the assessment of third level maintenance grants.

Farming organisations have reacted angrily to proposals to include productive assets, such as farmland, in the assessment of third level maintenance grants.

IFA President, John Bryan warned that the farming community would not tolerate any changes which would result in children from low income farm families being excluded from third level grants.

He said, “Any report that would come up with such a proposal would show a complete bias against farmers and other self-employed”.

Mr Bryan continued, “Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, is in no doubt about IFA’s position on this issue. At a meeting with the Minister earlier this year, we made it clear that productive assets, such as farmland, are required by self-employed businesses to generate income and are not a measure of additional ability to pay. This means that farmland and other productive assets cannot form any part of a fair means assessment”.

IFA Farm Business Chairman, Tom Doyle, has said that there is a serious misconception about the current assessment system for third level education grants which must be removed. Contrary to some reports, large capital outlays, such as the purchase of farm machinery, cannot be used to bring income below the grant thresholds.

He pointed out, “The existing system already penalises farmers and other self-employed by disallowing a number of legitimate expenses in the calculation of income for the means test. This includes capital allowances, lease payments, stock relief and interest on borrowing for capital purposes.

The ICMSA President, John Comer, has reiterated his total opposition to the proposal regarding a Capital Assets Test for Third Level Grants which he described as “blatantly unfair and pandering to the very worst urban prejudices and myths about farmers and their finances”.

Mr Comer said ICMSA would be contacting every TD again over the next few days and he was confident that a very solid number would agree that a move to any form of capital assets test on Third Level Grants would very specifically discriminate against the farming community.

Mr Comer pointed out that the nub of the matter was this misconception that a farm – which is actually the tool by which a farmer earns his income – is, in any fashion, a capital asset similar to government gilts or blue chip equities or other easily cash-convertible assets. This was a complete misunderstanding of the reality, according to Mr Comer. He said that the family farm is the method by which the individual earns his income and does not form part of the income itself.

Macra na Feirme National President, Alan Jagoe, has also slammed the proposal saying that “Including assets such as farming land is incredibly short-sighted on behalf of the Minister for Education. The fact is that the average full-time farmer will not be in a position to send their child to college without the assistance of an educational grant. This way of thinking is not in touch with the economic reality for many sole traders and farm families.”

Mr Jagoe continued, “Many farm families while asset rich are income poor. 2009 proved to be a prime example with average incomes well below the average industrial wage.”

Fianna Councillor, Paddy O’Rourke said he attempted to obtain a reply from the Department clarifying the issue earlier this year only to be told the review group charged with considering the issue hasnt reported yet.

Cllr O Rourke said he is deeply concerned by the number of TD’s from the senior government party who are making noises as though they have a difficulty with this proposal but stop short of confirming they would vote against any legislation required to implement it .

He went on to say that in many quarters this is regarded as an issue for large farmers, “but be warned in its present form the proposal will impact on a great many including people who make a living from their front room providing any kind of service or business”, he said.

“This proposal has to be stopped now before it contribrutes to driving us back to a situation that once prevailed where only the students from higher income families could afford to go to third level college which would be very convienent for some by reducing the points required to obtain the courses of their choice along with the knock on effect of reduced competition for those who graduate for careers in later life while many bright young people the benefit of whom this country needs now more than ever will have been excluded.”