Deputy Ferris was in possession and he has three minutes left.
Estimates, 1992. - Vote 32: Agriculture and Food (Revised Estimate) (Resumed).
In those three minutes it will be difficult to sum up where this important Estimate fails to address the problems facing the agricultural industry. I voiced my concern about the levels of funds available to ensure that the beef industry is properly controlled and supervised in the future so as to eliminate the possibility of a repetition of what happened in the past. The Minister emphasised the importance of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and I have spoken about that. The link between that reform and the GATT negotiations is one on which this House should be united. The GATT negotiations should not be allowed to torpedo what has been put in place in the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations. I welcome the Minister's initiative in requesting the United States authorities to discuss with him the provocative intervention at this time of threatening to tax Irish distributors and exporters of cream liquors and casein products. This is high-handed of the Americans and I am sorry they have chosen to make their threat a week before the GATT negotiations are due to resume. I hope the Minister will be strong-handed with them and that we will have the support of the Commission and the European Community in the GATT negotiations because Irish agriculture has forfeited enough in comparison with the benefits accruing to American farmers.
I am concerned that factories such as Avonmore, and their subsidiary, Miloko, near Carrick-on-Suir, would be seriously affected if the proposal to impose penalties on casein was implemented. I wish the Minister well at his weekend meeting with officials from the United States Embassy who have direct input into the GATT negotiations.
The Estimate leaves much to be desired because it under-estimates the cost of the beef tribunal at present sitting in Dublin Castle. The tribunal were set up at the request of this House to do very important work which should not have been necessary. It will cost this House and the taxpayer £40 million or £50 million when, in fact, only £1 million has been provided for it in the Estimate. Almost one-third of the Estimate is under-estimated. The Minister informed us he will be required to bring in a Supplementary Estimate at some future date. This pinpoints the inadequacy of the Agriculture Estimate in view of the fact that the tribunal will cost in the region of £40 million to £50 million and we are allocating only a token subhead for it.
With those remarks I come now to the end of my contribution which was disjointed because of the break from last night until this morning, but it gives me the opportunity to reassure the Minister he has the support of the House in his negotiations with the United States authorities during the weekend with particular reference to the GATT proposals and the high-handed threats made by the Americans over the past few days.
(Limerick West): I presume I have ten minutes.
That is so, Deputy. Each Deputy has ten minutes from now on.
(Limerick West): It is an under-statement to say that agriculture is the single most important industry in this country. Farming and food production jobs are sustainable jobs and export earnings from the industry form the backbone of our economy. Membership of the European Community has been good for Irish agriculture. Incomes have risen sharply since 1973 and our produce now has a vast market available to it. It is vital that we retain those strong links with this lucrative market of 340 million people throughout Europe and it is even more vital for those involved in agriculture and food than for any other industry.
I would like once again to renew my congratulations to the Minister and his staff for his success in the difficult negotiations on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. When they come to write the memoirs they can truly say that they were part of the radical turnaround of policies affecting our greatest industry and all those involved in it.
The Common Agricultural Policy reforms present us with major opportunities, especially when taken in conjunction with the completion of the internal market, which will give us free access to the Community's 340 million consumers. Under the Maastricht Treaty we will need to develop new markets. Up to this we have not been as successful as we should have been in penetrating those markets within the Community. We must stop just talking about capitalising on our image as unrivalled producers of wholesome food in a clean environment. We have this and we must get out and market these goods to the European consumer. Only in this way can the gains secured by Common Agricultural Policy be copperfastened in a way which will protect the income of all the people involved in agriculture and food industries.
Over the past 15 months there has been a great deal of uncertainty prevailing in farming circles. Now that agreement has been reached everyone involved in agriculture — farmers, processors and traders — can now proceed with confidence knowing the future shape of support and premium arrangements. I am convinced that farm incomes will now stabilise and that the contributions of the agriculture and food industry to the wellbeing of our national economy will continue and improve even more in the years ahead. The main lesson to be learned from this is that as full and committed members of the Community we were able to have a real influence in the negotiations. Our arguments for change, in the proposals for the Common Agricultural Policy, and our arguments that the particular economic problems facing Ireland and Irish agriculture had to be taken into account and were met with sympathy and understanding by our EC partners. In general, that has been our experience since we joined the EC. That is why I am confident that our interests are best served in moving towards the next stage of European integration, as envisaged in the Treaty on European Union. I want Ireland to have real influence on the policies which affect Irish farmers and their families; that is why I want Ireland to remain at the core of EC policymaking. When we approve the Maastricht Treaty we will be in a position to do this.
A major aim of the Treaty is to move towards economic and monetary union and a single currency. This will involve Ireland accepting certain disciplines in terms of maintaining low interest and inflation rates and in bringing down the level of our national debt. We have the opportunity on 18 June to reaffirm our commitment to Europe and it would be folly for us not to do so. We should not be distracted by red herrings, such as whether or not we obtain the full £6 billion from the Cohesion Fund or whether our neutrality would be threatened. We must keep our eyes firmly on the ball: we are either a member of the European Community or we are not; there is no middle ground. We cannot expect the benefits of membership without paying the price — that price is small. We do not have another opportunity, there is no re-negotiation. We should not be distracted from our main aim of total European integration.
If there is not a clear and unequivocal vote in favour of European Union next Thursday it will be difficult not to lay the blame at the door of the Taoiseach and the Government for allowing the abortion issue to become entangled with the real issue at hand. Their failure to clarify the abortion issue and decide on it, in advance of the European Union referendum, has left people genuinely perplexed, most particularly those engaged in agriculture who will benefit enormously from European Union. Some people feel that their "Yes" vote will be construed as a vote for abortion and may vote "No" for all the wrong reasons. With such a vital national decision to be made the Government can ill afford to lose supporters in this fashion.
In contrast to when we joined the EC in 1973 the emphasis now is on the marketplace and it will continue to be that way. The imperative from now on is to be able to put a premium product on the continential markets at competitive prices. It is easy to say this, but is the industry itself really alive to the new situation? For example, is the beef sector alert to the implications of the gradual phasing out of intervention? A special slaughter premium is a welcome step towards reducing our seasonality problem. In theory it should help the operation of the beef plants, but only if it results in an attractive price for winter finished cattle will it succeed.
Milk producers are happy at the news that there will be no reduction in quota or price this year but the market situation will determine whether quotas will or will not be reduced in 1993 and 1994, that is, next season or the one immediately following it. We need no further reminder that a comprehensive effort is required by all branches of the industry to achieve success in export markets.
One of the greatest dangers is in the area of organisation. We are plagued with diversification and fragmentation. This is equally true of the public as well as the private sector. Co-ordination and integration should now be the watchwords. Having some years ago advocated the amalgamation of agriculture and food I am satisfied that it was a positive step. However I am displeased that it was not followed through in the wider context of the industry as a whole. Fragmentation and duplication are wasteful at any time but all the more so at a time of scarce public resources. The scales have changed radically since a number of agencies were originally assigned their functions. However well-intentioned these agencies may be, the layman finds it hard to understand why in a small country three or four Government Departments should be involved in the business of exporting one food product. I would like to think that there is effective co-operation with and adequate support for such bodies as CBF and An Bord Tráchtála.
The important input of farm advice and education is also characterised by an amazing number of bodies. We have a number of State-sponsored agencies and educational centres reporting to different Government Departments not to mention the growing number of commercial advisers, as well as those employed by the co-operatives, and all involved in operating a number of EC support programmes.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I request him to bring his speech to a close.
(Limerick-West): I am about to finish. The dairy co-operatives have demonstrated the benefits of integration and co-ordination which are now badly needed. I welcome the Minister's statement that he has set up a group headed by the secretary of his Department, Mr. Michael Dowling, to identify ways of responding to markets in the new situation. I would ask the secretary, Mr. Dowling, to carry out his examination comprehensively and pay particular attention to the organisational aspects. I am confident that a man of his outstanding ability and experience will adopt a businesslike approach and reach early practical conclusions. I look forward to the outcome.
The agricultural sector continues to be plagued by outrageous scandals that the Government have not yet managed to tackle. These scandals are having a devastating effect in the international arena and world markets in the context of their perception of the quality of Irish products. Why, for example, is the scandal of abuse in connection with the TB eradication scheme, which has, so far, cost the taxpayer in excess of £1 billion, allowed to continue? What steps does the Minister intend to take to place the blame where it should lie instead of on the poor, unfortunate badger?
Agricultural production is one of the key areas in this country and agricultural produce must be seen as being of good, pure and unadulterated quality. Casting one's mind back to the behaviour centering around the Goodman scandal when meat was sent to the North African market of Morocco, to Iraq——
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I trust that he will not impinge upon matters that aresub judice. I would ask the Deputy to please avoid any reference to such matters.
I promise I will not refer to the named party again. Irish beef and lamb which has arrived in the North African market in Morocco and in Iraq was discovered to be mislabelled and was of a quality inferior to that stated on the labels. How can North Africa and the Middle East have faith in Irish meat products after the behaviour engaged in in the recent past?
Mad cow disease is an issue that is still on the political agenda. It has not yet been satisfactorily conquered. However I must give credit where it is due, in that the attempts being made by the Department of Agriculture and Food to eradicate affected herds is laudable. It is a progressive and worth-while effort to curb the spread of the disease.
I am worried that the funding that has been made available to the agricultural sector by the European Community is not being wisely spent and that the consumer is not the net beneficiary. On 9 June the Taoiseach, when speaking on the Maastricht Treaty, said:
Last year our farmers received direct into their hands £290 million in premia and subsidies. When the Common Agricultural Policy reform is fully implemented this figure will rise to £650 million per year.
That is big money by any standards. Yet the industry is plagued by scandal after scandal, the most recent being when cucumbers were produced and marketed on an unsuspecting consumer, particularly in Dublin, resulting in 30 people becoming seriously ill and some having to be hospitalised. Will the Minister do anything to stamp out the outrageous practice whereby these cucumbers could have been harvested and marketed on an unsuspecting public by vegetable producers? There are alternative ways of producing fresh fruit and vegetables. Organic methods of growing would reinforce Ireland's image on the international market as a country that can produce good, clean, reliable fresh fruit and vegetables.
What is the Minister going to do to control the misapplication and the inappropriate spraying of vegetables and fruits and to prevent such poisoned fruits and vegetables being sold to shops? Is it a matter of controlling the fungicides and herbicides? Are there any plans to bring in quality control measures at our fruit and vegetable markets or to compel the major supermarket chains who buy direct from suppliers to control quality at that level?
When one considers what happened in the recent outbreak of illness one finds that the insecticide was highly toxic and had to be applied and used with extreme caution. Also, it was never intended and never should have been used close to harvest time. I believe the product used was aldicarb. I am not familiar with that product but, obviously, those who produce cucumbers should be aware of its characteristics; certainly, the Department of Agriculture and Food should have made producers aware of the dangers of the product.
Professor McNulty asked what went wrong with our system that such an obvious suspect could have gone unnoticed. He argued that the time factor involved in tracing the source of the poisoned cucumbers was much too long and pointed out that the same insecticide is used to control infections in cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts and potatoes. Consumers need to be assured that when they go into the supermarkets or the local greengrocer shops the products they buy are of good and reliable quality. I hope the Minister addresses that question, particularly as so many people on this occasion suffered after eating poisonous cucumbers. He should take steps to guarantee that never again will there be an occurrence of an outbreak that could result in fatalities.
The much talked about Common Agricultural Policy reforms are welcome. The suggestion that the Irish consumer will benefit to the extent of approximately £100 million annual savings on their bills has to be questioned. If the decreases are to become a reality, and if we the consumers are to gain to the extent of £100 million in savings, more than optimism will be required. Will the Minister agree to establish some kind of formal mechanism for monitoring and controlling food price changes arising from the Common Agricultural Policy reforms?
On the issue of the marketing of our agricultural products, I hope the Minister will not listen to those who attempt to explain away the failure of the Irish food sector to market and sell successfully on the international market. The cold fact is that year after year the Irish food sector not only has relied on but has actively geared itself to the intervention market only, to the extent that many shoppers in Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other EC cities were more accustomed to lamb from New Zealand than they were to Irish lamb. The television advertisement of the French tourist who had actually heard of Kerrygold butter is more a parody on the inadequacies of our marketing strategy than an indication of its success. That failure was pointed out recently in the Culliton report, which highlighted that continued dependence on intervention was unrealistic. I, therefore, urge the Minister to do more than just set up a review body. Such reviews have a habit of gathering dust. What is required is an agricultural and food authority that would bring together State agencies and interest groups involved in the food sector to compile and implement a long term development plan for Irish agricultural and rural development.
In the ten minutes available to me it will not be possible for me to address all the matter relating to the agricultural industry. Unfortunately, neither is it possible for me to address all the questions raised by the previous speaker.
I should like to preface my brief contribution by saying that any meaningful discussion on farm development or farm income in Ireland must take place in the context of the recent negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. While the policy has been analysed by many people both inside and outside of the House, there are very obvious and positive advantages arising from the negotiations. The uncertainty about agricultural prices that existed for several months has now been removed and farmers can again positively plan for development of the agricultural industry. It is also true that the outcome of the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations has been as successful as possible in terms of agricultural prices and of safeguarding and securing the income of our smaller farmes.
I shall quote one figure from an independent analysis of the benefits to Irish agriculture of the Common Agricultural Policy reform. The renowned economist Dr. Brendan Carney quotes the figure of £65 million as representing the net gain to Irish agriculture. That is not a political statement but the view of an internationally regarded and very credible economist. A further advantage of the outcome of the Common Agricultural Policy reform is that the main benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy for the future GATT negotiations have been safeguarded. That is a very important matter so far as our smaller farmers are concerned.
This morning I have to express concern about the USA threat to impose a £200 million tariff on imports from the EC. That matter has to be examined. My senior colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, is taking every possible step open to him to have early discussions with the American officials on that matter. That issue highlights the importance for Ireland of a strong voice at European level in negotiations. It also highlights the importance of the Maastricht Treaty to strengthen our negotiating position. I sincerely hope that the threat that has now emanated from the USA to Irish agricultural exports will help to bring home to the Irish people the importance of voting "Yes" in the referendum. Ireland needs a strong voice and the strength of a European negotiating team to safeguard our vital national agricultural interest. We have benefited considerably from our membership of the EC. Sometimes a quotation of the large amounts of money involved tends to mislead and confuse the public.
In relation to the Maastricht Treaty I wish to point out that it does not have any implications for matters such as neutrality, the right to travel or the very important and sensitive matter of the right to life. The Government, and the Taoiseach, have given an assurance to the Irish people that all those important matters will be dealt with at a later date this yearvis-à-vis a further referendum, a referendum and legislation, or whatever may be necessary. It is wrong to try to confuse the Maastricht debate and proposals by bringing in these other matters which are important but irrelevant.
I want to address a few matters in the area of my responsibility. As a result of the decline in farm incomes over the past number of years, many farmers have experienced difficulties in dealing with their Land Commission annuity arrears. This was one of the first matters for which I tried to find a solution when I came to the Department. I am glad to tell the House that I hope, in the very near future, following consultations with the Minister for Finance, to bring in proposals to enable all those farmers to deal effectively with arrears and the continuing high cost of annuities. I hope that scheme will restore confidence to farmers and enable them to resolve this problem.
The transfer of farms is of significant importance to farmers, particularly young farmers and organisations like Macra na Feirme. Over the last 12 months improvements have been made in the installation aids scheme and I am still looking at ways and means to make it more attractive. I also want to refer to the benefit and value of the rural development programme as far as this country is concerned, the importance of the Leader programme and the huge amount of money made available from the European Community for rural development. I hope that the application of these funds to various rural areas will lay the foundation from which further worthwhile national development can take place.
The amount of money available under rural development programmes up to the end of 1993 will amount to £104 million, a very sizeable amount by any standards. I hope that the scheme which has now been approved by the Department will result in putting in place worthwhile, permanent structures from which further development can take place. I am certainly encouraged by my contact with the people involved in rural development and I am satisfied that they are positively committed to implementing these programmes and ensuring that we get the maximum possible return from them.
I am glad to have had the opportunity of making this brief contribution; I regret that I do not have more time but perhaps at a future date we can address this matter in greater detail.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, on his comment on the Maastricht debate which is obviously of crucial importance to the whole economy, particularly to rural areas and farmers. I must express my disappointment at the remarks made earlier by the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Noonan(Limerick West), which were very unhelpful. It is incorrect and inappropriate to attempt to link the Maastricht debate with abortion and if Deputy Noonan has personal difficulties in relation to the Taoiseach or Government Ministers he should bring them up at a meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, not in Dáil Éireann. There is too much misinformation in regard to the Maastricht Treaty, and I stress my support for it. As far as I am concerned — and I am sure this applies to the vast majority of people — it has nothing to do with abortion.
Up to about ten years ago when the Estimate for the Department of Agriculture was debated there would have been a reference to advances and developments in agriculture. Unfortunately, however, in recent years this has dramatically changed and Irish agriculture could now be seen as running to a standstill. There is little or no prospect of extra employment being generated on farms or off farms. At a time when there is huge unemployment this is of particular regret.
One of my main concerns is that agriculture is no longer a very popular way of life for young people; the number of them entering farming has dropped dramatically. The first son — or daughter — is no longer drawn magnetically to agriculture which was the case in previous years. The sad consequence is that farming numbers have dropped and the number of replacements coming on stream has also sharply dropped. This decline has had a decimating effect on rural areas and their economy. In recent years it has been due, to some extent, to the uncertainty which surrounds agriculture as a result of ongoing talks in relation to Common Agricultural Policy reform, the fear of GATT negotiations and their consequences. The general reduction in farm income has not been an encouragement to young people to consider a career in agriculture. The picture is even blacker when one considers that the decline has been in evidence for quite some time, and we must ask ourselves what we are doing to reverse it. I submit that our efforts in that regard have been totally inadequate.
One of the ways designed in recent years to attract young people to farming was the farm installation grant which was successfully argued for in Brussels some years ago by the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Deasy. However, that scheme has not been expanded or extended as it should have been and it has not worked as it should have. Its very restrictive nature has resulted in the vast majority of young farmers being ineligible for it and, unfortunately, the farmers most in need have been those who were most unlikely to get the grants. We must reconsider this scheme, try to make it more user friendly and ensure particularly that the people who need it most will get it.
The continuing imposition of stamp duty on farm transfers has also proved a very strong disincentive in relation to parental transfer of land to young farmers. This stamp duty may well be of short term economic advantage to the Department of Finance but, in the long term, it will do a grave disservice to agriculture and to the economy in general. Statistics from the IDA and other sources in relation to creating jobs outside farming show that the cost of providing industrial jobs is anything from £20,000 to £100,000 per job. Indeed even higher figures have been quoted. It would be much cheaper, where possible, to keep people on the land and to encourage young people into farming. The restrictive nature of the farm installation grant, and the difficult conditions attached to it must be tackled and it should be increased to a realistic level of at least £10,000. To keep a person on the land for £10,000 is a very good saving in relation to the cost of an industrial job. The stamp duty exemption should be reintroduced and I call on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to put the maximum pressure on the Minister for Finance to ensure that some progress is made in this area. The young farmers' organisation, Macra na Feirme, have been arguing strongly on this point for some time but without success. I appeal to both Ministers of State present to request their senior colleague to ensure that the stamp duty exemption is reintroduced.
Since the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, returned from Brussels following the negotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy reform package it has been suggested that the farm retirement scheme might be reintroduced in some form. I wish the Minister well in his endeavours to have such a scheme introduced because none of the previous retirement schemes worked well. Such a scheme is needed. I hope, therefore, that the Minister, and his colleagues in Government, will be successful in devising a proper farm retirement scheme because it would serve a useful purpose.
If we are to encourage people to stay in or enter farming we need to address the question of the farm advisory service. Deputy Noonan mentioned that outstanding work is being done by Teagasc and I could not argue with him on that point but much more needs to be done. We will have to provide financial assistance for Teagasc who are providing an invaluable service. If we do not we may cause grave damage in relation to the future of agriculture.
The debate on the Estimate is over-shadowed by recent events in Brussels and the conclusion of the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy reform package. We had a brief debate on this topic some weeks ago and the points made by Members then are still valid. There has been much hype in relation to the deal secured in Brussels. It is obvious that the Minister, and his colleagues, worked hard and for long hours to ensure that negotiations were brought to a conclusion but we should not get too carried away over the deal that was arrived at. My party's spokesperson on Agriculture, Deputy Deasy, was right when he said we should wait and see before we finally adjudicate on the benefits to be gained under the reform package.
The compensatory measures form a major part of the package. There is a grave danger, however, that severe pressure will be put on the European Community at the GATT negotiations to review the compensatory measures. I have no doubt that the United States, and the members of the CAIRNS group, will argue that the compensatory measures which are funded by the European Community will lead to unfair competition. It is important, therefore, that the European Community, and our Minister for Agriculture and Food in particular, reject those arguments strongly. In conclusion, I call on the Minister to ensure that the gains which we have been informed were secured in Brussels are copperfastened during the GATT negotiations. We will have to stand up to the United States which is exerting pressure.
I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Toole.
Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
At the outset I would like to refer to Teasgasc and the horticulture industry. In relation to the problem that has arisen with cucumbers, it is now almost two weeks since the initial joint statement was issued by the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Health that it was unsafe to eat cucumbers. I am calling for a statement from the Minister that the investigation will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion as a matter of urgency by which I mean either today or tomorrow. Furthermore, I demand that Dr. Hill issue a statement to the media to reassure the public that it will be safe to eat all stocks of cucumber in the future. There is a need for a major public relations exercise, if the cucumber sector of the industry is to be developed.
I would like the Minister to give a commitment that compensation will be paid to responsible growers. I am not going to adjudicate on who may have been at fault — that is a matter for the Minister — but there is a need to compensate the responsible growers because their future is at risk.
I would now like to refer to the sale of 53 acres of Teagasc land at Kinsealy at a giveaway price. That was a scandal. The replies given on 28 May by the Minister for Agriculture and Food were totally inadequate. Indeed, they amounted to a whitewash. Both the Minister and the Department acted irresponsibly when they decided to sanction the sale of the land at a give-away price.
In 1989, 65 acres of land at the same location were sold for £110,000 or £1,700 per acre. In 1992, the 53 acres of land to which I referred, including a residence, were sold for £227,500 or approximately £4,300 an acre. That is a scandal and the Minister's comments were unacceptable.
One year ago an offer was made to Teagasc for this land. At that stage Teagasc secured a valuation of the land of £5,000 an acre. In addition, five acres of land, and the holdings, were valued at £130,000. On the basis of those figures, the land should have been sold for £373,000 approximately. However, the land was sold at a loss to the State of £146,000.
The Minister said he is satisfied that the State got an adequate return from the sale of that property but I contend that it did not. I ask the general public to adjudicate on that matter because the farmers, and those involved in the industry in north County Dublin, would argue that it was sold at a giveaway price.
On 28 May the Minister stated in his reply that Teagasc obtained a professional valuation prior to the sale of the land. I ask the Minister to tell us what valuation was put on the land and if a second valuation was obtained. I am looking for answers to those questions and demanding an inquiry into the sale.
In relation to the future of Teagasc, the next few months will be critical. In any future development plans for this area I would ask the Minister to give the House a commitment that the Teagasc Research Centre at Kinsealy will be secured. In this respect I might refer to a reply given by the present Minister in the House on 4 March when he said that at a meeting between the former Minister, Deputy Woods, and the Teagasc authorities, it had been agreed that the research centres at Kinsealy and Belclare would remain open.
I am glad to have an opportunity to say a few words on this Estimate. This is one of the most important Estimates to come before this House as agriculture is the backbone of our economy and the nation depends on it. This sector has experienced some enormous difficulties in changing times across the whole spectrum of the EC. While it took some four years to complete the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy it was finalised to our advantage, giving farmers some hope in planning for the future.
I am glad that the livestock schemes have been extended. In a tight financial year it is good to note that the Estimate, although increased in a rather limited way, will cover essential agricultural services.
There should have been some positive result from the millions of pounds spent on bovine T.B. eradication over the past 28 years. It has not been nearly as successful as we might have hoped. We have not even experienced the same success as other countries who began the process later than ourselves. It is regrettable that the incidence of T.B. is no less now than it was when we began the eradication process some 28 years ago. At that time in Mayo the percentage of incidence among cows was .07 per cent and in the overall herd 0.4 per cent. That was before we began the process of eradication. Yet, despite the millions of pounds spent in the meantime there has not been a great improvement in those figures.
I must inform the Deputy that his time has now expired.
There are £29 million in this Estimate for the current grant-in-aid to Teagasc. We all know that ever since 1987 that part of the Estimate has been butchered on a systematic basis. However, that is not my main concern at present. It has come to my notice that their is something very odd going on in Teagasc. For example, I am informed that the current director of Teagasc is to retire at some stage in the next five years, apparently not this year or next year, but at some stage in the next five years. At the beginning of this year, in late February or late March, the board of Teagasc took a very curious decision. They appointed a director-designate who apparently is to become the director of Teagasc at some stage within the next five years when the current director retires.
I am not making any comment about the director-designate or anything of that kind; I want to look at the procedures. I should like to know — and perhaps the Minister of State when replying to the debate would address this issue — whether that appointment has been made in a manner which conforms, at the very least, to the spirit of section 7 (5) of the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Act, 1988. I should like to know whether the Minister believes it conforms to the letter of section 7 (5) of that Act which reads as follows:
The first Director shall be appointed, and may be removed from office at any time, by the Minister; each subsequent Director shall be appointed, and may be removed from office at any time, by Teagasc with the consent of the Minister.
I should like to know whether the Minister was consulted by the board of Teagasc when they proposed to make this curious appointment of a director-designate, for which no provision was made in the Act, to take up function some time within the next five years. If the Minister was not consulted I should like to know was he more intimately involved than that? For example, did the Minister express any particular view that this person should be appointed in this way? Did the Minister use any suasion, either moral or otherwise, on the board of Teagasc to make this very curious appointment? Is the appointment of a director-designate in keeping with the provisions of that section? Did the Minister give any consideration to when it would be right and proper, and in conformity with the principles of natural justice, if a vacancy was foreseen, to have that vacancy advertised? That would enable people already in Teagasc — and there are many excellently qualified people there — a chance to be considered on the basis of competitive interviews with people from outside Teagasc.
I am happy there are a great many people in this country who are skilled and well-practised in agricultural research and development who might indeed be worthy candidates. I should like to know whether any consideration was ever given to the normal practice of a competitive interview for a vacancy about to occur so that we could be sure we would get the best available person for the job rather than, as appears to have been the case in this instance, the designation of a person for a job not yet available. I should like to know what were the circumstances. The Minister of State should inform us because the Act gives the Minister a specific function in making those appointments.
I agree with the general perception of our current Minister for Agriculture and Food as the "Mr. Nice Guy" of Irish agriculture. He may very well be. He is a very personable gentleman, but we do not necessarily need personable gentleman in his job; we need rather tougher operators than we appear to have in the Minister. Frankly, I was appalled to find that the Minister for Agriculture and Food seems to have accepted meekly a rebuff from the United States ambassador, in response to a request for a meeting with him to discuss the last United States threat to slap import duties on products coming from this country.
If you will permit a small diversion, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I have to say that it seems to me that there is ground for some discussion between our Minister for Foreign Affairs and the United States authorities. It now appears that the next United States ambassador we shall have, excellent person though he may be, is, like the present ambassador, a person who seems to be arriving at the end of his career with a background that is perhaps not entirely in keeping with the kinds of issues that will arise for discussion between this country and the United States, notably the kind of issue that now arise.
From reports I have had of various meetings that have taken place, the Minister for Agriculture and Food — no more than other members of the Government — does not seem to have got his act together to the point at which he could put a coherent case to the people of this country in relation to the Maastricht Treaty, its reverbrations and implications for agriculture. I am not particularly surprised at that because in another important area we have not got any clear presentation from the Minister. I speak of the review of the disadvantaged areas Directives which is taking place.
I have been following this issue very closely not least because applications have been made for parts of my county; applications have been made for parts of the very extensive portion of Deputy Durkan's and my constituency, which comprises the Bog of Allen and the marginal land surrounding it. The best estimate I can give, on the basis of what we have been told so far by the Minister and the Department of Agriculture and Food, is that there will be no material difference for anybody in any area for which an application for designation has been made before, at the very earliest, June 1994. In other words, in spite of all the promises which have been made and the elaborate procedure of applications, examination and adjudication which has been gone through, nobody will get any money out of that scheme in terms of assistance to farmers until the middle of June two years from now. This is outrageous. It is obvious that the applications which are made and which will be justified come to several times the limit allowed, the 1.5 per cent increase on what has been given up to now.
In regard to the GATT negotiations, I have to say that the latest rebuff by the United States Ambassador to our Minister is only another illustration of the dangers involved for us and of how the European Community and, in particular, Commissioner MacSharry and, by association, our Government, have failed to grasp what has been going on at the GATT negotiations. We now find in a very real sense that we are changing the Common Agricultural Policy of the Community not because it is something the Community needs to do or because it is something our budgetary conditions require us to do — indeed, we are going to spend more money on a less effective agricultural policy — but because it suits the interests of the United States. It is the GATT talks which are driving the Common Agricultural Policy reform and not the other way around. Nowhere do we see this more than in the proposals to deal with compensation for the farmers who will be worst hit by the Common Agricultural Policy reforms. Many of the farmers who are worst hit will not receive any compensation because of the way the Commission has defined what they regard as a commercial farmer. Large numbers of small farmers on marginal land who have invested time, energy, money and imagination into intensifying their farming operations are going to be excluded from compensation by their very success in intensifying their operations.
The second point I want to make is that the compensation mechanism as we know it now is designed as if agriculture was a homogenous entity in the European Community. We know it is not a homogenous entity in Ireland. I am glad to say there are enormous differences in agriculture between the areas around the Bog of Allen in my constituency and the southern end of the country. Agriculture in those two areas is also very different to agriculture in, for example, Deputy O'Toole's constituency. It is absolutely nonsensical to set up a compensatory scheme which applies the same rules, procedures and criteria of adjudication throughout the Community, not to speak of having a single system in this country. I should like the Minister to give some recognition to the need to look further at those compensation mechanisms to see whether they can be made more sensitive and relevant to the different situations in various regions of the Community.
I believe — I cannot get any complete clarity on this — that the possibility of putting quotas on sheep production is being discussed. It seems it is more or less taken for granted that we are going to have these quotas. I regard this as extremely unwise. I do not like the idea of quotas at all. We have seen the effect of quotas in the diary sector — they freeze the pattern of production and eliminate the possibility of people competing on the basis of using their natural competitive advantages to the best effect. Quotas are an easy way out for administrators. When I worked as a civil servant in the Commission — a temporary life — I tried to resist this whole idea.
If quotas are introduced on sheep production in this country a great many small farms and small farming families will find themselves in enormous difficulties in the years ahead. Over the past five or six years sheep production has been the saviour of many small farms throughout the country. Farmers who needed to earn extra income and to add a new enterprise into their farming mix found they could get into sheep production without the expenditure of a great deal of capital and without a huge initial commitment. If I may mix metaphors, sheep production has saved the bacon of a great many of our small farmers. If we allow the European Community to put quotas on sheep production we will make life immeasurably more difficult for a great many people and will virtually——
I will have to save my bacon and ask the Deputy to conclude. Otherwise I will incur the annoyance of Deputies who are waiting to ask questions.
The rest of the flock are waiting.
As you know, Sir, young fellows in Dublin shout the old saying `I will stab you with a rasher" at each other. I am afraid that is what you have done to me, Sir. The introduction of quotas on sheep production will be the most mischievous invention for small farmers and, in particular, young farmers over the next few years.
As I was penalised for my generosity, may I ask the Minister one question?
The Deputy may ask a brief question. We have five minutes during which Deputies may ask the Minister questions.
When is it expected to introduce a new ERAD scheme? Why has there been such a delay in the introduction of such a scheme?
Does it have anything to do with the appointment of a new director designate to Teagasc?
I am not sure about that.
The Minister is invited to take that question when he is making his final reply.
Will the Minister outline to the House the measures he and his senior Minister propose to take in relation to the proposed US tariffs on Irish produce such as cheese and Bailey's Irish Cream? Will they take unilateral action or will they join with our EC partners to use the power of the market of 340 million people of which we are a part to address this problem?
Aon ceist eile?
We have asked all the questions; we are waiting for the answers.
May I ask two brief questions? It now appears that the designation of disadvantaged areas will be a long running saga. Can the Minister tell the House when that saga will be brought to a happy ending? Hopefully this can be done before too many more general elections are held. Finally, may I ask the Minister the acreage we are talking about in the current year in terms of the set aside scheme?
Does the Minister have any proposals to increase the charges for the inspection of abattoirs set out in the Abattoirs Act, 1988? Even though new regulations in this area were recently introduced the fees have not been increased. County councils have almost become bankrupt trying to provide the service required of them under the legislation. My county council have to employ three veterinary surgeons to inspect all the abattoirs in south Tipperary. They cannot continue to provide this service with the present level of charges.
I ask the Minister to refer to the problems in the cucumber industry and to justify the sale of Teagasc land, as outlined by me. I trust he will give detailed replies to these questions.
Wexford): I will endeavour to answer as best I can the questions raised by the Deputies.
In relation to Deputy Martin J. O'Toole's question on ERAD, as we are all aware, the four year term concluded in April of this year. In accordance with the requirement under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress the Minister set up interest groups comprising of the farming and veterinary organisations such as IFA, ICMSA, ICOS, the Irish Veterinary Union and the Irish Veterinary Association, to review progress under ERAD and achieve a consensus approach. Since last November seven meetings of the group have taken place, chaired by the secretary of the Department, together with a number of working group sessions. It is important that this matter be brought to finality very soon because the level of financial support available from the EC is quite significant. The allocation has been increased from £10 million to £20 million per annum over the next three years, but that is conditional on a number of Commission recommendations being met.
A meeting took place last week between the Minister for Agriculture and Food, myself, the secretary and the various interested bodies at which a number of suggestions were put forward. The farming organisations, co-operatives and so on are considering the matter and I hope we can reach a conclusion as quickly as possible. It is very much in our interests and in the interests of the organisations involved that we reach a conclusion because it is important that we avail of the £20 million per year over the next three years from the EC. I hope that within the next two to three weeks a conclusion will be reached on the matter.
In relation to cucumbers, as Deputy Ryan is aware, the Minister, Deputy Hyland, has been dealing with this matter over the last couple of weeks. On 29 May a health warning was issued alerting the public to the problem and carrying the advice of the chairman of the Food Safety Advisory Committee not to eat cucumbers until the source of the problem had been identified. Following further intensive investigations the insecticide, aldicarb, the active ingredient in the agricultural chemical temic was identified as being the source of the problem. It has been established during our investigations that at least two cucumber growers were in possession of temic. In the circumstances it was decided that before the public health warning would be withdrawn samples of cucumbers from all the principal growers and importers should be tested. This exercise was to be completed by today, 12 June, and I expect that the Minister, Deputy Hyland, will issue a statement as quickly as possible after he receives the report. Like Deputy Ryan, I know of a number of cucumber growers in my constituency who are very concerned about this matter and I hope that clearance will be given. I agree with the Deputy that a publicity campaign will have to be commenced to assure the public that it is safe to eat cucumbers. Otherwise, people will be reluctant to purchase them, with devastating effects to the cucumber growers around the country. I hope that Deputy Hyland will resolve the problem early next week.
Deputy Durkan raised the matter of disadvantaged areas. Under the disadvantaged areas scheme £97 million has been allocated in 1992 to assist farmers in the less favoured areas. The extra allocation of £14.5 million over and above the £82.5 million spent in 1991 has allowed us to increase the payment on beef cows in the more severely handicapped areas by 20 per cent, from £70 to £84; to increase payment on beef cows in the less severely handicapped areas from £70 to £75; to increase payment on the first eight other cattle in the more severely handicapped areas from £32 to £40 and to increase the payment on sheep from £6.50 to £9.50 and £10 in all cases.
The Disadvantaged Areas Appeals Panel has been in session for some time and following last year's extension they received 1,600 applications from representatives of farmers in 15 counties in Leinster and Munster appealing their non-inclusion. A survey of 40,000 farms was carried out by the Department at the behest of the appeals panel and about 150 departmental officers were deployed on farm inspections in the first three months of this year. When the data from the survey are processed in the autumn the panel will begin their analysis and prepare their recommendations to the Department on the areas to be included in their submission to the EC Commission. The panel also invited appeals from groups not included in the recent reclassification of areas from less severely handicapped to more severely handicapped and about 700 applications were received.
Both Deputy Durkan and Deputy Dukes made the point that the take up in this area may be more than 1.5 per cent, and that is quite possible, but until such time as the appeals panel, following analysis of the survey, make a recommendation to the Cabinet we are not in a position to say whether the figure will be 1.5 per cent or more. Obviously if it is higher than 1.5 per cent, as Deputy Durkan will be aware, it would have to be ratified by various sections in Brussels whereas if it is lower than 1.5 per cent the procedure would be less cumbersome and bureaucratic. Hopefully a decision can be arrived at on the matter as quickly as possible. Perhaps the take up will be less than 1.5 per cent but I would think that from my own county alone there would be a take up of 1.5 per cent.
I agree with Deputy Ferris in that there must be a united approach to the GATT negotiations. In this regard the House can rest assured that both the Commission and the Council of Ministers are determined that the compensatory payments stay in the green box, that is, that they are not negotiable. Deputy Deasy made the point that the Common Agricultural Policy reform should not have been agreed in advance of the GATT negotiations but it must be stressed that the order and timing of the decision on the reform package places the Community in a stronger negotiating position than would otherwise have been the case.
Deputy Ryan raised the matter of Kinsealy land. On one or two occasions I have had the pleasure of responding to Deputy Ryan on this issue.
I will continue to ask questions until I get to the bottom of the matter.
(Wexford): The Deputy seems determined to continue with the debate. The land at Kinsealy was advertised widely, tenders were invited and the highest offer was accepted on the advice of the estate agent who, I have been informed, is a professional and proper estate agent. Taking that into account, I cannot see what more Teagasc could have done. Obviously the Minister for Agriculture and Food has accepted——
He did not have to accept it.
(Wexford):——the recommendation from Teagasc through the estate agent that the land be sold. I do not expect that Deputy Ryan will be very happy with that answer and I am sure he will raise it again. As I have said, every channel has been gone through properly. The Deputy contends that the price is not adequate for land in Dublin, and he is entitled to his opinion, but the professional advice was to accept the price offered and that is what was done.
It is a scandal.
(Wexford): Questions were raised about CBF and the beef trade. I would point out that CBF do not sell our beef; they promote its use and the factories sell the product. As regards the Iranian trade, the BSE problem has been settled so far as that country is concerned. It is now up to the trade to supply competitively to Iran. I think it is everybody's wish that the trade be resumed as quickly as possible. CBF have been doing a good job. At present they are promoting the sale of lamb, and I hope they will continue to do so, to ensure that the prices paid to farmers are reasonable and fair.
What about the Abattoirs Act?
And trade sanctions?
(Wexford): Deputy Walsh detailed very comprehensively in the House last night his dissatisfaction that the American administration had published a retaliation list. Even though we know that there will be no application of the sanction for at least 30 days from yesterday, this list is unjustified and unnecessary and it is badly biased against us. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Walsh, has taken further steps today to counteract the decision of the Americans and I am sure we will be issuing statements later on. All sides of the House are at one on this issue, that the decision by the US must be tackled. This type of decision is taken regularly by the Americans in order to strengthen their hands in negotiations. Because it is totally biased against the Irish and will have serious devastating effects on some of our industries, we must stand up to the Americans and ensure that they will not be allowed away with this bullying tactic.
We need to use our European clout.
It is past 12 o'clock. I must interrupt the Minister——
(Wexford): Deputy Ferris raised a question as to the abattoirs. I met a number of the county managers two weeks ago and they expressed their total dissatisfaction with the Abattoirs Act. As a former member of a county council I can understand their concern about the cost involved. I will communicate with the Deputy in writing as soon as possible.
As it is now 12 o'clock I am required to put the question.