Priority Questions.

Agrifood Sector.

Michael Creed


44 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the new initiatives she proposes to deal with the crisis in the sheep sector. [26973/07]

The sheep sector is a hugely important part of the overall Irish agri-food sector and I believe it has a very good future. The sector's future depends on its ability to meet the needs of the market. The downward trend in production and an ageing consumer profile point to both supply and demand issues. I am confident, however, that a framework is being put in place to address these issues.

The basis of that framework is the 2006 sheep strategy report and the subsequent implementation report, which was presented to me last April. The strategy report addressed the current position of the industry and the options for ongoing development. It sets out a series of recommendations covering areas such as production, research, advice, processing and marketing. The goal is to facilitate the development of a more profitable sheep sector covering lambproduction, lamb processing and marketing sectors of the industry. Most of the recommendations in the strategy report fall to be implemented by the industry itself and it is too early at this stage to assess their impact. The recommendations are supported by my Department through assistance for breeding and management, processing facilities, mechanical grading and quality assurance.

In addition and in line with the group's report, sheep farmers are major beneficiaries of various schemes being operated by my Department. Under REPS 4, a new supplementary measure aimed at sheep farmers has been introduced. A budget of €28 million a year has been allocated to fund the proposed new supplementary measure at an overall cost of over €170 million for the period to 2013.

In addition to the measures being taken at producer and processor level, Bord Bia's marketing and promotional efforts will be critical. Bord Bia will continue to organise strategic marketing campaigns in selected European markets. France will continue to be a priority and its promotions there are run in conjunction with the major retailers and cover over 1,200 outlets. The downward trend in lamb consumption within the EU presents a real challenge. To address this challenge, Bord Bia is collaborating with its French and British counterparts to develop a three-year generic lamb promotion on the French market to promote lamb to younger consumers. This campaign, which amounts to a major new initiative on the European lamb market, is due to commence early next year.

With the co-operation of all stakeholders and in line with the approach set out above, the sheep sector can continue to make an extremely valuable contribution to the agri-food sector and to the economy as a whole.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree we are witnessing a mass exodus of sheep farmers from the industry accompanied by a very significant drop in sheep numbers, and that if this trend continues there is a real danger that the industry will lose its critical mass to enable it to survive and prosper because of economies of scale? If she accepts that contention does she not agree that while the sheep strategy review takes a long-term strategic view of the industry, it fails to take cognisance of one significant issue, which is that if we do not protect the number of farmers in the industry by way of meaningful financial input directly into the sector, we will not have the basis of an industry to protect and allow to prosper in a few years' time? As a result, will the Minister consider a similar scheme to the suckler cow grant scheme she introduced in the beef sector? Will she consider a ewe grant to stabilise sheep numbers now so that we can safeguard the industry?

I accept that Question No. 46 addresses this subject specifically. The suspension of the farm investment scheme grant, which had a specific fencing grants section targeted at the sheep sector for handling facilities etc., will seriously undermine the on-farm viability of a number of these enterprises. Will the Minister consider, even in a targeted way, restoring the grant scheme specifically for that sector?

Perhaps we should consider one of today's publications which contains an article regarding the sheep sector this week with the headline "Buyers are plentiful and prices are holding", which is good to see. The Deputy is right in pointing to a reduction in the number of sheep kept on the land, which is mainly because we are now in a decoupled era. However, I have taken a personal interest and invested considerable time and energy in the implementation of the sheep strategy. I provided funding and we considered many aspects. I agreed to the full implementation of the report, on the basis of which, in conjunction with the strategy group, we considered how it could be targeted. Under the state aid rules and because we are in a decoupled era, we were not in a position to introduce a specific scheme. However, in doing so we have targeted two types of approach, one within REPS and the other specific to hill sheep farmers under a special national reserve measure. Those were the two targeted investment programmes.

If we are to produce quality lamb and be in a position to be competitive in the market, we must consider the consumer. The consumer profile is not good and we need to address that issue. This is why we are working with the initiative to which I have spoken. A number of Members of the European Parliament, including some Irish parliamentarians, have also been working on a sheep strategy group that we are considering tying into. As the Deputy is probably aware, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been invited to participate in that promotion at the beginning of December. We have targeted specific sectors.

On the farm improvement scheme, I introduced a scheme and, according to figures available at present, approximately 8% of applicants so far have looked towards the fencing grant and the mobile units. I will evaluate the scheme on the basis of the closure and will ascertain, arising from an enormous number of applications to the Department — approximately 6,000 to 7,000 over five days — the Department's priorities.

I cannot disagree with much of what the Minister has said. However, much of it relates to the long term. To ensure its survival the industry needs a direct cash injection into the hands of those at the coalface. The Minister is not offering any ray of hope to those in the sheep industry who have seen their incomes plummet. The Minister may well pluck a headline from the newspapers relating to sheep prices this week — I will not dispute the figures she quotes — but based on confirmed figures, incomes from sheep farming have plummeted. If we want to keep people in the industry and attract young blood to it, we must show that it can deliver a tangible financial reward for their commitment and investment of time, which is not the case today. If it is important to protect the industry and if it were possible to introduce a €100 suckler cow grant, why is it not possible with a political will to introduce a similar ewe grant scheme to stabilise sheep numbers? I am not prescriptive about it, the Minister can dress it up and call it whatever she likes, but we need a proposal to stabilise sheep numbers, which are in freefall. Talking about encouraging consumption in the future——

Can we have a question from the Deputy?

——is laudable, but without something tangible in these farmers' pockets they will not be there to reap the benefit of the turnaround when it comes in the long term. The farm income scheme had a targeted grant for facilities and fencing, which with one fell swoop the Minister has removed. That grant was of real practical benefit to sheep farmers many of whom were interested in the grant which is now gone. Will the Minister consider reintroducing it, specifically focused on the sheep sector? This is something concrete the Minister can do with a political will. Will she also consider for the sheep sector a similar scheme to the suckler cow scheme?

The answer is no.

Once again Fine Gael Deputies are not aware of any of the European Commission rules.

If the Minister can do it for suckler cows she can do it for sheep.

The suckler cow scheme is a welfare scheme.

We could have a welfare scheme for sheep also.

It addresses the issue of quality, not numbers.

On a point of order——

There is no way I can introduce any scheme targeted towards numbers.

The review group deals with quality matters.

That is not a point of order. We have a problem with Priority Questions.

We have a problem with priority answers.

Five Priority Questions need to be addressed and other Members want to get to their questions. We are being held up now.

The Deputy believes he knows the answers to everything, but he knows the answers to nothing at this time. He should stop pointing his finger; a little manners in this House would help. I will tell him what is happening.

The Minister should take a chill pill.

I do not need a chill pill. I will not rise to the opposition. Through REPS 4 €28 million is available to farmers in a specific mixed grazing scheme. Hill sheep farming applications are in and are being reviewed. They are happening now. ICBF is working at present with the sheep breeding industry. Some time ago I established a Teagasc centre of excellence, which is working with farming enterprises to consider all the issues, including the processing sector. The investment has been made and the closing date is Friday, so investment will be made in the processing side. Further discussions on clarification are needed for the processing sector. That all represents ongoing work. At the moment REPS 4 farmers will receive specific targeted funding towards the sheep sector in addition to that for the hill sheep sector. That is the existing financial aspect. The rest is ongoing work done in consultation with all those involved in the sheep sector as well as a targeted marketing approach to encourage people under 45 years of age to eat sheep meat.

We will need to move on to the next question.

May I ask a final brief question?

The Deputy may ask the question if he keeps it very brief.

In an effort to get something tangible from today's encounter will the Minister defer the Commission proposal for the electronic tagging of sheep scheduled for 2008, given that the fencing and handling grants have been abolished? Farmers regarded those grants as representing a way for them to comply with the electronic tagging system.

It is a Commission proposal and we have gone beyond it in many ways. I have reviewed the tagging regime as it discommoded many farmers. Neither of those is exclusive. The sheep fencing and handling facilities were requested during the discussions.

They are gone now.

I will deal with that on the question regarding the farm improvement scheme. However, that has nothing to do with the electronic tagging issue. Further discussions and consultation will take place with all those involved.

It will be introduced in 2008.

We have worked towards that process and what the Commission proposes to introduce is more difficult than what we currently have.

Milk Quota.

Sean Sherlock


45 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding the Health Check; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27359/07]

Reviews of the operation of milk quotas and implementation of single payment scheme due in 2008 will be amalgamated into an overall "Health Check" of the Common Agricultural Policy. A Commission communication in preparation for the Health Check is expected to be tabled towards the end of this month and formal legislative proposals are expected to be published in May 2008. Agreement on the proposals is anticipated for the latter half of 2008 during the French Presidency of the EU. I await with interest the Commission communication due later this month and I will participate actively in the ensuing negotiations. I have urged the Commission to take this opportunity to consider further possibilities for the simplification of the single payment and cross-compliance requirements to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. The Health Check will have a particular focus on dairy aspects, given the Commissioner has intimated that the opportunity will be taken to secure a "soft landing" towards the ending of the quota regime in 2015. I want to ensure, in the negotiating position I adopt, that I have direct access to the broadest views, particularly those of key stakeholders in the industry to assist me in that process. I, therefore, recently established a broadly representative dairy consultative committee, which will advise me on this key aspect of the Health Check.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The timelines are as we anticipated and I welcome the establishment of the consultative committee. I refer the Minister to a speech given by Commissioner Fischer Boel in Paris last month. She referred to the Health Check, the strengthening of competitiveness, supporting rural society and so on. It was all very aspirational in its aims. Farmers are worried about the issues of cross-compliance and modulation under the single payment scheme and, particularly, whether the Commission will place upper or lower limits on payments to them under the scheme in the context of the Health Check. They are worried about the nature of cross compliance and the stringent controls under which they are placed. Has the Government defined a clear negotiating position on those issues because farmers have strong views on them?

The Deputy is correct that those are pertinent issues and when the committee is established, a number of them will be considered. That approach will be more than beneficial as we will hear what Members have to say. I have grave concerns about a number of issues, particularly compulsory modulation. Farmers need political stability to proceed in the decoupled era and I expressed that concern to the Commissioner during recent discussions. Our ideas will not be firmed up until we receive the communications but I have laid out the parameters within which I wish to work.

I have to be convinced about the standardisation of the single payment model because the EU has 21 such models and Ireland has developed an historical model, which is more beneficial. It is very unclear what the Commission is seeking regarding thresholds and they may not be necessarily where we want to be in the future under the single payment scheme. The Deputy is correct that I would like changes to be made regarding cross compliance so that there are more flexibilities. Checks and balances are in place under the single payment scheme. While inspections are provided for, strict rules and regulations are applied to the transfer of animals and products entering the food chain. Greater simplification is needed on the cross compliance issue. I have grave concerns about modulation but few member states have such concerns. Many of the new member states are more anxious to move from the first to the second phase into rural development because they do not have a significant investment in the single farm payment scheme and rural development is more important to them. Equally, our colleagues in the UK, who are anxious to implement compulsory modulation, are not prepared to move on many other aspects of the single payment scheme. The Deputy is correct that we do not have firm parameters within which to work but we have set down a number of issues which will be pertinent to the discussions.

Farm Improvement Scheme.

Michael Creed


46 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement on the future of the farm improvement grant scheme; the number of applications received to date; and if her Department will hand back funding to the Exchequer in 2007. [26974/07]

The farm improvement scheme was launched by my Department in July 2007 and funding for the scheme was agreed under the partnership agreement, Towards 2016, as part of an overall programme of investment in the agri-food sector. A total of €350 million was provided for farm waste and other on-farm investment measures, of which €79 million was provided for investments in farm improvements. I had indicated, at the time of the launch of the scheme, that the scheme would be terminated when this financial ceiling had been reached. Accordingly, I announced last week that, as applications under the farm scheme had reached this level of funding, it would close to new applications for now. Funding for the scheme is provided as part of the overall package of measures amounting to €8.6 billion of funding for the agri-food sector which was agreed under the partnership agreement and is set out in the National Development Plan 2007-2013.

The scheme has proved to be extremely popular to farmers, as evidenced by the number of applications received, particularly in the last few weeks. More than 12,600 applications were received up to the closing date of the scheme and my Department will process these applications up to the level of funding available. This is in addition to 48,000 applications received under the farm waste management scheme. Payment of grant aid will issue in respect of all approved projects in due course when the work involved has been completed.

My Department is committed to expenditure substantially in excess of the €350 million provided for on-farm investment as a result of the large number of approvals under the farm waste management scheme. While there will not be an underspend in respect of my Department's on-farm investment schemes in 2007, I expect savings will arise on other demand or market-led schemes, expenditure on which is subject to a variety of external factors, including the pace of approval of state aids and rural development programmes at EU level, the completion of approved projects in the marketing and processing scheme within the year and a reduced reliance on intervention at EU level as a market management tool. Funding for the farm improvement scheme is provided under partnership, which provides for a review in 2008. In accordance with the terms of that agreement, the review will take stock of the outcomes achieved in the overall goals and will consider opportunities to refocus and reprioritise.

I am clutching at straws. The Minister stated the scheme was closed "for now". Is she holding out the prospect that the scheme may be reopened in 2008? Is she not embarrassed that a scheme launched less than six months ago had to be suspended last Friday? That reflects an appalling inability in her Department to predict the pent up demand for capital investment on farms. I acknowledge the investment provided under the farm waste management scheme but I refer the Minister to farm gates. Many farmers are in a scheme that was supposed to provide grant assistance under both the farm waste management and farm improvement schemes but, having gone through the regulatory and planning process, they find the door has been closed on them by the Department because it has run out of funding for the latter scheme. The Minister stated there will be an underspend in a number of schemes administered by her Department and she raised the possibility of a refund to the Exchequer this year. Is she aware of the comments of the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance in recent times regarding the downturn of the economy? He stated it is important in the context of competitiveness and efficiency to retain capital investment as an engine to drive the economy. The farming sector is a major employer. It plays on a world stage and needs to be efficient and competitive. Maintaining on-farm capital investment is as important as and comparable to maintaining investment in the national development plan and in Transport 21. Will the Minister consider informing the Minister for Finance that her Department has underspent in certain areas and ask whether this scheme may be reopened so that farmers may be allowed to get on with the works they had envisaged doing?

I am not embarrassed.

The Minister should be.

I should be more embarrassed if I had a €79 million scheme and nobody was interested in applying for it. That would be a greater embarrassment.

How could she have underestimated it by so much?

There are 48,000 applications under the farm waste management scheme. That is the largest capital investment in the sector in the history of the State and is very flaithiúlach in the context of encouraging people to address the issues of the nitrates directive. That has been and will remain the priority of the Department.

That is nonsense.

I have overspent this year by €350 million, but on the basis of a very fine Minister for Finance, who appreciates my difficulties, I have been allowed to transfer some of my savings into that scheme because we have to address these issues. Deputy Crawford will appreciate there are many people in County Monaghan who have to be looked after.

I am not one of them.

Since 2000 I have invested in 5,000 applications under the dairy hygiene scheme as well as almost 12,000 under the farm improvement scheme. Overall, there are almost 60,000 applications and people to be supported. Deputy Creed likes to remind me of my job so I shall remind him of what his crowd did in April 1995. I have 60,000 applications to deal with. His party in government had control of the farmyard pollution scheme, which closed at 17,000. That means there is an investment in respect of 60,000 on one side and 17,000 on the other. We need to look at the issues as they exist. We had a massive influx of applications to this scheme over five days.

The Minister should have seen the underinvestment.

It was part of the partnership agreement and, as I said, we shall be reviewing this and the priorities with all the farming organisations in 2008. I am reviewing all the applications on hand and those which have been sanctioned will be paid. We will then work towards payment of the rest when we see the different categories and know when people are going to invest etc. When all this has been done and an evaluation has taken place I may be able to reprioritise this scheme. The scheme has been massively expanded and covered a plethora of new ideas that presented. Until such time as I can evaluate what is on hand I cannot give commitments as to whether there will be any transfer of funds. However, it will be up for review in 2008 as per the partnership agreement.

I want to ask the Minster two brief supplementary questions and the possibility of an answer would be greatly appreciated. Specifically, as regards those now being denied grant aid under this scheme, will the Minister consider a derogation from their compliance obligations under the nitrates directive and REPS because very many of them had programmes in place and investment targeted to address shortcomings on their farms to enable them to comply with these regulations? Is the Minister aware of the assertion being made by social partners, and the farming organisations in particular, that this was a demand-led scheme for which there was no set budget? Will the issue be referred for adjudication to the machinery involved in resolving disputes under social partnership, whether the National Implementation Body or some such forum because farmers feel very aggrieved by this? There is a pent-up demand for capital investment on farms. The proof of this is that the scheme was so over-subscribed and nonetheless the Department could not programme a scheme of investment to last from 2007 to 2013. The fact that it collapsed within six months because of over-subscription smacks of desperate bad planning within the Department.

In view of that and the willingness of farmers to respond——

Can the House hear the supplementary question, please?

I have asked a number of supplementaries, but I am not getting any answers.

Perhaps the Deputy can avoid the long dissertation.

The answer is that when I negotiated the partnership agreement, we had a finite amount of resources, €350 million, of which €79 million was for the farm improvement scheme. The agreement provided that this was the amount to be spent until the money ran out. Moving on from the agreement there was to be a review in 2008 on the basis of ascertaining how these programmes were manifesting. If we needed to reprioritise we would do this within the budget as set down under the national development plan.

The Government is now discriminating against those people who got their applications in on time and who will now be cut off as a result of this action.

That is correct.

I am not ignoring the fact that a number of people have a natural expectation, perhaps next year or the year after, to do certain things. As matters stand I have to ascertain the timeframe as regards a number of applications on hand that might have been hopefully shoved in, but which might be unfair to people with a natural and genuine need. All that has to be ascertained.

On the issue of the nitrates directive——

——the farm waste management scheme is addressing that and I have allocated enormous resources and energy to this area.

It is not being dealt with exclusively.

It is. Anybody who has missed the big farm waste management scheme——

They would have works in hand which were a combination of both.

Yes, but the farm waste management scheme was moved ahead.

Aquaculture Licences.

Tom Sheahan


47 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the action she has taken in line with the recommendations of the seafood industry strategy (details supplied) to implement recommendation 6.2 dealing with aquaculture licensing; the number of licences issued by her since 1 January 2007; the number of applications for new licences, renewals or reviews currently waiting to be processed; when she will reduce the backlog of applications, renewals and reviews; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27089/07]

The Cawley report recommended that a review of the existing procedures and processes used to administer and implement the current licensing and regulatory regime for the aquaculture sector should take place with a view to strengthening current systems and procedures and delivering an improved service to customers. My Department has prepared a detailed strategic plan to give effect to this recommendation. This plan is undergoing urgent internal consultation with a view to eliminating the backlog within a defined timeframe and delivering enhanced customer service to the industry.

Responsibility for the Aquaculture Acts 1997 to 2006 and the associated functions transferred to my Department on 19 October 2007. Prior to that date, 12 aquaculture licences were issued by my predecessors, including three issued by the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, from 1 January 2007. This figure does not refer to the assignments of licences from one operator to another which are also processed by the Department.

It is important however, that I place the number of new licences issued in context. The licensing procedure is lengthy and complex, involving a range of intermediate measures before a recommendation and decision can be made in any one case. The process has become considerably more complex in recent years due to increased activity and demands in the coastal zone and the knock-on need to take an ever greater account of: the potential impacts on safety and navigation; the ecological impacts on wild fisheries, natural habitats, flora and fauna; the suitability of the waters; the other beneficial uses and the likely effects on the economy; and the statutory status of the area.

The low number of licences issued this year to date provides a good indicator of the need to dramatically improve the process and procedures involved in aquaculture licensing. Records available in the Department indicate that 254 are being processed as new applications, licence renewals or licences undergoing review. As regards the substantial backlog, I am confident that the detailed measures under consideration by the Department will successfully address this issue on a sustainable basis.

I assure the Deputy that the difficulty with the backlog of licence applications is of huge importance to the Department. As Minister of State with responsibility for the marine, I am totally committed to the elimination of this backlog as a matter of urgency.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer, or rather the lack of one. I asked a specific question, namely, the number of licences issued since January 2007. The answer I got was 12 and three, or 15. I asked about the number of applications for new licences, renewals or reviews being processed and he said 254, when the figure is 260. When will the backlog be cleared? The Minister of State said it would be achieved as soon as possible.

At present, there are 20 companies in the Irish Salmon Growers' Association and their turnover amounts to €60 million. They produce 12,000 tonnes but it is not very long since they were producing 25,000 tonnes. The main reason for the decline is inaction regarding licences in the Minister of State's Department. On the Irish Trout Producers' Group and freshwater fisheries, the main issues of concern are licences, capital investment and research and development.

The Deputy is developing bad habits. He should ask questions and his long dissertation should be discouraged.

Will the Minister of State outline how he expects to spend the budget of €111 million given that it takes so long to process a licence? There are 260 to be processed by the Department, whose staff in west Cork — God bless them — are entirely new. I imagine it will be January 2009 before anything happens.

In the past few weeks, since responsibility for marine matters was transferred to what is now the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister and I met the IFA aquaculture groups and worked out a plan together. Obviously we had to have discussions with the stakeholders on how we would deal with the licensing backlog. The coastal zone management division in my Department has prepared a detailed strategic plan that takes into account the issues raised by the stakeholders, including the elimination of the applications backlog, the systematic monitoring and enforcement regime, the development of customer service delivery and the implementation of the EU directive on habitats and fish health. We expect to be in a position to roll out the new regime on 1 January and I am quietly confident that we will eliminate the backlog by the end of 2008.

Food Industry.

Andrew Doyle


48 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the initiatives being taken by her Department and semi-State bodies to develop a cost-effective energy policy for the horticulture sector. [27538/07]

Within the horticulture sector, there has already been significant capital investment in new glass technology and more efficient growing tunnels. Grant aid has been provided by my Department for investments to maximise energy-efficient production. Investment in more efficient technologies will continue to be a priority as energy costs continue to exert pressure on margins. Under the new scheme of grant aid for commercial horticulture announced last month, priority will be given to projects that are environmentally sustainable. Proposals for investment in improved production structures and equipment for energy conservation will be welcomed. It is essential that horticultural producers bring their operations to a level of energy efficiency that can sustain them into the future.

Initiatives are being taken at both EU and national levels to develop alternative energy sources. The Government is committed to maximising the potential of non-food crops to benefit our indigenous renewable energy sector. Support is being given for research in the biofuel and biomass areas to enable us to respond to new opportunities quickly. The development of bio-energy should be of significant benefit to Irish farmers, including the horticulture sector, in which the rising cost of energy has been a major concern for many years. Teagasc is monitoring energy developments in the horticulture sector abroad and experiments are being conducted in Oakpark on alternative fuels, including woodchips.

I would like to speak about Sustainable Energy Ireland and other initiatives, including the Power of One campaign, but they are the responsibility of another Department.

The Minister of State must have known what I was going to ask. The one area of Irish agriculture that our climate does not generally favour is horticulture, particularly in respect of protected crops. While I welcome the grants the Minister of State announced last month, I asked whether there is a direct, targeted energy policy. Given that the Minister of State ruled out Sustainable Energy Ireland, is it possible to link up with it through Teagasc? The most recent study, which became available in England in August, suggested that 28% of the costs incurred by the horticulture industry in that country are energy based. This is significant considering that Ireland enjoys practically the same climate as England and has the same cost base.

While I welcome the capital investment and the fact that the Minister of State is trying to encourage the development of improved mechanisms for energy efficiency, is there not an avenue that could be explored to prioritise energy? Energy costs will probably increase by 40% in the horticulture sector. If the cost of home heating oil is to increase by €60 per fill from today, one can only imagine the impact on horticulture, particularly in respect of protected crops. This would disadvantage us further competitively in a sector that is probably worth €300 million to €400 million.

I would like to give the Deputy a wide-ranging answer as if I were the Green Party leader and allowed talk about every Department. However, I am Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and must therefore confine my remarks to matters for which that Department is responsible. Notwithstanding this, I take on board the Deputy's suggestion to consider how Teagasc might extend its remit to the greatest extent possible to address crippling energy costs in agriculture, particularly horticulture. These costs will continue to rise and this explains why we are not growing as many tomatoes as we used to and why the cost of protected crops is growing accordingly in Ireland.

We must focus on other areas concerning energy, as I discussed with the Deputy when visiting the good Dominicans in Wicklow town. Organic production is and has been shown scientifically to be less energy intense than other forms of production and this creates a competitive advantage that needs to be developed. This is a focus of my work in the Department. In Wicklow, we also discussed the fact that the use of local abattoirs is much more energy efficient than taking animals to the factories, which incurs high transport costs.

I am interested in biogas in terms of anaerobic digestion and geothermal energy in terms of producing protected crops, and I have studied experiments on wind energy for heating water for protected crops. Not all these areas fall within my remit, but the clear need to address rising energy costs in horticulture is such that I will be pushing for advances in them as part of a Government with collective responsibility.

Before moving to Other Questions, I ask Deputies on both the Government and Opposition sides to restrict themselves to asking questions as quickly as possible.

And giving the answers.

The Deputy does not appreciate my answers.