25th May 2012
President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has reacted angrily to proposed changes to the student grant means test.
Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn has announced that he expects a report in the summer, which will contain proposals for the inclusion of capital assets as well as income when calculating eligibility for the student grant.
Mr. Gilmartin says, “the ICSA is totally and utterly opposed to this. If these changes are brought in, it would effectively discriminate against hard-working farming families wishing to send their children to third level education.”
“The National Farm Survey estimates for 2011, demonstrate that the average farm income reached an unprecedented high; however it is still relatively low compared with other sectors at €24,861. However, there are significant variations in farm income. In 2011, which was an exceptionally good year for farm income, only 15% of farmers exceeded €50,000, whereas 21% of farmers earned less than €5,000.”
“Even more significant is the fact that cattle and sheep farmers, who make up the bulk of farmers in Ireland, had an income of less than €31,000 on farms up to 250 acres in size. Therefore, assets which appear to be substantial do not support significant income for the majority of farmers. They are simply the tools of the trade.”
“A suckler farmer on a farm of 75-125 acres had, on average, income of some €14,000 in 2011. Minister Quinn is proposing to eliminate third level education for these cattle and sheep farming families if this is allowed to go through.”
“What Minister Quinn is doing is simply choosing the easy target. Farming is doing well at the moment but as we all know, this can change very quickly. This ludicrous proposal clearly shows he is not in touch with the reality of the finances of most farming families in Ireland, where essential capital assets such as farm buildings and machinery do not equal money in the bank, and profit margins are tight.”
“The Minister has said that the best option for young people in the current economy is to remain in college for as long as possible – these measures fly in the face of that advice.”
Mr Gilmartin has called on all members of the Government parties to make clear where they stand on this issue and whether they are happy to prevent many farm families from aspiring to third level education for their children.