Written Answers. - Horticultural Sector.

Patrick J. Morley

Question:

38 Mr. Morley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the steps, if any, he proposes to take to assist mushroom growers overcome currency difficulties in view of the closure of some mushroom growing units and the consequent effect on employment. [1129/96]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

242 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the impact, if any, on employment in horticulture from the loss of at least five tomato growers so far as a result of a large increase in the number of Spanish tomatoes flooding EU markets in 1995 and in view of the fact that the Belgian Government has financially assisted its own glasshouse growers affected (details supplied); and if he intends to compensate Irish growers at 50p per 6kg box produced in 1995 as requested by the IFA. [1921/96]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

243 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry his views on whether Irish tomato growers operate in a very unfavourable commercial environment due to the wide differential between natural gas prices to Irish growers (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the fact that if the Government does not restructure a favourable gas price for this sector 300 jobs will be lost; and the urgent plans, if any, he has to avoid pending disaster. [1922/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38, 242 and 243 together. Most fruit and vegetables, including tomatoes and mushrooms, are the subject of a common organisation of the market and member states of the European Union are precluded from providing assistance out of national resources.

The appropriate response to the currency situation is to improve competitiveness and intensify and geographically diversify marketing efforts. Teagasc's research programme on mushrooms is geared towards achieving this.

Tomato production in Spain, which is a member of the European Union, is also subject to the restrictions imposed by the common organisation of the market and its products are entitled to free access to EU markets. The question of the price of gas in Ireland is a matter for An Bord Gáis and the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications.

While Council Regulation (EC) 2611/95 of 25 October 1995 provides for the possibility of national aid being granted in compensation for losses of agricultural income caused by monetary movements in other member states, subject to approval by the European Commission, I do not propose to seek Commission approval for such a measure.