This is the section that raises the ceiling of borrowing of the corporation. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a number of questions on this section. The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that since December, 1972, there has been a dramatic drop in agricultural production. There has been a dramatic drop in the numbers of each kind of livestock, whether it be cattle, sheep, pigs or poultry. Since the purpose of the Agricultural Credit Corporation is the building up of these herds and flocks it would be interesting if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us some estimate of the drop in numbers of each of these sectors of the farming picture. Unless we know this it would be impossible to determine the degree to which the borrowing ceiling must be raised. Obviously, there must be a considerable raising of the ceiling to make up for the damage done to the herds and flocks by the Government in the last two and a half years. I would be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he would tell us what the relationship is now between the July, 1970 £ and the £ that would have been lent by the credit corporation in December, 1972.
When one considers the individual applications for loans to the Agricultural Credit Corporation one must, naturally, take into consideration the disastrous effects inflation has brought about and the necessity for the size of loans being raised to be far greater than they might have been if inflation did not intervene. As the Taoiseach has said, a great deal of this inflation has been caused by the Government. Who better, then, is there to ask than the representative of the Government if he would be good enough to tell us by what amount we ought to compensate our figures in estimating the appropriate ceiling to which the borrowing by the corporation should be allowed?
The prospects are not bright for the rebuilding of the herds. I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could give us some estimate of the numbers of suckler cows we have as against the numbers we did have in March, 1973, or December, 1972. The numbers would not vary greatly in those three months. It is beyond question that that section of the cattle herd suffered greatly. It had consequent repercussions on the whole on the cattle herd and, in particular, in the matter of the price of calves.
In the consideration of the raising of the borrowing ceiling of the corporation it is necessary for the intelligent consideration of section 2 that we should know by how many—to the nearest ten thousand would do— the beef herd has been destroyed by the present Government. If we remain in ignorance of this figure it will not be possible to determine precisely to what level the borrowing ceiling should be raised.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, especially since he adverted to it in his Second Reading speech, the amount of borrowing that has been undertaken by farmer co-operatives, in particular, dairy co-operatives and meat factories. The position is that we have diminishing dairy farmer returns, practically no market for calves and an impending operation of what the European Commission calls financial co-responsibility, in other words an impending threat of a reduction in the price of milk and a consequent incapacity of the big dairying co-operatives to maintain the milk price.
I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary the amount of dairy co-operative borrowing in each of the past three years and if there are any projections of dairy co-operative borrowings for the next six months or 12 months. With the extraordinarily rapid expansion of the dairy manufacturing industry that took place under Fianna Fáil Governments, in confident anticipation of further expansion, many of the big dairy co-operative manufacturing combines are heavily indebted to the credit corporation and to other lending agencies.
Under section 2 it is a necessary piece of information we must have for consideration. We need the information to ascertain with some degree of accuracy the amounts of borrowing undertaken by the dairy co-operatives for the purposes of expansion and of diversifying production.
The Avonmore group of co-operatives have diversified very widely in the matter of the provision of casein plants, cheese plants, lactose plants and whey plants, all in the matter of the past few years. I imagine this was substantially financed by borrowing in anticipation of the maintenance of an increasing flow of milk upon which all the calculations of the combined society were based in order to ensure a profitable situation being maintained. This, of course, has been sabotaged by the incapacity of the Government to maintain the progress we established. I fear that some, at least of the co-operative combines may find themselves in an embarrassing situation of having to surcharge their dairy milk suppliers in the price they get per gallon in order to maintain the service of their debts.
Turning to the meat manufacturing co-operatives, firms like Clover Meats, and International Meat Packers, I should like to know if the Parliamentary Secretary is in a position—I realise and acknowledge that it is not quite within his province—to inform the House as to the progress made in relation to the committee established by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in order to enquire into the alleged malpractices of last year especially. One suspects that they are still continuing in the business of the purchase and processing of intervention cattle. I hope this committee would have enquired into the means of access to the intervention market that was provided to the ordinary mortal who was not endowed with the good contacts that appear necessary to have in order to sell cattle into intervention.
It is beyond doubt that the meat manufacturing undertakings, private and co-operative, must have made substantial profits. Some of it was legitimate but some of it, I regret to say, may be suspect. In all these cases it is true to say that the enterprises would have been financed to some degree by the Agricultural Credit Corporation. I would be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he would inform the House with some precision as to the borrowing situation, the amounts borrowed by the individual plants in each of the last three or four years. Having already asked the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some coefficient for the correction of relative values, say, of 1972 as against 1975, it should be a simple matter enough by the use of the coefficient to correct values in order to get some fairly accurate sense of relativity into the assessment of the annual borrowings by these undertakings.
The Parliamentary Secretary in his Second Stage speech mentioned the fact that grain merchants and others have access to borrowing facilities from the Agricultural Credit Corporation. This may be all well and good but what is beyond question is that merchants such as these have striven greatly in the past couple of decades, especially grain and feed merchants. Under the benign influence of the vigorous tillage policy pursued here it is now undergoing some strain— one wonders as a farmer whether in a different borrowing climate access to this source of borrowing should not be limited to actual farming practitioners and that the merchants the Parliamentary Secretary referred to be referred to other sources for credit.
I realise the part these merchants and co-operatives play. I am talking in particular about the private merchants. I realise that the part they play in the general agricultural economic structure is an important one.
I submit that by definition and by title the Agricultural Credit Corporation seems to support a special agency for the provision of credit for the farming industry alone. This, naturally, would embrace co-operatives, dairy co-operatives, meat manufacturing co-operatives. It is not as easy to see that it should also embrace private merchants who may have access to other sources of borrowing.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary give us some estimate of the slack we must make up in order to bring ourselves back to the position we would have been in at the end of 1972? Could he give us a corrected figure, if possible, or an actual figure and the coefficient in order to do the correction ourselves, of the quantities borrowed every year by farmers in the last three or four years? It will be necessary to take into consideration the enormous inflation of the Irish pound that has taken place in the intervening period because, in the words of the Taoiseach, of the responsibility of the Irish Government for creating the situation.
Could the Parliamentary Secretary, or some of his back-up officials provide us with some figures to point out the dramatic drop there has been in the number of suckler cows in that section of the beef herd? Lastly, could he fill us in on the amounts borrowed by, first of all, co-operative dairy enterprises and co-operative meat enterprises. Secondly, by similar enterprises, mainly in the meat sector, that are not co-operatives and lastly, general borrowings by merchants?