Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014

Vol. 830 No. 1

Priority Questions

Beef Industry

Éamon Ó Cuív


85. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he has taken to deal with the low price of young bulls for slaughter at present; the further steps he has taken to deal with the price differential between the price of beef in the factories here and in Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6498/14]

Martin Ferris


89. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he will take to alleviate the crisis in bull beef production where farmers have a glut of quality beef in their sheds with no outlet for their slaughter due to anti-competitive practices by the beef processors. [6497/14]

As the Minister is aware, there is a major crisis in the beef industry, particularly as it relates to bull beef. Young bulls are either unsaleable, cannot be got into the factories or are being sold way below their economic cost and bull beef is a very important component of our farming industry. What has the Minister been doing in the past two months to deal with this crisis?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 and 89 together.

Aggregate cattle supplies at Department-approved meat plants to the end of January 2014 are up almost 10% on the corresponding period in 2012 with strong increases recorded in the steer, heifer and cull cow categories. This higher throughput has led to factories giving preference to certain types of stock that are better suited to the requirements of their retail customers. Prices for prime steers and heifers have remained relatively stable but the young bull trade is challenging at present as age and weight issues continue to affect demand. However, I note that the young bull kill has increased by 50% between week 1 and week 5 of 2014. The Irish beef industry is hugely dependent on exports and the need to ensure that it is producing efficiently for overseas markets cannot be ignored.

Delays in young bull slaughtering are undoubtedly putting pressure on producer profit margins but neither I nor any Minister for Agriculture can interfere in a trade that is cyclical in nature and prone to short-term price fluctuations. I am entirely sympathetic to all those farmers facing difficulties in getting their cattle slaughtered but cattle prices are determined by the interplay between supply and demand and I have no function in regard to commercial transactions between meat factories and their suppliers.

It is the responsibility of the industry - in this instance, processors and farmers working together - to manage the type and volume of cattle being brought to market in order that the supply chain operates for the benefit of both parties and does not undermine the viability of bull beef production systems for either winter finishers or suckler farmers. I understand that producer and meat processor representatives have recently engaged in dialogue with a view to resolving the short-term oversupply of young bulls. I would encourage the various bodies to continue this discussion and I have called for this on many occasions.

With regard to the price differential between Irish and UK cattle, a number of factors have been identified to explain why Irish born cattle command lower prices than their British equivalents. These include a British consumer preference for indigenous product, as well as an additional transport and processing cost in supplying that market. Ireland's trade with Britain accounts for 53% of our beef export volumes and, at around 250,000 tonnes in 2013, is equivalent to 750,000 cattle, with a high level of penetration in the multiple retail sector.

One of the main difficulties in marketing young bulls older than 16 months is that these animals are outside the specifications preferred by the UK market. This is a major disadvantage at present because the UK market has effectively become the highest priced beef market in the EU. The potential to grow the live trade to Britain is also constrained by the labelling system operated by the retail chains in regard to cattle born in this country and exported live for finishing and processing in the UK. The retailers' long-standing policy is to market British and Irish beef separately. This means that beef must be sourced from animals originating in one country, that is, born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant. Under mandatory EU labelling rules, these carcases have to be deboned in a separate batch and packaged and labelled accordingly, thereby incurring additional cost for the processor.

While Bord Bia has repeatedly raised the labelling issue with British retailers over the years, there is no indication that its marketing policy is likely to be reversed soon. Nevertheless, in its ongoing interaction with British consumers, Bord Bia will continue to pursue all opportunities, including any change in labelling policies, to maximise the full potential of the beef and livestock trade with our largest trading partner. In regard to allegations of anti-competitive practices by meat plants, if Deputies have information to substantiate such charges, I would like to know about it, and the Competition Authority ought to know about it also, if that is the case.

For non-bull beef that was sold last year, we are in the unusual position of having the average price paid for this beef here in Ireland at about 106% of the EU average, whereas historically that figure would have been in the low 90s. We have a particular problem with the UK market, which is where most of our beef goes, because UK consumers have a very strong demand for British-sourced beef and retailers have a particular specification issue with bull beef that is over 16 months of age. These are issues the market will have to resolve.

I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive reply. However, throughout the long and involved reply, he did not mention any action taken by him. He seems happy to have a laissez-faire attitude towards the market, that everything is okay so let us not interfere in any way.

Is the Minister satisfied there is no difficulty in putting live cattle on boats in Dublin and transporting them by lorry to the United Kingdom? Is he happy that no barriers are being put in the way of that type of free trade? Is he happy this is not an issue in the difficulty Irish farmers find in accessing British factories and getting the higher price? At the end of the day, we were told one of the advantages of the EU was free trade.

What the Minister seems to be saying smacks of something less than free trade. Has the Minister had discussions with his counterparts in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in respect of labelling and how it seems to seriously discriminate against Irish beef?

I understand Deputy Ferris asked one of the questions.

I will call him after the Minister speaks.

I will answer these two questions and then, hopefully, come back to the Deputy's questions. I assure Deputy Ó Cuív that there is no laissez-faire attitude coming from me. We are continuing to work as hard as we can to get the best possible price for Irish beef by building its reputation all over the world, particularly in the UK and further afield. Outside of the bull beef story which has specific problems that I have just outlined, the evidence shows that we are doing a good job. The brand of Irish beef is stronger than it has ever been. For a prolonged period of time, we have been getting higher prices compared to the rest of the EU than ever before.

We have a specific problem with the UK because British consumers and retailers have a preference and will pay more for British-reared, slaughtered and finished beef. However, we are still selling the equivalent of 750,000 animals slaughtered into the UK. There is a free market. Yes, we can take live animals to the UK. It is not as easy as perhaps it could be because some of the roll-on, roll-off ferries do not want to facilitate that and that is their commercial decision. The truth is that even if we could take large volumes of live cattle to the UK, we still have the problems I outlined before. My understanding is that factories and processors in the UK are not looking for live Irish cattle because they must separate them from the British cattle they are slaughtering and label them separately because, at Ireland's insistence, we have country of origin labelling in respect of beef, which is a good thing for us because the brand of Irish beef is on the rise. The fact that British consumers want a certain type of product and are willing to pay more for it is part of the explanation as to why we have a price differential between Irish and British beef in the UK market.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There is a perception, which is well-founded at times, in the wider farming community and all farming organisations that there is a cartel in the beef processing sector. I can remember Government Deputies making the same argument I am making here when they were on this side of the House. It has been stated by farm leaders that Teagasc was implicated in this and that it encouraged farmers to keep bulls and go into the bull market. Can the Minister confirm whether that decision to allow Teagasc to encourage people to do that was taken at Department level?

Beef from cattle in the Six Counties is regarded as British beef and sold accordingly. Farmers there are getting the prices. One draws a hairline across part of our country and cattle on one side of the Border get British prices while cattle on this side do not. Can anything be done about that?

I, like the Deputy, wish there was no Border but there is and while there is, we have labelling requirements that inform consumers and buyers of Irish and British beef as to where those cattle have been reared, slaughtered and so on. At the moment, there is a very strong market for British-reared and slaughtered beef. There is also a strong market for Irish beef but it is not quite as strong in Great Britain.

With regard to the cartel accusations, I am aware of the fears that have been expressed and I speak to farmers on a regular basis about this. Farmers are frustrated that they are not getting more money for their beef, particularly when they look at prices in the UK. We need to look at this in a broader context.

The UK is our largest market, but we also sell beef across the rest of Europe. We are getting a premium for it in markets such as Germany and France, where restaurants and retailers are willing to ask for that premium price because we have built our product's reputation.

I thank the Minister.

If I might, I will be fair to the Deputy, as he has not received an answer to his final question.

I will call him again.

Regarding bull beef and Teagasc, there is a market for bull beef, but it is for young animals that are slaughtered at 15, 16 or 17 months. They are younger, smaller and lighter animals. Our problem is that many farmers have animals that are 23, 24, 27 or 28 months old. They are large animals and do not meet the bull beef specs sought by the supermarkets. I do not blame those farmers for being frustrated. In their minds, they have a valuable animal for which the market is not willing to pay much money.

I thank the Minister, but I must call the two Deputies.

For that reason, farming organisations and the industry have tried to work through it.

We are short on time and I need the Minister's co-operation. Deputies Ó Cuív and Martin Ferris may ask brief questions.

The Minister mentioned the word "cartel" and referred to some people's belief that there was one.

Is he saying definitively that is he satisfied that there is no manipulation or cartel operating in the beef industry?

What discussions has the Minister had with his British and Northern counterparts on the labelling issue? It is extraordinary how fond the British are getting of British beef, in that its price keeps increasing compared with beef's price in Ireland.

What advice would the Minister give farmers who cannot sell the cattle he just mentioned to the factories? What should they do now, having taken the original advice that they should raise that type of bull? Has the Minister held discussions with the roll on, roll off companies to try to ensure that they accept trucks carrying live animals across the Irish Sea?

There is a belief among farming organisations that Teagasc played a part in the manipulation of the market. Is the Minister satisfied that this is not the case? I have read in newspaper print accusations made by farming organisations, which are quite powerful, against Teagasc as regards developments in the bull market.

I reject any accusation that Teagasc was a part of manipulating anyone. I do not believe that it was. I recall cautioning people two years ago about the bull beef market. There is a role and a market for bull beef. It is an intensive form of beef production, where animals are slaughtered much younger and fed more intensively. This is what the market wants. In general, however, the market outside of Ireland is looking for us to produce steer and heifer beef. We are getting strong prices for those.

Due to, for example, some farmers' farm or business structures, they have decided to go down the bull beef route. That is a legitimate way of making money and Teagasc has been involved in offering advice, but they must produce that product to the specs demanded by the marketplace. For this reason, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of young animals slaughtered at the start of this year. As to farmers who have older animals that they need to get rid of and for which they do not want to accept the lower price, there is an ongoing negotiation, as is always the case, between farming organisations and the processing sector.

I have spoken to Mr. Owen Paterson, my counterpart in the UK, and to Ms Michelle O'Neill in Northern Ireland on labelling issues about which they contacted me. Many Irish farmers and food producers in Northern Ireland want to label their product as Irish while others want to label it as British depending on from where they are coming. Obviously, this would have advantages when selling into the Irish or British market, depending on where one wants to maximise returns.

We are working with our counterparts in Northern Ireland to look at ways in which we might be able to facilitate that. However, it is not as straightforward as one might think, because if we allow that, I must be able to stand over the integrity of food being produced in Northern Ireland, and I must have the access to ensure that is in place. We are working on that issue.

Single Payment Scheme Appeals

Martin Ferris


86. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of appeals that have been received by his Department against clawback of single farm payment due to land eligibility issues. [6318/14]

Appeals on land eligibility are of major concern to the weaker farming communities in the south west and west. The appeals system is ongoing. How many appeals has the Minister received and does he have a percentage breakdown of successful and unsuccessful appeals?

At the outset, I would like to clarify that there were no so-called clawback payments under the 2013 single farm payment scheme. In processing the applications under the single farm payment scheme and other direct aid schemes, my Department is legally obliged to adhere to the requirements set out in the EU regulations governing each of the schemes. It is not possible to deviate from the provisions of these schemes. If an applicant over-declared his or her land by including ineligible features or ineligible areas in the application form, the provisions of the regulations must be respected in the processing of each application and in the calculation of deductions and penalties. An audit team from the European Commission is coming to Ireland in the second week of next month, and will spend one week looking at how we are dealing with the issues we have discussed.

The following is the position regarding the number of review and appeal cases received by my Department to date. The number of applications for appeal received is 4,800. That is the appeals process within our Department. As part of the appeal, we send out an inspector to physically look at the land to make sure there is nothing awry, and the number of such review applications sent for ground verification is 523. The number of applications accepted, or the number of successful appeals, is 160. The number rejected to date is 340. The number of appeals received for the LPIS appeals committee, an independent committee chaired by Mr. Padraig Gibbons to give another outlet to farmers who are concerned at the results they got from the Department, is 15 thus far. These appeals figures are ongoing and will alter as more cases are processed.

The majority of farmers do not have an issue here, but for those who do, we will try to work with them through two appeals systems. If penalties are imposed and retrospective payments are to be made, we will work with farmers case by case to ensure we are acting reasonably with them. This is not an easy issue to resolve, and the idea that we refuse to do what we need to do will have a much more severe consequence for agriculture than doing what we are doing at the moment. In other words, Commission auditors will determine the amount of money that was spent that should not have been spent and they will fine the country accordingly, which will be a very big figure indeed.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The manual inspections of which I am aware have often been successful, primarily due to the fact that while there appeared to be afforestation in parts of land, in fact the grazing potential around it was being utilised. Does the Department have enough staff to carry out those manual inspections? I advise most people who come to me to go down that route, because it gives them a better opportunity. When satellite photographs are taken, it would appear to be blanketed out when one walks through it.

Much of this land can be included again. Is the Minister satisfied that the number of inspectors available to perform this task is sufficient? Will this process be completed by the end of March?

The figures I cited are proof that the Department is trying to get through this process with farmers and, where possible, to have successful appeals. I do not want to take money off someone if it is not necessary to do so. However, I must be able to stand over the integrity of this process, which means ensuring that Ireland only draws down direct payments for farmers from European Union funds on land that is eligible for such payments. The Department will make as many ground verification visits as are necessary. Visits will be carried out when we receive a reasonable request and it is obvious that an issue requires verification.

A satellite image will clearly show if someone is claiming on a river. The Deputy is correct, however, that an area of large broadleaf trees which appears to be forest on a satellite image may well be grazing land for cattle. The members of the Department's inspection team are not fools. They make reasonable assumptions on the basis of the photographs and, when doubts arise, they will make a ground verification visit.

I assure Deputy Ferris and farmers that the Department is doing everything it can to try to minimise the impact of this process on farmers, both in respect of money they may have to pay or penalties that may arise. It is for this reason that such a large number of verification visits have taken place and one in three appeals has been successful.

Departmental Investigations

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan


87. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress of the investigation into allegations of weight-to-volume fraud at Coillte; if he has been updated recently by his officials on this matter; if so, the action he will take on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6501/14]

This is, as it were, a second take on this question. The Minister should be aware of the issue as I have been questioning him about it since November 2012. At this stage, one could not be blamed for becoming a little impatient because nothing is happening. The people who approached me to report suspected or alleged weight-to-volume fraud are wondering if anything will be done about it. One of them told me that whereas he used to be sorry to see people leave the country, he has come to the conclusion that the quicker people get out, the better it is for them. It is terrible to hear that.

I am also sorry to hear that but it is statement with which I do not agree. People will have their views.

As I have clarified previously in response to a question from the Deputy on this subject last June, this matter relates to alleged fraud irregularities which are not specifically about Coillte but have a wider sectoral perspective. Further to the Deputy raising this subject in the House and at Oireachtas committee meetings, I asked him if he had evidence on which I could act to give it to me and I would act on it. I also advised that if there were questions which needed to be asked of the Coillte board about any type of fraudulent activity, I would follow up on them. I will not, however, cast aspersions without having supporting evidence.

A meeting was held between the Deputy, representatives of the company making the complaint, their legal representative and officials of my Department last May, following which an investigation was undertaken by two officials from the forestry side of my Department. My officials thoroughly reviewed the material received and reverted to the other attendees at the meeting for clarification on some points. They then spoke to Coillte management. Contact was also made with An Garda Síochána to ascertain the status of a complaint which had previously been lodged with it. In the course of their departmental investigation a great deal of detailed information, both written and verbal, was provided to my officials by the company making the complaint and Coillte. My officials went through this material and subsequently sought clarification and additional material.

A report of their investigation was finalised last November, the contents and conclusion of which were outlined to the Deputy and others at a meeting on 21 November 2013. In summary, the report states that the evidence provided by Deputy Flanagan and the complainant company is not conclusive on the issue of sample tampering.

I understand that the Deputy was not satisfied with the conduct and outcome of the investigation. Given the nature of the issue and the fact that it is currently under active consideration by An Garda Síochána, I am reluctant to discuss the matter further. In addition, I have legal advice stating that the report cannot be released at this time so as not to prejudice or impair the investigation of offences. To assist that process, I propose to make my Department’s report and information obtained in the course of its investigation available to An Garda Síochána. I have also received an assurance from the acting CEO of Coillte that Coillte management will assist in any Garda investigation.

I know the Deputy is not happy with the investigation undertaken by my Department and its conclusion. I believe the team involved did the best job they could and produced conclusions that were accurate given all the information available to them. The file on the matter has passed to the Garda Síochána. I have also received a commitment from Coillte management that they will co-operate fully with the Garda Síochána if there are issues to be followed up in terms of its investigation.

The Minister says there was a thorough review. There was not a thorough review. At the core of this issue are two allegations. The CCTV evidence of sample tampering is available and there are unexplained variations in conversion factors both in relation to specific sales and a pattern over a period, which can only be assessed with the benefit of auction sales and conversion factor dates over the past decade. This information is not, however, available because, we are told, it is commercially sensitive. The Minister has the ultimate say in respect of Coillte yet we are being told he cannot get this particular information because it is commercially sensitive.

I am interested to hear that this matter is not closed because we were told by the Department officials that it was over and done with. This Government makes great play, and rightly so, about the e-voting machines and the €50 million wasted in that regard. The amount involved in this case is much greater yet we are being stonewalled. This matter needs to be dealt with. The Minister said that the Garda Síochána is dealing with the matter. However, the Garda Síochána is waiting for Coillte to make a complaint, which Coillte refuses to do. If somebody robbed my house in the morning and I was afraid to make a complaint in that regard to the Garda, one would have to suspect there was something suspicious going on.

The Deputy is frustrated because he is not getting the answers he wants. We have done what we, as a Department, said we would do. We have examined all of the files available to us. The conclusion of the departmental investigation was that the accusations being made could not be stood up by the facts available. We have given all of that information to the Garda Síochána, which is the appropriate investigative body if the law has been broken. I am not sure what else the Deputy wants me to do. I do not propose to cast aspersions on Coillte or anybody else for that matter unless I have the evidence to back that up.

All files have been given to the appropriate body to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing or breaches of the law. That is where the matter now stands.

This is a farce. The Minister mentioned full information. He is the person who can get that full information. However, the argument being put forward is that the Minister cannot get that information because it is commercially sensitive. During the meeting, the Minister's official said that the investigation was closed and that was it. The situation has now changed again. It is remarkable that the auditors were not interviewed about the information that they had on variations in patterns from one area of the country to the other without Coillte being present.

We are told that the Department could not do that because it does not employ these auditors. Does the Minister expect us to believe this? Sadly, there is so much going on at the moment with the Central Remedial Clinic, Irish Water and the Garda Síochána that a problem which, potentially, could cost us €85 million and more does not even get a hearing. It is the Minister's lucky day but I will keep talking.

This has got a hearing. The fact that it is not getting front-page newspaper coverage seems to frustrate Deputy Flanagan.

Only when the Minister reacts does it get front-page coverage. That is how the Minister does his business and the same goes for the Government.

Deputy Flanagan raised it. We have already reacted. Our Department has already set up several meetings with the Deputy and the company that has made the complaints. We have already had an internal investigation in the Department, which has not given the Deputy the answers he wants.

Why was I not given a copy of the document?

We have now passed on all those files to the appropriate body, the Garda Síochána, in order that it can investigate whether the accusations that are being made are true. Coillte has said that it will co-operate fully with the process. If that is not satisfactory to Deputy Flanagan, then perhaps he does not trust the Garda to do its job on the issue.

There is information in respect of the Garda Síochána that the Minister apparently could not get.

Please, we are in the last few seconds.

How can the Minister be in charge of a company and claim the information is commercially sensitive and therefore he cannot get it? That is not in any way credible.

The Minister has concluded and we are going on to the next question.

If Deputy Flanagan has anything, he might send it on to the Garda, if he is as certain as he seems to be.

Deputy Ó Cuív has the next question.

The Minister has the information.

We are moving on to the next question now.

The Minister should send it on to the Garda. He has the information. The next time he cries when a child is in pain because there is not enough money to help it, he should remember where the money went. The Minister is doing nothing about this. This is our money, my children's money, my neighbour's money and the country's money and the Minister could not give a damn about it.

Deputy Flanagan, please.

The Minister is up there with the Minister for Justice and Equality, a great achievement.

Deputy, please desist from that.

The Minister should be ashamed of himself given what he is after doing.

Severe Weather Events Response

Éamon Ó Cuív


88. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to set out the steps he has taken to assist farmers and fishermen who have suffered serious loss during the recent inclement weather; the assistance sought from the EU to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6499/14]

I know the Minister came to Galway on a surprise visit on Friday. I hope he saw all the damage that has been caused to farmers' lands all over the place. They have lost land and other land has been destroyed from a fodder point of view. Fences and walls have been knocked. Furthermore, slips and piers have been damaged and some fishermen have lost boats. Many fishermen have lost lobster pots. People want to know what the Minister is going to do about this, what help he will give farmers and how the situation might play out in respect of the 2014 applications under the single farm payment.

I got a chance to visit Galway and Clare last Friday. It was a useful visit and I met many people over several hours. A good deal of damage has been done. In the case of farmers and inspections, we have been very clear with our inspectors that they must be flexible and take account of the extreme weather that we have had in recent months in the course of their inspections and assessments, which they must make legally in the coming weeks.

In the case of land eligibility, if a farmer has had boulders come on to his land from the beach as a result of high tides and stormy conditions, then, obviously, that must be taken into account in a way that is understanding of the extreme weather.

Other areas of consideration include fodder and animal welfare. If any farmer has an animal welfare concern, he should call our animal welfare hotline and he will get help from us. Many farmers have full slurry storage tanks at the moment but have wet land as well and that is an issue. They should be talking to their Teagasc advisers about how they can and should manage that properly.

There is also an issue with piers and harbours.

There will be statements in the House tomorrow regarding the Government response to the storms and flooding problems we have had for a number of weeks. We have examined in detail piers and harbours along the south, south-west, west and north-west coast and the repair work that is necessary from a safety and infrastructure point of view. I will make a detailed statement on that tomorrow.

Many island fishermen have also lost gear. We are unable to put a financial package in place to replace boats under state aid rules but we may consider giving support for the replacement of pots, in particular, that have been lost at sea. BIM has tried to assess the losses and has reported to us in detail. I will also give more information on that tomorrow. We are trying to ensure as comprehensive a response as we can. Finding money in government is difficult for obvious reasons, but in an instance such as this where there are clear priorities around extreme events that need Government support, such support will be provided.

Inspections over the next three or four weeks are not an issue because they are covered by force majeure rules, regardless of whether the Minister agrees with that view. With regard to the 2014 applications for single farm payments, however, if land is lost to the sea or cannot be foraged because it is covered in boulders, will farmers have to adjust the acreage of their land accordingly? If fences and walls have been knocked down and have not been replaced, will farmers be penalised under both REPS and the single farm payment scheme?

I welcome the Minister's comments about fishermen's pots. Does he provide money for coastal protection other than in urban areas? Traditionally this was addressed by piers and slipways.

I suggested to his colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, that in regard to rebuilding fences and, in particular, stone walls, she should employ more people on the rural social scheme and provide money for materials to reinstate them because they would be impossible to reinstate for many farmers. Is the Minister willing to talk to her about that possibility?

I will mention that issue to her but that is a resource issue on which she will have to make a decision. Coastal protection generally is not under my remit. My portfolio covers the marine and I am responsible for seven fishery harbours. Most of them were not badly damaged. The majority of the projects on which we will work with local authorities are local authority owned and managed harbours, piers, slipways, ladders, docking facilities, breakwaters and so on. I will focus with local authorities in counties Clare and Galway, in particular, and other counties on assessing the cost of rebuilding essential infrastructure both for the fishing community, tourists, anglers and leisure users and for the rescue services in the case of some of the piers I visited. The local authorities will need to discuss the broader coastal issues relating to roads, causeways and bridges between islands, for example, in west Galway, with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

I asked a number of specific questions that come under the Minister's remit. I did not ask about bridges and so on because they do not come under his remit. I asked questions about single farm payment applications. Will they have to be adjusted for May this year to account for loss of land or land that is no longer a forageable area because the strand or boulders are now on the land?

In the context of the 2014 part of REPS and single farm payments, what is the position for farmers whose enclosed land is not fully fenced off? I understand that fencing off is a qualification condition for both the single farm payment and the disadvantaged areas scheme, DAS. Will the Minister provide clarification in respect of these important issues?

There are many piers and slipways around our coasts which are not in council charge. Will the Minister be providing money in respect of these?

It would be difficult for me to provide funding for privately-owned piers.

They are not in private ownership.

In the context of piers, etc., that are publicly-owned and need to be repaired, we have already asked local authorities to indicate what are their priorities in respect of the infrastructure that needs to be put back in place.

On the single farm payment, farmers cannot apply for payment in respect of land that no longer exists because it has been washed away. We will need to discuss this matters with farmers because, from a legal perspective, we cannot draw down EU money in respect of agricultural land which is no longer there. If farmers are being paid and if one of the qualifying criteria is that land must be fenced off, there will be a need for them to put back in place any fencing which has been damaged or blown away in the coming weeks. We will show understanding and a degree of flexibility while this is being done, particularly in view of the extent of the damage done by storms. There is no carte blanche here, however, and we cannot ignore all the rules. From a legal perspective, I could not ignore the rules even if I wanted to do so. As stated, we will show a degree of flexibility and understanding in the context of the damage done as a result of recent storms. However, people who may have lost some land as a result of its being washed away by the sea or a river can not claim payment in respect of it.

What about stone walls?

I will, as the Deputy suggested, discuss that matter with my colleague.

No, the Minister referred to a period of two weeks.

That is a different issue and we cannot deal with it now.

The Minister referred to fencing being restored in two weeks. It would not be possible to restore stone walls in the same amount of time. Massive walls, which took years to build, have been completed destroyed.

We can discuss this matter later.

Is the Minister stating that those who cannot restore such walls in that time will be penalised?

The Deputy has moved to a completely different issue.

I did not say they would be penalised.

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 85.