Other Questions

Beef Imports

Thomas Pringle

Question:

6. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he expects the announcement by the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on the importation of beef to take full effect; if he will outline the veterinary requirements that are to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48350/13]

I welcome the announcement that the US Department of Agriculture has published the regulation that will allow for the re-importation of beef into the US. When does the Minister expect the export of beef to commence, what veterinary requirements are currently being examined in this regard by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and what impact might these have on production?

The Deputy will be aware that the United States Department of Agriculture lifted the BSE rule on 1 November 2013. This ban on the importation of beef from the European Union had been in place since 1997 and its ending was one of the Minister's priorities during his visit to the US last year, where he pushed the matter with US Department of Agriculture Secretary of State Tom Vilsack and in meetings with Senators.

The publication of the new regulation is a critical first step in accessing the US market and the Department has been preparing for the event for some time, with officials working to address specific veterinary requirements demanded by the US. Last week, a senior Department official visited Washington and held high level meetings with USDA officials, with a view to advancing the various technical requirements to ensure commencement of the trade at the earliest possible date.

It is important to stress that there are a number of stages to be completed before trade can commence. The first step is the completion by Ireland of a self-reporting tool, SRT, which was issued by the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, FSIS. This document, which runs to over 150 pages is a questionnaire for completion by the central competent authority, CCA, which in Ireland's case is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is, in effect, the FSIS tool used for assessing equivalence of foreign inspection systems. These criteria reflect the current policy application of the US import regulations and cover government oversight, statutory authority and food safety regulations, sanitation, hazard analysis and critical control point systems, HACCP, chemical residues and microbiological testing programmes. I am pleased to say that Ireland has now completed this stage of the operation and the document has been submitted to the US authorities. However, no product can be exported to the US until the USDA completes its analysis of the SRT and finalises the relevant certification arrangements for Ireland.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The opening of this sought-after market provides further evidence of the Government's ongoing work to grow and develop the beef industry in accordance with the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. I am confident that this market will grow strongly as US consumers realise the superior quality of Irish grass fed beef and the Irish meat industry. Bord Bia is well placed to develop this niche market in the near future. It is important now that all interested parties work together to complete the various requirements to allow the trade to commence at the earliest opportunity.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is good to see that progress is continuing. Is an estimate available of the potential gain for farmers and the agribusiness here of beef exports to the US market?

While no estimate is available, I believe the potential gain is quite good. Irish beef is a unique brand. Last week, I, along with representatives of SuperValu and Teagasc, visited the agricultural institute in Grange which is engaged in a great a deal of work in regard to consumer identification of beef. When all of the work in this area has been accumulated we will see how special Irish beef is. When consumers worldwide realise just how special our beef product is, we will see an increase in our exports in this area. We have been already exporting to Germany for a number of years. It is a good market for us. We can market our beef on the European stage. There is great potential in this regard, particularly in terms of the proposals contained in Food Harvest 2020.

The fact that a suckler scheme was put in place under the recent budget will encourage more farmers to get involved in the beef business and produce better quality stock.

Trade Agreements

Thomas Pringle

Question:

7. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the current trade negotiations between the USA and EU and the possible industrialisation of agricultural production. [48349/13]

This question relates to the trade negotiations recently commenced between the USA and EU on the opening up of trade agreements and the control by three companies of the vast majority of seed production in the world.

It seems that these trade negotiations are opening up the potential for the further industrialisation and consolidation of the entire agrifood sector and all business. What is the view of the Minister and his departmental officials on this and how do they see it developing?

The objectives of the negotiations with the United States for a transatlantic trade and investment partnership are to eliminate tariffs, to solve existing regulatory barriers and to work to avoid the imposition of regulatory barriers in the future.

As regards market access, the US is a key market for Ireland in the agrifood sector. It is the fourth most important country destination for our exports after the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Irish exports of agrifood and beverages to the US were valued at €518 million in 2012, having grown from €406 million in 2010 to €478 million in 2011, a 28% rise in two years. We imported €192 million in agricultural products from US in 2012, comprising mainly animal foodstuffs at €99 million, food preparations valued at €28 million, live animals valued at €15 million, fruit and vegetables at €13 million and beverages, including wine, at €11.6 million. In this context, the opening of trade negotiations provides significant opportunities for the Irish agrifood sector to increase its access to the US market. There are also advantages to be gained in terms of possible reductions in tariffs on the products we import.

The negotiations will also facilitate the elimination of a series of regulatory barriers and irritants to current trade. These include the system employed by the US for management of import licences in the dairy sector and the dairy import assessment charge applied by the US to imports of dairy products from the EU.

Of course Ireland also has defensive interests. I will be monitoring the negotiations closely to ensure that, for example, any additional market access granted to the US does not impact on sectors which are sensitive for Ireland, notably the beef sector.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

On 4 November, I welcomed the decision by the United States Department of Agriculture to lift the "BSE Rule", which was announced on 1 November 2013. This ban on the importation of beef from the European Union had been in place since 1997 and its ending was one of my priorities when I visited the US last year where I pushed the matter strongly with US Department of Agriculture Secretary of State Tom Vilsack and in meetings with US Senators.

The publication of the new regulation is a critical first step in accessing the US market and my Department has been preparing for the event for some time with officials working to address specific veterinary requirements demanded by the US. Last week one of my Department's senior officials visited Washington and held high level meetings with USDA officials with a view to advancing the various technical requirements to ensure commencement of the trade at the earliest possible date.

As regards the impact of an EU-US agreement on the broader EU, I do not believe there is a risk that it will lead to the industrialisation of EU agricultural production. The EU model of agriculture, based on family farms, is still very much at the core of EU agricultural policy. This was again reaffirmed by the Commissioner and EU Council of Agriculture Ministers at the informal meeting of agriculture Ministers in Vilnius at the beginning of September.

I thank the Minister of State. There is no doubt that the agreement will provide some short-term gains in opening up further export opportunities for the Irish agrifood business. The Minister of State mentioned in his reply that there are structures in the negotiations about dealing with regulatory problems and barriers to trade. Part of these negotiations is a secret committee that will review issues and allow for dispute resolution to take place outside of the normal procedures within a member state, including courts and so on. That will lead to the further consolidation of the agrifood business and all businesses, will lead to decisions being made in secret and so countries will not be able to participate or have a role in defending, which is a very worrying situation. When we see the seed industry being consolidated into a small number of hands, we could see this expanding into the wider agrifood business as well. There should be a departmental view on this in respect of the negotiations.

The Department will monitor this an ongoing basis. Our exports are certainly a priority. We rely so much on agriculture and the food industry for jobs. I accept the Deputy's point that we need to monitor this on an ongoing basis, and I certainly will take that message back as clearly as I can.

The purpose of this agreement is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and Europe. The Minister of State is saying that he and his Department will monitor the situation, but if this agreement comes into effect, they will not have the power to be doing much monitoring of it. They will be watching things happen and they will not have much control over them. It is pretty frightening to see what this agreement could amount to, and it will give big business a right to sue governments which have the audacity to defend their citizens in many ways. This is a really dangerous agreement and there will be a panel of corporate lawyers in a position to overrule parliament and destroy our legal protections. That is being done through a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement. It has already been used in other parts of the world, and it completely undermines and kills regulations that protect people and the planet.

Citizens and communities affected by these decisions will have no legal standing, and this will be an erosion of democracy. It could have huge implications for agriculture here.

I take the point the Deputy is making, but we have some very good companies here in Ireland, such as Kerry Group and Dairygold, which are also very big and well able to fight their own corner. We have to look at the overall context of what Ireland is doing and what is best for Ireland. I certainly believe that no stone will be left unturned in any negotiations or agreement which might affect food businesses, whether they are big or small. I am confident that any negotiations will be done for the benefit of this country.

Milk Quota Cessation

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

8. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if any analysis or research has been carried out on the effect the ending of milk quotas will have on other sectors of agriculture such as suckler cow production; if the short and long-term consequences of this decision on the market for dairy products has been researched; the results of the research in question on both issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48238/13]

There are two parts to my question. There has been a very significant drop in the number of suckler cows since 2009, at about 17%. Has any research been carried out on the effect of the removal of milk quotas on the suckler cow herd if people move from beef into dairying? The second part of the question relates to the effect on dairying of this transition period. What research has been done to work out the effect on dairying following the removal of quotas in 2015?

The ending of the milk quota regime in April 2015 represents an exceptional opportunity for the Irish dairy sector to avail of the expanding markets that are developing around the world for dairy products. Ireland strongly supported the decision in 2008 to abolish milk quotas 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 sector to respond positively to market opportunities. However, as I have stated on many occasions previously, I do not want any post-quota expansion to occur at the expense of our valuable and long-standing beef suckler herd.

The ending of the quota regime, which has existed for 34 years, is such a significant policy change that it will obviously have an impact on other agricultural enterprises and on markets in the dairy sector. Analysts have been examining the effects of this policy change from many different angles, both from an EU perspective and an Irish perspective. The analytical reports of most significance to the Deputy's question are in an EU study titled Prospects for Agricultural Markets and Income in the EU 2012-2022, and in reports based on Teagasc’s FAPRI-Ireland model.

Since the abolition of the EU milk quota system was agreed in the 2008 CAP health check, the increases in milk quota and the ultimate abolition of the milk quota in 2015 have been a part of the baseline set of assumptions of FAPRI-Ireland analyses carried out by Teagasc. In all such analyses, the cross-sectoral impacts of policy changes are examined. Some recent reference papers based on the FAPRI-Ireland model are available from Teagasc.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Teagasc's FAPRI-Ireland modelling anticipates that, while an increase in the number of dairy cows could create some extra competition for grassland, most of the surplus dairy calves produced will go into the beef production chain. While it could be argued that the extra competition for grassland could have some negative impact on suckler cow numbers, much of the anticipated growth in milk production is likely to come from higher milk yields, which would have no consequences for competition for land.

I am confident, nevertheless, that in overall terms both the beef sector and the suckler cow sector will not be hugely disadvantaged by the additional focus which Ireland is placing on milk production after the abolition of milk quotas, but will in fact enhance the sectors. To demonstrate this confidence and also to assist the beef sector, I have ensured that some €40 million will be available in 2014 for the sector, which is made up of €23 million for a new beef genomic scheme, €10 million for the beef data programme, €5 million for the BTAP, and €2 million to meet outstanding payments under the suckler welfare scheme.

In relation to the effect on markets for dairy products, the Deputy will be aware of the recently published EU Commission report on how markets are evolving as the ending of milk quotas approaches. It found that medium and long-term prospects for the dairy sector are favourable due to the continuing expansion of world demand. Global population and economic growth and an increasing preference for dairy products are expected to be the main drivers, fuelling EU exports and sustaining commodity prices.

Ireland is well placed to respond to this increased worldwide demand for dairy products and this is reflected in the fact that the value of Irish exports to emerging dairy consuming regions in the Middle East and North Africa, the rest of Africa and Asia jumped by almost 90% or €330 million to reach €710 million in the period 2006 to 2012. I am working with industry to raise the profile of the Irish dairy sector, and the Irish agrifood sector generally, in international markets. On this note I recently returned from a very successful trade mission to the Gulf states where there was a number of launches by Irish dairy companies marking an expanded presence in the region. The visit also saw the opening of an office by Bord Bia in Dubai to assist Irish companies in the region. I also visited the United States last week for discussions around initiatives in the dairy sector in addition to significant trade missions which I led to China and the US in the last year.

In summary, I am confident that the significant investment under way in both the dairy and beef sectors do not place these sectors in competition with each other but rather are complementary and will contribute to a flourishing agrifood sector as envisaged in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy.

That was an absolute model of how not to answer the question. Can the Minister of State simply tell me what are the conclusions from all of these studies on the likely effect on the suckler herd and the beef industry in Ireland? Has the Government and the Minister made a case to Europe, in view of the fact that we are already over the quota this year on milk production, that there should be a dramatic reduction in the superlevy fine for 2013, 2014 and 2015?

It is ridiculous that there is a 28 cent fine on over-production of milk that will last from the present regime right up until 1 April 2015, all fool's day. Then, suddenly there will be nothing. Would it not be far better if the superlevy was dramatically reduced for this production year and even further reduced in the following production year? Then, obviously, it would be zero the year following that. There are two parts to my question. The Minister of State might be able to answer them.

Which answer will Deputy Ó Cuív listen to, because he did not listen to what I said first time around? I will give Deputy Ó Cuív my analysis of what is going to happen from the heart. Deputy Ó Cuív did not listen to what I said earlier.

He did not even understand what I said because if he did he would have listened to it.

We are on the threshold of something big in respect of milk expansion and the dairy sector. Throughout the country, from Cork to Cavan, dairy farmers are keen to get into milk production. Deputy Ó Cuív is right to say this is at the cost of beef but in the budget we secured money for a suckler cow premium and I believe that has secured a great deal.

When some of Deputy Ó Cuív's people were trying to suggest yesterday that cattle prices were falling at marts I was able to quote from some of the daily newspapers how in Sixmilebridge, although those involved were affected by the collapse of an exporting company, cattle prices are actually rising. Furthermore, there is a responsibility on the meat factories to keep prices at a high level to ensure basic profitability. I further note, because Deputy Ó Cuív is listening for a change, that there will not be a dramatic fall in numbers because now with the suckler scheme in place farmers are far more content than they have been in the past.

Several Deputies want to speak. If we are to make progress and time is up we only have time for one supplementary question and one answer. Deputies are waiting to ask questions.

The Minister of State said I was not listening, but I was listening carefully to what he said. Basically, he quoted various reports but gave no facts. The Minister of State also said there was a great future in this area but he has not explained what the analysis suggests about the likely drop in the suckler herd.

Of course there is a great future for dairying, subject to certain concerns I have, when we get rid of milk quotas. I welcome the end of milk quotas but it needs to be planned. What is the Government going to do at European level about the superlevy in 2013-14 and 2014-15? Will the Government get it reduced or not?

How does Deputy Ó Cuív know there will be a superlevy?

Will the Government ensure that no farmer is left hanging for payments because of the collapse of the meat exporting company?

I answered that yesterday and I can forward the detail to Deputy Ó Cuív. I am confident of the prospects because of the good work being done in the background, particularly with the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society. A representative from the ICOS stated on "Morning Ireland" that no one should or would be left without payment and that this was the society's hope and intention. A receivership process is in place and when it is finalised I hope the primary producers, in particular, the marts and everyone who is owed money will be paid. I am not in a position to say how much money is available but certainly the receivership process has to be gone through.

Commonage Division

Seán Kyne

Question:

9. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number and name, in tabular form, of each commonage inspected in County Galway in 2013; the pre-inspection digitised area of each; and the pre-inspection and post-inspection reference area, that is, forage area, of each. [48145/13]

I asked that the Minister would provide in tabular form the names and townlands of each commonage inspected in County Galway in 2013; the pre-inspection digitised area of each and the pre- and post-inspection reference area, that is, the forage area. I am concerned about inconsistencies in forage values of commonage throughout the county and perhaps the country and I await the figures.

The Deputy will be aware that in excess of €1.7 billion is paid annually to farmers in Ireland under the various area-based schemes including the single farm payment and disadvantaged areas scheme. Payments under these schemes may be made only in respect of eligible land and applicants under the scheme are obliged annually to declare the land parcels available to them. Details of the eligible area of the land parcels are recorded on the Department's land parcel identification system. Details of the use and area claimed for each of the 1 million parcels on the LPIS system are registered and continually monitored by our Department.

Commonage lands form an important part of the farming enterprises of many farmers, particularly along the west coast. They also form an important part of the local environment from the point of view of biodiversity, wildlife, amenities and economic returns like tourism. Over 16,000 farmers claim in excess of 300,000 hectares of commonage as part of their land to draw down direct payments administered by the Department.

As part of the eligibility verification process, eligibility checks, including checks on commonages, must be carried out on at least 5% of applications. These checks are carried out to verify that the actual area claimed in the application form corresponds to the area farmed by the farmer and to ensure that any ineligible land or features are not included for aid purposes. In respect of each hectare declared, the eligible land excludes any area under roads, paths, buildings, farmyards, woods, scrub, rivers, streams, ponds, lakes, sand, areas of bare rock, boglands unfit for grazing, sand pits, areas used for quarrying, inaccessible areas and areas used as sports fields, golf courses and pitch and putt courses. The list is endless. Furthermore, there must be evidence of sufficient agricultural activity being conducted throughout the parcel. Unused or fenced-off parts of a parcel may be ineligible.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Commonages inspected in 2013 are made up of those declared by farmers and are selected as part of the risk assessment process operated by the Department. In total, 83 commonage parcels in Galway were selected for inspection and the work on these inspections is ongoing. I will, however, forward directly to the Deputy the requested details of the commonage parcels where the inspection has been completed.

Townland

Digitised Area (Pre-inspection)

Reference Area (Pre-Inspection)

Digitised Area (Post-inspection)

Reference Area (Post Inspection)

KNOCKAVALLY

14.58

14.41

14.58

14.27

LECKNAVARNA

19.4

15.46

19.4

15.46

CLOONNACARTAN

0.17

0.17

0.25

0

CLOONNACARTAN

1.96

1.96

2.47

2.42

CLOONNACARTAN

0.68

0.68

0.74

0.71

TONLEGEE

10.04

9.54

10.04

9.54

KEERAUNBEG

8.38

6.55

8.38

6.55

KEERAUNBEG

15.14

13.12

15.14

13.12

KEERAUNBEG

3.75

3.1

3.75

3.1

BALLYNAHOWN NORTH

18.4

17.48

18.4

17.48

INVERAN

6.09

6.03

6.09

6.03

KNOCKAUNRANNY

13.95

2.79

13.95

0

KNOCKAUNRANNY

9.36

8.03

9.21

0

KNOCKAUNRANNY

7.57

7.29

7.57

0

DERREENMEEL

10.52

10.52

10.52

0

LARRAGAN

6.54

6.54

6.54

4.06

LISHEENANORAN

8.67

7

8.4

7.79

GARDENHAM OR GARRYMORE

6.55

6.55

6.55

6.55

CAHERGAL

9.44

2.19

9.44

3.1

CAHERGAL

2.1

0.84

2.1

0.84

CAHERGAL

0.95

0.95

0.95

0.84

Cloontooa

1.76

1.32

1.7

1.37

Cloontooa

19.89

4.93

19.57

6.89

Cloontooa

4.77

2.82

4.62

4.53

Cloontooa

8.43

3.37

8.41

7.98

Cloontooa

10.33

2.71

10.32

4.42

Cloontooa

2.91

1.76

2.91

1.96

Cloontooa

8.54

0.78

8.57

0

CORLISKEA

5.82

2.46

5.82

2.71

CORLISKEA

11.68

8.74

11.54

9.04

BALLYBOGGAN

2.95

2.83

2.95

2.83

KILLACLOGHER

17.94

7.14

17.94

7.14

ABBERT DEMESNE

4.6

4.21

4.6

4.21

DERREW

4.42

4.42

4.29

0.9

AGGARD MORE

2.17

2.11

2.17

2.11

CAHERALOGGY WEST

2.08

1.93

2.24

2.12

CARRIGEEN EAST

16.6

16.43

16.6

16.43

CARRIGEEN WEST

13.87

13.35

13.87

13.35

GARRAUN

4.27

3.84

4.27

3.84

RAHASANE

9.54

9.54

9.54

9.54

BALLYNAGRAN

3.78

3.59

3.52

3.39

CAHERADINE

15.36

14.71

15.36

14.71

CAHERFURVAUS

2.95

2.48

2.95

2.48

CARHEENADIVEANE

4.95

4.71

4.95

4.71

CARHEENADIVEANE

1.36

1.23

1.36

1.23

FAHYMACTIBBOT

0.74

0.51

0.74

0.57

KILLEENEEN BEG

8.74

8.35

8.92

7.68

RINN

10.05

9.37

10.05

9.37

RINN

7.08

6.85

7.08

6.85

SHANBALLY

14.57

12.54

14.57

12.54

TOOREEN NORTH

17.92

14.79

17.6

15.89

TOOREEN SOUTH

3.09

2.48

3.09

2.94

TARRAMUD

2.54

1.75

2.54

1.78

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I am not blaming him because he has simply been given the information, but where is the tabular form with the commonages? Has it been provided? My direct question was to ask the Minister to provide in tabular form each commonage and the pre- and post-inspection details.

I have spoken to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, previously, during the CAP negotiations, with regard to the coefficient and I expressed my concern about the downgrading of commonage forage areas vis-à-vis other lands. He has assured me, and I accept his bona fides, that commonage areas will be treated equally to other areas. However, I am concerned about certain cases. Certain cases have been highlighted in Galway and the Minister has received a communication from the European Parliament Committee on Petitions with regard to the downgrading of the Keelderry commonage in south Galway. I am concerned about Keelderry but also about the implications of these inspections on commonage throughout the country. That is the reason I requested the information in tabular form. It has not been provided, which is disappointing. I appreciate the Minister of State may not be familiar with the matter because I was dealing with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on this issue, but I would appreciate receipt of the information I asked for in tabular form.

I will refer the matter to the officials. Deputy Kyne referred to Keelderry commonage. I understand Deputy Kyne has been in communication with the Minister in this regard. A review process is in place and Deputy Kyne will be notified and given the exact details. I understand that process is in place and I trust Deputy Kyne will be happy with the situation at that stage.

Question No. 10 in the name of Deputy Pringle is next. Deputy Pringle is not present so we will go on to Question No. 11.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Aquaculture Development

Mick Wallace

Question:

11. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the fact that there are serious delays in the assessment of suitable sites for oyster farming, his views on whether it would be a good investment on the part of the State to invest more resources in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48211/13]

The Special Bannow Bay Shellfish company in Wexford has applied for a licence for oyster farming in Bannow Bay and Waterford estuary. The company applied in 2010. We are only six weeks away from 2014. It seems crazy and I do not understand how things could be so slow. If there is a lack of staff to deal with the delay, would it not make sense to hire more people to deal with the issue?

The majority of areas for which these oyster licences are sought are designated special areas of conservation or special protection areas under the EU birds directive.

In 2007 the European Court of Justice declared in case No. C418/04 that by failing to take all measures necessary to comply with Article 6.3 of the EU habitats directive in respect of the authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under the directive.

As most aquaculture activity takes place in Natura 2000 areas, it is necessary to undertake an appropriate assessment of the effects of aquaculture activity on these areas before any new licences can be issued or any existing licences can be renewed.

In the negotiations to address the European Court of Justice, ECJ, judgment a process was agreed with the European Commission. This process includes the following steps, namely, data collection in 91 bays and estuaries, detailed analysis of the raw data collected, setting of conservation objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, in respect of each site, carrying out appropriate assessments by the Marine Institute of aquaculture or fishery activities against the detailed conservation objectives set and determination of licences or fisheries on the basis of the appropriate assessment and other relevant factors

Conservation objectives have been set for a significant number of bays. The appropriate assessments are being carried out by the Marine Institute on behalf of the Department and to date five bays have been assessed, namely, Castlemaine, Dundalk, Roaringwater, Lough Swilly and Donegal. It is expected that successful completion of the appropriate assessment process will facilitate significant licence determinations. In the region of 40 aquaculture licences have issued this year in respect of Castlemaine. The licensing process in Roaringwater Bay is at an advanced stage, with applications at the public and statutory consultation phase.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As outlined, my Department has been working closely with the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and the NPWS to achieve full compliance through a multi-annual work programme. A key factor of this work programme is the identification of prioritised bays, based on the number of aquaculture sites, the ready availability of scientific data and other factors. The prioritised list of bays is kept under continual review by my Department to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays, if deemed necessary. The appropriate assessment process represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State. The issue of resources is kept under continual review having regard to the importance my Department attached to this issue.

The appropriate assessment process is moving at a snail's pace, which simply makes no sense. Production and employment are being held up. These people could take on additional staff were they to get permission, and four years is a long time to be waiting. I understand this is a complicated process but I also believe the Marine Institute has carried out its assessment work. People are waiting for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to set the conservation objectives. Apparently, the next step is to go to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. A major problem in this regard is that while many people are involved in this process, no one is driving it. Can the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine take a more active position on this process and drive it? It is frustrating for people who are trying to make the industry work and create local employment. All they are getting is bureaucracy by the bucketful and no solutions.

The Deputy's points are exceptionally well made and Members encounter this issue daily in different areas. I have sympathy with what the Deputy has said. I note that while this area is not within my brief, as the Minister, Deputy Coveney, normally deals with this aspect, I will talk to him on this matter to ascertain what can be done to alleviate the frustrations. If jobs are at stake or can be created, this is something the Government will be behind and will wish to help and support. If, as the Deputy has observed, this backlog is moving at a snail's pace, I certainly will talk to the Minister and someone will revert to the Deputy today.

Aquaculture Licences Applications

Mick Wallace

Question:

12. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position regarding the assessment of Waterford Estuary and Bannow Bay as suitable sites for oyster farming; if he is willing to meet with a person (details supplied) to discuss this matter further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48210/13]

I call Deputy Wallace to introduce the question. He certainly should play the lottery.

Does the Leas-Cheann Comhairle think so? I would, except the lottery is a tax on the poor and I do not agree with it.

This question pertains to a particular individual, Tomas Ffrench, with whom I have been dealing in Wexford. It has been a year since I asked the Minister, Deputy Coveney, whether he would consider meeting this man simply to hear his concerns. It does a Minister no harm to be in contact with people who work at the grass roots. The Minister has stated he is busy and I do not doubt he is a very busy and effective Minister. It is disappointing, none the less, that one year later, the Minister has not seen fit to meet this man. One can learn something from everyone one meets.

The bays referred to by the Deputy are designated as special areas of conservation under the European Union habitats directive or special protection areas under the EU birds directive or both. All applications in Natura 2000 areas are required to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of environmental compliance with the EU birds and habitats directives. The assessment process of aquaculture applications is being dealt with bay by bay. This process includes a detailed data collection in 91 bays or estuaries, detailed analysis of raw data collected, the setting of conservation objectives by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in respect of each site, the carrying out of appropriate assessments of each licence application or fishery plan against the detailed conservation objectives set, and a determination of licences and fisheries on the basis of the appropriate assessment and other relevant factors. Conservation objectives have been set by the NPWS for a significant number of bays, including Waterford Estuary and Bannow Bay. The appropriate assessments are being carried out by the Marine Institute on behalf of the Department and, to date, five bays have been assessed, namely, Castlemaine, Dundalk, Roaringwater, Lough Swilly and Donegal.

As outlined, the Department has been working closely with the Marine Institute, BIM and the NPWS to achieve full compliance with the birds and habitats directives through a multi-annual work programme. A key feature of this work is the identification of prioritised bays, based on the number of aquaculture sites, the ready availability of scientific data and other factors. The prioritised list of bays is kept under continuous review by my Department to facilitate the use of scientific and other resources on a flexible basis across the full range of bays, if deemed necessary. This approach is consistent with the maintenance of a prioritised list, which includes Bannow Bay and Waterford Estuary. It is hoped, therefore, that the appropriate assessments for these bays will be completed during 2014, subject to the ready availability of scientific data and other factors. Addressing the issue of aquaculture licensing in Natura 2000 areas is a key priority for my Department, and the Deputy can be assured that every effort is being made to expedite the completion of the overall process having regard to all the complexities involved. My Department’s officials are available to meet the individual referred to by the Deputy to discuss the matter, if this is considered helpful.

I am glad to hear the departmental officials will meet him. This guy has been farming oysters since 1993, has been exporting them to France for 17 years, and they are considered to be among the highest quality oysters available on the market. Not alone is this man giving employment, he is involved in the export trade and is enhancing Ireland's reputation in this industry abroad. I believe he has been treated unfairly over a long period and I certainly will convey to him that the Department is prepared to meet him. The Minister of State might let me know when that meeting can be facilitated.

That meeting should be allowed to go ahead. The Department will contact the Deputy to set a date and time for it to be held, obviously as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister of State.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.