Other Questions

Live Exports

Terence Flanagan

Question:

54. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to support a live cattle trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39442/13]

I strongly support the development and exploitation of all available markets for Irish meat and livestock exports. Along with officials in my Department, I have worked tirelessly over the last two years to ensure Irish exporters have access to as many global markets as possible. The markets outside the EU that are currently open to live cattle exports from Ireland are Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. The resumption of live cattle exports from Ireland to Libya earlier this year was welcome as it provided alternative market outlets for certain categories of livestock, thereby serving a market demand and providing increased competition in the marketplace here for cattle. Applications for the approval of ships for the carriage of cattle by sea must be approved by my Department in accordance with the Diseases of Animals (Carriage of Cattle by Sea) Orders 1996 and 1998. My Department facilitates the export of live cattle by ensuring such applications are processed expeditiously. Detailed inspections are required before approval is given to ships transporting animals. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine continues to work with all of those involved, including farmers and transporters, to facilitate trade and ensure all such trade is carried out to the highest animal health and welfare standards.

There are no delays occurring in the approval stage. Approvals are issued once all provisions of the legislation are met. Nine applications for approval have been received in total. To date, two ships have been fully approved. Three shipments containing cattle and three shipments containing both sheep and cattle have gone to Libya. A total of 10,991 cattle and 21,443 sheep have been exported. Some 1,879 cattle and 16,565 sheep were exported in July. Just over 2,000 cattle have been exported so far this month. I appreciate that some people have concerns about animal welfare standards in cases of live cattle exports. It is important to emphasise that our standards are higher than those required in any other EU country. We go way beyond the requirements of EU legislation in terms of things like the stability of the vessels involved. Most live cattle exports from Europe go across the Mediterranean at times of the year that are not particularly stormy. That is very different from bringing cattle from Ireland to north Africa in February, which involves travelling across the Bay of Biscay and into the Mediterranean. Our high standards, which are in place for good reasons and are based on sound animal welfare concerns, make it expensive and difficult for live cattle exporters to get all the papers in place for the operation of their ships.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I accept the need for Ireland to have higher standards than other EU countries. In view of that, what assistance, if any, does his Department provide to private enterprises that are trying to operate these vessels? He mentioned that nine vessels have sought approval, but could he tell me how many vessels are operational at the moment? If he does not have a response to that question, that is fair enough. I can get a response at a later stage. How long does it take for a vessel to be approved? Last May seven vessels were up for approval. Two had been approved and some others were awaiting approval. How regularly do they have to be approved? Does licensing take place on a yearly basis or on a per trip basis? The Minister listed five countries outside the EU to which live cattle are exported. Do we have a possibility of exporting live cattle to any other countries? It is an important element of the industry, particularly from a competition point of view.

There are opportunities across north Africa.

I note the Minister said in the past that exploiting market access is an issue for the industry, not the Department. I am aware, as is he, that Bord Bia is there to assist in the marketing of Irish produce. I do not expect that we will be exporting cattle to the US any time soon but I note, and I stand to be corrected, that there is only one person from Bord Bia based in the US. Will the Minister give a commitment to take a look at this issue? The food and drinks industry is a very important part of our economy, and to have only one person located in the US - I believe he or she may be based in Chicago - is insufficient. It is something the Minister could look at in conjunction with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I will take brief questions from Deputies Wallace and Ó Cuív.

I am surprised the Minister is promoting the export of live cattle. When we export live cattle there is very little in it for the Exchequer, and we are certainly not creating any jobs. The Minister will probably agree that the cattle we are selling to Libya and Egypt are generally of a poor grade and are usually surplus from the dairy farmers who are looking to supplement their herd and are ending up with Friesian bulls that nobody here wants. It might make far more sense for the Department to educate the dairy farmer, who should be running a continental bull with his herd and using artificial insemination to make sure he is getting the Friesian cow replacements he wants. Letting a Friesian bull run with all his herd to get his Friesian heifers does not make sense if he is left with, for want of a better word, scrap that only the Egyptians and Libyans will take. If we use continental bulls, the calves will be of far better quality.

I agree with the Minister that in an ideal world, for job maximisation, we would slaughter all the cattle here. However, as the Minister knows, the market in Ireland is dominated by a small number of major players and the price they offer here compared to the UK - sometimes by the same companies - can be considerably different. Can he explain how it is that cattle cannot be transported by boat from Dublin or Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead when there is apparently no difficulty in transporting them from Larne to Stranraer or Cairnryan? My belief is that a very small number going over there and availing of the higher prices in the UK would ensure that the same prices were available to farmers here. Could the Minister facilitate and ensure that this is opened up in the spirit of free trade within the European Union?

There were a lot of questions but I will try to answer them. On the Bord Bia issue, Deputy Timmins is right. We could do with many more people in that organisation. Last year we doubled the number of Bord Bia representatives in Asia to two; where there had been one person based in Shanghai there are now two. Bord Bia is very anxious to expand its presence. It does a phenomenal job given the number of people it has, and must be one of the best recruiters of talent because all the Bord Bia people I know are very impressive in the jobs they do. However, they are stretched. I am very much involved in a hands-on way in opening and developing new markets. In a few weeks' time I will be going to the Gulf states - Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. There will probably be 50 Irish food companies coming with us, just as happened in China last year, and many will sign contracts while we are there. In this process the Department works very closely with both Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland. The latter has taken a much more significant role in helping to develop and expand the food industry and in that regard is working hand in hand with Bord Bia. They are doing a very good job together but I would like to have more people. I have made that case and Deputies may see some announcements in that regard in the not too distant future.

I bow to Deputy Wallace's knowledge on cattle breeding. He is right. If one is breeding for bull beef one may well decide to use continental cattle on one's dairy cows but most dairy herd farmers in the country - certainly many of them - are looking for high-quality replacement heifers to grow their herds and prepare for an absence of dairy quotas post 2015. If that is one's priority one will be looking for top-quality dairy breeding, and as a by-product one will get male calves that need an outlet. It depends on what one is looking for. Last week I opened a top-quality AI bull stud just outside Mallow. A commercial dairy or beef farmer now has a fantastic choice in terms of the bulls they can use to improve the quality of their herds from both a dairy and a beef point of view. I would say our breeding programme is as impressive, if not more so, than that of any other country in the world.

Deputy Ó Cuív asked why we are not exporting live cattle to the UK. There is an issue in regard to the carriage of live animals by roll-on roll-off ferries. Many of the companies do not want to do this. There is an ongoing discussion and I would need to check the most recent update in this respect. It is also important to put into context beef prices in Ireland. For the vast majority of this year we were significantly above the average EU price - about 15% more at times, overall somewhere between 5% and 15%. Recent reductions have brought this figure down but we are still above the average price at EU level. Irish beef does not go just to the UK but goes all over Europe and to some 160 countries in total. The UK has a very different beef market because by and large it supplies its own market. Given that, it is not acceptable to have for any prolonged period a significant differential between Irish and British beef prices, and we are looking at that.

The next question is in the name of Deputy Niall Collins.

Is Deputy Collins present?

The question is nominated by Deputy Ó Cuív.

I thought new rules required the Deputy in question to be present.

A question was asked previously without the Deputy being present.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme Applications

Niall Collins

Question:

55. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of applications received under the disadvantaged areas scheme in 2013; the number of applications that have been examined and cleared for payment; the number of applications that have been examined where issues have arisen and if the farmers have been contacted in relation to these issues; the number that remain to be examined and the latest date that the examination of these applications will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39522/13]

Payments under the 2013 disadvantaged areas scheme will begin issuing, on target, tomorrow, 25 September. While there is no regulatory date by which payments must commence, it is generally recognised - and indeed acknowledged in the farmers’ charter - that the third week in September of any given year is the earliest feasible payment date, given the volume and complexity of processing involved. Although payments will begin issuing tomorrow, I should emphasise that payments runs thereafter continue on a twice-weekly basis, with individual cases being paid as they are confirmed eligible.

However, many applicants who declare land situated in a disadvantaged area are not eligible for payment under the scheme. Many of these applicants do not maintain any animals, and those who do do not keep sufficient livestock to meet the minimum stocking density of 0.15 livestock units per hectare. This is a normal feature of the disadvantaged area scheme. For example, in excess of 5,000 applicants under the 2012 DAS scheme were found to be non-compliant, as they had insufficient stocking density on their holdings. The figure for 2013 is almost 10,000, in addition to which there are in excess of 6,000 applicants who held no stock during 2013. However, many of those currently showing as having insufficient stock will ultimately satisfy the requirement. With the minimum retention period being seven consecutive months, there will be a steady flow of cases each month where compliance with this retention period will be confirmed, thereby allowing payments to be made.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition, in excess of 15,000 applications have been identified with area related issues. These are being addressed and resolved though direct correspondence with the individual applicants, in line with normal procedures. As individual cases are resolved, they will be processed further immediately, with a view to payment being made as soon as possible thereafter.

In so far as the initial payment run is concerned, I can confirm that payments worth more than €125 million are issuing tomorrow to more than 60,000 applicants, and payments will continue to be made on a twice-weekly basis thereafter. I am confident that by year end, the cumulative value of payments that will have issued under the 2013 scheme will be in the region of €190 million.

How many applications were received? That was part of the question. How many applications have been examined? That was part of the question. I understand from the Minister's answer that 60,000 have been cleared for payment. How many applications have been examined where issues have arisen? I did not get that answer. What number of farmers have been contacted to date? Stocking density is not the only issue that arises with the DAS. Other issues arise. The Department has had these applications for four months, since 15 May. How many farmers have been contacted? There were many specific questions here, but I did not get an answer to many of them. How many have been contacted in respect of issues with the DAS, and not just in respect of issues with stocking density?

I will see what exact data I can get for the Deputy, but I have given quite a lot of detail on the number of farmers who are not eligible at the moment but who have applied. I will try to get more detail, but the Deputy will struggle to find any other country in the European Union that is paying out the percentages that we are paying to farmers this week. All of the farmers who are eligible for payments are receiving them this week. We are early on this and we are making as many payments as possible, but there are complications with many applications and we will work through them and try to get them sorted as quickly as we can. There will be two payments made each week from now on so that we can finalise as many payments as possible before the end of the year. The Deputy knows that is perfectly normal. In fact, we are probably ahead of schedule.

Fishing Industry Development

Seán Fleming

Question:

56. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide the details of any instruction or discussions he has had with Bord Iascaigh Mhara in relation to its strategic direction; if he was informed by the agency of its plan to seek licences for the development of major fin fish farms; if he agreed to this strategic approach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39519/13]

On 17 July, I launched Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s new strategy for the seafood sector over the next five years, from 2013 to 2017. The name of BIM’s strategy document is Capturing Ireland’s Share of the Global Seafood Opportunity. This strategy highlights opportunities for growth in the seafood sector and sets out a clear path for Ireland to make the most of these opportunities. BIM’s strategy is designed to underpin the targets and objectives set out in the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 national food production plan which calls for the Irish seafood sector to increase its revenue and employment through measures such as expanding production, enhancing competitiveness and improved marketing methods to take advantage of the growing demand for seafood. BIM’s strategy aims to capitalise on the opportunity presented by the global demand for seafood by expanding production, building scale and enhancing competitiveness in the Irish seafood sector.

I am confident that BIM’s strategy for the next five years, and the actions outlined in it, will serve to lead the Irish seafood sector to new levels of output, employment and prosperity.

The Minister has stated that he asked BIM to identify suitable aquaculture sites, BIM then made an application and he became the decision maker. Effectively, he had become the judge in his own court.

Has the EU been in contact with the Department about documentation that was forwarded from Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and then to the Minister's Department for submission to the EU, but which was withheld?

The Deputy should check his accuracy. Documentation from IFI concerning this issue was not withheld. The Deputy referred to the work undertaken in respect of lice and the impact of salmon farming on wild salmon. There was an oral hearing with the Commission that involved the IFI documentation, although there were media reports to the contrary. My Department has written to the newspaper concerned to clarify that point.

I am not a judge in my own court. We have a broad strategy for considering opportunities for expansion in the aquaculture sector. In this light, I have asked BIM to find suitable sites and requested that the Marine Institute help it. I have never pushed one site over another. I have asked independent bodies to consider suitable sites and told BIM that, if it made an application, it would be viewed as any other applicant and we would apply the rigour of the rules to its application. This is happening.

If anyone is in any doubt about how rigorous we are in respect of the application to which the Deputy is referring, recommendations have still not been put on my desk. This is due to the amount of work involved in testing the application robustly before any report or recommendation comes my way as the person who must make a decision. Even if an applicant or objector does not agree with my decision at the end of the process - let us wait to see what that decision is - an independent appeals process can be followed. There is no problem with independence as regards this application.

We are running short on time. I will allow brief questions from Deputies Ó Cuív and Wallace.

Does the Minister not agree that, no matter how one dresses it up, his proposing a policy, asking for applications and then judging them does not create confidence in the process? We in politics must consider all of the processes that we operate if we are to ensure public confidence in same. Does the Minister not agree it would be much more satisfactory if decision making on individual licence applications was independent of the policy maker, namely, the Minister?

The Minister is familiar with an issue that I have raised with him previously concerning a request from Special Bannow Bay Shellfish Limited, which applied in 2010 for a licence in respect of new sites for oysters at Bannow Bay and Woodstown. It is still waiting on an appropriate assessment, as per the regulation. This is difficult to credit three years later. All of the oysters are exported and there is a serious problem with youth unemployment in the area, which this initiative would alleviate in some small way. The company has been informed that places in Donegal and Dungarvan have jumped the queue for assessment. It seems to believe that it is not big enough or good enough. Some people might argue that the Minister has been better for the big farmer than the small farmer. They wonder whether he is also better for the big fishers than he is for the smaller fishers.

I must call the Minister to conclude.

This company has not been treated well. It asked the Minister for a meeting last December. He is a busy man, but it would be great if he could meet the company.

The Deputy is raising a different issue.

A totally different issue. Following a request, I spoke to the individual concerned on the farm in question. That was unusual, but I wanted to understand his concerns. Just like small and large farms, we are trying to allow small and large companies to grow.

The Minister was supposed to get back to him but did not.

Let me answer the question that the Deputy asked. A process is required. Unfortunately, previous governments did not put in place a proper and robust aquaculture licensing system. The Commission took Ireland to court on this matter and won. We are required to put in place a gold-plated system that we should have implemented many years ago but did not. A part of the process involves an assessment all of Natura and special area of conservation, SAC, sites, amounting to every harbour on our coastline with one or two exceptions. We have fast-tracked the process and I have made decisions on more than 100 aquaculture licensing applications. However, I can only do this as the bays get assessed. The bay in question has not been assessed yet, but we will get to it as quickly as possible.

Regarding Deputy Ó Cuív's commentary on the independence of my Department in terms of aquaculture licence applications, we have put in place a template that ensures that people applying for fish farm or aquaculture licences know by what they must abide. We simply determine whether they meet the requirements. To make the case that, given my advocacy of growth in the aquaculture sector, I am not balanced when making licensing decisions is nonsense. We have just discussed-----

I never said that.

It is the first time that there has been transparency in that Department.

Let me answer the question.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Ó Cuív knows what went on in that Department for years.

If Deputy Ó Cuív's rationale-----

(Interruptions).

There was no transparency at all. Deputy Ó Cuív knows well what went on in that Department.

Please, the Minister has the floor.

I said that it did not look good.

As in many cases, we are cleaning up the poor governance of the past. This is the truth. If we were to work by the Deputy's rationale in respect of, for example, live cattle exports, the development of which I have been trying to assist, we would not be able to license ships in that sector because we would be compromised. One can take the argument to the nth degree.

The regulations and rules are clear. We now have a strict and robust licensing system. I would argue that it is more robust than the systems found anywhere else in Europe. We will apply it to large and small aquaculture licence proposals. The process will take its course and an independent decision will be made on that basis.