Topical Issue Debate

Private Rented Accommodation

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue for discussion. The matter to which I wish to refer is of particular importance to me and the people I represent. There is an absolute need for the Government to consider introducing penalties in respect of landlords and tenants in circumstances where anti-social behaviour occurs in private rented accommodation in respect of which the Department of Social Protection is paying rent allowance. Where the State is contributing towards the renting of a property, it should have some power to ensure that the law of the land is respected. In addition, it should have the ability to ensure that landlords and tenants respect those who live in neighbouring properties. Landlords and tenants must be obliged to obey their legal obligations. In circumstances where the State is paying rent allowance, the most effective form of enforcement would be to either reduce or withdraw that allowance where anti-social behaviour occurs.

I could take the Minister to parts of my constituency - particularly areas in Bishopstown and Douglas - where there are many rented properties which are located in quiet and, in many cases, mature residential areas. In these places there is often persistent anti-social behaviour and excessive noise, such as through the playing of loud music. One can also see broken windows and rubbish dumped on neighbouring properties. In addition, one can witness raucous behaviour that is often threatening and intimidating in nature. The result of this is that people cannot enjoy living in their homes. In some cases, they cannot even have a quiet night in. Those to whom I refer have been intimidated and the Garda has had to be called. Even where action is taken, the type of behaviour I have outlined recurs either a few hours or days later.

The most galling aspect of this matter relates to landlords who are not proactive and who fail to engage in respect of properties they own, the tenants of which have been identified as giving rise to problems. We must take action in respect of those landlords who are only interested in obtaining access to rent allowance, who do not care about the state of their properties and who believe the feelings of those who own neighbouring properties to be irrelevant. In some instances, both landlords and tenants are becoming out of control. The most effective way to deal with these individuals is for the Government to take the initiative and ensure they are severely punished. This can be done by affecting the amount of money being paid to the tenant and landlord by the State.

The Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, was set up to be the place of refuge for residents experiencing difficulty with tenancies or landlords. I know of two recent cases where there has been blatant disregard for the law but the punishment was a measly fine of a couple of hundred euro for the landlord. That means nothing to a landlord and the tenants had no penalty imposed, so they continued their behaviour. The landlord, owning many properties, continues on while laughing at us. This issue does not relate to just one landlord but a growing number of landlords who have no respect for anybody. It is time for us, on behalf of the citizen, to take charge of the matter and assume leadership. I am not interested in penalising either the landlord or the tenant but both should live up to their responsibilities. We must act against misbehaviour and I look forward to the Minister's response.

I thank Deputy Buttimer for raising the issue. At the outset I point out that social welfare legislation already provides the Department with the authority to refuse, suspend or terminate payment of a rent supplement in the case of a person who has been required to deliver up possession of a dwelling provided by a housing authority or an approved body where the reasons for that requirement include anti-social behaviour or the interests of good estate management. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short-term assistance and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. There are currently approximately 95,000 rent supplement recipients, for which the Government has provided a sum of €437 million in 2012.

In the case of private rented accommodation, tenancy arrangements involve a contract between the landlord and tenant. The Department has no relationship with the landlord and tenant behaviour is a matter for the landlord in the first instance. There are a number of avenues open to landlords in such cases, including the dispute resolution services for landlords and tenants operated by the Private Residential Tenancies Board and recourse to the Garda Síochána or the courts in the enforcement of law relating to anti-social or criminal behaviour. If necessary, the landlord may seek termination of the tenancy, which if effected would result in the termination of rent supplement.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to review the operation of the rent supplement scheme to ensure tenants receiving long-term support from the State under the scheme are subject to the same type of anti-social behaviour regime as local authority tenants. The most appropriate way for this to happen is for local authorities to take over responsibility for meeting the accommodation needs of these individuals. The Department is currently working with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with a view to achieving this goal and the transfer of tenants from rent supplement to local authorities will help to achieve another key Government commitment of removing barriers to employment and returning rent supplement to the original intention of being a short-term income support payment.

The Department of Social Protection and the HSE should be involved in this process, and I welcome the prospect of proactive engagement. I will quote from a recent adjudication from the PRTB in regard to two recent cases with which I am familiar. It states "the behaviour of occupants and a visitor to the dwelling on numerous occasions constituted anti-social behaviour, in particular in the disposing of refuse in neighbouring gardens." It also states:

The steps taken by the respondent were inadequate to address the anti-social behaviour and breaches of obligation by the tenants. As a result of the breaches of obligation by the occupants of and visitors to the dwelling, the applicants were directly and adversely affected such that their quality of life, safety and security in their own homes were harmed and inconvenienced.

That is from the report of an adjudicator within the PRTB but all we did as a State was impose a fine of a couple of hundred euro. The landlord is laughing at us and continues to show disrespect while tenants are being paid by us to live in accommodation.

If the State is paying money to a landlord and tenant, they should not be allowed to victimise, terrorise and intimidate people who have bought their own homes or are renting in the area, living up to their responsibilities. They are decent and law-abiding citizens. In her reply, the Minister indicated we are paying €437 million for this in 2012 but for how long will a minority be allowed to dictate to the majority? I would be glad if representatives of the Department of Social Protection, the HSE or the PRTB adjudicator could go into these areas, meet the affected people and understand what they have had to endure. We are paying €437 million but allowing such behaviour to continue; we must stop it at some stage.

I understand the difficulties faced by Deputy Buttimer's constituents. That is why there are two specific avenues for dealing with this in the programme for Government. The first is to transfer long-term rent supplement to local authorities, which have housing expertise. They have the powers to deal with tenants who are misbehaving and causing significant distress to people living nearby. In the programme for Government there is also a commitment to introduce arrangements whereby people on rent supplement would be subject to the same conditions as people who are direct tenants of local authorities. If we can achieve both of these aims, and particularly the transfer of the bulk of tenancies with long-term rent supplement recipients to local authorities, we will have dealt with the issue.

Last October community welfare officers left the HSE and joined the staff of the Department of Social Protection. As the Deputy noted, these staff used to be in the HSE but are now officials of the Department. Our aim for long-term reform is to have the bulk of long-term tenancies transferred to the local authorities and run under local authority conditions.

Job Creation Measures

I thank the Minister for taking this matter, as I know she and her Department are focused on reforming this area. The Pathways to Work scheme will do much to provide focus and a plan of action for helping people get training and advice for getting back to employment. I regularly encounter people who fall through the gaps in the system of labour activation, as they are not eligible for some types of training. The recession has greatly changed the composition of those on the dole and people who have never relied on social security or protection are now finding it difficult to navigate the system. I am worried about many stories I have heard about people working for many years, contributing to the State through taxes and PRSI, suddenly finding themselves in part-time work for a period and later becoming unemployed. They are often married or in long-term partnerships. Initially people are eligible for jobseeker's allowance but they can fall through the gaps as they would not be entirely reliant on social welfare. If there is another income in the household, it may not be enough once mortgages, bills and college fees for upskilling are paid. This often means that when an entitlement expires, these people can no longer access community employment schemes, re-training or upskilling programmes run by the Department.

I will cite a recent example of such a case, which involves a woman who worked in the same company for 20 years. When her employer experienced trading difficulty, the woman took a pay cut and moved to a three day week for a period. She signed on for a social welfare payment as a part-time employee but was later made redundant and was paid the full rate of jobseeker's allowance. She went through the national employment action plan process and sought to access training. However, she became ineligible for community employment, upskilling or retraining when her entitlement to jobseeker's allowance expired. I regularly receive queries from people who have fallen into the same trap and do not qualify for training or upskilling programmes that would enable them to return to work because they no longer receive a social welfare benefit.

The individuals affected by this problem belong to the coping classes, in other words, those who have worked throughout their lives to put their children through college. Having reached their late 40s or early 50s, they are being thrown on the scrap heap because the current rules prevent them from accessing training programmes that are offered to many other people. The shortest period that any of the individuals who have contacted me has been in full employment and paying tax and PRSI is 23 years. Despite being in full-time employment for 30 or 35 years, the individuals in question find they are not entitled to back to education allowances or to participate in upskilling or training courses because their partner is working. I ask the Minister to ensure this issue is examined in her Department and look forward to her reply.

I thank Deputy Humphreys for raising this issue. The Department of Social Protection operates a range of activation measures which aim to assist and support social welfare recipients of working age to engage and re-engage with education, training and work experience with a view to reducing their dependency on social welfare and ultimately to assist them in gaining employment. The Department has estimated expenditure of €970 million on employment supports in 2012, up from €861 million in 2011. This increase in spending of €109 million against a backdrop of significant fiscal consolidation underlines the Government's commitment to enhancing support for employment. Overall, the Department will offer 85,650 job placement, work experience and education initiatives in 2012.

The Pathways to Work policy, which was launched by the Government on 23 February, incorporates the establishment of the new national employment and entitlements service and commits to a new approach to the provision of services for unemployed people. The objective is to reduce the level of long-term unemployment and ensure those who are unemployed will be provided with appropriate advice, support, education and training to take advantage of new job opportunities as the economy recovers. This reform will give effect to the policy principle that people have both rights and responsibilities as part of the activation agenda.

Activation interventions under the Pathways to Work approach will be based on client profiling. The key benefit of the profiling approach is that it will identify those who are most likely to fall into long-term unemployment at an early stage. This will enable early intervention and intensive engagement with those individuals who demonstrate characteristics that suggest they may move into long-term unemployment. The profiling system will facilitate differentiation in the services provided so that each customer receives the level of support and intervention that is appropriate to his or her needs.

A high level policy review of certain activation measures is nearing conclusion. The review examines, among other matters, the eligibility criteria, payment rates and duration of participation of certain activation schemes, while also examining the interaction of the schemes with a view to concluding if the current suite of measures can satisfy the current and future activation needs of the Department and its customers. It encompasses work programme and placement schemes such as the community employment scheme, rural social scheme, Tús and JobBridge, while also examining measures that support education, training and self-employment, such as the back to education allowance, technical assistance and training scheme, technical employment support grant and both the back to work enterprise and short-term enterprise allowance schemes.

I thank the Minister for her reply and welcome her statement that a badly needed review of the system is under way. We have created a poverty trap by precluding those who are not in receipt of payments from the State from accessing training and education supports. Having committed to considerable expenditure, for example, meeting the costs of college for their children or repaying large mortgages, the families in question are struggling. They are falling through a gap because they do not receive State benefits.

Many of those who have been made redundant after 25 or 30 years in employment have skills that are outdated and are no longer required in the current market. They are anxious to be retrained but when they present themselves at the offices of what used to be known as FÁS to avail of retraining opportunities, they are refused assistance. This group is growing larger by the month. It is unacceptable to refuse people training and upskilling opportunities or back to education allowances because they are not in receipt of a State payment. The individuals in question have paid high rates of tax for the past 25 or 30 years and have probably never been unemployed. This anomaly in the social protection system is being ignored. It is, however, probably close to the Minister's heart because she, like many other Deputies, will have encountered similar cases in her constituency. I ask her to take a special interest in this group which has been discriminated against in recent years and ensure the matter is redressed in the review.

I share the concerns expressed by Deputy Humphreys. We are trying to recast the social welfare system to change it from a system that has been largely passive to one that becomes active. Among the key issues in the type of scenario the Deputy describes is to ensure early intervention and early access to information and knowledge about how one qualifies for a placement and to secure for the individuals in question a placement, training, work experience or educational opportunities. I note the cases raised by the Deputy probably refer to people who are married to partners who are in work. For this reason, they become dependants, as it were, when their benefit expires, even though, as the Deputy noted, they have been working for the past 20 or 25 years.

It is important to ensure an early response in such cases. We are trying to do this and have brought into the Department the former FÁS employment services which generally handle opportunities for the type of person Deputy Humphreys describes. We should be able to build up a profile and picture of what we can do to help those in this position much earlier than is the case at present. Losing one's job after 20 years is often a disaster for the individual concerned. It is difficult for persons in this position to find that, having paid into the system throughout their employment, the system does not respond to their needs. I will revert to the Deputy as we complete the review and roll out reform in the Department.

Missing Persons

Jonathan Spollen is 28 years old, six feet tall and from Ireland. He was last seen on 3 February 2012 in Rishikesh in the region of Uttarakhand in northern India. Mr. Spollen works as a writer and editor for the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong. His father, David Green, and some family and friends visited the Rishikesh area to search for Jonathan, while his mother, Lynda Spollen, is co-ordinating all efforts here.

The picture that has emerged is that Jonathan was mostly travelling in the Rishikesh area in January 2012, near the German bakery area. He was on a trek from 14 to 28 January. His trip to India was recreational and he had previously been travelling with a friend. He came back from this trek with a tummy bug and a slight limp after a tumble near a waterfall.

Jonathan's Indian visa would have expired on 21 February 2012, which is relevant, given that as a journalist working abroad he would have been conscious of ensuring that his visa situation would not be prejudiced by passing the expiry date. His last telephone call home was in the early morning, Indian time, of 3 February 2012. He had at that time been planning to go to Delhi but had changed his mind and seemed to be intent on going on another trek in the Rishikesh region. Communications with his family had been good up to that point. He indicated he would be gone for two to three weeks, but he did say that he would be in touch with his mother in two weeks' time. Jonathan has not contacted his family since then and in late February, his mother and father raised the alarm with local authorities, the Irish Embassy in India and with family and friends.

Around 11 March 2012, some of Jonathan's belongings were found by a small waterfall halfway up the road to Phool Chatti, nearby Rishikesh. It looks like he was camping there. This has meant that the authorities have given more priority to the search. However, any further diplomatic efforts will no doubt ensure that maximum resources and skill are devoted to this effort. Among his belongings found were his backpack, containing travel documents, a book and the usual things one would expect such as shampoo, basic medicines for upset stomach, headache, and so on. On investigation at the location, the police also found his sleeping bag and some clothes.

On 12 March 2012, another confirmed sighting of Jonathan emerged since the conversation he had with his mother on 3 February. He was in Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh, between 12 and 14 Feb 2012, where he spoke with a lady for some time as they were both reading the same book, Shantaram. They discussed the book and generally chatted but the conversation did not turn to anything that may be relevant to the search.

Numbers far beyond what the local police force could be expected to provide are required here. Volunteers are needed and fund-raising efforts are being co-ordinated from Ireland. The Minister of State may have seen posters for table quizzes and other events happening in and around Dublin, as well as much activity online. Anything the Minister of State and the Government can do at the highest level would be incredibly helpful here. As time goes by, these things always become more difficult for everybody involved. If we can help in some way to keep up the sustained effort until we can find Jonathan and bring some news for his family, that would be incredibly important. His family needs our help in this matter urgently.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. My Department has been providing consular assistance to the family of the missing person since being notified of the matter on 27 February this year. The Irish Embassy in New Delhi alerted the relevant authorities immediately on becoming aware of the matter and asked that full assistance be given to the person's family in tracing the person. The embassy also confirmed details of the person's Indian visa and checked with the Indian authorities as to whether an extension had been granted.

The person last made contact with relatives on 3 February 2012 from the town of Rishikesh in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. The terrain of Uttarakhand is generally mountainous, comprising Himalayan ranges and their foothills. Much of the lower mountains and foothills, including the Rishikesh area, are densely forested. The capital of Uttarakhand is the city of Dehradun. The embassy assisted the family with the process to release the person's telephone records from Vodafone.

The town of Rishikesh is situated on the Ganges, which is sacred to Hindus, and has a population of around 75,000 people. It is often described as the gateway to the Himalayas. The town itself is at an altitude of approximately 350 m, so its climate is comparable to the plains of northern India. Winter prevails until mid-February, but temperatures generally remain in the 10° to 20° Celsius range. Steep hills and mountains surround the town and are accessible by paths. Temperatures drop considerably with the increase in altitude. The town is an important access point for a number of Hindu shrines higher up in the Himalayas that are spiritually significant to Hindus and as such, the town caters to large numbers of Indian pilgrims. However, the four most important shrines are situated at an altitude above 3,000 m and remain closed or inaccessible in February due to snow.

Rishikesh is also a centre for outdoor pursuits and attracts many visitors seeking to explore the natural beauty of the Himalayas. The town has many travel companies offering mountaineering, trekking, rafting, kayaking and so on, and it attracts many backpackers. Trekking options during February are limited due to climate conditions.

On 11 March, tourists found some of the person's personal possessions in the Rishikesh area. A consular official from the embassy travelled to the region and met local and state authorities, including the state director general of police in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. In addition, the embassy made a formal approach to the Government of India, asking for a full search of the area in which the belongings were found. A search was subsequently carried out, but unfortunately the person concerned has not been located. The consular official also met the family and friends of the person, who had travelled from Ireland to assist in the search.

The embassy has also advised the family on various sources of local information, such as travellers' fora, which have allowed the family to tap into the travellers' network and get additional practical help. The ambassador of Ireland to India has met the person's father and other family members and the embassy remains fully engaged with this case.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply and I appreciate all the work that has been done to date by the Government. The family and friends have not given up the search, and neither should we. I urge the Minister of State again to make contact at the highest levels with the Indian authorities, at a national level and within the region, to see what further assistance the Government can provide and to see if we can renew efforts to find Jonathan Spollen. The media can also play a huge role in creating awareness and in helping the family and friends to raise money for the efforts that are under way. People can go on to the website, findspollen.com, to express support, to help and to make donations to the campaign. It would be very helpful to all the efforts that are under way if that could be reported as widely as possible.

We will certainly continue to do what we can. The embassy is well aware of the matter and is dealing with it, but I will bring to its attention the Deputy's point that the relevant Indian authorities be contacted at national and local level and how the local media can maximise awareness through articles about what has happened and how the website can be used for donations and assistance. We will bring that to the attention of the embassy and we will try to ensure every effort is made.

Milk Quota

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to raise the matter here. I have raised it a number of times with the Minister because of its relevance to the industry at present.

Irish farmers will face a superlevy fine of approximately €20 million as the industry exceeded the milk quota by approximately 1% last year. Europe will be around 5% under quota this year. Under the current inflexible quota system, Irish milk production is stagnating while New Zealand, a major competitor, is ramping up production by between 8% and 10%. Denmark took over the European Council Presidency in January 2012. Denmark has exceeded the milk quota in the past two years. Five member states - Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Cyprus and Luxembourg - exceeded their dairy quotas in 2010-11, resulting in a superlevy of about €55.57 million, despite the fact the EU was 6% under quota. While places like Bulgaria only filled 50% of their quota and our neighbours in Britain under-filled their quota by 10% in the 2010-11 marketing year, Irish farmers are being placed under serious pressure to curtail production. In light of the fact that Ireland came only slightly under quota for the 2010-11 milk quota year and in view of increased production in the Irish dairy industry, we are calling for the introduction of a European wide quota system replacing the current national quota system. This would allow for an orderly expansion of the Irish dairy industry prior to the ending of milk quotas in 2015.

During Question Time on 6 October 2011, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, indicated there were prospects for some agreement on butterfat correction. He stated that Ireland would be able to increase its quota in 2011 by between 1.5% and 2% in addition to the 1% we receive under the soft landing policy. I want to know from the Minister of State if any progress has been made on this matter.

Adjusting the butterfat correction is one method to address the production problems. Another way to address the issue is allowing the industry to sell outside of the EU, thus avoiding distorting the market at home. These destination guarantees would appease opponents of changing the system due to their concerns about milk prices. This would empower the European dairy industry with an orderly expansion that could protect farm-gate prices by enabling market growth rather than through wastage of product, market stagnation and constrained productive capacities.

The Irish dairy industry is at a critical stage. It has the capacity to make a significant contribution to the regeneration of the Irish economy at this time. The opportunity exists to do it. We need to examine the quota system to allow for increased production and we need to do that urgently.

Deputy Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ( Shane McEntee)

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue at the right time of the year, the beginning of the quota year. We know that if it were not for the price of fattened cows and the prices secured for the export of cows to England that young farmers in particular would have been badly affected. They were encouraged by dairies and others in the industry to enter the industry and then they were abandoned when got into a super levy situation. We all have to join forces to ensure something is done about it.

The decision to abolish milk quotas with effect from 1 April 2015 was made in the context of the CAP Health Check in 2008. Ireland strongly supported their abolition on the basis that quotas were widely regarded by both the Irish dairy sector and market analysts as a brake on the potential of the Irish dairy sector to respond positively to market opportunities. In addition to bringing an end to the quota regime, the health check also provided for a soft landing towards the post-quota situation, with an expansion in annual production allocations through five 1% annual quota increases and an adjustment in butterfat content calculations, the results of which mean an overall increase of about 9.3% in the 2014 national quota allocation compared to that of 2007.

Strong market prices over the past year and the prospect of a quota-free environment post-2015 have meant that remaining within quota has been a challenge for farmers who are preparing for the new regime. This combination of factors has resulted in high milk production levels in particular during the past month and Ireland is likely to incur a super levy fine for the first time since the 2007-08 milk quota year. The precise level of the oversupply has not yet been established but the Department expects to be in a position to publish an estimate shortly. The levy is 28.6 cent per litre over quota and hopefully it might be around half of the figure the Deputy mentioned. Ultimately, responsibility for the management of milk quota rests firmly with milk producers whose responsibility it is to ensure that the enterprise produces within quota. It is on the basis of this clear understanding that the milk quota regime has operated since its establishment in 1984.

Since entering office, my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, has been working hard at EU level to seek additional flexibility in the milk quota regime to allow Irish farmers to respond to the increased demands without incurring super levy fines. To that end he discussed the matter extensively last year with other EU agriculture Ministers, both bilaterally and at the Council of Ministers, and with the Commissioner. Furthermore, officials from the Department have raised and continue to raise this issue at every available opportunity at appropriate EU level meetings, and at bilateral meetings with other member states.

Among the options discussed in regard to a soft landing are to have the front-loading of the remaining quota increases, a reduction in the super levy, a further reduction in butterfat correction levels, or a kind of EU flexi-milk arrangement which the Deputy mentioned, which would operate provided EU production overall was within quota.

Most attention has been focused on the butterfat correction, primarily on the basis of administrative and procedural simplicity, which has the potential to increase the quota available to Ireland by approximately 2%. A coalition of member states involving Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Cyprus formally put a specific proposal to the Special Committee on Agriculture for an adjustment to the butterfat correction mechanism. Unfortunately, the Commission has consistently resisted attempts to reconsider this issue, as it has resisted attempts to revisit the outcome of the 2008 CAP Health Check agreement in an overall sense. This is a view which is supported by many member states, who are firmly opposed to any further adjustment to the health check agreement.

It is also the case that only a minority of member states are likely to be adversely affected by the current quota restrictions. Therefore persuading a qualified majority to agree to an adjustment of the current regime, which was itself agreed after a protracted and difficult negotiation, represents a significant challenge. There are currently no signs of a breakthrough and it is critically important that milk producers have realistic expectations in this regard.

Consequently the Minister and his Department have consistently advised Irish dairy farmers to continue to operate on the assumption that no further changes will be made to the milk quota arrangements agreed in the context of the CAP Health Check. This is extremely important and I cannot emphasise strongly enough that farmers must continue to make this assumption in arranging their affairs in 2012.

During the health check process the Commission undertook to carry out market reviews before December 2010 and December 2012 to further consider the conditions for the smooth phasing out of milk quotas. The 2010 review concluded that there was no reason to revisit the health check decisions with regard to the gradual increase in quotas. This is not a view with which either the Minister or I concur, and it is intended to keep this issue high on the agenda, to ensure that the change in the milk market situation, both within the EU and globally in the intervening two years, and this year's events which will result in farmers from a number of member states suffering super levy fines, are fully taken into account by the Commission.

Exports of dairy products in 2011 were valued at €2.66 billion, an increase of 17% on the previous year. Ireland already has access to markets worldwide and exports dairy products to more than 80 countries. My ministerial colleague, Deputy Simon Coveney, has been extremely active in increasing the profile of Irish dairy products in international markets in order to ensure there are profitable outlets for the increased production after 2015. He is at present leading a trade delegation to China and dairy features significantly on the agenda.

While there has been some moderation in dairy prices globally in recent times, the medium and long-term prospects for the sector are strong, and I am confident that with the abolition of quotas, the Irish dairy sector can position itself to take advantage of the increases in global population and demand over the next ten years. I can assure the Deputy that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and its agencies will continue to play their part in providing an appropriate framework to support the development of this critically important industry, and that the Minister will continue to press at EU level for a further adjustment to the milk quota regime in order to ease the transition to the post quota-situation for Irish farmers.

It is important in the next six months that everybody concerned, including the Deputy who is totally committed to agriculture, continues to raise this matter on a daily basis. We have a responsibility to do this and to get other member states to support us because many dairy farmers, particularly young dairy farmers, need that help.

There is immense opportunity for growth in the dairy industry and that has been confirmed by the statistics the Minister of State has given. Exports last year were worth €2.66 billion, an increase of 17% on the previous year. Food Harvest has envisaged a 50% increase, therefore, the potential for growth clearly exists. At a time when there is underproduction in other states, with our neighbouring state, Britain, underfilling its quota by 10% and Bulgaria only filling 50% of its national quota, clearly there is an opportunity to do what I seek. I cannot comprehend why we cannot convince the authorities at Community level of the merit of the arguments we can advance. The €20 million super levy fine and the lack of progress on the butterfat correction are a sad testament to the Government's failure in this area. There must be a redoubling of efforts. If it takes a strong diplomatic initiative to achieve these objectives, that is what we need. This coming 12 months is vitally important. If we can get a breakthrough on this, it will be of huge benefit to the economy of this country not to mention the agricultural industry.

We have an opportunity in 2012 to exert pressure. Nobody would like there to be a euro of a penalty in a super levy. I do not have the figures to hand but I hope it will not be as high as €20 billion. I agree with the Deputy that it should not happen but I can tell him that the Government is doing its best. We have an opportunity to raise this issue and I ask that the Deputy's MEPs and Members of all parties act on this. The butterfat correction is one way of doing this and the other way is to front-load the yearly increase. I can promise the Deputy that I, my colleagues and everyone in the Department will do everything in our power to help alleviate the position, particularly for young farmers whose livelihoods were nearly destroyed last year because of bad management.