I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh and express my wholehearted appreciation for his excellent negotiating skill which have achieved such a positive out come for Ireland on this issue. The farmers of Ireland, the agricultural industry, the food industry and all those involved on the periphery and, indeed the Irish economy as a whole owe the Minister a great debt of gratitude. The doubts, indecision and the sheer fear that have prevailed over the past 1 months are at the end. How wrong those prophets and preachers of door and gloom have been proven. All the succeeded in doing by their negative approach was to create unnecessary worries for the farming community over a long period.
I thank God for the positive approach of the Minister and the Agricultural Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry. Nobody has a greater appreciation of what is required as far as Irish agriculture is concerned than the Commissioner. Indeed, it is his publicly stated ambition to return to his native shores and to resume his active interest in farming. I have said on many occasions in the past, and I am more than pleased at this time to be proven right, that Commissioner MacSharry would do all that was necessary to ensure a positive outcome to Common Agricultural Policy reform as far as this country was concerned.
In the short period of time available to me I would like to refer to a few salient points. From a national point of view the beef sector is, perhaps, the most urgent aspect that had to be addressed. Cattle price support mechanisms needed to be put in place. This is being done. Phased reductions in the intervention price for cattle will obtain. In referring to intervention, a Cheann Comhairle, I noted a remark from your good self this afternoon, while the Minister was speaking, when you chastised some Deputies who were interrupting. In admonishing them your words were "intervention is most unwelcome". Your comments, a Cheann Comhairle, were, of course, in a totally different context, but how accurately they described the motion we are debating here tonight. It is universally agreed and accepted that the practice of producing food and storing it in vast quantities, as we have been doing, is ludicrous and that it simply had to come to an end. Intervention served a vital purpose as far as Ireland was concerned but it has now outgrown it usefulness. Compensation to farmers will be phased inpro rata and will be paid directly to them via increases in premia.
With regard to milk, it is comforting to realise that the national quota level will be preserved for the current year and that some long awaited innovations in this area are in train.
Sheep form a very important part of the agricultural economy of my own county of Wicklow where a number of sheep farmers have been concerned about the future. Much of this anxiety was brought about by negative thinkers, negative talkers and negative writers. Sheep farmers were extremely worried about how the sheep quota would be introduced and on what it would be based. The fact that Ireland can retain its quota at 1991 figures will be a welcome relief to these people. I eagerly await the finer details as to the actual operation of the quota system. In this regard, I am comforted by an undertaking which the Minister gave me some time ago when I was tormenting him on this subject. He assured me that all and everything he would do, and aspire to do, would be in the interests of the traditional Irish sheep farmer. I fully accept that and I am confident he will deliver.
It is very important to note that the Irish consumer will benefit from a reduction in food prices but it is even more important to ensure that this actually becomes a reality. Far too often in the past reductions in prices at farm level failed to percolate through and to be reflected in reductions as far as the consumer was concerned. That seemingly intangible being, the middle man, or the middle men, always seemed to grab whatever was going by way of price reductions. It is vitally important that this is not permitted on this occasion. Proper control and vigilance must be applied. The mechanisms exist; it merely remains to ensure that they are set in motion.
However, in our gratitude and, perhaps, in our euphoria at the outcome of these negotiations we should not be carried away, we should not assume that Irish farmers are now on to a good thing, that all their troubles are over and that they will be laughing all the way to the bank, because that would be a total fallacy. To bring one back to reality one has only to look at this week's prices for lamb. Indeed, projections for the immediate future in that regard indicate a further deterioration in prices is on the cards. We should remind ourselves that any compensation to be paid to farmers is totally meritorious and is geared to make up for the reduction in the output price.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister's statement today regarding the payment of headage premia. This is a matter on which I have spoken in this House and in other fora over the years and particularly in more recent times. It is atrocious that farmers must wait for almost unlimited periods before they receive those payments which are their just rights. No business in the world, and farming today has to be carried out in a business-like way, could possibly survive in these conditions. Farmers must budget the same as those in any other business have to budget. They must know when cash flow will obtain and when moneys are forthcoming. They must be able to count on and depend on payments arriving on time. I have no doubt that that will be adhered to and that these farmers can and will get their just deserts in terms of payments that are forthcoming and get them in good time. The Minister mentioned also the proposed early retirement scheme for farmers and that this would be funded substantially at 75 per cent. This will facilitate and expedite transfers to young farmers. We have been talking about this for a long time. A great deal of lip service has been paid to it, making very small improvements with regard to young farmers taking over. This is a major step in that direction.