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ICMSA's Tipperary chair says Fair Deal scheme 'not very fair'

Tipperary Star reporter

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ICMSA's Tipperary chair says Fair Deal scheme 'not very fair'

Sean Butler

Widespread coverage was granted recently to an allegation to the effect that farming families were deliberately keeping elderly relatives in public hospitals to avoid having to engage with the Fair Deal scheme and make contributions towards the cost of nursing home care.

As far as ICMSA is concerned, we cannot accept a situation where fairly grave accusations of this kind are left hanging in the air without either evidence being produced that supports the allegation or its withdrawal with (hopefully) as much media fanfare as accompanied its announcement.

No one disputes the extent of pressures on the public hospital system but it is wholly unsatisfactory to have any particular group singled out and accusation levelled against them without producing any kind of statistical or factual breakdown that would support such a argument.

Unfortunately farmers are an easy target for this kind of stuff and we’re well used to people deflecting their own or their system’s shortcomings in our direction.

But I personally feel a little aggrieved when something like this is said on the basis of anecdote or heresay without the slightest attempt to produce statistical evidence to support what I’m afraid we have to interpret as a very offhand and disparaging insult to farm families.

Farm families contemplating Fair Deal for the elderly parents or relations have to begin from the scheme’s entirely wrongheaded categorisation of the family farm as an asset and not a means by which income is earned.

This is an old classification error and one which ICMSA has repeatedly sought to correct.

Whether it’s the patently unfair idea of treating farms as capital assets for the calculation of eligibility for Third Level Grants or contributions for Fair Deal, ICMSA has pointed out on numerous occasions that a farm of land is not a capital asset; it is a means by which the farmer earns his or her income. In other words, it’s not an asset. It’s a tool by which you earn.

In the event of a farmer having to go into a nursing home for a long-stay condition like Alzheimer’s or dementia the lack of an upper limit on the charges the State will make against his or her farm means, effectively, that the whole value of the farm would be eaten up by the nursing home charge-contributions.

may have to borrow

That lack of any upper-limit to the contributions charged against the farm means we quickly arrive at a situation where the next generation of farmers will, in many cases, be forced to borrow to buy back their family farms.

That’s both unfair and illogical in the context of the Government’s much-vaunted commitment to building our food and wider agri-food sector.

There’s very little point in talking about supporting farm families and then introducing schemes that will have the effect of wiping out the family farm in the unhappy but numerous circumstances where a farmer has to enter a nursing home under Fair Deal for a prolonged period.

There is, literally, no point in leaving your farm to a relative who wants to continue farming because they may have to borrow the full purchase cost after the Fair Deal charges have been absorbed.

That brute reality won’t give an easy headline like the unfounded ones we saw accusing farmers of ‘dumping’ their relations in public hospitals.

But it’s actually much more meaningful and worthy of study.