Before the House adjourned I was endeavouring to demonstrate what size farm enterprise could bring in the equivalent of an average industrial wage. In 1989, 23 dairy cows would have provided an average industrial wage and in 1991, 57 dairy cows would provide an industrial wage. In relation to single suckling, which is an alternative farm livestock enterprise, in 1989, 82 acres would have provided the equivalent of an industrial wage and in 1991 one would need 106 acres. I could go on providing comparative figures from information provided by the IFA and other farms organisations. The point is that, even before any discussions in relation to the reform of GATT or the CAP, a serious income problem has arisen here in agriculture generally. Is it any wonder that there is grave concern with regard to the future of agriculture? The concern is further heightened by the fact that a solution, which must be found, can no longer be found entirely by national governments. Our membership of the enlarged Community of necessity means that European decisions on food production and marketing will have repercussions on our industry. It is the duty of Government, particularly the Minister for Agriculture, to ensure that our agricultural interests are protected——
Agriculture Policy: Statements (Resumed).
——and that our partners in the EC fully understand our overall dependence on agriculture.
Irish farmers and farming organisations compaigned for membership of the European Community because of the scope membership provided to expand production and because of the benefits to be derived from access to financially remunerative markets. We joined the EC, too, because of the principle enshrined in the Treaty of Rome of support for weaker economies and special treatment for countries such as Ireland which have regional imbalances. Irish farmers were encouraged to respond to incentives to increase production. They borrowed and invested heavily in modernising the industry to meet the competitive challenges of the market and they responded particularly to the requirement to produce food products to the strictest quality requirements. The tragedy is that for many farmers the repayment capacity of the enterprise for which they borrowed was related to the level of production and the profit pertaining at that time. Now, through no fault on the part of individual farmers, their capacity to produce has been curtailed and the profitability of the enterprise has been considerably reduced.
I know that this is the pattern throughout Europe and that there is a surplus of agricultural production in most European countries. I also know that the problem in most European countries will not have the same devastating effect on their economics as it will have in Ireland. There is not any other country in Europe with the same overall dependence on the agricultural sector and there is not any country less able to cope with the economic consequences of these proposals. The considerable investment by the EC in helping to develop Irish agriculture, backed by farmer investment, will be brought to nil if the proposed package of GATT and CAP reform is proceeded with.
I would acknowledge the quick and decisive response of the Taoiseach and the Minister in opposing these proposals. They have demonstrated their understanding of the problem facing individuals and of the consequences for our economy. However, the Taoiseach and the Government should not underestimate the level of panic and concern in the community as individual farmers look on helplessly as the industry goes into decline. There is concern about their ability to earn a living, about their inability to meet commitments to banks and traders, about interest accumulating on unserviced debts and about the undermining of their natural talents in husbandry and good farming practices. In many cases they are concerned that they do not have the opportunity and the training in order to adapt to alternative employment and to a different lifestyle.
It is not in my nature to be a pessimist, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand. The outcome of our efforts will decide the lives of thousands of farmers and their families and it will also shape the structure of communities in rural towns and villages. We talk with some justification about the closure of post offices and Garda stations, but there will not be any need for these services if the power base of our economy — the land — is denuded of its lifeblood. When we talk about implementing the policy of "set aside" we are giving birth to a bureaucratic solution to overproduction which lacks the will, not to mention the ability, to cope with problems like world hunger and to put in place a marketing programme which takes these important considerations into account.
I congratulate Commissioner MacSharry on his recent announced desire to create a world food bank for the fast redistribution of food without the cost of intervention and other storage costs. This Government and other European governments should support this proposal. We do not have any desire to use our surplus European production to suppress the developing agricultural economies of the Third World. We must face reality and recognise that millions of men, women and children go to bed hungry every night while we are finding it impossible to market surplus production, not to mention the cost of providing storage for surplus food production. Would it not be better for the world powers to address this problem for the benefit of all mankind? I would impress on the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government the urgency of taking a positive and decisive stand on this issue. If this goes on, we will not be talking just about farmers and farm income but the livelihoods of other workers and their families. For Ireland, the benefits of EC membership will be seriously eroded if the principles of the CAP are dismantled. The Treaty of Rome makes special provision for countries, where a vital national interest is at stake. It is on this basis that we must take positive action.
While I would prefer to see agriculture being developed by means of good farming practices and modern farming techniques and to see income related to production, I believe restricted production and declining prices will deprive many small farmers of an adequate income. Before proceeding with a policy of direct income support we must explore every alternative in the context of income related to production and marketing and demand Community preference for Community producers, particularly for Ireland and Irish farmers, who have a special dependence on agriculture.
I would add a word of caution in relation to established commercial farmers. These farmers responded to the call to modernise the agricultural industry. They have made a substantial contribution towards increasing the level of agricultural exports and modern food production. We need to be careful that we do not undermine the viability of these farmers and their enterprise because to do so would be to undermine our entire economy.
The proposed GATT and CAP reforms, particularly as they relate to Ireland, raise questions about the disadvantaged status of our countryvis-á-vis our European neighbours. Our isolation from mainland Europe places us at a disadvantage in terms of costs related to marketing, thus limiting our capacity to export competitively. With such a high proportion of this country now included in the disadvantaged areas scheme, a case should be made for full designation with agreed modulation as between poor farming regions and those less severely disadvantaged. I wish to make a special plea to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the appeals board to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that every townland in Ireland which meets with the criteria is included in the disadvantaged areas scheme.
I think all of us agree that the primary purpose of the proposed CAP reforms is to reduce the ever-growing mountains of surplus food in the Community. I should like first to refer to a sector of agriculture which would not contribute to mountains of any kind. I am referring to organic farming, which seems to have received scant attention in the past from the farming organisations and the media in general. One Commission document which dealt broadly with the reform proposals referred more than once to the desirability of promoting farming which would be friendly to the environment. While the word "organic" was not mentioned in that document, I assume that this is what was meant.
The Taoiseach has taken a keen personal interest in this matter, so much so that today he launched a new symbol of certification and operation by the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers' Association. I understand it was on his initiative that a special organic farming unit was set up last year by the Department of Agriculture and Food. This unit, who are known as OFU, have not been idle or, to coin a phrase, let the grass grow under their feet. During the past year they have concentrated on establishing an effective research and training education base for the industry. Their work is proceeding apace and I am confident that the Minister will ensure that sufficient resources are allocated to this very important area.
This unit has already provided sufficient funds for such projects as the organic farming course in UCD, a major research and development programme undertaken by Teagasc at Johnstown Castle, a demonstration unit at Kildangan College, an organic development centre in the Shannon region and a video production on the various concepts involved in location, market and price structure. In addition, funds have been provided for a market survey by CBF into the potential markets and prices for organic meat at home and abroad. I was happy to learn recently that the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers' Association have reported a sufficient demand for information from many farmers who are interested in changing over to organic farming. I should like to see farming organisations encouraging many more of their members to take an interest in this type of farming.
The EC has implemented a regulation governing production, processing and labelling of organic produce. This very important and welcome step is designed to harmonise procedures and standards throughout the Community. It is expected that all member states will implement their programmes within the next 12 months. This would include the setting up of a revision and inspection system. I am convinced that the wider development of organic farming would provide a worthwhile livelihood for our farmers as it is much more labour-intensive than conventional farming and it would be a long time before supply outstripped demand. Indeed, such is the demand for clean and healthy food that prices should be at a premium. Furthermore, organic farming has the advantage that it protects the environment and wildlife.
It is envisaged that organic farming will need to be propped up by special price supports. However, I believe a strong case can be made for initial financial assistance. The regulations set out a production system which must be followed for at least three years before produce can be certified and sold as organic. It is not advisable for farmers to turn over their entire holdingsen bloc to the new system. This way farmers will be able to maintain the greater part of their incomes from present sources while simultaneously proceeding with the new development. The changeover to organic farming could present a greater difficulty for small farmers. Perhaps the Minister will look at the possibility of urging the setting up of an internal EC mechanism to help farmers during what could be described as this limbo period when they are changing over to organic farming.
We have an ideal environment from which to lead Europe in this area. I know the Minister is committed to the promotion of Ireland as the greenest and most fertile land in the Community and the one most capable of producing the cleanest and healthiest foods. Our farmers have demonstrated over the years that they have the skill and determination to adapt to any situation. We have now reached the time for such an approach if we want to ensure the future prosperity of our agricultural industry and not continue to have to depend entirely on producing commodities over and above market requirements. Organic farming is one solution to overproduction. We must not let this opportunity pass us by.
Mr. Ferris rose.
I am now calling Deputy John Bruton. I think Deputy Ferris will appreciate that the Fine Gael Party are entitled to two successive callings. The fact that they divided their earlier time does not change this. I will be happy to call Deputy Ferris after the next Government speaker.
I propose to share my time with Deputy Michael D'Arcy and to speak for approximately ten minutes.
The first point I want to stress is that these proposals will wipe out in one swoop half of the entire benefits Ireland is supposed to get from the Structural Funds over the five year period following the Single European Act. The ESRI have stated:
The adverse effects of CAP reform will do much to offset the beneficial impact of the Community support framework on the level of GNP. The cost of the CAP reform could offset up to half the benefits expected to arise from the Community support framework by the end of the decade.
I wonder if people outside agriculture realise that half of the entire benefits we are supposed to get under the Internal Market, Regional Funds and Social Funds over the next five years is going to be wiped out by this proposal. I wonder if people outside agriculture realise that up to 16,000 PAYE jobs will be wiped out as a result of these proposals and that in many cases these are not jobs in provincial towns but in the very centre of our cities, jobs which will be lost as a result of reduced consumer spending by farmers, reduced spending on building by the farming community and reduced spending by food processors and people supplying farm machinery. These jobs will be lost across the entire territory of Ireland. There should be no division in this House or in the nation on this issue.
I was disappointed at some of the comments made at the conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions where they seemed to almost argue in favour of the changes. I know that is not the attitude of any party in this House. I am glad to be able to say that that is the case, but I hope one result of this discussion will be that the Irish farming organisations will get together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Federation of Irish Employers and the Confederation of Irish Industry and use their influence in Europe to stop these proposals in the national interest. We in the Fine Gael Party are part of the European Christian Democratic group. I shall be meeting members of the group — I have already met at least six European Prime Minisers who are also Christian Democrats — to put the case on behalf of Ireland. It is also very important that this case is made in the economic and social committee of the European Community by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, by the Confederation of Irish Industry, as well as by representatives of farming, because everybody's income and livelihood is at stake in this debate. Let me repeat again that half of the benefits to be gained from the European Community during the next five years by way of the Structural Funds will be wiped out if these proposals are accepted.
That being the case, my reaction to the Taoiseach's response when presented with a copy of the draft communiqué which runs to 32 pages at the Luxembourg Summit, is amazement. The communiqué states: "The European Council considers the Uruguay Round to be the first priority in international economic relations and stresses the importance of concluding these negotiations before the end of the year". The Taoiseach agreed with that statement. He also agreed with the following sentence: "The European Council calls on the Council and the Commission, in its capacity as negotiator, to continue their efforts to enable the Uruguay Round to come to a satisfactory conclusion". However, he did not seek to have included in that communiqué, as he should and could have done, specific words such as "but bears in mind the need to ensure that those countries within the European Community which are dependent on agriculture will have their incomes adequately protected".
It would have been very easy for the Taoiseach to have such language included in the communiqué, but he failed to take the opportunity to do so. He did not seek to have the proposals put on the agenda; and when they were included in the communiqué with which he agreed he failed to take the opportunity to have any reference to the fact that Ireland is dependent on agriculture included. I can only describe the Taoiseach's failure to do so in Luxembourg as crass negligence. He failed to do his duty as the leader of the Irish people. It is clear that the talks on the Common Agricultural Policy will be concluded before the next summit, which is due to be held at Maastricht. Therefore, the last chance the Taoiseach had to have something agreed to by the prime ministers of Europe to protect Irish agriculture was at the summit in Luxembourg, but he failed to have such language included in the communiqué.
We should compare this with the approach adopted by former Taoiseach, Deputy Garret FitzGerald in 1984, when he visited every European Community capital to speak personally with the prime ministers of those countries with regard to the threat posed by the milk superlevy. Having walked out one of the summit meetings, he succeeded in getting an exceptionally good deal for Ireland by using his own offices. Yet, the Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, who is not present in the House for this debate, who has not participated in it so far and, as far as I can see, has no intention of doing so——
He does not care.
——did not succeed in having half a sentence included in a 32 page document to highlight the needs of agriculture. He had a golden opportunity in Luxembourg to have such a phrase included on page 13 or 14 of the document but he failed to take it.
It is clear from the speech of the Minister that the Government have no plan or vision for the future of Irish agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture and Food and his Department see their role as one of reacting to proposals put forard by others. No proposals have been made by Ireland as to how the problem of surplus stocks should be dealt with. Therefore, we are simply reacting to what others have to say. Clearly, someone who finds himself in that position is not the master of his own destiny.
There are one or two points which were made by Deputy Deasy in this debate that I wish to underline. First, the proposals with regard to cereals will undermine Ireland's natural comparative advantage in the area of grass based production. They will reduce a natural and inherent advantage which we have in terms of competitive agriculture. I also wish to stress the point made by Deputy Deasy that under these proposals we will increasingly see the richer countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Britain, who have a large exchequer and very few farmers, being able to top up set-aside, headage and environmental grants to give extra to their farmers. They will be able to bring them within the welfare net and to give them substantial incomes under the guise of their national welfare schemes.
Therefore, what we will have is two speed agriculture, with large amounts of money being given from the national coffers in the rich countries to prop up inherently uncompetitive agricultural production, with the natural comparative advantage enjoyed by agriculture in countries such as Ireland being destroyed because the Government, due to financial constraints, will not be able to compete with the Germans. The Taoiseach should have insisted that there be no national aids to agriculture — we either have a Common Agriculture Policy or we do not. There should be no capacity to top up or to give national aids. If national aids are introduced, Ireland will not be able to complete. We have failed to take a stand on principle on that matter and we should have done so.
Furthermore, the price talks agreement on agriculture breached theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. The Government state, in paragraph 7, section 6, of that document that they will seek to ensure that major Irish interests are protected, including in particular the safeguarding of full quotas for milk. As we are aware, in the recent price talks the quotas were reduced. The Government have accepted this. The Taoiseach has made many highly defensive interventions with regard to the Programme for Economic and Social Progress during the past few days, but he failed to refer to the fact that the condition had been breached by the agreement in the price talks. Why? The answer is that he clearly does not regard it as important. That part of the programme, because it refers to agriculture, has no significance in the Taoiseach's mind and he did not even refer to it; but let me put it on the record of the House that the Programme for Economic and Social Progress has been broken in that regard.
There is only one other point that I wish to make as, obviously, I cannot spend too much time on this matter because I do not want to take up the time of other Deputies who also wish to speak. These proposals will ultimately destroy the competitiveness of European agriculture. They will introduce an artificial situation in agriculture where farmers will be forced to go slow. We will amost have the agricultural equivalent of a work to rule. If there is a factory in one part of town working to rule, with nobody working any faster than two miles an hour, and another factory in another part of town where everybody can work as fast as they can, who will win out? The MacSharry proposals will suppress the natural tendency of anybody in any economic enterprise to produce more. That is going to be destroyed so far as agriculture is concerned, particularly in the disadvantaged areas, because before people will be able to qualify for compensation they will have to have no more than half a cow per acre. People outside the disadvantaged areas will be allowed up to one cow per acre. I believe that this change with regard to restricting compensation within the disadvantaged areas will lead to many people who wanted to have their lands included in the disadvantaged areas wanting to get out of it again because of the provision that has been buried deep in the proposals made by the Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry. Why? Because he does not want to spend money in the disadvantaged areas. Therefore, having given with one hand, he now proposes to take away with the other. He wants to leave Irish farmers in a position where they will quite literally be unable to plan for the future and operate as business people who want to maximise their output and do as good a job as possible in their area. The effect of these proposals will ultimately be to turn European agriculture into a form of Indian reservation, where people will be paid to do nothing or as little as possible. I do not know, Sir, if you have ever had the opportunity to visit an Indian reservation, but I have had.
It is a most demoralising experience to see people whose spirit has been quite literally destroyed. I visited one such town in an Indian reservation. The streets were deserted in the middle of a working day, but the bar was full. People had so little self-respect that it was plain to one's senses that most of them had not washed for at least a month. They were all beyond drunkeness, in a state of stupor. They had no incentive to do anything. If they left the reservation they would lose their income. As long as they stayed on the reservation they had to do as little as possible in order to qualify for assistance. We see in the seeds of the MacSharry propsals the prospects ten or 15 years ahead of turning rural Europe, and rural Ireland in particular, into a form of Indian reservation which will demoralise our people and destroy not just the economic values but the spiritual and social values of our people as well. That is what is at stake in this debate and I hope people realise how serious it is. It is not just an economic issue; it is a social, spiritual and national issue also.
Therefore, the Government must put forward alternative proposals based on the concept that in Europe we should be able to feed ourselves. If we construct through the MacSharry proposals a structure of agriculture which is inherently inefficient and encouraged to be so by the assistance it is given, ten to 15 years from now Europe will not be able to feed itself and will have to import food as it had to do in the forties and fifties. Then we will need a huge reinvestment in agriculture and we will lament what we destroyed. That is the way we are heading.
I hope the Taoiseach has the capacity, which he clearly did not have in Luxembourg, to convey a certain sense of that dreadful vision to his 11 colleagues. Unless we can convey some sense of what these proposals will ultimately do in terms of destroying rural Europe's morale, we will never achieve any coherent defence against these proposals. It is not enough simply to object to everything. We must show that there is an alternative way forward. I hope that out of this debate such a way forward will emanate.
I welcome this short debate in view of the present crisis in agriculture. It seems the crisis has not yet registered with the Coalition Government and, in particular, with the Minister for Agriculture and Food.
In the year 1989 net incomes in agriculture fell by 14 per cent and this was before the MacSharry proposals. These proposals could be described as a redundancy package for farmers. The package is designed to eliminate about 30,000 farmers over a very short period of time and will decimate entire rural populations.
Let us first look at the present proposals regarding milk. The national milk herd is very important in that it provides not alone milk and its products but also the main resource for our beef industry. These proposals would further reduce milk prices by 8p per gallon on top of a 16p per gallon cut in 1990. After taking compensation into consideration, this will still represent a reduction of 11 per cent in the net profits to our milk farmers.
In 1984 certain proposals were made regarding the dairy industry and the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, achieved a derogation from them for the farmers of Ireland. In view of this precedent, I am calling on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to ensure that a similar derogation is achieved for Ireland on this occasion.
The proposals regarding the beef industry are the most frightening. A 15 per cent cut in beef prices at a time when the profit margin is already extremely low is surely the final blow to the beef farmers.
Where a high level of borrowing is required a loss is now inevitable. At present our beef industry is worth £1 billion to the economy and the case made about the cost of intervention is accepted. However, while the EC are paying for this intervention, at the same time beef imports to the Community are in the region 800,000 tons, practically the same amount of meat that is being placed in intervention. The Community is in fact self-sufficient where beef is concerned and the problem is the importation of beef from countries outside the Community. Mr. MacSharry should, instead of bankrupting the farmers of this country, attack this problem from the angle of imported beef in the EC.
The proposals regarding cereals are devastating. They represent the last straw for about 50 per cent of our cereal growers. As our economy depends so much on grass for our sheep, dairy and beef production, Mr. MacSharry's cheaper cereal policy will undermine these producers. Irish livestock producers use only half the cereal-based compounds used in other European countries. This will undermine our competitiveness and will cost the economy millions of pounds in lost revenue over the next few years.
There is a high labour content in the processing of cereals and any interference will create huge unemployment. I call on the Minister to stop all importation of cheap fillers and grain from eastern Europe and other countries outside the EC.
A mandate was given by the Council of Ministers to Mr. MacSharry regarding GATT negotiations to seek protection rebalancing on cereal substitutes and maintain the dual price system. A casual review of Mr. MacSharry's latest proposals clearly shows that he has abandoned the EC position on rebalancing and the dual price system.
There is absolute discrimination in the proposed compensation system against the average cereal grower. If Tony O'Reilly grows 92 tonnes of oats for his horses he will be fully compensated but an average grower producing over 230 tonnes would receive little or no compensation.
The proposals with regard to the sheep producers are disastrous for this sector, already very badly hit with huge income reductions over the past two years. The present level of ewe premiums must be maintained to protect existing sheep producers' incomes.
We find in the MacSharry plan a proposal to pay premia on only 350 ewes per flock outside the disadvantaged areas. This proposal is completely at variance with the advice given by farmers over the past number of years. This will restrict the sheep industry as a large number of farmers in the non-classified areas have flocks with numbers far in excess of 350 ewes. If these ewes do not qualify for the premium they will become uneconomic units. This will result in radical de-stocking. This proposal should certainly be deleted from the overall package.
We are at this stage not self-sufficient with regard to sheep meat in Europe. The Minister must take blame for the present problems due to his failure to push the EC Commission to restrict imports from New Zealand during the months from April to August. During these months there are ample lambs being produced in the EC and at the same time 200,000 tonnes of lamb are being imported into the EC from New Zealand. These imports are creating a surplus on the market and the consumer does not benefit in any way. I made these points last year to the Minister and he treated that debate with absolute contempt. A five-year-old child could have written the reply by the Minister of State. It was a scandal. Had we restricted imports of New Zealand lamb, particularly into England, we would not have the surplus we have today and we would have a completely different price structure.
According to EuroStat figures, the average income of EC farmers showed an increase of 5 per cent in 1990 but the income of Irish farmers was reduced by 11.5 per cent during the same period. We must let it be known that we are prepared to protect our vital national interest at all costs and press our viewpoint with sincerity and vigour. The importance of agriculture to our economy is the essence of our argument. If we lose that argument we face not just an economic crisis but social upheaval and possible unrest brought about by a vast increase in unemployment and lower living standards.
I listened carefully to the speeches of the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh, and I heard nothing about proposals to relieve the problem. The attitude of the Minister in this House over the past six months has been objectionable in every respect. I tabled 120 questions regarding the disadvantaged areas but he refused to give answers. I know the documentation is in his office. His attitude to our spokesman, Deputy Deasy, is also objectionable. He refuses to answer questions and gives the impression that he is doing this, that and the other. In 1985 there was no problem about farm incomes. The farmers were happy. From large areas of the country there were no proposals regarding disadvantaged area status. A different situation prevails today. Incomes are being decimated and people are so worried about the effects of this on themselves and their families that they are looking for disadvantaged area designation in the hope that the grants will help them out of their difficulties.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Noel Davern.
It is important to emphasise that we are still dealing only with proposals which the EC Commission want to phase in on a three year basis starting in 1993. Therefore, we have a year and a half to negotiate changes in these proposals and to ensure that CAP reform does not result in CAP destruction. I have every confidence in the ability of our negotiators to protect their vital national interests in the upcoming talks on CAP reform, which the Taoiseach has said are only beginning and will be long drawn out and arduous. Let us be in no doubt that the vital national interests are at stake in these discussions.
When agriculture's contribution to the overall economy in Ireland is compared with the total EC situation, it is over three times more important as regards output, exports and employment. The contribution of beef production is nine times more important in Ireland's economy than overall in the EC, while milk production in Ireland is seven times more important than in the EC as a whole. Bearing in mind thatper capita income levels in the Irish economy are less than 70 per cent of the EC average, it is undeniable that a vital national interest is at stake in CAP reform. While most of the discussions so far have concentrated on the proposed price cuts and quota cuts in the CAP reform document, there is a danger that the effects of one of the most fundamental changes of all could be over-looked, that is the relativity between the value of grass and cereals. Grass is to Ireland what North Sea oil is to Britain, what electronics is to Germany and Japan——
Tell that to the Minister.
He knows and he will show that he knows it.
The kernel of the EC Commissioner's proposal's to reform the CAP is a 35 per cent reduction in cereal prices to be phased in over three years. I contend that a reduction in cereal prices of this magnitude will devalue the price of grass by the same amount and make our grass based exports — beef, sheep and dairy products — less competitive on export markets without even taking into consideration the other proposed price and quota cuts. The Commission is proposing that cereal producers will be more or less compensated for this cut in income, depending on their tillage acreage. However, if producers of one sort of animal feed are deemed eligible for compensation, surely grass producers should be eligible on the same basis.
Cheaper grain will reduce the demand for grass on which Ireland's rural economy is based and a cheap cereals policy would hit us very hard because grassland accounts for 82 per cent of our land area as opposed to 47 per cent of the total EC figure. The impact of such a policy would be felt first and foremost on pigmeat and poultry meat prices, where the price of concentrate feed accounts for almost 70 per cent of total production costs. It is true that the price of pigmeat and poultry meat would come down, but this would be at the expense of all products produced from grass, which accounts for the vast bulk of our agricultural exports. Because a cheap cereals policy would devalue grassland as a source of livestock feed, it would also inevitably encourage further intensification of livestock production in the Community as feeders switch over to the cheaper grain. Clearly, such a development would be in conflict with the stated environmental policy objectives of the Commission. I cannot stress strongly enough that a cheap cereals policy will cause immense damage to Irish agriculture and EC agriculture. It will undermine the price support system for livestock products and encourage intensification based on feed lot production. In addition, it is likely that Ireland could become an importer of cereals, adding an importation charge which would put Irish livestock production at a further competitive disadvantage.
I accept fully that the CAP needs reform and that we can keep on putting butter into storage ships around our coasts or piling beef into intervention, but we need to reform the CAP in a sensible way by re-establishing the principle of Community preference, which has more or less gone out the window over the past few years. For example, preferential and illegal imports of calves, cattle and beef are causing a major imbalance in the EC market and they are increasing the cost of the beef regime. The amount of grain in intervention is almost directly equivalent to the amount of cereal substitutes imported into the Community each year. While the EC has been cutting back on milk production over the past eight years, other countries have been increasing their production to the extent that the world market is still out of balance despite the sacrifices of Irish and European farmers.
It is not generally realised that the EC milk quota is something like 10.2 million tonnes less than 1983 production, yet over the same period American production increased by 6 per cent and Japanese production by 15 per cent. Over 70 per cent of the reduction in milk supply from the EC has been filled by the increase in these countries alone.
In any reform of the CAP the EC should seek reciprocal supply reductions in other major producing countries in keeping with the Commission's own declaration in 1987. This would reduce the cost of the CAP and satisfy the GATT objectives on support reductions. A supply management approach to the problem would alleviate the budgetary difficulties now facing the CAP, as commercial supplies would decline worldwide and prices would stabilise. Such a policy would also encourage farmers to produce quality food products and reduce the intensity of production, thereby meeting the Commission's environmental objectives.
In any reform of the CAP we must be careful to ensure that our commercial family farmers are not put at risk. If we undermine our commercial farmers we also undermine our food industry and retard its capacity to compete internationally. The creation of a social agriculture in the EC as opposed to a commercially viable agriculture would be no more than a one generation solution. While a social agriculture may stabilise a rural population in the short term, it would create or perpetuate an unviable farm structure and this could lead to the devastation of the rural economy in the next generation.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to one glaring omission from the Commissioner's compensatory measures as proposed in the CAP reform document. Heifers are to be excluded from the annual compensatory headage payments for beef. Since half the national beef output by number and about one-third by value are female, this is a major exclusion which I have no doubt our negotiators will take up with the authority in Brussels in their attempt to improve this most unsatisfactory set of proposals.
To sum up, we all accept the need for sensible CAP reforms but reforms which will be less damaging to farm incomes than the present proposals. The objectives of reform should be to guarantee the long-term viability and prosperity of family farms and rural areas, to improve the competitiveness of EC agriculture and to provide direct income aids for farmers in less favoured regions and for those facing permanent income difficulties.
I cannot let the opportunity go without making reference to the disadvantaged areas. While I acknowledge the tremendous effort made in surveying large parts of the country, we must also acknowledge the fact that there is still a large number of townlands throughout the country which meet EC criteria for designation and which have not been designated. I call on the Minister and the appeals board to right this wrong.
How much time do I have?
May I share that with my colleague?
With the agreement of the House. Agreed.
I am very concerned about the perception from the Brussels end that a tremendous public relations job has been done, particularly on the Commission's side, suggesting this reform package is of benefit to small farmers but takes away from the bigger ones. That is frightening.
Some people believe that they will be affected long term, although not immediately. I would say to Deputy Farrelly that what I have to say about MEPs is my own business. I will say it in my own time and I am not afraid to say it.
What they said about the Deputy is everybody else's business.
I am not concerned about what anyone says about me. I am my own man in many regards.
The Deputy should have a chat with Markeen.
I will not have a chat with Markeen or anybody else who does not stand up for what I believe in.
Throw him out.
I am glad he has not got Deputy Dukes's faith. I am concerned about this proposal, which is a clever one. People who are hard pressed for cash at the moment believe there is potential for cash from the EC. This is a highly organised, clever campaign. Considering the tradition of the Commission, there is no guarantee that money will continue to be provided for any period of time. However, it is not the money that concerns me or what farmers are going to get in cash, although it would be beneficial to some for a short period, it is what this proposal will do psychologically both to farmers and to Ireland itself.
Let us consider the concept of leaving land lie fallow. Figures have been thrown about to the effect that over £60 an acre is being paid to leave land lie fallow. The land would have to be sprayed during that period, otherwise it would end up in an obnoxious state. However, it would cost a lot less than £67 to spray it. The real culprits in all of this — it has been happening since last August — are the Americans, who insisted on bullying their way through the GATT talks. This matter is tied intricately to the GATT agreements. It concerns me that 800,000 farmers in America can dictate terms to ten million European farmers. America has become more and more isolationist in the last number of years in regard to foreign policy. Only 9 per cent of Americans hold passports, which show their deep and intricate knowledge of the rest of the world. What concerns me is that 800,000 Americans can dictate the pace to ten million Europeans. Europe is becoming a strength within the world and let us not bow to others who have military powers.
In the last ten days a guarantee has been given to American farmers that they will receive £1 per gallon of milk for the next five years under a £25 million programme. That has not been guaranteed to Irish farmers. They will receive a further reduction, bringing the price to as low as 70p a gallon in some areas. For people who have bought quotas to try to make a living and improve their farms, this is a disaster. There is nothing in this proposal that is beneficial to the Irish farmers, but, unfortunately, some have been fooled into thinking they will receive cash and can continue with the same lifestyle.
Overall, what does this mean for our expanding food industry? It means the supplies will not be available. Companies, some of whom have amalgamated, will be short of supplies and will be unable to continue in operation. Amalgamations of co-operatives have caused problems in many areas. In the future there will not be a sufficient number of farmers to supply milk to these co-operatives. What is being done in regard to importations of soya, gluten feed and all the products coming from different parts of the world? Let us take manioc for example, which is supposed to be beneficial to the Thai people and therefore to the Third World. Its production is controlled by four Dutch and two German firms and is managed by Chinese. Therefore, the Thai people are getting nothing out of it. The Dutch and Germans are producing an extra couple of thousand gallons of milk every year. That has to be related to the benefit of grass culture. That is the one area we depend on.
One matter that concerns me is the fact that we are going to destroy rural Ireland. People who worked on the land for a living will now adopt a dole mentality — the less they do the more they get paid in cash terms. What sort of society will that result in? We already know from the long-term unemployed what happens in those circumstances. I dread to think of what will happen. Our whole way of life in rural Ireland will be destroyed. We often suggest to a person with a financial problem to sell a site. This encourages people in urban areas to move to country areas to buy cheap sites. Urban standcards are then applied to rural areas and no development takes place in many of those areas. A whole culture is destroyed in that way.
Our whole approach to this matter must be to oppose it. While we recognise that there must be reform, there is a clear need for support within the Community for family farms. It was amusing to hear the British Minister, Mr. Gummer, this morning opposing this proposal on the basis of family farms. We know there is a big difference between family farms in England and family farms here. If we do not oppose this matter strenuously the preservation of our rural society and a clean farming environment — the reason we joined the EC — will be wiped out. That would be to the detriment not just of the rural communities and farmers but of the whole economy.
I will not speak about why our time is limited on this debate. Percentage cuts can be deceptive. A percentage cut to the large man would have a major impact and to the small man would have a minimal impact. However, due to the buoyancy of the larger man, he would be better able to take the percentage cut. The same applies with percentage increases. I never favoured percentage increases. If a person had an income of £60,000 and the increase was 30 per cent, he would get 30 per cent of £60,000 whereas the person on an income of £1,000 would receive only 30 per cent of £1,000. Therefore, percentages are deceptive in that way.
Leaked documents seem to be the order to today. I totally abhor all leaked documents. Documents can be leaked for two reasons — first, to test the ground to find out the feeling of the people and, second, through inefficiency of the system, the latter being the most serious case. If a document is leaked through inefficiency in the European system, some corrective measure should be taken. People have been surmising about a leaked document on the GATT proposals. Previously we spent weeks here discussing leaked documents. The same applies on this occasion, and that is serious.
It is not right for anybody on any side of this House or in any farming organisation to take the high ground on this issue. It is an issue which concerns each and every one of us. The farmers who represent this side of the House are as good as the farmers who represent any other side, and the farmers representing the party to which I belong are as good as those who represent any other party. We will not preside over a situation where the whole system will fall around us and we do not know what is happening. Of course that is not the case, because we are all well informed as to what is happening. If Commissioner MacSharry or anybody else puts proposals to Europe that do not suit our requirements we will not agree with them. Had we a Belgian or a Frenchman as Commissioner what would be the outcome for this country? Ray MacSharry is Commissioner. He is a former Minister for Finance and knows the whole structure of finances in this area. He was also Minister for Agriculture. With that background he is looking after our affairs in Brussels. If he does not look after our affairs to the best of his ability, in my view he is a poor Commissioner. If I have time to deal with marketing——
I am afraid the rest must be silence. Tá an t-ám istigh.
The Taoiseach gave 11 additional debating hours in this House last week. When there was some criticism on a much lesser matter the Fine Gael Party walked out. If we had those 11 hours now to debate agriculture, which we should have — and I hope we will have some day — rural Deputies who are aware of farming difficulties would be in a position to make their case in half an hour or an hour.
With your permission, Sir, and that of the House I would like to share my time with Deputy Moynihan.
The EC proposals on the reorientation of CAP, which have been known to this Government since December, will have major implications for farmers, the food processing sector and the economy generally. The challenge posed by these changes in EC farm policy and in the GATT negotiations is of fundamental importance and threatens the future viability of thousands of Irish family farms. As the leader of our party, Deputy Spring, said this morning when he itemised the social and economic consequences of the MacSharry proposals for this country in particular, they are so serious that there must be a political consensus among all the political parties represented in this House.
It is refreshing to hear some of the Fianna Fáil backbenchers of recent hours speaking with the voice we had expected, but it was depressing to hear the Minister in his opening remarks this morning. I have more confidence in Fianna Fáil backbenchers than I have in their Minister.
Thanks very much.
How can the consensus which is coming through from the backbenchers be reproached when one considers that Ireland's national interests are at stake? In terms of contribution to the economic output of agriculture, it is three and a half times to four times greater and more important to Ireland than to the overall economic Community itself. Agriculture contributes almost a quarter of the gross exports from Ireland and when adjusted for the very low input content of agri-exports the contribution to Ireland's net exports is about 40 per cent. This has very serious consequences for all of us, whatever political party we represent, if we represent Ireland as a whole. Ireland's national interests are at stake in this debate.
The contribution to the agricultural economy and to direct employment is approximately 15 per cent in Ireland as compared to any other country in the European Community. This applies to beef, milk, cereals and all the other areas that have been identified. The contribution of the food industry alone to total employment in manufacturing in Ireland is almost 20 per cent, compared to 8 per cent in the rest of the Community. On these figures, it is true to say that Irish food, agriculture and its industries have the most to gain from the Common Agricultural Policy. Therefore, with these proposals, this industry and this country had most to lose from the alleged reformed package leaked by the Minister, the Commissioner and the Commission. What will happen to the promises made by the Minister for Agriculture? What has happened to the promise by the Taoiseach that he would bang the table in Luxembourg? The minutes documented by Deputy Deasy and Deputy J. Bruton today indicated that the question was not even addressed by the Taoiseach in Luxembourg. How can we preside over a debate when we do not have confidence in our negotiators, the Minister or the Taoiseach when the Heads of State meet? We must be categoric in the condemnation of the way they have been handled to date. We are looking for a consensus but we must, as has been said, support only those battles that will be fought on a level playing pitch and in the interests of this country. I fear the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Deputy O'Kennedy, reflects a certain degree of incompetence and impotency by this Government.
The Commission's proposals will cost the Irish economy in excess of £180 million even after the alleged compensation for smaller farmers is provided. This country, with an already staggering unemployment rate of up to 25 per cent in many areas, cannot afford the losses which these proposals will result in. It is estimated that CAP reform will lead to about 16,000 people losing their jobs in the agri-industry. How could this Government allow the Minister for Agriculture and Food, or any negotiator, to continue in this way unless we state Ireland's position?
We have had some beneficial documentation from all the farming organisations: ICOS, the ICMSA, the IFA and the United Farmers Association. They have indicated that in milk there will be a 10 per cent price cut; a 15 per cent cut in beef prices; a 35 per cent cut on cereals going into intervention and a 15 per cent cut in sheep. It is a continuation of doom and gloom. The real blame must lie with this Government if they allow these figures to be presented and now agreed by the Commission.
As I have already stated, the Irish economy is almost totally dependent on the agri-food industry. We know that reforms are necessary. Between 1973 and 1985 real farm incomes, even with CAP as it existed, have remained static while over 60 per cent of farmers' incomes are less than half that of industrial workers. Average incomes for the top 25 per cent of farmers in the EC is 20 times that of the lower 25 per cent. There was need for reform. Forty per cent of gross income for farm families with holdings of less than 30 acres are accounted for by social welfare. That is a damning condemnation of any system, but let us not throw the baby out with the bath water because there are some points that need to be identified as being in need of reform. The Common Agricultural Policy needs to be reformed. The MacSharry proposals — as Deputy Davern, from my own constituency, has said — are being sold to the media as being of benefit to small farmers through the compensation process when in fact the economic consequences which have already been identified by Deputy Spring for the rest of those engaged in agriculture and in the economy as a whole are catastrophic.
I would remind the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Government — whether they are Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrats is irrelevant because they are our national Government — that specific agreements were laid down in the Treaty of Rome, in the Treaty of Accession and in the agreement on the milk quotas in 1985. However, in the Minister's contribution as documented he has stated that the MacSharry proposals are in principle acceptable to him and that it is only the detail he objects to. This is a serious statement to make. If the Government continue to act on these proposals they are running the risk of alienating the total agricultural community when in the near future they come to the referendum which will be necessary to put into effect the provision of the Single European Act and of the IGC on European monetary union. That is a risk this Government should not take lightly.
In the past the farming community have supported membership of the Community, and rightly so, because there was a benefit for them. Because these issues are being mishandled in our negotiations, whatever benefits might have been there ten or 15 years ago have been eroded by our Commissioner, who has been allowed to do so by the Government.
Farmers and many workers know that this issue is of vital interest. There should be a future for the principles of the Common Agricultural Policy as laid down in the Treaty of Rome. Farmers and people directly and indirectly employed in agriculture will suffer equally if the Common Agricultural Policy is dismantled in anad hoc way. In time the economy and the social structures of every part of this island will be irreparably damaged. I do not think this House should preside over a debate which cannot reach a unanimous consensus supporting the Government in their attitude to the MacSharry proposals.
As a result of the measure of support in contributions today, I hope the Minister will feel that his hand is stronger. However, I would prefer his words to be stronger — at least as strong as those of his backbenchers.
There are two factors of great magnitude and worry to the farming community and the economy as a whole. One is the reduction in farm incomes over the last 19 months, representing a drop of 22 per cent, which has left a very high proportion of those engaged in agriculture on or below the poverty line.
The second is the proposed reform to the Common Agriculture Policy. Commissioner MacSharry can at least be commended for giving advance notice to the Government and the farming community of his proposals. From the moment he announced the proposals in Dromoland Castle I am sure the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government were, metaphorically speaking, on his back to try to change his course of action. I am sure the Minister for Agriculture and Food, his Ministers of State and, possibly, the Taoiseach had numerous meetings with Commissioner MacSharry in Brussels to try to influence him to change course. Was his attitude so arrogant and difficult that they failed in this regard? The fact that Commissioner MacSharry secured endorsement for his proposals from the Commission exacerbates the problem.
The scale of the disaster for Irish agriculture and our economy is fully recognised by all parties. Today the Minister of State, Deputy Walsh, said we can only be concerned at the very significant price cuts proposed for milk, beef and cereals. He also said the further quota reduction in the milk sector, and the ceilings on eligibility for ewe premiums, created major problems for a country such as Ireland which is so heavily dependent on the agriculture and food sector for its total economic wellbeing. Having committed himself to that realistic statement, one would have expected the Minister to advance positive proposals which would leave no doubt in Commissioner MacSharry's mind — or in the EC — about where Ireland stood in relation to these drastic proposals.
We do not want families to accept compensation to create afforestation on their land; we want a viable, continuing, progressive agricultural industry which is better suited to Ireland than any other country in Europe.
We are committed to it by tradition and expertise. The absence of a marker put down in this regard exposes the Minister and his negotiators to the difficulty of shop trading. The farming community and the economy cannot afford to have any shop trading in these important discussions.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister of State are placing a greater emphasis on the compensatory part of this deal than on protecting the milk quotas, beef prices and cereals. As Deputy Davern said, if we sell our birth-right for compensation there is no guarantee of permanency or how it will be financed because it is very unlikely that the EC will hand over money to Irish farmers who have gone out of business. They will probably have to depend on the Irish budget which would be unable to support a continuing contribution to farmers. We will be destroying our traditional role as viable, expert farmers and joining the dole queues, which are already overcrowded.
One must mingle with the agricultural community to full realise the impact of price cuts and quota restrictions over the last 19 months. It has not affected only these individuals and their families, it has spread to the villages and towns, and the people there will tell you that the spending capacity in those areas has been eroded. All businesses have suffered in these areas. The agricultural community has sustained schools, churches, voluntary and sporting organisations. How can the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Government stand over a proposal which threatens that type of social fabric? Time, sweat and effort has been expended in maintaining rural areas. Will we now sell out to the MacSharry proposal which does not take anything — except an EC and American perspective — into account for the future?
I was delighted to hear that the backbenchers totally reject the proposals advanced by Commissioner MacSharry. The Minister should leave no doubt in anybody's mind, here or in any other part of Europe, as to where our Government and people stand. Nobody knows what disaster could emerge from these discussions.
I first ask for permission to share my time with Deputy Síle de Valera.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am delighted to speak on the CAP reform. I wish to recall two interviews I have heard in the past few weeks, interviews with people who know very well about the fabric of society referred to by Deputy Moynihan. One of those interviewed was Arnold O'Byrne, the Managing Director of Opel Cars in Ireland, who was recently choosing his words and music on a radio programme. When asked about the motor car business, he said that they could be doing better but that when the farmers were doing well the country was doing well. The other interview which I heard this morning was with the President of the IFA, Alan Gillis, who gave an example of a farmer who earned more than the average industrial wage some years ago but was now earning only half the average industrial wage. I give those examples to show that there are serious problems in agriculture, and, in the context of discussing the reform of the CAP, they are very serious.
For that reason the reform we are discussing today is one that should have been considered many years ago. Blame has been attached particularly to Commissioner MacSharry and the Minister for Agriculture, but if blame is to be apportioned it can be apportioned to many Ministers, many Governments and, indeed, many Commissioners down through the years.
I am certainly concerned about the cut in milk quotas. It is proposed that in the milk sector support prices will be reduced by about 10 per cent and that the Commission are also proposing further compensatory cuts in national quotas. That position is very serious for the country. Even though I understand the figure accepted by the Commission will be 42,725 gallons for exemptions, if the voluntary buy-up scheme is successful, farmers under the quota figure of 42,725 gallons will not be affected by the quota cuts. The proposed price reductions are also accompanied by compensation of £60 per cow up to 40 cows on every farm. The issue of compensation has been very controversial, and I hope to deal with it later on.
The small producers are disillusioned — disillusioned with the EC, with politicians and with the farming organisations. Small producers would say that Commissioner MacSharry is going in the right direction. My problem is with the actual detail of the CAP reform.
The CAP has been with us since we entered the EC and the country has benefited from it. Our economy has improved and farmers have received the benefit. However, we must be realistic and acknowledge that many schemes introduced were not suitable for the needs of small to medium producers. The first farm modernisation scheme and the old farm retirement scheme were certainly not suitable. It was only when Commissioner Ray MacSharry, Minister for Agriculture, and successive Ministers brought in schemes such as the western package, western drainage schemes and the plan under the FEOGA scheme, under which extra money was provided for electrification subsidy to help farmers erecting sheds, farm buildings and even houses, that practical help was given, particularly to farmers in the west of Ireland.
I wish to pay tribute to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, who has always negotiated in Europe for the small producers, for younger farmers entering agriculture, for those in hardship and particularly for farmers who have disease within their herds. Every scheme to be introduced — the milk restructuring scheme and the milk cessation scheme, for example — has been a priority. The 11 million gallons for which the Minister negotiated was also given on that basis to the categories of farmers I have mentioned. I must add that I was disappointed in that scheme in that farmers under 12,800 gallons expected to receive a larger quota than they actually did receive, but other problems are there that I shall not have time to go into at the moment.
When I, as a TD from Galway, from the west of Ireland, am fighting the case for the small producer I do not forget that the small producer is dependent on the whole farming scene and, in particular, the commercial farmer. In the west of Ireland we have traditionally reared livestock that are finished off in other parts of the country, and I am very clear on that point.
However, a major problem now is that there are farmers with milk quotas as low as 10,000 gallons who are not able to buy milk when it comes on the market, when it is available, through any scheme. Therefore, that has to be given as a free milk quota or a very minimal figure if those farmers are going to exist in rural Ireland.
Coming back to compensation, which has been regarded as a dirty word, we must consider the way in which the funding will come, the length of time involved before it is paid and the amount of money to be received. Deputy John Bruton talked about Indian reservations. He may dismiss it all, but there is a cash flow problem. Farmers apply for social welfare benefits but experience difficulties under the assessment of income criteria. Farmers also wish to have the family income supplement paid to them in the way that it is paid to those in the PAYE low income sector. All these matters have to be examined. Why are we calling on Ministers, and particularly the Minister for Agriculture, to get extra headage payments and extra premiums and to get more of Ireland included in the severely handicapped category, if on the one hand we are going to say that we want those grants but on the other hand that we do not want any compensation?
The Minister for Agriculture and Food has already had 1.3 million acres reclassified, that proposal being with the Commission at the moment. I am very hopeful that County Galway and County Roscommon, the two countries in Connacht not already in that category, will be included in that category on this occasion. Of course, another almost 2 million acres are to be extended to the severely handicapped classification. The present proposal, the single biggest reclassification and extension scheme, will be welcomed. I am sure that every Government since 1975 have been trying to achieve that goal, and I think it will happen now.
I conclude by saying that the present CAP represents a big cost to Ireland and to all other European countries. After giving away as much food as was possible we still find in storage this year 800,000 tonnes of beef, 800,000 tonnes of milk powder, 300,000 tonnes of butter and 20,000 tonnes of cereal — all that at a cost of £7 billion. It is certainly well past the time for this reform. All I say here, as a backbench TD from the west of Ireland, is that I support our Minister, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy, in what he has been doing to achieve benefits for farmers and particularly the small producers. I know that our Commissioner, Ray MacSharry, who was an excellent Minister for Finance and an excellent Minister for Agriculture, will keep the Irish interest as well as the European interest before the Commission.
All of us in the House are only too well aware of the difficulties farmers have faced in the past number of years with falling prices and the decline in farm income. As a consequence, we have, unfortunately, had to note that several family farms are no longer viable. There has been what could be described as a drift or, indeed, a flight from the land. Very many young people who, given the opportunity, would want to stay on the land are not able to do so because their family farm is no longer viable. That situation has to be halted because it erodes the whole social fabric and rural life.
No one would disagree that the Common Agricultural Policy must be reformed and needs to be reformed. The situation in Eastern Europe along with the GATT and the many failures of the existing Common Agricultural Policy, particularly in the area of over-production, has made these changes inevitable. Indeed, from 1979 I witnessed, as a Member of the European Parliament, many attempts at trying to erode the Common Agricultural Policy by interest groups outside the farming sector. So we have been well aware for very many years that those interested groups that have their own axe to grind have been trying to erode the CAP and in so doing have eroded the whole situation of the family farm in Ireland in particular.
While such changes are necessary, we have to ensure that the family farm is no longer under threat, that it becomes a viable unit and is not only maintained but promoted. None of us needs to be told of the importance of the agricultural community and the work they do for the whole economy of Ireland. Any reforms that are to take place ought to respect Ireland's vital interests and safeguard the family farm. A phase that was used here earlier this morning by the Minister for Agriculture and Food which needs to be underlined emphasises the importance of reform of the CAP. He said that what we should be talking about is family farms versus factory farms. That small reference underlines the very kernal of the debate here this evening. We have to ensure that the family farm is allowed to continue and that the opportunities are given to those on the family farms to have a lifelihood.
The Common Agricultural Policy reforms are concentrating at present on cereals, beef and dairying. Coming from the west and representing a constituency such as County Clare, I want to underline the comments made by Deputy Michael Kitt that the rumoured further cuts in milk quotas would have a very serious effect on the whole economy of County Clare and the surrounding areas. That is something we could not support.
The agri-food sector is extremely important to the whole Irish economy as it provides outlets for our agricultural products. We rely so much on our exports and our agricultural exports are of extreme importance to the whole economy. Also, the agriculture sector and the agri-food sector give great employment at manufacturing and processing levels. In fact, the many rumours that abound at present about the job losses that may be in the offing as a result of these proposals in regard to the CAP are, to say the least, frightening.
The emphasis on food quality and environmental image is particularly important to Ireland. We put a great deal of positive emphasis on our environmental image; and it is something that can be promoted and should help our whole marketing image of the agricultural produce of this country. The range of structural measures, including early retirement, forestry and environment friendly farming practices, can only be seen to be complementary to the existing social fabric in rural Ireland, which revolves around the family farm. What I would be worried about at this juncture is the whole question and procedure of any reforms that take place within the European structures and institutions. We all know that there will be a transitional period and this is where we need to be ever vigilant.
With regard to the proposals being put forward by the Commission at the moment, obviously we are all concerned and anxious. I certainly would oppose the Commission's proposals as put forward. I would certainly support Deputy Noel Davern in what he said about income supplements. What the Irish farmer wants is to be able to be in a position to run a viable farm, to carry out his work and simply to get a fair price for the produce from his land. He is not looking for handouts; and any such handouts without giving the family farmer an opportunity to run a viable industry would have a very negative impact psychologically, socially and, in the end, financially.
I want to refer in particular to the role of the Commissioner, Commissioner Ray MacSharry. A Commissioner has to represent the views of the whole Commission in whatever portfolio he happens to have. In Ireland our responsibility is to make sure that the Irish interest is at all times paramount. In this situation, or in any other situation where there happens to be a grave difference of opinion between us and the Commission on what is being proposed in regard to the Common Agricultural Policy reforms, what we have to do is to fight for the interests of the family farm and in so doing fight for the interests of the social fabric of this country.
I propose, with the agreement of the House, to share my time with Deputies Michael Creed and Andrew Boylan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is clear, Sir, that any policy as important and as comprehensive as the Common Agriculture Policy must be open to continuing and ongoing review, reform and change. I have to say, however, that I am not at all impressed by the views now being expressed by Fianna Fáil MEPs saying that we somehow missed the opportunity for review and change in previous years. I am particularly smitten by two MEPs, Mr. Mark Killilea and Mr. Paddy Lane, who are now saying that we should have been talking about these reforms years ago when in fact — and I have a very clear recollection of it — between 1982 and 1987 they were both — one of them as a Member of this House and the other as a very high officer in one of our major organisations — saying that the price increases we were getting then were not sufficient and that the payments we were getting for our produce were not sufficient. They were not looking for reform; they were looking for as much as we could get from the Common Agricultural Policy; and no amount of protest on their side these days will turn them into latter day saints and apostles of reform.
I would say, too, Sir, that I have no patience these days with armchair experts, most of them suburban, comfortable and middle class, who go around saying that there was something intrinsically wrong about the fact that between 1970 and 1990 farm incomes around this country came — for once in generations — to levels that were near the kind of industrial wage that we see. I have no regrets whatsoever that in those 20 years our farming communities discovered what the consumer society was all about, found themselves in a position to educate their children the way they wanted to, found themselves in a position to look after their elderly the way they wanted to, found themselves in a position where they could have living standards that approached those of the rest of the community. I do not think we should regret any of that. It should make us all the more determined to ensure that whatever change we see in agricultural policies from here on out will retain, as far as we can do it, the ability of our rural population to stay in touch with the rest of the world in all of those ways.
The reform process, however, is one that should be based on the needs of the Community that the policy serves, and that is not what is happening in the European Community today. What is happening in the European Community today is that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is being driven by the GATT, it is being driven by the interests of the United States and of the CAIRNS group of countries, not by the interests of farmers in Ireland or in any other part of the Community. The reason that the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is being driven by GATT is simply because — we do not have to search far to find it — Commissioner Ray MacSharry got outmanoeuvred and duped last year. He made a totally uncalled for and unwise unilateral offer of a reduction of 30 per cent in support levels and the people on the other side of the table took that as being simply his opening gambit. It gave them a taste for blood. They came back for more, and they will keep on looking for more. It is even more sinister and worrying than that.
I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Commissioner MacSharry was taken in by Commissioner Andriessen, who has been running a second secret agenda looking for bigger cuts in Community price supports in order to get concessions in the area he is interested in. Commissioner MacSharry fell for that hook, line and sinker. I have no doubt that there is a strong body of opinion in the Commission that, as Deputy Bruton said, was reflected in the communique from the last summit in Luxembourg, and wants to see agreement on GATT at almost any price, and they will not be too particular about what is done to Community agriculture and Irish agriculture in order to get that agreement.
It is very much an aside in the present discussion, but one of the ironies in all this is that the people who most need reform in world trade, the agricultural exporters in Third World countries, do not get a single brass farthing from any of this. The CAP or GATT reforms being talked about now will not be of any great benefit to Third World countries who can now export. The reforms will be of still less benefit to Third World countries who cannot export agricultural produce. We are going through all of this not to benefit the European Community, not to benefit the European consumers or taxpayers, not to benefit European farmers but to benefit commercial interests of North America, Australia and New Zealand who are far from being Third World countries. The Commission and the Government are conspiring in that.
The Commission have proposed a series of price cuts and the claim is being made that they will be offset for 90 per cent of Irish farmers by the compensation measures that go with them. There is not any change that 90 per cent of Irish farmers who will be affected will be compensated. Let us look at the measures being proposed. There will be compulsory quota cuts for dairy farmers with quotas of more than 42,725 gallons, but they will be accompanied by price reductions so that in practical terms dairy farmers with herds of 40 cows will find themselves in greater difficulty than they are experiencing today. Those of us with any knowledge or acquaintance with what it is like to have to earn one's living on a farm in Ireland today know that a farm family depending for their living on a 40 cow dairy herd is far from living in palatial circumstances. Now it is apparently intended to redistribute some of those quotas. That will mean that farmers who have herds with perhaps 20 or 30 cows will have increased quotas but will get less for their milk. With their quota today they cannot make a reasonable living. Now they will have a slightly bigger quota but less of an income. The compensation measures will not encourage those people to go out in the streets to cheer for the new salvation that is breaking for them today.
The Minister said today that for these compensation measures, particularly in the dairy sector, the Commission have proposed what he calls an innovative measure. What will that be? We have been told there will be the payment of compensation and of these proposed cessation premia by way of guaranteed bonds. Where did we hear that before? Who remembers the land bonds? These payments will be made by guaranteed bonds and we must ask why they will not be paid in real cash. I get very suspicious when a public authority of any kind decide to pay people in bonds rather than in cash, because the only reason a public authority would do that is because it would be cheaper for them. If it is cheaper for the public authorities it is worse for the people who will be paid in bonds. I see dangers for farmers in this. They will be fobbed off with bonds instead of getting cash up front and they will find the bonds are worth much less than the value of the compensation that is being peddled to us by the Minister and the Commission.
It is proposed to reduce by up to 15 per cent support prices for beef. Here compensation is to be limited to the first 90 livestock units and to what are called extensive producers, defined as those with maximum stocking rates of more than 1.4 livestock units per hectare in the disadvantaged areas and more than two livestock units per hectare elsewhere. An output of 90 livestock units is not a very big output for a drystock farm. I wonder if they are hectares, acres, map acres, forage acres or adjusted acres. They make quite a difference. What does the Minister think about the cut in stocking rates? A stocking rate of 1.4 livestock units per hectare is 0.56 livestock units per acre. Outside the disadvantaged areas a stocking rate of two livestock units per hectare is 0.8 livestock units per acre.
Is the Minister not aware that many farmers in the disadvantaged areas, and outside, are small farmers who are doing much better than that in terms of the rate at which they stock their land. Those farmers, through their ability, through spending money on their land and on housing for their livestock, have increased the effective carrying capacity of their land and they will now find themselves defined as large farmers and will be outside the scope of the compensation arrangements. One will find such farmers in my constituency, in the middle of the Bog of Allen, in east Galway, in west Mayo and in east and west Clare. One does not have to go far to find farmers, inside and outside disadvantaged areas, with small farms who are doing better in terms of their stocking rates than the Commission now arbitrarily defines as the line between a small farmer and a big farmer. They will be denied compensation. That brings our compensation figure below the 90 per cent claimed by the Minister and the Commission.
The Commission are proposing a reduction of 35 per cent in support prices for cereals over three years and there is another definition of a small producer. A small producer is any cereal producer who has less than 50 hectares, 125 acres, of cereals. It is difficult enough, even at today's prices, to make a living from 125 acres of cereals. With prices going down by 25 per cent over three years it will be nigh impossible from now on. I can see little prospect that these regionalised acreage premiums will take up the slack of the producers with less than 150 acres of cereals. Those with more than 125 acres will receive what are called "set aside" payments. It is a grand idea and farmers in the US are familiar with them. But, there is a limit. Farmers will get set aside payments for a maximum of 7.5 hectares, about 19 acres. If we add those 19 acres to the 125 acres we find that cereal farmers with more than 140 acres of cereal will be cut out of any compensation payments, will get no "set aside" payments and will have the benefit of a 35 per cent reduction in support prices over three years. Where is the 90 per cent compensation for the farmers who will be affected? It will not be there.
The Minister has not told us where the money for these alleged compensation measures is to come from. Is all of it to come from the European Community? If it is, it will not go anywhere near meeting compensation for 90 per cent of our farmers. The one thing we can be perfectly sure of, though, is that if the money does not all come from the European Community, less than 90 per cent of farmers will get much less than would compensate them for what they are going to go through. We know perfectly well — the headage payments and all the previous schemes are there to back this up — that the Irish Exchequer will not meet the full amount for the payments which will fall to be made.
Many Fianna Fáil Members have contributed to the debate, but we have not heard any speaker from the Progressive Democrats. I see Deputy Quill in the House. I hope this means we will hear what the Progressive Democrats have to say about all this. We are told that they are the tail which wags the dog. I should like to hear how they will wag the dog on these issues. The dog needs a lot of wagging as he is not awake yet in regard to these issues.
Let the Deputy proceed without interruption.
I predict that, after much argument, hassle and hustling, proposals similar to the present ones will be put forward by the Commission and that by the end of this year we will see some kind of CAP reform which will go in this direction and some kind of GATT reform which will go in the direction the Americans are looking for. We will be back here listening to the Minister trying to put the best face he can on it and explaining that this was the best on offer. The 90 per cent of the farmers who will be affected by these proposals will be looking to see where compensation will come from. They will see that it is certainly not coming from the Irish Exchequer.
I want to know what all the Fianna Fáil backbenchers and Progressive Democrats are going to do about the issue then. The Progressive Democrats have not yet said anything about these proposals but they speak like an Opposition party all the time.
Is this relevant to the debate on agriculture?
I wonder what they will do when they find out that the Minister has once again let down Irish farmers.
I hope Fianna Fáil give them some time to contribute.
The Deputy to continue without interruption.
If anything like these proposed price measures is put in place the whole compensation package will have to be rethought. The compensation package the Commission is peddling here will not meet the case of any of the Irish farmers who will be severely affected by these proposals.
I should like to thank Deputy Dukes for sharing his time with me. The MacSharry proposals are not yet a reality. Therefore, it behoves all of us in this House, whether in Government or Opposition, to ensure that they remain proposals and do not become a reality. It is extremely regrettable that this House has until today effectively been muzzled by the Government from taking a national stance on these very important national issues — reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the GATT negotiations and Irish agricultural policy.
It was interesting to hear the magnanimity of Fianna Fáil backbenchers in relation to these proposals. It is a different line to that which emanates from the front bench of Fianna Fáil.
Screw the farmers.
We are very accustomed to the Tadhg a dhá thaobh element within Fianna Fáil.
(Wexford): The Deputy did not listen to the Minister's speech.
As I said, the MacSharry proposals are not yet a reality. Yet Irish agriculture is in turmoil. There is an abundance of evidence to support this — for example, the Teagasc survey, which shows that farming incomes have decreased by 11 per cent. Those of us from agricultural communities do not need surveys to tell us about the extent of the crisis in Irish agriculture. Anyone who sits in a cattle mart and watches the "must sell" face of a farmer and knows about the collapse in beef prices is only too well aware of the crisis in agriculture. Those of us who have attended meetings organised by farm organisations on the disadvantaged areas scheme are only too well aware of the crisis.
On that issue, I ask the Minister to come out from behind the Official Secrets Act and publish the survey so that we can see whether, as he alleges, all is well and it was not political interference which led to the exclusion of areas which met all the criteria.
I would not dignify that outrageous charge by making a reply.
Opinion polls inAgri Post have confirmed that there is a crisis in agriculture, with 80 per cent of Irish farmers stating that they are worried, insecure and uncertain about their future. Will this be the last generation of farmers to farm the land of Ireland? The old sayings, who would bring calves from cows, who would bring bonhams from sows and who would be in Ireland now, have a very familiar ring in these circumstances. That is the challenge facing us and pious platitudes, lip service, incompetence, indifference and inability will no longer suffice. Persons who sabotage the national interest and who sell us out for 30 pieces of silver, be it in the Berlaymont or Dromoland, have an awful lot to answer for in this debate.
MacSharry and the MEPs.
We in Ireland wish to be good Europeans. Therefore, we must rally to the treaty of Rome. Article 37 of that Treaty enshrines the importance of a common agricultural policy. We must stand firm against bureaucrats who wish to return to national governments the question of agricultural policy. If this were to happen we would be the losers. Renationalisation of European agriculture would not be in the best interests of the EC for political, economic and social reasons. Germany is already subsidising its farmers to the tune of £2 billion per annum. How can we compete with this?
The Common Agricultural Policy aims to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers and a reasonable supply to consumers with stable agricultural markets. It has done that by working towards the completion of an internal market and, more importantly, towards the principle of Community preference, which has been eroded completely by developments in Eastern Europe and the unification of Germany. Germany's concern at ensuring stability in Eastern Europe is allowing unfettered amounts of agricultural produce into the EC. This is undermining our position in the EC.
May I ask the Deputy to conclude?
We cannot afford incompetence.
We cannot afford ill-informed commentators on the European stage such as Government MEPs, some of whom are former farm leaders——
Where are Mr. Lane and Mr. Killilea now?
(Wexford): I should like to share my time with Deputy Michael Ahern and Deputy John Ellis.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
What about Deputy Quill?
Get the Kleenex out.
(Wexford): I welcome this debate which gives us an opportunity to discuss the serious implications of the MacSharry proposals. These proposals are not acceptable to me as a Fianna Fáil backbencher. I expect the Government to stand up to these proposals, which will have a disastrous effect on agriculture, a vital component of our economy.
The agricultural industry stretches far beyond the farm gates. It is vital to our economy and thousands of jobs depend on agricultural related industries. It is also vital to the economies of rural towns. I hold no brief for Commissioner MacSharry. As someone said earlier, he is an EC Commissioner and has a job to be.
Who put him there?
(Wexford): As politicans we have a job to do on behalf of Irish farmers. I welcome the concern expressed by the Taoiseach and the Minister at these proposals and the statement by the Minister that the intends to oppose them. It is only right that he should receive the support of all sides of this House and of farming organisations, employers and trade unions in opposing these proposals. We have to fight these proposals together. These proposals do not relate to one section of our community only; they will affect all sections of our community.
Ireland's special dependence on agriculture must be taken into account by our European counterparts and by the Commission. We must insist that future Community agricultural policy respects Ireland's dependency on agriculture and the right of family farmers to remain on the land and have a decent standard of living.
There has been much talk about the need to keep farmers on the land and the need to maintain a son or daughter on the family farm. However, some of the proposals made by the Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, will ensure that this will not happen. Given that jobs are not available in urban areas for farmers who may decide to leave the land, it is vitally important that the fact that Ireland is dependent on agriculture is taken into account in restructuring agriculture within the European Community.
In the main we have only family farmers. We have no ranchers, which is the case in France and Germany, and it is they who are responsible for creating the surpluses we have heard so much about. We have been informed today that there are thousands of tonnes of agricultural products in storage throughout the European Community, but it should be spelled out loud and clear here today that our farmers are not responsible for creating those surpluses and should not now be penalised.
I come from a county far from the west where there has been much talk about the plight of its small farmers. Wexford would be regarded as a major farming county. It has been said that we have wealthy farmers in County Wexford, who have often been described as commercial farmers; but I wish to make it clear that the farmers in my county, who are among the most progressive in the country, are not making the kind of money some people think they are. Indeed, the position is changing. At a meeting recently I was presented with figures by the IFA — Deputy Yates was given the same figures — which indicate that there are over 3,000 non-viable farms in County Wexford.
One should not talk about commercial farmers in Ireland but rather about family farmers who are trying to eke out a living. Many farmers in my own county will be put out of business if they are not protected from the proposals made by Mr. MacSharry. I expect the Minister for Agriculture and Food to make sure that family farmers in County Wexford, who provide up to 10 per cent of national output, are protected and find themselves in a position where they can eke out a decent living and provide jobs for members of their family on their farms.
We have been told that the MacSharry plan will benefit small farmers, given that various measures will be introduced to compensate them. What assurances have we received that such measures will be permanent? Is there not a danger that once the package has been accepted these will be withdrawn due to budgetary constraints? This matter is a source of serious concern to me.
It has been suggested that farms should be taken out of production. One must ask the question: if farms were to be taken out of production what effect would this have on the agri-food industry and where would they obtain their raw material? Would we see food processing industries being closed down, with consequent job losses? We are already faced with a serious unemployment problem and it is unacceptable for a Commissioner or the Commission to put forward proposals which would lead to industries being closed down, with consequent job losses.
The package makes no sense to me. We must get back to the principle of Community preference — in other words, we should look after ourselves first. We must get rid of cheap imports, such as New Zealand butter and lamb. In addition, imports of cheap strawberries from Eastern Europe pose a serious threat to farmers who grow strawberries in County Wexford. These farmers do not know what the position will be next year in view of the fact that one major processing company has stopped buying strawberries in County Wexford because they can buy them more cheaply from Eastern Europe. We should get our own house in order in the European Community and ban cheap imports to protect our own farmers and communities.
We accept that there is a need for changes in the Common Agricultural Policy. We have seen farmers diversify into agri-tourism and deer farming. In addition, integrated rural development programmes and the new Leader programme have been introduced. I wish to compliment the Minister for initiating these programmes, but at the end of the day all the majority of farmers want to know about is tillage, beef and dairy farming. These are the areas which must be protected by the Government. Any proposals which seek to introduce changes in those areas should be strongly resisted.
Those farmers who are capable of maintaining their families on their farms should be allowed to continue to do so. I have no hang-ups about seeking family income supplement for small farmers who are unable to generate a decent weekly income at present. We have many such farmers and we have to look after them. We must make sure that no restrictions are placed upon them by the European Community.
It has been the tradition that farmers do not look for hand-outs. Many are entitled to social welfare benefits but they are too proud to claim them; all they want to do is get on with the task of earning a living on their farms. They should be complimented for this. I hope the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who has received the support of all sides of the House, will return to Brussels to say that the MacSharry proposals are unacceptable to our farmers and that we will do all we can to protect their interests and to ensure that they are allowed to remain on the land and earn a decent living with which to maintain their families.
I thank Deputy Browne for giving me some of his time to make a short contribution this evening. The first matter we must consider is what effect the proposed changes will have on our agricultural industry. It is clear that the proposals which were officially announced last night will devastate agriculture, with a major portion of the land being taken out of production and used for forestry, be if hardwoods or Sitka spruce. The proposal that the stocking rate should be 1.4 livestock units per hectare in the disadvantaged areas is unacceptable, given that at present production rates the figure would be closer to two livestock units per hectare and in some cases the figure would be even higher. Any proposal which would force people to cut back rather than to expand would lead to farming being turned on the top of its head, given that if such a proposal were to be accepted there would be no room for expansion. Farmers who find themselves in acul de sac do not get the best return. Such a proposal would have a detrimental effect on rural Ireland.
The proposals with regard to afforestation on agricultural land are totally unacceptable. At present farmers in disadvantaged areas are not allowed to compete with the private forestry companies. Many small farmers are being forced out of business because adjacent farms, which they might be able to buy if sold at any economic price, are being bought up by insurance companies and the banks. Farmers who wish to deal with them in an effort to buy the land find in some cases that a premium as high as 50 per cent is sought in coming to a settlement. This is wrong and the proposals which emanated from yesterday's meeting in Strasbourg will absolutely devastate the small farmers in the west. We have a duty to protest vigorously against the proposed changes with regard to afforestation. It is time that farmers were allowed to compete on a level playing field with private forestry companies.
We must look at the effect of the proposed changes on agri-industry. The effect on co-operatives and food processors would be disastrous. Many of the co-operatives would go out of business and our processors would operate at half capacity, leaving us totally ineffective in the market place. This sector must be protected in the interests of the national economy.
There is general agreement regarding the social effects of the proposals. They would devastate rural life and the Minister has a duty, as has every Member, to oppose vigorously the MacSharry proposals. They are not suitable and are unacceptable. We must be open about that.
Is the Deputy coming over to this side?
If Deputy Cotter is worried about my allegiance, he should have listened to the Minister for Agriculture and Food this morning when he made it quite clear that he would be opposing the MacSharry plan tooth and nail. I do not see it being finalised inside 12 months.
Bluff, bluff, bluff.
It must be taken in the context of the GATT talks. When they started in Uruguay the then Government did not send the Minister for Agriculture but the Minister for Education to defend the interests of Ireland.
We have had a serious debate and we should not at this stage turn it into light entertainment.
Some of the Members opposite have tried to portray a wrong image and the issue should be clarified. As far as Members on this side are concerned we will oppose the proposals tooth and nail, as will the Minister and the Government.
They have no teeth and no nails.
For a number of years it has been quite clear that there were major problems with the Common Agricultural Policy and that sooner or later proposals would be put forward to reform it. The proposals that have been announced by the Commission are not favourable to the farmers of this country but it is important that we approach the issue with a cool head and that we cooperate to prepare our case properly. There will be long days of difficult negotiations and we must work to ensure that the farmers and the whole rural community will not be decimated.
Factory farming has been one of the main causes of over-production. We in Ireland are taking the blame for a problem which we have not caused. The majority of our farms are family farms and the Minister made it quite clear that he would fight to ensure that such farms would be maintained. He stated:
In particular I have stressed the important role of agriculture as the dynamo in Ireland's total economy and have left my colleagues in no doubt about my requirement that the reform must respect Ireland's vital interests and afford the fullest safeguards for the future to all categories of family farmers. I have cautioned against adjustments which go beyond the strict needs of market and budgetary requirements and have insisted that the revised CAP must continue to respect the provisions of Article 39 of the Rome Treaty.
Members should note that statement. We on this side of the House are not responsible for the proposals of the European Commission. We are making our views known through our representative, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who will convey those views in Europe when the negotiations begin. I have the fullest confidence that he will not sell this country down the tubes.
The proposed reductions in support prices for milk, beef, cereals and sheep and the cuts in quotas would, if implemented, decimate the countryside. They would affect not only farmers but those who depend on income from farmers, such as small garages, shops and accountants. The farming scene was good in the years up to 1989 and while 1990 was not bad the trend was downwards.
Pollution control has been an extra burden on farmers in recent years and many of them had to take out loans to comply with stringent regulations introduced by local authorities. Most of those farmers would have been able to repay such loans but these proposals mean that many of them will be put out of business.
Many schemes of compensation have been mentioned during the years but U-turns have been done. This is a fear I would have in this instance where such vast amounts of money are being mentioned. We should not pin our hopes on this aspects of the proposals.
The Minister will take note of the views expressed on all sides of the House. Clearly there is agreement on this issue. The proposals as published last night are not acceptable.
I propose to share my time with Deputies Barnes and Boylan.
Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
This is a very important debate but when agriculture and farming matters are debated a large proportion of the public, the media and Members of this House are totally switched off. It is absolutely vital that the gravity of this matter should be understood. This is not exclusively about farming and agriculture; it is a matter concerning jobs. It has been conservatively estimated by ICOS that 16,000 jobs will be lost in the food industry and 22,000 direct farming jobs will be lost. That will impact so severely on our economy and on the social fabric that it will affect everyone.
There is an outstanding case for Irish derogation. Ireland accounts for only 1 per cent of the EC population and 3 per cent of total European agricultural production. We are but a blip in the overall European consumer market. We did not cause the crisis, the budgetary overruns or the surplus of food products. Therefore we must seek derogation. We must accept the reality of the Uruguay Round of GATT talks. After a while people see the illogicality of trade wars and move towards trade agreements. This applies whether it is Quinnsworth and Dunnes Stores or American and Europe. Obviously Irish farmers and European farmers are to be the sacrifical lambs.
We must accept there will be reform of the CAP, but we must seek exemption because of our unique dependence on agriculture. Over the last 20 years we have seen the development of what was commonly known as the golden triangle, whereby white and blue collar employment and investment have moved towards central Europe at the expense of the peripheral regions. The peripheral regions must servive and must close the income gap between the richest and poorest. That means that we must be allowed develop our strengths. One of our strengths is grass-based agricultural production. These proposals to reform the CAP could not be more damaging because a cheap cereal based policy will displace grass based production and destroy the Irish beef and milk sectors. We must seek a derogation because a total of 19 per cent of Irish employment, 24 per cent of exports and 11 per cent of GDP are dependent on the food sector.
I have no confidence whatsoever in the Minister for Agriculture and Food fighting tooth and nail. We will hear he has resisted it up to the very last, that there have been three adjourned meetings and then we will switch on our radios one morning to "Morning Ireland" and hear a hazy Minister from Brussels in total capitulation, saying he did the best deal possible.
How many times have we heard it previously? How recently have we heard it? As recently as we heard about the 1991 prices packages, which took £80 million directly out of the pockets of Irish farmers. Under this Minister we have seen the progress made through Mark Clinton and through Deputy Austin Deasy in the eighties eroded.
A dairy farmer needed 22 cows in 1978 to get average industrial earnings. Now he needs 37 cows for that. A beef farmer with 45 livestock units is down to a third of the income he had 12 years ago, and we get a lecture from the Minister about damage limitation and doing the best exercise. His record is one of utter and total failure in connivance with his colleague and former Cabinet colleague, Commissioner Ray MacSharry.
The bleatings I hear from MEPs——
That accusation of connivance is unwarranted and should be withdrawn or substantiated.
There is ample evidence.
Can I proceed to make a point?
Gabh mo leathscéal. The House accepts that we are not in Croke Park or Central Park. There is no special merit in shouting across at one another. If Deputy Yates has made what he regards as a political point he is entitled to do that and there will be opportunity for succeeding people to counter that.
No better man.
I will sustain that political point by quoting the Taoiseach, who said recently in Brussels that he thanks God every day since he made the decision to appoint Ray MacSharry Commissioner for Agriculture in Europe. We know that a drop of 15p in the £ for beef will mean not only that Irish beef producers will lose a fortune this year but that there will be a collapse of store prices. We know sheep farmers are now taking £24 for their lambs when they were making £44 two years ago. We know of the quota cuts. Unless we gain the exemption we need we will not servive as an overall peripheral economy, and the only way that can be done is to take it up not at Council of Ministers level but at summit level.
Deputy John Bruton, Leader of the Opposition, rightly said that we should have agreement that there will be no national supports for farmers among their own member states. We see the VAT refunds the West Germans have and what the Danes and others have done to help their farmers and not least the French. We must ensure that the first principle is that there will be no national protection, that proper stock will be taken of imports from non-EC countries, that there will be a clear point of Community preference and that in areas where there is no self-sufficiency there will be adequate deficiency payments. The compensation we are speaking of at the moment is of the order of £900 in lieu of £3,500 of market support for an average beef or dairy farmer of about 70 acres. They say 90 per cent of farmers will be compensated; at what level will they be compensated? That is the key question.
The Taoiseach has been too preoccupied with photo opportunities at these summits and he has missed the opportunity to engage in real dialogue. Our party through the Christian Democratic group and the European People's Party will ensure that that message of our complete dependence on agriculture will get through. I know many other Deputies are wishing to contribute, so I conclude on this note. I hope the message will go clearly to not only our European partners but to the Taoiseach that unless he personally pursues a political and diplomatic initiative in this regard, Ireland's case will be lost.
Sir, perhaps you can let me know how much time Deputy Boylan and I have so I can divide it equitably with him.
Deputy Yates, allowing for slight injury time, took nine minutes. We will call that eight, so then there will be 12 left between yourself and Deputy Boylan.
It is important that, as a public representative of an urban area, I speak on this issue. Very often in the past the CAP has been seen as a rural, farming problem and PAYE workers and urban dwellers have regarded it as a large complaining session by farmers. Now people throughout the country in either town or rural areas will begin to grasp the seriousness of what is ahead for Ireland if we reach the incredible and unacceptable situation of people being compensated and being paid for not working, for not producing, for making use of land and resources that were, through climate and environment, designated for the production of rich produce. We have and it is hoped we will continue to protect and support an environment that should allow us to produce food of an excellence of standard which many other countries have lost the potential to achieve. The cutbacks proposed to be applied to farmers will not alone be a denial of everything that is productive and creative; they will change the quality of life here forever, and not just in rural and farming communities but for urban dwellers as well.
To be totally selfish and self-centred, I want to point out the demographic problems and the changes that will come about if farming families and rural communities are broken up and try to seek opportunities in urban areas which are not ample for those already residing there. We cannot cope with that. That drastic, fundamental change will damage the whole quality of life as we know it in Ireland. It will leave people isolated in rural areas to an extent even greater than we can envisage.
There are areas of isolation and loneliness in Ireland today that are a matter of concern. Consider the cost of trying to cope in economic terms with the kind of services and supports we would have to introduce if we devastate farming families and communities without taking into consideration the human waste and the whole fabric of life, if I may use a term which is often plagiarised. We are talking about the fabric of life as we all know it. That is not to say that there is no need for change and innovation. I would like to think that out of this crisis will come a concentration and a sence of urgency on the part of all of us. The farming community should not be left to cope with this alone. We should demand that, for instance, all funding be directed as quickly as possible towards farming, the services sector and the leisure industry, as has been done up to now in the manufacturing sector, sometimes with disastrous results and certainly not the response which would equal the heavy investment in that sector.
A structural change is necessary but, above all, we must fight for the kind of future to which we have a right. It is not that there are no markets available. There is a market abroad for our excellent food if we produce it. There is a global market, and this is where immortality comes in. This short term MacSharry solution is part of the problem. How can anyone come up with such short term drastic solution like this when so much of the world lies waste with desert, is ravaged by famine and drought and while millions of people are dying from malnutrition and starvation? The countries in Europe joined together to bring about a sense of cohesion and vision not just of Europe but of the world. If we accept this proposal we will be selling out not just on Ireland and Europe but on a world that needs the kind of constructive production Europe is capable of.
I suggest that if Deputy Barnes wants to retain the friendship and respect of Deputy Boylan she should introduce the phrase, "in conclusion".
I had more to say on this matter but I will conclude. We should focus on the role of women in agriculture. Much of the agri-business that will save farm incomes here is being carried on in a small, unacknowledged and badly-funded way by women, particularly rural women. I hope Members listening to me realise that the greatest potential for innovation, adaption and energy here lies in the women in rural areas and in rural development.
I thank Deputies Yates and Barnes for giving me an opportunity to make my voice heard in defence of the people who have built this country, the farmers. I thank in particular Deputy Barnes, an urban Deputy, for her excellent contribution. It shows the nationwide concern about the announcement by a former Member of this House, Commissioner MacSharry, which will have a devastating effect on the farming community. I compliment Deputies Yates and Barnes on their excellent contributions. I was somewhat heartened today by some of the comments from Fianna Fáil backbench Deputies, but on hearing the truth spelled out by Members on this side of the House I began to lose hope again. I was disappointed with the Minister's contribution. His statement was, to say the least, woolly, and I will come back to it in a moment.
I was a candidate in the local elections and during the campaign had reason to visit farming families. I grew up on a farm and I fully appreciate the difficulties being experienced by farmers at present. I was devastated at the pain, anger and real suffering on the faces of honest, decent people who want nothing more than to pay their way. These people have made a commitment and have responded to the demands of the EC, only to find that our Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Commissioner for Agriculture are hell bent on penalising them for their efforts. It is nothing short of a national disgrace.
In the pugilistic sport of heavyweight boxing, when one boxer is down on the canvas his opponent moves to a neutral corner until he gets to his feet. In the game of football if a player is down his colleagues gather around to help, but beware of the person who puts in the boot when his colleague or opponent is on the ground. All sides would boo such a person off the field. The referee would take out the red card, the person's name would be taken, he would be sent off the pitch and would not be allowed play again for 12 months or, in the case of a serious incident, for life. Commissioner MacSharry, by his actions last night, put in the boot when the farmers of this country were on their knees, and that is not acceptable. The red card must be issued to him and to the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy. They must be removed from the playing field and substituted by people who have the confidence to deal with the problems we face.
In his speech the Minister stated that the average farm income for 1990 was £6,580. However the average industrial wage was £11,253. Members on the Government side will say that farmers are doing well and can afford to take further cuts. How far removed are they from reality? Have they gone on their holidays or do they ever meet their constituents? That is not acceptable. The Minister spoke about headage payments and compensation. That is farming through the postman, and it is not what farmers want. They want to work their farms and produce goods for which there is a market, but we have not the people with the ability to market the products. I referred to that in a recent debate on trade and marketing in this House and I will not elaborate on it this evening. The Minister said that the premium payable would be limited to those with 1.4 livestock units per hectare or, when spelt out clearly, one cow to every two acres. For anything above that the farmer will not receive payment but will be penalised. That is the sad fact in regard to headage payments.
The Minister spoke about marketing our beef and dairy produce. Time and again I have referred to the abuse by a small number of cowboys who use the dreaded angel dust and jungle juice. The Minister replied that he would be firm and intended taking action against those people, but what has he done? He has not done anything. It is common knowledge that a number of factories here are quoting premium prices for cattle treated with angel dust or jungle juice. It is common knowledge that cowboy farmers, large beef producers, are pushing those cattle though the system because the personnel are not available and legislation is not sufficient to deal with them. Nothing is being done about this. This is not good enough if we want to establish our name in Europe as a prime food producer.
There is a market for our produce and that has been proved by Bord Bainne whose official, Joe McGeough, set out a marketing strategy which resulted in an Irish dairy product — Kerrygold — gaining worldwide recognition. We need people with dynamism and ability. Unfortunately — I wish the Minister was present to hear this — Deputy O'Kennedy is not the man to do the job. He is a nice man to meet in the corridors or on official business down the country, but he is too close to Commissioner MacSharry to oppose the proposals put forward by him. That man forgot from where he came, the small farms of Leitrim where he was very glad to live and get votes——
To take Deputy Boylan back to the playing pitch, I am about to blow the whistle.
I regret that. I hope my contribution will be of some help to the people about whom I am so concerned, the farming community, on whom all of us, including you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, depend.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Cowen and Cullimore and with the permission of the Chair I would like them to have three minutes each.
The proposals agreed yesterday by the EC Commission and announced by Commissioner MacSharry are of a kind unknown up to now in the history of the CAP.
They have not come as a surprise. The changes in the CAP foreshadowed from the early eighties, with high surplus stocks and increasing budgetary costs, came to a head with the introduction of quotas in the milk sector in 1984. Other changes in the CAP followed as the eighties moved on, giving some temporary relief. These changes also brought with them their own problems. Within this country we all know too well the distortions at farm level brought about by the rigid milk quota system.
Other issues outside of and wider than the CAP began to take effect — the GATT negotiations, movement towards economic and monetary union, changes in Eastern Europe — all these began to put more pressure on the Common Agricultural Policy. At the same time we had within agriculture the problem of increasing costs and surpluses, the limits on budgetary expenditure coming from the Heads of State Agreement of 1988 and the fact that despite all that was being done to solve ongoing problems in many countries, including our own, there were serious falls taking place in farm income.
The Commission proposals of yesterday are the next step in this development. But they are only a step. Despite the wide-ranging changes being proposed what we are looking at are still only proposals that have yet to be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of Agriculture Ministers. There will be many long negotiating sessions before anything is finalised. It is fairly safe to assume, I think, that the Heads of State will become involved before final decisions are taken.
In all of these debates this Government will leave nobody in any doubt at meetings of the Council or at the Heads of State that to this country agriculture has been more important in the past, continues to be more important and will remain more important for our national prosperity and well-being than it does for any other country of the European Community.
We cannot accept that the agriculture policy of the Community should do damage to our well-being and prosperity. We joined the Community very willingly as members of a new European order but we knew and so did everybody else in Europe know of the importance to us of agriculture. Whatever arguments there might be about ups and downs for year to year since 1973, there is no doubt that the country has gained very substantially from the Common Agriculture Policy.
Arising from the Commissioner's proposals there will be changes. These are inevitable given the budget and market difficulties now facing the Community. It will be the job of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, to see to it that Irish agriculture is not damaged by these changes. Tens of thousands of farm families throughout the country and the great number of workers whose jobs depend on agriculture should not have their livelihoods put in jeopardy. The Government will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen.
In the debate a number of Deputies have complained that we have not already quantified the Commission's proposals having regard to the fact that these have been widely leaked over recent months. The fact is that the proposals adopted by the Commission yesterday are complex and differ substantially in a number of very important aspects from those contained in the leaked document earlier this year. I would, however, wish to assure the House that my Department have already commenced an assessment and as provided in the PESP we will be presenting the results to the relevant organisations.
The Minister was also criticised for saying that we were not necessarily opposed to the Commission's intentions in relation to reform. Apart altogether from the fact that this statement was taken in isolation and without reference to his statement that we had major difficulty with the details or to the very detailed outline of the elements which we will have to present for the outcome of the negotiations to be broadly acceptable, it is worth considering what the Commission's intentions are. They are broadly designed to: retain sufficient numbers of farmers on the land; provide that farmers would have the dual function of producing food and protecting the environment in the interest of rural development; control production to the degree necessary to bring markets back into balance; ensure a more equitable distribution of Community support while taking account of the difficult situations of certain categories of producers and regions; and maintain the basic principles of the CAP as provided in Article 39 of the Treaty.
Nobody in this House could object to these principles. Our difficulty is with the way that the Commission proposes to implement them.
The Minister also made it very clear that CAP reform and GATT negotiations should take place in parallel. In this regard, the Commission in its reform proposals accepts this and in particular accepts that any curtailment of Community output must be part of the coherent international effort under which all the major world producers accept comparable commitments. This is a very important aspect from our point of view. It is of course the Community's very strongly held position that it must get credit in the GATT negotiations for the measures it has taken since the commencement of the negotiations in 1986. Our negotiators will be insisting on this in the weeks and months ahead.
We have to face into the task of securing our interest with determination. At the same time we must bring our experience and our foresight to bear so that we do not find ourselves engaging merely in a damage limiting exercise. That attitude of damage limitation is, I think, a highly dangerous one. We have to set out this task of dealing with these proposals in a way which will ensure not only that we shall not be damaged by them but that, more important, we get out of the new re-fashioned CAP benefits for our agriculture and for our whole economy. To a certain extent in the past we were prevented from getting all the benefits of the CAP by in-built safeguards of the system — I am referring especially to intervention and to its damage to the initiative and drive necessary to develop consumer products.
The farming organisations have been driven to a state of strong and shocked reaction by these proposals. I would hope that when they have had some time for quieter reflection they will be able to come forward with ideas and proposals about how the changes might be made in a way which will enable us to get the best possible results from the new regime. I say new regime because I think that there is general agreement that the CAP as it has been in recent years could not continue as it was and that changes have to be made. It is up to the Government and in this we will bear our full responsibilities to see to it that the changes are such as will suit Irish conditions to the best possible extent. I would also like to see some positive thinking from farming organisations on this point.
The proposals made by the Commission yesterday are, of course, related to the GATT negotiations. I would not accept for a moment, however, that the changes are being suggested simply in order to enable progress to be made in the GATT. I in no way wish to minimise the importance of having world trade carried out on as free a basis as possible. Nobody wants a return to protectionism. But in the effort to have freer world trade we have to be careful not to damage the economy of a particular country or group of countries through too rapid change over too short a period. The GATT connection is relevant but as far as European agriculture is concerned the main motives for change must come from circumstances within Europe.
One point which I have not mentioned and which I think should never be forgotten when we come to talk about European agriculture is the question of food security. In modern times people in western countries tend to believe that adequate food will always be available.
The comfort of certainly needs to be backed-up by having in place the means to assure this certainly. This thought came to me very forcibly when the GATT negotiations were very active in the latter part of 1990. I was struck on the one hand by the understandable lack of any mention of food security while at the same time, because of the ongoing Gulf crisis, there were considerable doubts and fears in peoples' minds about the future of oil supplies. I think food security is something which should not be forgotten and then it would be very foolish indeed for Europe to put itself in a position of any risk under that heading.
During this debate we should also reflect on other matters that have come to the fore in agriculture over the past 12 months. I am thinking particularly of the various measures introduced in regard to the development of the rural economy. The coming forward of these measures was in itself also a foreshadowing of the likelihood of change in the CAP as we have known it. The Operational Programme for Rural Development, the Leader Programme and related programmes can have a great importance in the future development of our rural areas.
I fully accept that we will continue to need a sound Common Agricultural Policy but these other measures have an importance too. I think for instance of the benefits which in recent years have been brought about in many rural areas through the growth of the mushroom industry. We can define mushroom production as a form of alternative farm enterprise which is making a great contribution to the livelihood of many small farmers throughout the country. Indeed also our export trade has benefited very substantially from that particular industry where the best part of 80 per cent of total production is being exported at present.
I mention this because of my own particular responsibilities in regard to horticulture. Under the same heading I have been very heartened by the great response we have had to the two schemes for potatoes and horticulture under the Operational Programme for Rural Development. I am glad to tell the House that we have had in excess of 500 applications in total under both headings and we see the availability of grant-aid under these headings providing the stimulus for much needed investment particularly in the potato sector. We have lamented on many occasions in this House the fact that we have an unacceptable level of imports coming into our shores.
I hope you will send the application to Brussels this time.
The generous and particularly attractive grants scheme which we have introduced will stimulate the investment.
It depends where they are.
It is our intention to see those investment decisions through. It is an area that has not been catered for under the Common Agricultural Policy. Because of our foresight in ensuring that this area of agricultural enterprise is included in the Operational Programme for Rural Development we have got the desired response from potato growers and commercial horticulturalists generally. It underlines the fact that the schemes which have been brought in to complement what was there previously are worth while and that we have got the focus right in regard to them.
Be sure to send all the plans to Brussels.
Because of the alacrity and understanding of the Minister of State it is possible for Deputy Cullimore to have four minutes. Deputy Cowen will have five minutes.
I should like to thank the Minister of State for giving me some of his time to make a contribution to this very important debate. Agriculture is of central and vital importance to our economy. The Commission's proposals, announced last night, have major implications, not just for farmers but for every sector. It is essential that these proposals will not undermine the effectiveness of the Common Agricultural Policy or jeopardise the expansion and development of our agri-food industry. Most commentators accept that adjustments of some sort were inevitable. However, these adjustments and changes must be balanced by other factors. I am thinking about the fact that Ireland is heavily dependent on agriculture and is on the periphery of the Community. Therefore, any adjustments or changes must involve fully funded compensation.
Agriculture is our most vital national interest. As we move towards greater economic integration this is all the more reason to ensure that such a national interest is completely and fully protected. This concern was central to the approach taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, when this matter was considered by the February Council meeting. Although the matter was essentially a discussion document, it called for the most radical overhaul of the CAP mechanisms since the policy was introduced in 1962. As the Minister indicated, he reiterated Ireland's commitment to maintaining the CAP and a vibrant, effective and competitive agri-business sector. Moreover, he made it clear that the CAP's primary objectives, as laid down in Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome, are as valid today as when they were originally introduced. This means that any reforms of the CAP must continue to respect these principles in an effective way. Therefore, the Commission must provide fully funded real compensation for regions, resources and producers who are adversely affected by reductions in price supports. They must also recognise Ireland's unique dependence on agriculture, in particular on livestock, milk and cereals.
If the proposals in these pages announced last night are taken in isolation they will have a serious effect on agriculture, rural life and development. Farm incomes have already been affected by recent developments and we cannot accept a system of cuts which will jeopardise the fabric of rural life and undermine the enhanced role which agriculture has played in the national recovery — in other words, there are social and economic aspects to this question. In so far as the economic emphasis is concerned, the vital importance of agriculture is underlined by the fact that the sector contributes over one quarter of all exports from this country. The importance of the agri-food sector to our economy is unquestionable; the agri-food business is the single most important element in our external trade and accounts for almost one-third of our total manufacturing output. Moreover, these products are world renowned for their quality and excellence. Individual producers and co-operatives have played their part in economic development and indeed they were encouraged to do so. I know many farmers who borrowed substantially based on milk prices in 1989. If these proposals are accepted, our farmers will be in serious difficulty.
I should also like to thank the Minister for allowing me time to speak on this important debate. It obviously requires more than five minutes, but I will be as succinct as I can.
It is unfortunate that the Opposition speakers in this debate seek to cloud the issue, which is a misunderstanding of the roles of the people concerned. Commissioner MacSharry has his brief and he must do his job. It serves no purpose to confuse that with the role of the Irish Government, it is simply predictable playacting; but it is unfortunate, given the seriousness of the position.
The Minister and the Taoiseach outlined the Government position, which is to safeguard the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy in relation to this country. That would be proceeded with by a Government of any political hue and I do not think that anybody should indulge in playacting in this regard because it does not serve the farmers or the people in the agri-food business one whit.
Of course, all is not well with the Common Agricultural Policy. Its subsidy mechanisms have not done anything to lend increased viability to Irish farmers. Despite the benefit of the Common Agricultural Policy, there is continuing emigration on the basis that agriculture is not viable. Our family farm structure is different from those in other countries and we should use that as a lever in terms of getting the sort of policy responses we require in the reform programme initiated by the MacSharry proposals announced yesterday. All is not well with the Common Agricultural Policy because the budget is out of control. Despite increased spending on the Common Agricultural Policy last year, the benefits are going to the multi-nationals involved in the storage business and to the meat factories; they are not going to the producer. The subsidies cause a distortion in the market and are not providing the sort of incomes necessary to maintain a viable livelihood from agriculture.
An example of that is the fact that Bord Bainne in their report this year said that in spite of the fact they are a dairy produce marketing organisation they did not bother to market dairy products this year because the intervention price was better than the trade price. This is a marketing organisation becoming involved in the intervention business and using it as a policy as distinct from an insurance scheme, which is what it originally set out to be.
Common Agricultural Policy reform involves a transitional period. At some stage we must get back to a market led agriculture which will be to the benefit of Irish producers on the basis of our environmental plusesvis-à-vis our competitors in Europe. We have a green image and a grassland based agriculture which will provide the sort of quality produce required in the European market. The problem — and the whole debate — is about price and markets. The Common Agricultural Policy has been built on over a number of years and, despite the premia, headage payments and so on, there is not a margin for Irish farmers to survive. If we increase our spending on the Common Agricultural Policy we must ensure that it goes back to the producers and not to those people involved in the agri-business, who have nothing to do with the market at all. That is the crux of the problem.
Deputy Cowen, I have to ask you to conclude.
I am concluding. It is clear that Ireland is best at producing in the primary areas of beef and sheepmeat, dairying and tillage, and we must ensure that these areas are included in any reform programme.
Finally, one has to recognise again the importance of the disadvantaged areas scheme. That will be the target point at which people will obtain compensation, whether as indirect subsidisation as occurs at present under the premium headage payments scheme or by direct compensation as proposed in the reform programme. We look forward to the Appeals Tribunal being in a position to enlarge the areas concerned.
I am glad to see that Deputy Deasy is here. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the meeting in Tullamore at which he said that the whole of Offaly should be classified as disadvantaged. In fact, when he was there himself he could get only 49 townlands in.
I had ten meetings in Tullamore.
I should like to give four minutes of my time to Deputy Cotter. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate for a few brief moments.
Since 1987 the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Government have treated the House with contempt in relation to agriculture. Since Minister O'Kennedy took up his portfolio the House has had not one debate nor any statement given by him following negotiations in Brussels. For the first time a Minister for Agriculture and Food was afraid to come into the House and give an account of his stewardship of that portfolio while he was away representing all Members of the House and the general public. This is the first real debate on agriculture since 1987. It is the first time in four years that the Government have given time to debate this subject.
A very serious problem has arisen but it was not until 28 June, the day before the local elections, that the Taoiseach said there would be a debate. On 25 occasions since December last he refused to realise how serious the problems would be if the proposals in the leaked documents were true — and they are true — and were agreed to in Strasbourg or Brussels. On a number of occasions the Taoiseach said that the proposals were only leaked proposals, but leaked proposals and leaked documents have often found themselves to be the reality, and that again happened on this occasion.
The Government have been unfair to the people they represent by not saying six months ago that Ireland would not accept such proposals because to do so would decimate thousands of farmers and thousands of jobs in related industries.
The Minister has made several speeches about the crock of gold for the agri-tourism industry. I wish to make just two points in that regard. Many of the Teagasc advisors have told me that because of the restrictions outlined in the proposals many people making application will not be able to benefit by reason of not being able to put up the amount of money required for the investment. To me that shows the scheme to be a non-starter. Unless certain changes are made immediately, many people will not be able to invest in agri-tourism and will not be able to contribute to the country's overall economy. I wish to point that out to the Minister.
This morning the Minister said that the Government were not necessarily opposed to the Commission's proposals. If that is the case, the Taoiseach should take steps to ensure that someone is sent to Brussels who is opposed to the Commission's proposals. How many cereal farmers will be left in business if these proposals go through? How many small milk producers will be left if the proposals go through, taking into account the 25 pence a gallon reduction since last year? We are talking about many more than 40,000 jobs — God only knows where it will end.
I do believe that the Taoiseach should have waged stern opposition to these proposals during the recent Summit when he had the opportunity to do so. The Taoiseach was asked in the House no later than this morning by myself whether he was prepared to meet all Heads of Government of member states, as did Dr. FitzGerald back in 1984. The Taoiseach declined to give an answer; he declined to say that he would do so. I now ask the Taoiseach to tell the Irish farming community and the country in general that he is prepared to take on that task and that his Minister for Agriculture is prepared to use the veto against some of these draconian measures. All of us would like to know whether that will happen.
The Minister of State mentioned the many applications he has received for grants for development projects such as potato stores. I have one message for the Minister of State: I do hope that he sends all the applications to Brussels, unlike the action he took last year. I could provide him with the information if he wants to know exactly what happened and who was chosen and who was not chosen. Certainly he should not come into the House to boast about what he has done. What he did last year was a disgrace. If it happens again, the Opposition will take him to task in the House.
I now wish to give the rest of my time to Deputy Bill Cotter.
This is a historic day for Ireland. An Irish Commissioner in Europe told us last night that he has decided to close down rural Ireland. That is the stark basic message that came through to us last night. The Commissioner's message to Irish farmers is very simple — lock up your land and leave. That message has been received and has been interpreted as such by the farmers of Monaghan, Cavan and every other county in Ireland, particularly by the farmers from Monaghan. Monaghan is a county of very small farmers, very vulnerable farmers, who have worked extremely hard through the good times in order to build up viable holdings and viable units. The Commissioner has now decided, with the co-operation of his friends at home it seems, to lock up that county and walk away from it.
The news is stark, bad and disgraceful. It is very noticeable today that the farmers are not in a state of shock. They should be in a state of shock but they are not. They are not shocked because the old tactic was used; the old tactic of releasing bits and pieces of information over a period has prepared us for the bad news so that when it did arrive, in the exact form that we thought it would, we were not shocked by it — we knew it would come and we accepted it. It is a pity that it had to happen in that way. The farming community should really be up in arms today. Farmers should be blocking the streets and the roads in the way that I saw them do in 1968 and afterwards.
They should be blocking the streets of Sligo, Deputy Brennan, and you should not be sitting there smirking and smiling at your neighbours' prospects for the future. The Deputy should be a very worried man indeed. In particular he should be very worried at the prospect of an election within the next two years. I have no doubt that at some time Irish farmers will realise what their votes are worth, they will use them in the proper manner and they will give the message that they will not have their wellingtons filled with milk; they will not have their noses rubbed in the potholes.
There are no potholes in Sligo.
What is that story? There are no potholes in Sligo? Where has the Deputy been for the past 12 months?
Have you been on the other side of the moon?
He brought down the Government because of not being here; his car had broken down.
The message should have been learned at the local elections. Many farmers did not bother to come out to vote when they should have exercised their democratic right and the power of their vote to register an extreme protest. They did not do so and that is to their shame.
It is a pity that the Minister for Agriculture and Food has not been in the House very much today. He is hiding somewhere and sending in junior Ministers and others who are doing a very bad job of defending the situation. How could they defend it? They have joined the opposition. We all know that the Government have been colluding with Commissioner MacSharry. The telephone calls have been coming in. They knew long before any of us did what the package held. They knew before the leaks what would be in the package. We have been informed that they will defend us in Europe but there is not a single farmer in this country who believes his position will be defended in Europe. I will leave it at that.