Ceisteanna—Questions Oral Answers. - Meat Export Licence.

2.

asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if he will now grant a meat export licence to Limerick Corporation abattoir as a local firm which has secured a contract for the slaughter and export of 5,000 sheep per week wishes to use the abattoir.

I would refer the Deputy to the reply to his question of 30th January, 1975, on this subject. I have had no reason to change my attitude in the meantime.

Does the Minister appreciate that there is very serious unemployment in Limerick city and that this contract is at least a semi-permanent one that would give worth-while employment in an abattoir that is under-utilised at the moment? It has to be subvented by the ratepayers because it is losing between £30,000 to £40,000 per annum. In these circumstances would the Minister reconsider his decision about the corporation's application for an export licence?

I would ask the Deputy if he is aware that originally when the abattoir was being built they were told that it could not qualify for export trade. No other abattoir in the country is allowed to be used for export trade and that is a good decision.

I have a good deal of experience of this during the years. The only abattoir that ever had such a facility was Dublin and I saw the occasions when what I would call fly-by-night operators were involved. When the trade was good abroad and when there was a demand for sheep meat they dived in with no capital expense or investment and they unscrupulously carried on trade. Old mountainy sheep carcases were sent from this country as lamb and an immense amount of damage was done to the export trade. The people concerned were able to get out because their reputation did not matter and they were not leaving any investment behind them. It would be very bad to start using municipal abattoirs because of the facility they provide for people who have no experience of processing or exporting carcase meat.

Is the Minister aware that in this case the contract has been obtained by a reputable and substantial co-operative in County Limerick that is not a fly-by-night operation? Would the Minister grant an export licence limited to this co-op and to this contract? I do not want to name them but they are a nationally known co-op that have been in existence for many years and, hopefully, will be here for many more years. Will the Minister allow them to avail of this opportunity? Will he allow the most depressed city in Ireland in terms of unemployment, that has lost umpteen factories, to avail of the opportunity now there and also to save the ratepayers of Limerick a figure between £30,000 and £40,000 a year?

I feel so strongly about this matter that I have refused every public representative in Limerick and I think the Deputy knows that. I have had approaches from Deputy Coughlan, from the Minister for the Gaeltacht and from Senator Russell. This has been going on over a long period. I am totally opposed to it because of the history of this whole business. In addition it is completely unrealistic for them to say that they are going to slaughter 5,000 sheep per week. That would represent 60 per cent of the total slaughtering in all the abattoirs in the country. How can they get 5,000 sheep each week in Limerick? It is just not possible. No matter how reputable a firm they may be, and whether they are a co-operative, that number of sheep is not there.

The Minister referred to certain malpractices, for instance, killing old mountainy sheep and exporting them as lamb. Is there not present in each abattoir an inspector of the Department of Agriculture who could decide whether the product is as described?

I cannot say what was the position obtaining at the time I mentioned because I am going back some time. It is true that there is an inspector in the abattoir but it is amazing the way things can happen. Sheep meat can get out of the factory on the pretence that it is for other purposes, for instance, that it is for supplying the local area and it may be exported subsequently. It is a very difficult business. I would not be so firm on this if I did not believe it undesirable to allow it to happen.

With regard to the alleged export of old sheep as lamb the simple answer is to export the head as well as the carcase. It is not possible to put a lamb's head on an old sheep.

That is not the way carcase meat is exported.

I know it is not but it is the only answer.

Deputy O'Malley has said that the contract in question will be a continuous one. If that is so and if the co-op concerned would go to the expense of erecting their own abattoir for export trade only, would the Minister have any objection to that?

I would have no objection.

All of us know that a sheep with four teeth up is no longer a lamb. I do not know if Deputy O'Malley is aware of that because he knows very little of what he is talking about.

I would have no objection but there is excess processing capacity in the country as a whole at the moment.

Why not use the excess capacity that is available in Limerick?

I am calling Question No. 3. We have dealt with this matter at some length.