Deputy Pringle is sharing time with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.
Beef Industry: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate in respect of the crisis in the beef industry. This crisis affects 100,000 farms across the country. The most recent figures on farm income have shown that the average farm income in the beef sector is around €11,000 and when one compares that to the average income in the dairy sector of somewhere near €64,000, it highlights the extent of the crisis in the beef sector. Beef farmers are left at the mercy of the processors for their income who through the marts keep the price at the levels that suit them. I wonder whether an actual "market" is in existence in this country at all. The Minister of State said last night in his contribution that the relationship between processors and farmers is an interdependent one and farmers and processors always fight their own corners to get the best prices. I do not know where he gets this view of the relationship. I am not from a farming background but I do know that the relationship is far from interdependent. It is one where the processors dominate and dictate the price that farmers can achieve for their cattle. Measures spoken about by the Minister of State such as the Beef Pricewatch online tool do very little to help farmers improve the value of their cattle because the price variation appears to be limited and the additional cost involved in getting cattle to the location where they can get the best price could undo any of the value achieved.
Farmers always cite the example of the price of meat in the multiple retailers in the country to highlight how they are being short changed on their cattle but we export 90% of the beef produced in this country and focusing on the retailers does not really address that issue. Even if the retailers paid a realistic price for cattle, it would only affect 10% of the beef produced here. The focus must be on the processors and factories in respect of the price for farmers. When we have a situation in this country where the entire market is dominated by very few players with one dominant player, there will not be competition in respect of prices for the primary producer. We will continue to see a situation where primary producers will see a loss of up to €300 per head when they sell their stock. Small producers will never be able to secure fair prices from dominant processors. That is the simple fact of how a market economy works, especially one that is dominated by very few operators. It is interesting that the Competition Authority has never looked into the beef industry and how the pricing system operates. I think it is about time that it did so. Although the authority is quite toothless, it may find within itself a way to look into the operation of the beef market in this country.
Over the last 15 years or so, many small abattoirs have been hounded out of business by the enforcement of stricter and stricter standards on them that have left them unable to continue to operate. In one case that I know of personally, a small butcher who had an abattoir where he used to slaughter his own cattle was forced to spend over £30,000 as it was at the time to upgrade his facilities. Within months of reopening, he was visited again and told that he would have to spend an additional £20,000 and at that stage, he decided to give up and close his abattoir. It was not financially viable for him to continue. This has happened to hundreds of small processors around the country and, significantly, the effect of this was that it has removed them from the marts bidding against the large processors for cattle. It was a convenient way of getting rid of competition.
The motion calls for the introduction of a beef regulator and I would support this call. The Minister has convened a round table to discuss recent challenges but I wonder why such a "softly, softly" course of action is being taken. The beef sector needs determined action. If the processors do not want a regulator, let them open their books to the Competition Authority to examine and let us see how the market is working.
Live exports could help with boosting competition for animals in the State. I have heard anecdotal evidence that independent processors in the UK are wary of buying live cattle from Ireland because large processors control the offal rendering business in the UK and they are afraid that they would not be able to have their meat and bone meal dealt with if they entered into the market for live cattle from here. Finally, I urge the Minister to work harder to resolve the labelling difficulty that has closed off the sale of cattle into the Six Counties because farmers need access to whatever markets they can get, however limited, to ensure the market is not totally operating against them. I urge the Minister to take action on that as quickly as possible.
One of the conversations I have had with farming friends concerns labelling and their very real fears that beef is coming in from outside Ireland and being labelled as Irish. In spite of all the assurances, how can the Minister ensure that this does not happen? Another conversation really brought the collapse in beef prices home to me. One of my friends bought a cow for €900 in October 2012, kept the cow for 20 months, brought it to the market about two weeks ago with its bull calf and got €1,020. This is not much of a return for 20 months feeding and looking after that particular cow. This story really brought home what part of the motion is about, namely, the collapse in prices.
However, I also want to raise another issue that is missing from the motion. This is the EU-US free trade agreement known as TTIP and the dangers it could pose for the Irish beef industry, suppliers and consumers. Even though there have been assurances from the EU Commissioner for Trade and from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that Europe would be protected from cheap imports that could include hormone-treated beef, cloned animals and genetically modified organisms, there are real fears around this area, particularly given that statements from the US side are not at all reassuring. It is clear that the US side has a very different interpretation that could have a disastrous effect on our beef industry.
I listened to what the most senior diplomat from the US side, Anthony Gardner, had to say. In his speech, he was supposed to be allaying European and Irish fears but in fact his words were far from reassuring. If one listens to those words, it would appear that the US is pushing for an opening of competition in EU markets to genetically modified foods and cloned animal meats while I thought the fact that he refused even to mention beef hormones was very telling.
The Commissioner and the Minister have said that foods are not in the first negotiating round of TTIP and that if beef is to come on to the agenda, the EU and US could only agree to a tariff rate quota for hormone-free beef. However, it is a well-known fact that issues that are not in the first negotiating round of trade agreements can soon be brought into negotiations. We must consider the statements of the US negotiators and the power of the agribusiness lobbies in the US, which have been very explicit about this. There is no room for complacency because the beef industry is our flagship industry and the trademark is very high quality. Consumers rely on that in Ireland and throughout the EU where most of our beef goes.
We know that the beef industry has many challenges and we are hearing about them this evening. An influx of competition from cheap unnatural meat imports could really destroy it. There is a need for a full public debate and an independent impact assessment of this because the Ministers and Government seem to be in favour of it. I know the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has looked for an impact assessment from a foreign consultancy but we need to hear from Teagasc, the IFA, the local beef co-operatives, the Irish consumer and the voices of our ordinary Irish farmers and their communities. To date, the people who have spoken out about TTIP have been food professionals - those who rely on the quality of Irish food. They are the ones who seem to be most concerned at this stage. The Irish beef industry could be a perfect case study in an independent assessment of the impact of TTIP on Ireland. The debate cannot be concluded tonight. We need that economic impact assessment and analysis and when we have it and apply it to the beef industry, this debate should be continued.
There are related concerns about food quality labelling, animal welfare, the EU's precautionary principle and dairy standards. Investor-state dispute mechanisms in TTIP represent a contentious issue because that means that foreign companies would be able to sue governments, national and local, because of consumer protection laws that they claim infringe freedom of competition. This is a real danger of lower prices in addition to the dangers pointed out in the motion. These lower prices will push Ireland into lower quality markets for animal feeds and meats and we could lose our competitive advantage.
There are ten Government Deputies offering to speak - Deputies Joe McHugh, Seán Kyne, Pat Breen, Michelle Mulherin, Martin Heydon, James Bannon, John Paul Phelan, Paul Connaughton, Michael McCarthy and Patrick O'Donovan. Is it agreed that they can share time? Agreed. Deputies have three minutes each.
I welcome this opportunity to speak about this important issue.
Deputy O'Sullivan validly pointed out that the debate should be ongoing and should not end tonight. I welcome the fact that this issue is being debated. The Minister is not present because he is meeting the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Tom Vilsack, in the US, and I am glad his mission is going well as he attempts to open a new market for our beef. The core issue is demand. There are complications and problems at the British end and we must be proactive in tackling the cartel system among processors here.
There is an upcoming North-South Ministerial Council at which the Minister will meet the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. I am sure the Minister of State will be present as well. Will the officials ensure that the issues of labelling, animal welfare, data sharing and beef finishers in Northern Ireland having access to local marts are on the agenda? If the last issue was addressed, this would enable beef finishers from the North to go to marts in Raphoe, Carndonagh and Milford in my county, for example, to buy animals for finishing in the North. The cattle that cross the Border could end up in the grey area of being classed as nomadic cattle, and we must get around that issue.
While it is not related to the motion, it is important that time is given to the commonage issue, which is complex and has created fear among many sheep farmers. We should not kick the can down the road on this as our predecessors did on many issues. Time and space must be provided to arrive at an agreeable solution to commonages. There are many problems and time needs to be provided.
There is a serious crisis within suckler herds and the bull beef sector. Many farmers are talking about getting out and the processors will have to step up to meet the challenge. They will have to deal with the honest reality that if they do not have primary producers, they will not have beef. They may think they will have access to cattle from Poland and other countries. They must be conscious that the suckler herd is being depleted and bull beef prices have decreased 30% on last year while costs have continued to increase.
I welcome this debate on an important part of our agriculture sector and our economy. A total of 78,000 farmers are engaged in beef production. While I welcome the motion, the Opposition has offered few solutions. There is grave concern about beef prices in the farming and rural communities. Given what has happened over the past number of months and what might happen in the autumn, farmers in the west are wondering whether there will be beef rearers and fatteners to purchase their weanlings. This is causing significant concern.
We are, thankfully, a beef-exporting nation. We exported €2.1 billion worth of beef in 2013, which was a 10% increase on 2012. Like any exporting nation, Ireland is affected by external circumstances, including supply and demand. Over the recent past - this is probably a reflection of beef prices over the last number of years - we have seen increases in the supply of product, but we have also seen, unfortunately, a reduction in consumption in our markets. Consumption has decreased in the UK by 10% over the past year, while it decreased by approximately 5% in the EU between 2010 and 2013. According to basic economics, when supply increases and demand drops, unfortunately, prices drop.
To stabilise and increase prices when consumption falls, one can first try to market the product more extensively. I welcome the additional €500,000 the Minister has allocated to Bord Bia to market our saleable high-quality product, which is grass-finished, hormone-free and highly traceable. Second, one can pursue alternative markets. The Minister is currently in the US developing that market for Irish beef and he has negotiated the reopening of markets in the Middle East and elsewhere. Third, cattle must be exported by boat. As previous speakers said, while the live trade has increased, some animals are exported for breeding. We need to ensure more boats are licensed but we must be cognisant of the high standards applying to such boats because we do not need an international incident that will destabilise the beef sector and cause an international outcry.
Northern Ireland is part of this island. While there are issues regarding whether beef is British or Irish, will the Minister of State consider a new "Island of Ireland" label, which will account for cattle born in the South that are reared and fattened in the North? That is a major concern to many farmers who sell cattle in our marts.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I agree with the Minister of State that beef prices are down and a number of issues are at play. This is not only a problem for Irish farmers; farmers are also experiencing reduced prices in the UK. I have met representatives of farming organisations in my constituency and they are rightly concerned, as we all are, about this. I was a little amused that Deputy Ó Cuív criticised the Government last night when the approach he advocated last year in the context of CAP reform was to move everyone to a flat rate of greening payment. This would have been detrimental to many of our most productive beef farmers.
The beef industry is important to the economy, with 56% of our 140,000 farms engaged in beef production. They produce more than six times what is required for domestic consumption and, therefore, it is important to have strong export markets to ensure increased prices for our producers. There is increasing frustration among beef farmers at the prices being offered by meat factories. The Minister, through the beef forum, is working with processors and producers in an effort to improve the position of farmers. However, the best way to guarantee a better price for them is to open new markets for beef products, given that we export 80% of what we produce.
In my capacity as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, I have witnessed the work of our embassies, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, in reopening markets in Japan, Singapore and Egypt. I expect more markets to open later this year, including Lebanon and Namibia. The Minister is in the US this week and he is having a successful visit. I hope the US and Canadian beef markets can be opened shortly as well. I visited the Middle East last month and I met the Minister for Industry and Commerce in Bahrain. We discussed the reopening of beef markets in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. The six countries involved work as a bloc and I understand talks are at an advanced stage with them. The Department is working closely with their veterinary officials to ensure difficulties can be overcome and beef exports can resume. These states are importing beef from Australia and New Zealand and it would be much more convenient for them if they could import from Ireland. I am confident that these markets will open sooner rather than later.
Having a strong live export market is the best way to ensure stable beef prices for farmers, and that is the Minister's priority. Last year, the value of live exports increased by 11% to €240 million and, as a result, markets in Libya and north Africa have reopened, which is positive. I commend the Minister on his work on behalf of beef farmers. The Minister of State is a farmer and understands the current position, as he is constantly in touch with farmers. Instead of working against the Government, the Opposition should work with us in the interests of Irish farmers.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I refer to the data relating to deadweight prices.
In 2010, when Deputy Ó Cuív was a prominent member of the Government, the deadweight price was €291.40 per kilogramme compared to today's average of €379.51. Although many beef farmers are put to the pin of their collars, they have invested a lot in their animals. Government policies and organisations such as Teagasc have encouraged them to hold onto their animals. Given that 50,000 excess animals must be disposed of between now and Christmas, it is no wonder the price is depressed. Beef consumption has decreased. In the UK, our nearest neighbour where we have traditionally had a significant position, consumption has decreased by 8%. UK farmers are developing their own beef and have taken advantage of cheap grain to fatten up their animals. It is quite a predicament.
The main priority is to develop new markets and I compliment the Minister, who is in the US. We already have market access to countries such as Japan, Singapore, Egypt and Iran, and there are ongoing negotiations with the US and Canada. We need more markets for our live exports. Although live exports have increased, they must increase further. Farmers are under pressure and need our assistance and support.
Factories seem to be full of excuses for declining to pay farmers the top price for their animals. Factories do not hesitate to impose penalties to reduce the price per kilogram and, naturally, this has an adverse impact on farmers. The issue of price fixing by factories has been thrown around by farmers and in general discourse. A farmer who phones different factories on a Friday will get different prices; on Monday the farmer will get the same prices from different factories, whether they sell to Italy or to Tesco in the UK. Why is this the case? There is abuse of a dominant position, which the Competition Authority must address.
The point on competition is key. Lack of confidence in the system is a problem in itself. The Government continues to work towards addressing such issues. It is crucial that we can tell our primary producers that the system is beyond reproach. I talk to many farmers in the marts who tell me that the factories are accessing the animal identification and movement, AIM, system and that there are competition issues. We need proof, and when we get it we will go after anybody involved vigorously. The beef crisis is causing real hurt and harm to farming families. There are 140,000 farms in Ireland, 78,000 of which are involved in beef production. Given that Ireland produces six times more beef than is required for the domestic market, 90% of our output is exported. When our supply increases, the on-the-table price decreases, and that is the case across the UK, Europe and the world. This lower price for beef compared to last year's prices is hurting us. In this situation, one of our main goals is to open new markets.
I have difficulty with the processors and factories in this country when we discuss a very ambitious kill target of 40,000 per week. Whenever we go above 30,000 per week, factories struggle to find markets. That is why the Government is pushing. We have given more money to Bord Bia, which is working with the Irish embassies to open up vital trade to additional markets in Japan, Singapore, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Libya. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is in America. Last Thursday, like Deputy Ó Cuív, I attended a function in the US Embassy with the US agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack. When one realises Mr. Vilsack controls a budget of €150 billion, one understands the potential of accessing a market such as America. The Minister is in America increasing those markets. FDA approval would also be a phenomenal help in accessing China and Korea. That is why the Minister's time is much better spent there doing the work and representing farmers.
The quality payment scheme, into which the IFA entered with Meat Industry Ireland in 2009, must be revisited. Is it supplying the best return for proper beef producers? As we go into a time of major growth for our dairy sector, we must be careful our beef industry does not become a mere subset of our dairy sector. It is an important industry in itself and we should reward farmers who produce U-grade cattle.
Given the proper support, the agriculture sector has the capacity to lead economic recovery. The previous Government, under the watch of Deputy Ó Cuív, slashed every available farm gate scheme, including REPS, the disadvantaged area scheme, young farmers installation aid, the early retirement scheme and forestry supports. I could go on and on. The effects of the cuts were devastating to the industry and rural communities. Under Fianna Fáil, between 1997 and 2010, farm incomes fell by more than 17%. Since this Government took over, we have stabilised and increased prices and farmers' incomes. The Government will invest more than €12 billion in agriculture between 2014 and 2020, comprising €8.5 billion in direct payment to farmers and more than €4 billion towards rural development.
Agriculture is at the heart of the working life of people in Longford-Westmeath and throughout the country. While farming has had to deal with more than its fair share of setbacks in recent years, farmers in this constituency have displayed great resilience in dealing with, and bouncing back from, the effects of the recession. A thriving farming sector and supports for the industry remain a priority for me. While our food prices are the second highest in Europe, the farmer who produces the food is being denied an income. Farmers need to reinvest and develop.
Cattle prices have fallen by nearly 18% since this time last year and in real terms, this means that while in June 2013, farmers were selling steers at a base price of €4.60 per kilogram, today they struggle to sell them at a base price of €3.70, if they can get them killed. Farmers have major problems getting their cattle killed in factories throughout the country. This is not just a case of selling below cost. Factories are refusing to buy stock or delaying purchase for one or two weeks. They are controlling the entire trade by dragging down prices for animals, which is crippling farmers. The beef barons who control the trade are importing cattle from Poland. I ask the Minister to clarify this very serious matter.
Live exports are vital for price competition and we must seriously consider the removal of the roadblocks impeding the live trade to Northern Ireland. The increase in cattle killed to more than 30,000 head per week in 2014 and the resulting price and income difficulties can be directly related to the reduction in live exports in 2012, highlighting the importance of a strong live trade for the sector. The beef barons must be controlled and forced to pay farmers a decent price for their cattle. If the situation is not tackled, it will leave the CAP deal useless as farmers will abandon farming. We must act fast to stabilise cattle prices and restore confidence to avert the coming crisis in the autumn.
It is opportune that we are having a discussion on the beef industry this week. As Deputy Seán Kyne said, Ireland has a great system of beef production and a great product to sell, but there is no doubt that people involved in the industry are under severe pressure to say the least. I am referring to people who are not normally looking at the glass half empty. They are under severe pressure and considering leaving the sector. For that reason, the discussion is important. The Minister is doing good work to open markets, but I often wonder if enough is being done to follow up on the opening of these markets to ensure we are selling product into them. While it is welcome that the Minister is in the United States of America this week, it is no use opening a market unless we sell something into it.
Like previous speakers, I refer to the moving of the goalposts by factories in respect of the quality payment scheme agreed in 2009. A great deal of work was done at the time between the farm organisations, the factories and Teagasc. We must look at moving back towards the agreement, in which regard the Minister and his Department must be proactive.
On Northern Ireland, there is a political solution that can surely be reached at a time of tremendous co-operation between the North and the South. Cattle born on this side of the Border end up on the other side and we should be able to have a new arrangement reached in that regard. It should not be beyond the bounds of possibility.
There have been significant increases, particularly this year, in the level of live exports, with 20,000 more animals exported to date in 2014 than by this time last year. Certainly, there is significant room for a further increase. If necessary, we should look at the regulations which apply. The Minister of State might correct me if I am wrong, but in Ireland we seem to have a stricter application of some EU regulations to live exports than other member states. Obviously, as an island country which produces six times more beef than it needs, we must have a floor in the market.
In respect of the current system pertaining with the factories, many speakers have referred to the need for real competition. Real competition can only be provided if there is something competing with the factories. We have not exploited this to its full potential.
The dry stock sector is at a crossroads. There has been a massive increase in costs, the loss of certain schemes and a depletion in the quality of the herd in which we have invested so much in the past few years, particularly in the suckler cow sector. Unless we do something radical, people will leave. On Friday I met a man optimistic about the future of agriculture. He took up farming at ten years of age on the death of his father. He is a winter beef finisher and talking about leaving. It accounts for most of his business. When people like him are talking about leaving the beef sector, something radical must be done. I urge the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, to do it.
It is fair to say there has always been a healthy distrust between the farmer and the factory. It has certainly not changed dramatically in the past few months. It is a problem which has been encountered before and it will be encountered again. The first thing to do when there is a problem is to acknowledge it. We must acknowledge that many people are under a great deal of pressure. For those looking in from the outside, the issue is to understand why there is such a problem. Anyone involved in calf-to-beef production, whether at 18, 22 or 24 months, puts a great deal of time and effort into getting an animal ready to bring to the factory. It involves great expense to get a product ready for a particular market and to find when one goes to the factory, which is one's payday, that the goalposts have suddenly been moved is not only massively frustrating, it also causes huge financial loss. The spec or carcass weight sought may have changed. We must acknowledge that there is a problem in that regard.
In acknowledging that there is a problem we must try to see two steps down the road to determine what may happen next. Our next big problem might arise in September and October. If one is going to the mart with weanlings in a couple of months time, what beef producer who was badly burned will turn up to take the plunge again? He or she is not going to do it. Unfortunately, that will lead to problems with the suckler cow herd. If it costs on average €700 to keep a cow, one will have already lost money unless a weanling can get a very good price in the factory that day. We must very careful and the factories must be clued in. One can burn the producers only so many times before they leave the industry altogether. One will then be left with a far greater problem. We are talking about quality product leaving the market altogether. We have a very good system for rearing and finishing cattle, but the entities within it who need to work together are not doing so. The producer and the factory have different aims, but they need each other, no matter how they look at it. The alternative is the live export market. I agree with Deputy John Paul Phelan completely. For many years we continued to welcome more markets opening, which is happening, but we need to see the cattle actually moving. We need to see cattle of different quality moving also. In a private industry where price is dominated by supply, if there is no supply, one will have to pay more. We must get this right quickly. We must understand matters could get a great deal worse if we are not careful.
I have no doubt that the Minister and the Minister of State acknowledge that there is a problem, but we must ensure it is fixed in the next number of months. If not, we will be back here not only having lost beef producers but also many suckler cow producers.
The beef sector plays a hugely important role in the rural economy, supporting some 7,000 processing jobs. Profits are spent locally. It has been calculated that for every €1 of output produced on cattle farms, an additional €1.49 is generated in the local economy on foot of the multiplier effect. We must ensure this important and vibrant sector has a bright future.
Between Bord Bia and the meat industry, a good job has been done to support and promote Irish beef and open new markets, including Japan, Singapore, Egypt, Iran and, soon, Lebanon and Namibia. The Minister expects to gain access to the United states and Canada in the next six months and intensive work is being done in China and Korea also. That said, the Irish farmer has had to put up with a great deal in the past couple of years. There has been a disproportionate shouldering of the burden, with rural areas hit particularly by the recession. Difficult budgetary decisions have impacted, as has the fodder crisis. Recently there have been flooding problems which have, by and large, affected those who are the subject of the motion. There is a genuine fear among some that the future is not bright.
One sees the level of profits which continue to made by processors and supermarkets. There is nothing wrong with this provided the farmer gets a fair share. The profitability must be spread in as fair a manner as possible. It is clear that there is a lack of true competition in the market, which is harmful to the economy and livestock farmers, in particular. There is a mystery surrounding the pricing arrangements arrived at between plants and their retail customers and it is a significant issue. Courtesy of the Department and Teagasc, there is total transparency when it comes to quantifying every cost incurred at farm level. The same cannot be said about meat plants and supermarkets, which situation must be rectified if beef producers are to have any confidence in the meat industry. There is a fundamental need for farmers to receive realistic prices for the beef they are producing.
The past few years have confirmed the extent to which producers are reliant on the direct support payments they receive from Brussels. In four out of five years the single farm payment has been the funding stream which allows most livestock enterprises to break even. If the situation is left unchecked, it will do more harm than any scheme or subsidy could ever hope to remedy. On the recent campaign trail I went to a bull beef producer whose shed was full of animals. He has been encouraged to build up his herd, but there is now no return to be made. It is exceptionally frustrating for farmers who were encouraged to increase production to find that suddenly the market is not as was promised.
This is a significant challenge for the Government, particularly in terms of the bull beef crisis, which is severe.
If it is not confronted, it will get worse. The biggest loser will be the Irish economy because we will not see people staying in the industry and we will see turnover, with new people getting into it.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on an important motion. I welcome the acknowledgement in the contribution of the Minister of State that the Department sees the plight of farmers across the country. The Minister of State knows my constituency very well and it suffers from a double whammy of severely disadvantaged land and a constituency based on the milk and beef sectors. From attending marts like Kilmallock, the Minister of State knows what farmers are saying. Deputy Martin Heydon is correct when he states that there is a problem when people talk about potentially leaving the industry. Representatives of farmers and individual farmers who have come to me have made clear they do not want a quick fix, an easy solution, a knee-jerk reaction or throwaway political comment about problems going away. They are not interested in point scoring and they want a long-term solution into the autumn and next year. Many of the people I have spoken to are carrying debt in the overhang from the fodder crisis. This had a devastating impact on the western seaboard where they were disproportionately affected because of the land quality. The debt hangover from last year and the inflated price of last year was combined with the collapse of the British market this year, on which we are over-reliant.
If we can learn anything from the past number a few weeks about the export market, it is that the solution must be driven by exports. There are not enough people in the country to consume enough beef. We need an export led solution. Our over-reliance on the British market has been exposed as a weakness. The challenge is to build the brand of Irish beef. People might scoff at the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine being in America while this is being discussed but there is no better time for him to be there because it proves that the Government is serious about delivering new markets for Irish farmers.
The political opportunism of some people in this House is exactly what farmers did not want to hear. These are the same people who barely mentioned agriculture in budget speeches when they were in government. They have forgotten about this and, as pointed out by Deputy James Bannon, they eroded farming schemes. I support the comments of Deputy Paul Connaughton about the need for a long-term solution that involves all stakeholders. I welcome what the Minister is doing. In acknowledging the crisis, we must be realistic and must not inflate people's expectations in the manner in which some Members are doing. It is exploiting people's vulnerability at a difficult time for many farming families.
I propose to share time with Deputies Charlie McConalogue, Michael Moynihan and Barry Cowen. I commend Deputy Ó Cuív on tabling this motion. It is important to discuss this issue, something we do not discuss frequently enough. Many people referred to the problems of the price of beef in many European countries. I was interested in analysis by The Farming Independent last April. It shows that Irish beef producers have experienced price declines up to six times greater than their European Union counterparts. This is a worrying analysis and prompted the IFA livestock chairman to say that the Minister should remember he is the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and not the Minister for factories. There was a feeling that he was defending factories, which all Members agree do not need defending. It is a major credibility issue for the Minister if he underestimates the level of frustration and anger at farm level. I support what the IFA said about continually pressing Bord Bia, the Minister and the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, Michelle O'Neill, to insist that Irish cattle are not blocked from markets. I welcome every effort to find markets but there are artificial and anti-competitive barriers that should be removed.
I also support the call of Deputy Ó Cuív for a regulator to ensure farmers get a fair price for beef and to ensure they are not taken advantage of or used by pawns in a big business cartel, which is what happens. We must have a regulator backed by real powers of investigation to redress the imbalance. The heart of rural Ireland is being damaged by the crisis and there is not a level playing field between producers and processors. Every document produced by the farming organisations makes clear that the average family farm income is very low. The figure last year was €21,400 compared to the average industrial earnings of €32,000. With the livestock industry worth €2 billion to the economy, we must be careful that we support the industry in every way.
The collapse in beef prices is having a negative effect on the livelihoods of all beef producers. There has been a collapse in the bull beef price over the past 12 months and factories have changed the age and weight specifications required to slaughter cattle. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, stated that little over one quarter of all Irish cattle slaughtered in Irish beef export plants are paid a quality assurance bonus despite the fact that 87% of farmers are quality assured, leaving one quarter getting the bonus and three quarters not receiving it. We must push continually for the live export trade, which is particularly important in the west of Ireland, as a good alternative to any monopoly set up by the factories. We should also make every effort to maintain contact with the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government in respect of finding new markets.
The price of beef has fallen in the past 12 months and, given issues concerning over-age cattle and heavier store cattle, it is important to examine every area of the country. I make a particular case for the west. The president of the ICSA quoted a Teagasc national farm survey from 2013 showing a 22% collapse in suckler incomes and a 39% reduction in sheep incomes. In such situations, farmers earn less than they would receive on social welfare payment so we must consider the issues of smallholders. There was a beef open day on Wednesday, to which the Minister of State referred, and Teagasc talked about the most efficient high-performance suckler farms making only €4,000 per year on a 70 cow, 100 acre unit. If bigger, more efficient farmers are not making money, it is unbelievable to think what smaller producers are doing. In light of these figures and the fact that direct supports to farmers are declining, it is baffling that anyone could say this is a good time to be in farming. In conclusion, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, talked about cattle sales falling by €106 million as beef prices continue to slide. It is particularly concerned on that issue.
I join my party colleagues and Members on the Opposition benches in commending Deputy Ó Cuív on tabling this motion and ensuring there is a strong focus on agriculture during Private Members' business. It is particularly important given the difficulties faced by so many farmers. It is also important because of the misconception, often among Ministers, about the health and wealth of farm incomes. The perception built up in the earlier stages of the recession, when farming was holding its own and had one or two good years compared to the wider economy, which was declining rapidly. The perception is still in existence among many of those in government when the reality is that farm incomes and the farming sector have been struggling significantly in the past two years.
I do not believe the Government has realised that or reflected it in its policy.
I want to focus on three specific areas in my remarks. First of these is the crisis in the beef industry, which is the main focus of the motion put forward by Deputy Ó Cuív. However, I also want to touch on the GLAS scheme and difficulties in regard to farm assist for many farm families. On the crisis in the beef industry, the motion calls for a beef regulator to be established. Although none of us can be sure as to the impact this may have, I believe it would be a worthwhile step that could go some way to ensuring a stronger focus on what is going on in the factories and to ensuring farmers receive a fair price at the factory gate. The Dowling report which was published following round table discussions recommended this.
It has been recommended, and I believe it would be a worthwhile step. As Deputy Connaughton pointed out earlier, there has traditionally been significant conflict between farmers and the factories. There has also been significant single ownership of many factories, which only enhances this conflict. There is a need for assurance to farmers that they are getting a fair price and that different factories are not reducing or increasing prices at the same time.
Along with ensuring monitoring of prices and that farmers are getting a fair crack of the final price, it is crucial there is competition through live exports. We could do with putting emphasis on ensuring export avenues are open and that difficulties are not placed in the way of this safety valve, so that farmers who fail to sell to the factories have an alternative available. More export opportunities would also provide competition for the factories and ensure competition in regard to the prices being offered by them.
I mentioned earlier the impact of the crisis on farm incomes, which is nowhere more pronounced than among what bull beef producers, in particular, have experienced this past year. It went from a situation where farmers were encouraged and advised to produce more bull beef, but once they had their sheds filled they found the goalposts had been changed, with specifications and grading requirements changed. This has resulted in a situation where many of them have found themselves losing from €200 to €300 per animal when it comes to selling it on the factory floor.
When we look at what has happened with farm incomes over the past three years, we can clearly see the difficulty farm families are experiencing. For example, on cattle rearing farms, the average income in 2011 was €19,183. This dropped to €17,800 in 2012 and to €15,595 in 2013. This is a continuous drop over the past three years. In the sheep sector, average income was €19,000 in 2011. This dropped to €18,200 in 2012 and to €11,160 this past year. Again, we see a definite trend of decreasing farm incomes. The overall average farm income is given a healthier reflection due to the fact that dairy farms tend to have better incomes, which raises the overall average.
If we look at the case of suckler farms, the income on the average suckler farm last year was just under €10,000. However, figures show that the average single farm payment to cattle rearing farms was €15,000. Therefore, the average suckler farm was eating into its single farm payment to the tune of €5,000 - or one third of its single farm payment - in order to produce young cattle. It has been the ongoing situation for a number of years that average farm income on suckler farms has been less than what the single farm payment would be. This situation cannot continue. Any Deputy with links with the farming community will know that at markets and marts across the country, the number of cows being culled and removed from production is increasing all the time. Even young farmers who would have invested significantly in recent years are questioning their future in farming. In many cases, they would get out of farming if there was alternative employment available.
This brings me to the farm assist payment. This is an issue I have raised with the Minister for Social Protection on a number of occasions. Since the Government has come to power, it has made changes to the system, so that instead of 70% of a farmer's annual income being assessed towards farm assist, the full 100% is now assessed. The farm assist payment brings the farm income up to the level of what a farmer would receive on unemployment benefit or on the dole. Now, what happens is that every penny a farmer earns on the farm comes off their farm assist payment. Anybody in any other employment area who finds himself on the dole only wants to remain on it for a short period, until he finds alternative employment. It is not meant to be a baseline where somebody will sit for a long time. However, this is now what is expected of the farming community. Farmers are expected to accept a farm assist payment which is at the same level as the dole, but also to accept a situation where they must work 40 to 50 hours a week in order to achieve that payment. That is unfair and does not acknowledge in any way what those farm families contribute to the local community through living in it and through the revenue and turnover farms generate.
This position is unsustainable. It sends a clear message to farmers that in the same way as people not from the farming community who are out of work and on the dole are encouraged to take up employment when it becomes available, they should do the same. People on smaller and medium sized family farms who are availing of farm assist are being given the message that they should give up on farming and find alternative employment, because they are given no reward whatsoever for their daily enterprise.
The other issue I wish to raise is the new GLAS scheme, the replacement for the AEOS and REPS, and the difficulty the proposed regulations will cause for commonage farmers. A minimum of 50% of all farmers with access to commonage are being required to sign up at the one in order for any one of them to be eligible. Last week, based on a reply to a parliamentary question asked by Deputy Ó Cuív, I pointed out that previous experience of AEOS and REPS indicated that 24% of farms with commonage rights would have signed up to the previous REPS or environmental schemes. Therefore, it is no way realistic to expect a minimum of 50% to sign up now. The Minister needs to reverse his plans in this regard or we will have a further significant proportion of lower income farms affected by the proposal.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the crisis in the beef industry and commend my colleague, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, on putting forward the motion and on the work he has done in the agriculture sector over the past while. I commend him also on the challenges he has made in the sector with stakeholders in regard to funding and so forth.
A number of speakers have suggested that the motion is opportunist but the stark reality is that there is a crisis in the farming community and if we cannot reflect the concerns of farmers on the floor of Dáil Éireann, we have no business being in here.
I wish to deal with a number of issues, the substantive one being the price that farmers are getting for beef at the moment. In recent years there was a huge push on farmers and finishers to go into bull beef. The argument was that this was what the market wanted and that farmers should get big animals to the factories. All of a sudden, however, almost overnight, the factories pulled the price and said they were no longer interested in this type of cattle but wanted the smaller animals. I have a big issue with that because it did not happen overnight.
We must have a fundamental look at the advice given at farm gate level. Farmers are the most adaptable group of people in the entire country. They have constantly reinvented themselves in terms of changing farm practices to ensure a viable income for themselves and their families. I have met farmers in my constituency clinic who have shown me the difference in the price they got for cattle in December and the price they got in February or March for similar cattle. That must be looked at.
In the past three or four years, much discussion has centred on emerging and new markets, the targets to be met under Food Harvest 2020 and so on. The focus has been on getting into the emerging markets but we have never really examined what products are needed for those markets. We have developed the dairy products that are needed over many years through companies like Kerrygold and so forth. It is high time we made sure that we are producing a beef product that the markets want because farmers will adapt to changing demands.
Regardless of whether the report recommended a regulator, the stark reality is that we need a regulator for this industry and that need did not arise today or yesterday. There is no point in pussy footing around on this issue. A regulator is needed and I compliment my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív on his efforts to bring this issue to the fore. I have a small suckler herd myself and am well aware of the limitations within the agricultural sector. We need a regulator because farmers have been fighting with the factories for decades. We should take that as a given following this debate. We must put in a regulator and face them down.
I have met farmers who appear from the outside to be strong, efficient and doing well. However, due to difficulties as a result of illness, problems with machinery and so forth, they have no cash flow. I have met many such farmers, as have other Deputies in this House. They have financial commitments, with children at school or in college but have only a single income in the household. They are experiencing enormous difficulties. As is the case with many other rural Deputies, I have been negotiating with banks, co-ops and marts on their behalf.
Farmers are also very concerned about departmental inspections. I spoke to the Minister privately last night on this matter. An individual who is very involved in the agricultural sector and has his finger on the pulse said to me recently that the inspection regime within the Department is out of control. The special investigations unit and other units within the Department need to be less rigid. I have seen numerous parliamentary questions tabled recently with regard to people who made genuine mistakes in terms of how they conducted their business. These are hardworking, decent farmers and that deserves recognition.
The thrust of tonight's debate is that we have a crisis at farm gate level. Last year, the price for beef was good, though not extraordinary. If I took anything from the Grange beef open day last week it was that many suckler farmers are fearful they will not be able to sustain the production of high-quality cattle. Numerous reports have indicated that in the past farmers got into producing continental cattle and then, almost overnight, the factories decided they did not want such animals.
We need a blueprint and a road map for the agricultural sector. We must accept that there is a major crisis in the beef sector. Next autumn, when the weanlings hit the market, people will be careful not to get burned again. Those who invested heavily last year have been left very sore. The problem will spiral again and people will be left with debt they cannot service, families they cannot feed and commitments they cannot honour. We must face up to this crisis. There is no point in Members opposite saying we should not be raising this issue. Now is the time to deal it. We have a world-class product which is sought after all over the world. We should be marketing it properly. We should also ensure the best possible advice is given to farmers at farm gate level. Never again should it be a case of everybody putting their eggs into one basket, producing a particular product only for the factories to say they do not want it when it is ready for slaughter. It was not last November or December that the factories made that decision.
As I said at the outset, farmers will adapt and do whatever is necessary. They are used to running their businesses and ensuring they have a product for market. Whatever else we take from this debate, it must be accepted that we need a regulator for this industry and it is high time the Government acted in that regard. It needs to face down the people in the industry who argue that we do not need a regulator. The industry must be regulated, once and for all. We must also ensure that farmers are respected. In the past two to three years, farmers enjoyed a reasonably good income, despite the enormous difficulties caused by the fodder shortage in 2012 and 2013. Now, however, it is the multinationals and the major companies that are being wined and dined and the primary producers are being forgotten. We would not have one gallon of milk or one pound of beef were it not for the people who are willing to get their hands dirty in the morning and go out and farm. We need to acknowledge that. These people are as good as those in any other sector and it is high time we, as a House, acknowledged that.
I join my colleagues in thanking Deputy Ó Cuív for tabling this motion. Deputies on all sides of the House, from all parties and none, recognise the value of agriculture to this economy, especially in these straitened times.
The beef sector has particular value to both the economy and the communities we serve. As many speakers indicated, buoyancy in the sector can only benefit everyone.
As is often stated, our reputation in this area has grown in recent years. Ireland is now one of the leading producers of beef and we have a product that is clean, green and of the highest quality. However, many Deputies on all sides, particularly those on the Government side, have acknowledged the grave problem that exists in the beef sector. For example, Deputy John Paul Phelan stated earlier that a radical change is required in the context of how we address this issue. Deputy Connaughton referred to factories that have the potential to ruin producers. A number of speakers highlighted the fact that recent figures indicate a loss of income for farmers of anything up to 22% and a drop in price of up to 20%. It appears, however, that the Government does not believe this crisis to be of a magnitude that the remainder of us believe it to be.
On Leaders' Questions this morning Deputy Clare Daly raised the issue of the employees of the Greyhound waste management company. One can empathise with the plight of those workers on whom the bombshell was dropped last week regarding a 20% to 25% reduction in wages in order for the company to maintain its viability. The Taoiseach was aghast and flabbergasted when that issue was brought to his attention and referred to the various arms of the State - the Labour Court and so forth - which might assist in negotiating a settlement at the company. The motion before the House contains a mechanism by means of which issues affecting the beef sector which are not currently being dealt with might be addressed. I refer here to the appointment of a regulator to address the obvious and ongoing difficulties which have not been resolved despite many negotiations between the producers and the factories.
We all recognise that the Government has a responsibility in respect of this matter. However, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a particular responsibility to lead and not be led, and to listen to the various stakeholders. I am sure he listened attentively in recent times and is au fait with the problems that exist. He must now proceed to offer solutions. Round-table discussions - to which much reference has been made - are not the means by which this crisis can be dealt with head-on, by which to bring about the radical change required, as Deputy John Paul Phelan noted, or by which to address the issue of factories being in a position to ruin producers. What are required are initiatives. Our duty, as an Opposition party, is to provide alternatives and solutions which the Government can evaluate before coming forward with suggestions of its own. That is the purpose of the brief few hours of Private Members' time allocated each week. Our motion contains proposals that the Government can either take on board or offer alternatives to.
The first point we make is that a beef regulator is required in order to address the lack of fairness that exists between producers and the factories. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, and the line Minister must make an effort to address the labelling issue that exists in the North and the UK. I ask that this be done as quickly as is humanly possible and that the Minister of State inform the House of the progress that is made at the earliest opportunity. It is also necessary that an update be provided in respect of markets, be it in Russia or in the US, where the Minister is at present. Is there going to be an overall EU agreement or is our product going to be recognised for what it is, namely, vastly superior to that of many other member states? If those issues are addressed, the Minister of State might then be in a position to inform the House of a mechanism by means of which the relevant reductions might be offset. If the latter are offset, the industry might be allowed to prosper again and become what it is expected to be. It must be remembered that all of this has massive implications for the 2020 programme.
I am replying to this debate on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who unfortunately is unable to be present. I assure Deputies that he will read the blacks in order to familiarise himself with the contributions of Government and Opposition Deputies.
This debate has given rise to much discussion in respect of the challenges currently faced by the beef sector. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, clearly acknowledged the drop in prices this year as compared with the record high prices achieved this time last year. Those on the opposite side of the House stated that we do not recognise the existence of a problem. We do recognise that there is a problem and we will deal with it. Prices this year have been more favourable than those achieved in most other years and they remain above the EU average. It would neither be appropriate nor possible for any Minister to intervene in respect of price. As Deputy Ó Cuív is well aware, to do so would be illegal. The Opposition seems to be suggesting that there is some political magic bullet by means of which the current beef price issue can be resolved. When he is summing up, I would like Deputy Ó Cuív to supply his proposals as to how this crisis might be resolved.
They are contained in the motion.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is fully committed to dealing with this issue. The round-table discussions he convened have provided stakeholders with both a forum to express their views and an opportunity to meet the challenges that exist head-on. The description of these discussions as talking shops shows a lack of understanding of what is really involved. As the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, outlined, a number of key outcomes have emerged from the discussions to date. I refer, for example, to greater transparency in respect of price via the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's website, legislation for producer groups, an additional markets fund for beef and greater levels of communication between processors and farm bodies and organisations. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, both met the Northern Ireland Minister, Michelle O'Neill, MLA, in order to discuss the issue of live cattle being transported to the North in order to be finished. Deliberations in that regard will continue.
It must be recognised that UK retailers have a clear preference for animals born, reared and slaughtered either in Ireland or the UK. As the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, made it quite clear - and despite some of the claims made by those opposite - there are no barriers to the trading of live cattle from this jurisdiction to Northern Ireland or Britain. In fact, live exports to both destinations are significantly up on the same period last year.
One of the issues that arises in the context of establishing a regulator is that the Competition Authority already has a remit to ensure that markets function properly. If Deputies have evidence to the effect that markets are not functioning properly, then I ask them to bring it to the attention of the Competition Authority for full and immediate investigation. One Deputy stated that the Dowling report recommends the appointment of a beef regulator. I have read the recommendations contained in the report and I am not aware of any such proposal. It is unfortunate that Deputy McConalogue has left the Chamber, because it was he who made this assertion. I would like him to read my copy of the report, because it is the real version.
The Government's commitment to the beef sector is without question. Under the new CAP, €295 million has been set aside for the beef data and genomics scheme. The new GLAS scheme will be worth over €1.4 billion to the economy. In addition, the making of €10 million in payments under the beef data programme commenced this week. These payments will assist 26,000 farmers throughout the country. Under Fianna Fáil's proposals in respect of the CAP, the single farm payments of beef farmers - including those in my constituency in Wexford and throughout the remainder of the south east - would have been dramatically reduced. That is a point which has been overlooked by the Deputies opposite during this debate. Perhaps Deputy Ó Cuív might be able to educate some of his party's members with regard to the nature of Fianna Fáil's real proposals.
The Minister of State should read them. They are contained in the motion.
I assure him that those proposals would have destroyed the agriculture industry here.
Deputy Ó Cuív has tried unsuccessfully to use cynically the fact that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is away this week for his own political gain or for his party's political gain. In reality, Deputy Ó Cuív knows well that the Minister is in the USA negotiating access for the beef market there which has not been open in years. He is meeting retailers to develop Ireland's presence there. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, discussed access to the Chinese market during a high-level visit last week. Markets in Lebanon, Japan, Singapore, Egypt and Iran have also been opened.
The Government fully recognises that beef farmers have experienced challenging times in recent months. We are taking action, where possible, to support the industry through a difficult period. We will drive on with that commitment and continue to prioritise the Irish agrifood industry as we have done since we took up office in 2011.
I call Deputy Timmy Dooley who is sharing time with Deputy Ó Cuív.
I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for putting down this important motion. I had hoped that we would have a constructive debate tonight and I believe we were having a relatively constructive debate until the Chief Whip entered. It should be noted that the Chief Whip sits at the Cabinet table. That he takes such a partisan approach to such an important debate is reprehensible and regrettable. We all have our views about the seriousness of the situation. This is not necessarily to suggest that anyone on any one side of the House has all the solutions, but in fairness to Deputy Ó Cuív he has published proposals in the past. He has put forward a motion tonight. If the Government could see its way to support the motion it would at least give confidence to the 100,000 families who are at their wits' end. They are struggling to stay in business and need to see support coming from those of us in this House rather than see us squabble over minor insults that the Chief Whip might have perceived from things that were said. What we really need to do now is put an appropriate plan in place and take views from all sides, in particular, the views of the people whose livelihoods are most affected.
There is little doubt that the Government must look to the greater industry. It is widely accepted that the former Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, produced a document, Harvest 2020, which received critical acclaim throughout the political sector and the industry. The current Minister makes many announcements, visits many factories and participates in many appropriate photo opportunities. However, the real work in delivering for Harvest 2020 will come about if the Government puts its support behind the beef sector. It is the case that milk is doing well and has been doing well. Obviously, there are challenges ahead for that sector as well but we are dealing with the beef industry. We cannot allow the suckler cow herd to continue to drop or watch cows being sold off year after year and not replaced. This is happening, frankly, because farmers cannot afford to replace them. They are selling off the cow to put a child through college, to pay the capitation fees or bills and to pay for the inputs because the costs of inputs are rising significantly and we have seen a significant reduction in beef prices in the past year.
Any of the Teagasc reports produced shows that a farmer needs at least €4 per kilogramme to reach a basic margin. More likely, a farmer needs to get €4.50 to have a feasible enterprise. They are taking €3.75 at the moment and sometimes €3.70 or €3.50. The factories are not living up to the commitments that they made throughout the sector. This requires a co-ordinated approach by Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, made the point that it would be illegal for the Government or that it would not be possible for the Government to insist on the price that the factories sell beef at, but we know that. It is as obvious as night following day but there is more the Government could do in putting it up to the industry and challenging the industry to treat farmers more fairly.
The Irish Farmers Association has referred to how "the failure of Minister Coveney to challenge the factories on the beef price and specification issues at the Beef Forum is being used by the factories as a licence to drive on and implement these severe cuts across the board". The IFA is demanding that the Minister should stand up for farmers and take firm and decisive action with the meat factories. It is as simple as that. It is clear that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has not intervened to assist the situation.
The IFA is also demanding that roadblocks be removed since they are impeding the live trade to Northern Ireland which is vital for price competition. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, knows that and he needs to do far more in a proactive way to support the live export trade, which is essential for price competition. That has been true from time immemorial and it has been a feature of previous Governments.
Much criticism was made of a former leader of our party in respect of certain activities that he participated in but he certainly believed in the beef industry and in the necessity of having competition in the market. When Charlie Haughey went to Libya some time back with Alan Gillis of the IFA, they showed the necessary support for that sector. They were not prepared to be fobbed off by the processing sector. This is the type of intervention, a hands-on approach, required to ensure that the sector is capable of providing for the wider economy in terms of the jobs it can create and maintain and, more important, that it can keep a sustainable livelihood for 100,000 farm families.
Deputy Ó Cuív, you have five minutes.
I understand it is ten minutes.
It is down before me as five minutes.
The Deputy only took five minutes.
Keep going anyway.
There is a quarter of an hour or 15 minutes in the slot.
There are approximately seven minutes left.
It should be ten minutes. We have proposed solutions. We proposed the appointment of a beef regulator. We proposed bringing forward urgently the legislation for producer groups. We proposed dealing with the logjam which means that a farmer cannot export cattle live to Britain from Dublin in lorries. We proposed dealing with the labelling issue which means that cattle born and bred on this island and slaughtered on this island can either be sold as Irish cattle or British cattle. One would think with all the détente under way it would not be beyond the wit that if we could have the people as Irish citizens, then surely we could have the cattle from this island labelled as Irish too. We have proposed solutions.
It has become apparent in recent weeks that there is a trail of destruction following the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, in his role as Minister and as President of the European Council. In time his period in office will be seen as a period of major failure.
Another thing that is becoming apparent is that the Minister cannot accept criticism. The Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, knows that we agreed to a change in the rota for parliamentary questions on agriculture. Then the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine asked us to go back to the original date but did not turn up. Why did he not turn up? It was because he said that the American Secretary of State was in the country. I got an invitation to a reception approximately three or four weeks before the American Secretary of State came. I am sure that if I knew he was coming then the Minister knew well in advance that he was coming to the country. At the end of the day four times on four different days the Minister did not turn up in the House. I accept he is in America this week but that means it was all the more important that he should have turned up last week. The reality is that he does not seem to think that answering to the people elected by the people is of importance.
I noticed today that one of the backbenchers became rather concerned about Ireland's access to Europe. I assure that backbencher that if we need meetings with senior officials in the Commission we will get them with the Commissioner himself. The difference is that when we get those meetings they listen, unlike the Minister.
That is why he left.
He cannot take criticism, does not listen and has no wish to debate.
I keep hearing about the €12 billion the Minister secured. This was the first time ever that the CAP budget was down. Let us put the €12 billion into perspective. The Government will spend €12 billion in seven months on social welfare. The Minister has got €12 billion but not for seven years because, as I found out yesterday, there is a sneaky clause termed N+3. As such, that money does not need to be spent until after eight years have passed. This effectively decreases the budget per annum.
This year between 5,000 and 10,000 farmers have seen cuts of up to 10% in their single farm payments. They are beginning to see that the money promised is melting away. For the past two years I have been saying the greatest issue in agriculture, particularly in productive counties such as Wexford, is getting a good price in the market, be it for liquid milk, beef, vegetables or anything else.
The Deputy told a different story in the west.
We want good prices, too.
The Deputy told a different story wherever he went.
If Deputy Patrick O'Donovan wants to debate that issue, he should attend the committee some day and I will take him through my proposals.
I have read what the Deputy stated there.
I am sorry, but time is limited.
It is a county-wide process for Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív.
We only have two minutes and 36 seconds left.
What I propose for County Wexford would be much better for it than what the Government is actually doing.
Naturally enough. The Deputy was in government for 14 years and left a lot to be done.
The reality is that the European Union is aware of the problem posed by retailers and processors' power, but the Minister did not deem what is probably the greatest challenge facing us important enough to put it at the top of the Common Agricultural Policy reform agenda. What are we doing with the CAP moneys? Compared with this time last year, a much higher percentage of the amount a consumer pays for beef is going to processors and retailers than to farmers. The main indirect beneficiary is the retailer. The Government has put the money through the farmer to rich and powerful vested interests because it will not tackle them.
It is interesting that the Government claims it cannot have regulation or control price. I would like to have a real debate on the issue. The telecommunications industry has a regulator in the light of the small number of dominant players in it and the regulator controls price. In the electricity supply industry-----
Does the Deputy want to control price? Does he want to say-----
Minister of State, please.
I will tell the Minister of State what I want.
Clarify it. It is important that it be clarified.
I will explain it exactly. I want control of-----
Does the Deputy want to control price?
Members, please. There are only 50 seconds left.
Will someone sit in an office and tell people what the price should be? The Deputy needs to-----
We are already over time.
I just need to have that point clarified.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív to continue, without interruption.
I am sorry.
Does Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív's idea apply to milk prices also?
Where there is abuse. I will provide an example. Many farmers allege that the collapse in bull beef prices is directly linked with last year's horsemeat scandal.
Their allegation is that, when the scandal resulted in much tighter inspections by supermarkets of what they were buying, the beef that was intended to be sold into the market could no longer be sold. I am only saying what is being alleged. If we had a regulator, he or she could find out whether the allegation was true. Regulators check to ensure there is no abuse of a dominant position in the market. That is what we need.
What about the question of price?
It has become apparent that up to 10,000 farmers who have been in receipt of single farm payments will no longer be eligible for them under the new regulations negotiated by the Minister in Brussels. It is also becoming apparent that 10% of farmers will not be able to access the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, because of the small print in the negotiations.
It is becoming apparent that, on the issue of-----
Rubbish. The Deputy has been spinning this line for the past few weeks.
No, it is true.
The Deputy never answered the question on price fixing.
I was in the Department this week-----
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív never answered the question on price fixing.
To quote Shakespeare, the Government doth protest too much.
Has the Deputy rubbed it out?
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- Farrell, Alan.
- Feighan, Frank.
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- Hannigan, Dominic.
- Harrington, Noel.
- Harris, Simon.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Heydon, Martin.
- Humphreys, Heather.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Keating, Derek.
- Kehoe, Paul.
- Kelly, Alan.
- Kenny, Seán.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lynch, Ciarán.
- Lyons, John.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McEntee, Helen.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- McHugh, Joe.
- McLoughlin, Tony.
- Maloney, Eamonn.
- Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Murphy, Dara.
- Murphy, Eoghan.
- Neville, Dan.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donovan, Patrick.
- O'Dowd, Fergus.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Perry, John.
- Phelan, Ann.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Ring, Michael.
- Ryan, Brendan.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Twomey, Liam.
- Walsh, Brian.
- White, Alex.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Browne, John.
- Colreavy, Michael.
- Cowen, Barry.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Doherty, Pearse.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Ferris, Martin.
- Halligan, John.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Healy-Rae, Michael.
- Higgins, Joe.
- Keaveney, Colm.
- Kirk, Seamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Lowry, Michael.
- McConalogue, Charlie.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Mattie.
- McGrath, Michael.
- McGuinness, John.
- McLellan, Sandra.
- Mathews, Peter.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Murphy, Catherine.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Cuív, Éamon.
- Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O'Brien, Jonathan.
- O'Sullivan, Maureen.
- Pringle, Thomas.
- Smith, Brendan.
- Stanley, Brian.
- Tóibín, Peadar.
- Troy, Robert.