Priority Questions

Agrifood Sector

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

23. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the immediate contingency steps he is taking to safeguard the interests of the agrifood sector and Common Agricultural Policy payments, following the decision by the United Kingdom to exit the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21616/16]

The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union creates considerable challenges for the agrifood sector. The United Kingdom is by far our largest trading partner. Last year we exported almost €5.1 billion worth of agricultural products. This included more than €1.1 billion in beef products and almost €970 million in dairy products. Ireland is also the United Kingdom's largest destination for its food exports which were worth €3.8 billion last year. This bilateral trade takes place on the basis of harmonised EU rules on animal and public health and labelling, without complex certification, quota limits or customs duties and tariffs. It is underpinned by the vital support of the CAP budget, to which the United Kingdom is a significant net contributor.

Given these linkages and as the United Kingdom is a net food importer, both countries have a strong interest in maintaining a close agrifood trading relationship. The resilience of the Irish agrifood sector is well recognised and this, together with the strong commercial relationships built up in years of trading, will help us to negotiate our way though the challenges ahead. It is important also to bear in mind that the precise implications of the referendum outcome will depend on the trade and other arrangements ultimately negotiated between the European Union and the United Kingdom. These negotiations may take up to two years, and perhaps longer, and during this period existing arrangements will continue to apply. Nevertheless, my Department had engaged in detailed contingency planning for the possibility of this result and has published a summary of the key actions we are taking to address the contingencies arising from the United Kingdom's decision. The most immediate concerns for exporters centre on euro-sterling exchange rates. It should be noted that the fall in the value of sterling against the euro, while significant, is not unprecedented. Nevertheless, a sustained period of currency volatility could be of concern. In that regard, the Central Bank of Ireland has pre-established contingency plans to deal with market volatility surrounding the referendum result. It will engage with the Department of Finance and individual financial institutions on potential risks. Actions by the European Central Bank, ECB, and other global actors will be monitored closely.

I have asked the relevant agencies, including Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and BIM, to provide practical guidance for SMEs. Last week Bord Bia announced a number of measures to support food and drink businesses.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

These measures cover areas such as managing volatility impacts, providing consumer and market insight, deepening customer engagement and extending market reach, with the aim of helping companies to maintain their competitiveness. Similar support is also being provided by Enterprise Ireland.

Aside from currency fluctuations, the main areas in which potential impacts are foreseen are tariffs and trade, the EU budget, regulations and standards, customs controls and certification, while complex issues also arise for the fisheries sector. However, we must remember that our trading relationship with the United Kingdom is not altered in any way until the negotiation process that will dictate the terms and conditions of the United Kingdom’s departure is completed. In the meantime and as part of our overall contingency planning, I have taken a number of measures to ensure a sensible, coherent approach is adopted. I have established a dedicated unit in my Department to work on all of the issues I have mentioned. I have convened a consultative committee of stakeholders, which met for the first time last week, to ensure a full exchange of information as the negotiations proceed. I am ensuring the response of the relevant agencies is fully co-ordinated through a contact group established under the Food Wise 2025 High Level Implementation Committee. The Department will continue to feed into the central contingency framework being co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach.

The thrust of my question was focused on the potential impact on the CAP as a result of the United Kingdom's decision to exit the European Union. I do not need to tell the Minister about the tremendous concern in the farming community about the potential impact. Deputies Jackie Cahill and Bobby Aylward and I have met a number of the farming organisations and others involved in the sector during recent weeks and there is real concern about how it may play out. This concern was exacerbated by comments during the past week or two by the German Economy Minister, when he indicated that there would probably be a reduction in the CAP budget as a result of the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. The CAP Is a crucial cornerstone of the agriculture sector in Ireland and throughout Europe. In Ireland 130,000 farm families depend on it and two thirds of net income comes from CAP payments. What steps has the Minister taken, or will he take, particularly in engaging with his German and French counterparts, to ensure the CAP budget will be secure and that there will not be a threat hanging over it? Will there be any further comment from Ministers such as we heard during the past week on protecting its budget?

Given that the United Kingdom is a net contributor to the European Union, its departure, whenever it is finalised, will have consequences from that date forward for the CAP. The financial arrangements underpinning the current CAP are secure until a new CAP is negotiated in 2020. We are very conscious of the implications. I will be meeting the French Agriculture Minister in late August in Paris to discuss all of the consequences arising from post-Brexit issues.

Notwithstanding the comments of the German Agriculture Minister, it is important that we do not raise fears that are not real. There is no threat to immediate funding under the CAP. I am very much aware of the significant funding we draw down in direct payments and areas of natural constraint and under the rural development programme. These payments are secure in the current CAP budget. It is likely to be at least two years, possibly longer, before the United Kingdom manages to extricate itself legally from membership of the European Union.

However, the current budget is secure, notwithstanding the comments by the German agriculture Minister.

I welcome the Minister's comments but I would like to clarify them. Is he saying there is no threat whatsoever to the CAP budget between now and 2020 and that the pot will remain as it is regardless of whether Britain exits in the meantime and its payments are withdrawn? Has that been clearly indicated to him, or confirmed to him, at European Council level or is that his own sense of this from within the Department?

The Minister indicated he will meet his French counterpart in August. What are his plans regarding engagement with the German Government because Germany and France are big players in respect of the future of CAP? Has he plans to meet his German counterpart, particularly in light of the concerning comments made by the German economic Minister?

When is the mid-term review likely to take place? When is it due to commence?

There is no decision as to whether there will be a mid-term review. The Commissioner has not decided whether that will happen.

I met the German agriculture Minister last month at the Council meeting and I will meet him again next Monday morning. There is a great deal of concern in the broader Community about Brexit and there are issues of substance to be dealt with but I urge all stakeholders, and there are many both inside and outside the farm gate, to remain focused because a lot of loose talk can generate the instability to which the market reacts. Whereas I do not wish to underestimate in any way the significance of the issues and the challenges, not least because of our market dependence and complications such as Ireland having the only land border following the departure of the UK, which will be significant, something I have asked my officials to engage with the Northern Ireland Minister on, it is important that we do not overstate the concerns we have to deal with in such a way that they exacerbate the issue in the marketplace which poses the most immediate challenge, which is currency fluctuations.

Will Members please be aware of the time limits for questions and responses?

Departmental Legal Cases

Martin Kenny

Question:

24. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he will take, in view of the High Court judgment of 2 June 2016, which found that his Department’s procedures in conducting farm inspections were lacking by not providing a control report, not applying the maxim of audi alteram partem, or fulfilling the onus on the decision-maker to comply with regulation, to give the applicant the opportunity to make the case before applying penalties. [21375/16]

In the context of delivering direct payment schemes and rural development measures, my Department is required to carry out on-the-spot inspections on a number of farms. These inspections address a range of issues in relation to land eligibility, scheme specific eligibility and other EU regulatory requirements. The basis for the inspections is governed by EU legislation and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must take place annually. These inspections are a necessary requirement to draw down approximately €1.5 billion of EU funds annually and to avoid EU disallowances.

The legal case to which the Deputy refers has not yet reached its ultimate conclusion, and, as the matter progresses - I understand it will be finalised on 28 July - I will obtain legal advice, as appropriate, on the wide range of complex legal issues involved. Accordingly, any issues arising as a result of the legal case can only be addressed following the completion of this legal process.

This case went through the courts on 2 June. The farmer in question lodged an appeal to the Department. When officials came out to his farm, they did not fulfil the regulations set out by the Department and the EU. If the shoe was on the other foot and the farmer had not fulfilled the regulations, we know what would have happened. As the court said, this farmer has to be compensated for his losses because his appeal was not dealt with properly. Hundreds of other farmers are in a similar position. They did not receive a control report, which was supposed to be provided, and this is at the nub of the case. Many of them are examining their positions and saying they had a fair case which was not dealt with properly and they did not get the fair play they felt they deserved. Now they want to know whether they can apply to get their money back and to be compensated for their losses. If the shoe was on the other foot, the Department would do so. Will the Minister commit to repaying them for their losses as a result of this failure?

I am acutely aware of the interest the issue has raised among many farmers, not least farmers in my constituency who have spoken to me about the implications, with them having been on the receiving end of departmental disallowances, fines, increased fines on review etc. The judgment goes to the heart of the process about the failure of the Department to issue a control report prior to imposing penalties. However, before we are in a position to conclude on what the spillover consequences will be for any other farmer, we need to have the finality of the judge's decision and that will be published on 28 July. We have the broad substantial outline of his judgment and I will not hide behind the ultimate qualifications which he may make. Much of the commentary will be in respect of costs etc., but there are other issues on which parties have been invited to make submissions that can be considered by the judge before he makes his final deliberations on the matter.

I am acutely conscious that many farmers feel aggrieved by the process. Whatever the consequences of the case, the Department has to operate within the law, and if we require further clarification of the law, so be it. We await the final decision and I am acutely aware of the heightened level of interest in the farming community in the matter. However, the Deputy will understand that until I have the ultimate interpretation of the judge's ruling, I cannot comment in detail or, indeed, raise expectations of farmers who feel they may have been aggrieved by the issues raised in the court case. This afternoon, legal advisers from my Department are meeting senior counsel to explore all the consequences of the ruling

It is disappointing that we are in this position. The judge stated, "The lack of respect for fair procedures was extended to the review when other penalties were imposed without any opportunity given to the applicant to make submissions in advance of the imposition of an extra penalty." In other words, when the appeal was lodged and the officials visited the farmer to conduct the review, not only did they uphold the first penalty but they imposed a second penalty on the farmer. That is the case for many farmers throughout the country. While I acknowledge the Minister said farmers feel aggrieved, they also feel vindicated by this case. The Department has many questions to answer in this regard.

If farmers are obliged to do something for the Department to secure a grant, strict time limits are set and they must do it this way, that way or the other way. I have experience of this on many occasions. Every hurdle is set in their way, yet when the Department does something, officials seem to be able ride roughshod over everybody. That sense of officialdom always winning out has been challenged and defeated in the courts on this occasion. It would be a measure of due respect to the entire farming community if the Minister simply put his two hands up and said the Department was totally wrong in this case and it will look after the farmer.

The Department has many responsibilities in this area. One is to secure the level of payments we get annually from the Commission. The amount is €1.5 billion across the various schemes. Prior to the Deputy's arrival in the House, but in the not too distant past, the State incurred fines of almost €70 million for not adequately policing EU schemes. This hit affected the entire farming community. While fair procedures must be ensured, we must also abide by the accountability process to which we are subject in respect of public funds the EU gives us under the CAP. This must be done fairly and I acknowledge the court's decision in this regard. We will study it, and if there are spillover consequences in respect of other decisions the Department has made, we will have to consider how the judgment impacts on them. However, it is a little premature at this stage. We await the judge's final comments on 28 July and there are meetings this afternoon in the Department between senior counsel and senior officials in my Department to study all the implications of the judgment. I acknowledge it is a significant issue in which farmers are interested. Many of them feel they would have been unfairly treated. We will have to see the implications, if any, of the judgment in this respect.

Rural Development Programme

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

25. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the criteria he is considering for the design of a new scheme for sheep farmers, under the rural development programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21617/16]

The new programme for Government commits to the introduction of a scheme for sheep farmers under the rural development programme, with a budget of €25 million to be provided in budget 2017. This scheme, in addition to the existing supports available to sheep farmers under the basic payment scheme, the green low-carbon argi-environment scheme, GLAS, the areas of natural constraint, ANC, scheme and the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, will make a vital contribution to ensuring the continuing viability of the sheep sector in Ireland. This commitment is a clear acknowledgement of the contribution the sheepmeat sector makes to the agrifood economy, generating an output value of €320 million in 2015 and supporting 34,000 farm families directly, as well as providing several thousand jobs indirectly in rural areas.

As regards the specifics of the scheme design and operation, my Department has engaged in extensive consultation with farm organisations. In addition, two weeks ago they met officials of the European Commission to discuss the proposed new scheme in the context of the specific requirements of the rural development programme. Any such scheme must comply with the rural development regulation. My officials are working on the final details of the scheme in the light of these consultations. The scheme is being proposed as an animal welfare scheme under Article 33 of the rural development regulation. All eligible actions will have to be linked with improving animal welfare conditions for applicant flocks and payments will be calibrated to compensate farmers for costs incurred or income forgone as a result of such actions. Eligible actions must be verifiable and controllable and must go beyond the normal standards of husbandry practice.

My objective is to ensure the scheme is administratively simple, both for applicants and my Department, complies with EU regulations, makes a real contribution to the development of the sector and is available to the maximum possible number of participants, including both lowland and hill sheep farmers.

It is welcome that there is a commitment to and movement on introducing the €25 million scheme to assist the sheep sector. It is very necessary because incomes in the sheep sector have been under pressure in recent years and we have also seen a reduction in flock numbers, something which needs to be arrested. The average income of a sheep farm family is just over €15,000, of which a very high proportion, not far off 100%, is made up of farm payments. Will the Minister elaborate further on the structure of the new scheme? It is crucial that the mistakes made with the beef data and genomics programme which was regarded by farmers as being particularly cumbersome, leading to a lower take-up than had been predicted, are not repeated. Will the Minister comment on the requests made to him by hill farmers, in particular, for a €5 top-up payment and the need for a single menu? Is this something he is considering and plans to introduce, particularly in the light of the fact that the sector has been much less profitable in recent years, particularly for hill sheep farmers?

I do not want to get dragged into a cul-de-sac, but it is interesting to note that, with respect to the aforementioned beef data and genomics scheme which I believe will do for the beef sector what the electronic identification, EID, scheme has done for the dairy sector, there is a huge demand to have it reopened to new applicants. I do not believe it is flawed but that, over time, it will prove itself as regards the merits of the beef herd in terms of genetics and climate control measures. It is a signficant scheme. I acknowledge the allocation of €25 million for the scheme and appreciate the interest and co-operation of the Deputy. We have discussed the matter both off-camera and in the Chamber previously. It represents a significant investment in the sector, but not to over-egg it, it is relatively small in terms of what can be achieved in ewe numbers. The sector has waited long enough in the queue for such recognition.

I am very anxious to have a practical scheme that will take account of on-farm management practices on both lowland and hill sheep farms. The menu of options farmers will be invited to buy into will reflect the range of management practices followed. I have met representatives of hill sheep farmers and the IFA. I have also discussed the matter witth Macra na Feirme and the ICMSA. My Department has had even more extensive consultations on these matters. I do not propose to have a top-up payment. An across-the-board payment will be made to all those involved, but the menu of options will take account of the different management structures in place on individual farms.

I thank the Minister for his reply. When does he expect to receive final approval for the scheme and to complete the process of engagement with Brussels in signing off on the range of options to be offered and the structure and make-up of the scheme? He has indicated that he is not looking at the option of having a top-up payment for those involved in hill sheep farming sector, in particular. Will he elaborate on his reasons for not going down that route in the light of the fact that the hill sheep farming sector indicates that welfare measures can be more costly in their implementation for hill sheep farms and the fact that the sector has been operating at a loss for the past year or two? Will there be one menu from which sheep farmers will be able to choose regarding the range of the welfare options available or does the Minister plan to introduce two menus for lowland and hill sheep farmers?

My ambition is to have payments made in 2017 as per the commitment made in the programme for Government and, therefore, to conclude the negotiations with the Commission. In that respect, I appreciate that sometimes we await decisions from the Commission and that sometimes we have to finalise the paperwork. We have a broad outline of the scheme and are discussing the detail with the Commission. That process will continue, but I hope to get Commission approval in 2016 and be in a position to invite applications, if not late this year, certainly early in 2017 with a view making payments at the earliest possible date thereafter. What I am aiming to achieve with the scheme is that it will include a menu of options that will reflect the different management practices associated with either lowland or hill sheep farming and that, therefore, there will not be additional costs incurred by hill sheep as opposed to lowland sheep farmers in the suite of options available. The necessity for a top-up payment would not arise because there would be appropriate measures in place for hill and lowland sheep farmers.

Fishing Industry

Mick Barry

Question:

26. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine of the 500 atypical worker permits being made available to the owners of Irish fishing vessels in order that they may regularise the status of undocumented non-European Union migrant crew, the number applied for so far; the ports in which the applicant vessel owners are based; the number of fishing crew at each port; and the country of origin of the migrant fishing crew in tabular form. [21495/16]

Following an exposé in The Guardian newspaper late last year about the extreme exploitation of undocumented non-EU migrant crew members on Irish fishing vessels, 500 atypical worker permits were to be made availble to the owners of these vessels. Will the Minister advise how many of these permits have so far been applied for; the ports in which the applicant vessel owners are based; the number of fishing crew at each port; and the countries of origin of migrant fishing crews?

The report of the Government’s interdepartmental task force on Non-EEA workers in the fishing industry recommended the establishment of a sector-specific atypical worker permission system which would provide a structured and transparent framework for the employment of non-EEA workers within defined segments of the commercial sea-fishing fleet. This system is an extension of the existing atypical worker permission schemes administered by the Department of Justice and Equality through the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS. The granting of permission to work in the State under the scheme is a matter for decision by the INIS.

My Department’s role in the Department of Justice and Equality scheme is limited solely to hosting a central depository, the specific purpose of which is to provide an Internet based system that facilitates applications for pre-approval under the atypical working scheme; process pre-approval applications received from applicants, certified by solicitors, who subsequently seek to apply to the INIS for an atypical working scheme, crew member, permit; issue a unique identifier for each eligible contract that meets the scheme criteria; communicate the unique identifier detail to the INIS; maintain a central depository of eligible contracts of employment; and monitor the ceiling of 500 pre-approvals in any 12-month period. The central depository does not retain information on the ports in which the applicant vessel owners are based or the number of fishing crew at each port. As of the week ending 8 July, the central depository had processed 159 contracts. The countries of origin of these 159 crew members are as follows: 83 are from Egypt; 57 are from the Philippines; nine are from Ghana; seven are from Indonesia; two are from Ukraine and one is from Sri Lanka. I have been informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service that it has granted atypical worker permission to 131 applicants.

I advise the Deputy that if he requires further information on the scheme to make direct contact with Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service.

So, the answer to the big question is "159". It was agreed to make 500 permits available but five months - not five days or five weeks - after the deadline, fewer than one third have been issued. The initial reaction of the representatives of the fishing industry to the reports in The Guardian was to deny the magnitude of the problem. They did that in debate with Ken Fleming of the International Transport Federation. From a position of initial Government denial, the then-Minister, Deputy Coveney, whose Department published a report which estimated that 48% of people working in the industry were non-EU migrants, which would be more than 1,000, agreed to provide not 1,000 but 500 permits. Now, only 159 have been applied for. That fewer than 160 applications have been made five months after the original deadline can only be interpreted as two fingers from the industry to workers' rights and a shameful indictment of all of the enforcement authorities which have been provided with more than enough concrete evidence of specific instances by Mr. Fleming of the ITF.

That is one interpretation and I am not surprised it is the one the Deputy takes of it. There is another interpretation which is that while there is room for substantially more applications with the industry being entitled to apply for up to 500 atypical worker permits, the problem is not as widespread as might have appeared in the first instance. The 159 applications might suggest as much, although the Deputy might like to explore the matter further with the INIS. I remind the Deputy that the task force established to consider the matter consisted of representatives of the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Social Protection, and Defence, the Workplace Relations Commission, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, the Marine Survey Office, the Health and Safety Authority, the Revenue Commissioners, BIM, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Naval Service, the Office of the Attorney General and An Garda Síochána. There is no anxiety on this side or among the State agencies to exploit workers of any origin unfairly in the fishing industry. We have put in place a system that allows workers to regularise their situation where they are within the industry but are not documented. The atypical worker permit gives them the rights any worker has in terms of entitlement to wages and contracts, etc. While I appreciate the slant the Deputy may wish to put on the 159 applications, it might also suggest that the problem is not as great as the Deputy at first anticipated.

The Minister says there is no desire to exploit, but is there a desire to turn a blind eye? I have reports here from the International Transport Federation which indicate clearly what is going on. I will present them to the Minister straight after the debate. There is no problem about that. The International Transport Federation enjoys the right in other countries to inspect vessels. It is willing to provide that service here at no cost to the State. Clearly, it is more motivated to sort out exploitation there than the Garda, NERA and, especially, the Marine Safety Office. Does the Minister agree that the International Transport Federation should be granted inspection rights here?

Many thousands of people work in the fishing industry at sea and in the processing sector who have valued and secure employment within a legal framework. The State is the ultimate guarantor of the legal framework within which they operate and has no vested interest in allowing the exploitation of any worker in that framework. I appreciate that Deputy Barry may not be a supporter of the State in all of its manifestations, but all of the necessary arms of the State were involved in the working group dealing with this matter. The State does not need an international body to assist it in policing working conditions or the rights of employees.

It seems to me that it does.

The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Deputy Barry had his chance. I appreciate that he wishes to paint a picture of an industry which I value and which the people who work in it value. If there is a small percentage of people who are abusing employees, we will get to the bottom of it.

It is more than a small percentage.

I appreciate that the Deputy is anxious to tarnish the entire industry but I will not have that said of an industry which provides very valuable employment in peripheral locations where there are few alternative sources of work. The necessary authorities were involved in the working group. If the Deputy has specific issues he wishes to bring to the attention of the appropriate authorities within the State, he should do so, but he should please not cast aspersions on the bona fides of people who work at the coal face of the industry, go to sea, land their catches and have them processed in the republic, creating very valuable employment in so doing.

Fish Quotas

Thomas Pringle

Question:

27. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has secured a quota of herring for the north west for 2016; if he will ensure that quotas, if secured, will be provided for the small inshore vessels of under 10 m; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21494/16]

This question relates to the fact that the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Simon Coveney, outlined that he was optimistic about securing a herring quota for the north west which would allow for some herring fishing to take place in the autumn. Does the Minister have an update in that regard? Has a quota been secured? If so, will he ensure that it is allocated to vessels under 10 m in length?

There are two herring stocks in the north west area and there have been, correspondingly, two separate International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, total allowable catch, TAC, areas. Ireland has a share in both TAC areas. Following a benchmarking exercise in 2015, ICES found that while there are two separate herring stocks, it is not possible to segregate them in commercial catches or surveys. ICES considers that both stocks are depleted and recommended a zero total allowable catch for 2016. Following the provision of advice by the Marine Institute, Ireland sought at the 2015 December Council a small commercial TAC for both VIa north and VIa south in 2016 to avoid the loss of scientific data for these areas and to prevent gaps in the time series. The Commission agreed to seek additional scientific advice on the elements needed for a small commercial fishery, including the timing and geographical areas, with a view to setting a small commercial total allowable catch and quotas.

Last week, a draft proposal was circulated by the Commission suggesting a total allowable catch of 4,840 tonnes with 1,360 tonnes in VIa south and 3,480 tonnes in VIa north. At the request of Ireland and the UK, the Commission is currently examining the case for a slightly higher combined total allowable catch of 5,800 tonnes with the same proportional split. This proposal was made on the basis that it would pose no additional risk to the stocks and would make it more likely that the necessary data would be acquired by making the fishery more economically attractive. As soon as the total allowable catch and quotas have been set, I will consider quota management for 2016 and whether there is a case to amend the quota management policy in place on an exceptional basis, taking into account that the quota available will be small and is being made available to support the collection of scientific data. Any proposed amendment will be subject to consultation with stakeholders.

I thank the Minister for the answer, which contains reasonably positive news with the recommendation of a quota for VIa south and VIa north. Will the Minister outline the timeframe for deciding on the additional requested quota and whether that will delay things much more? The Minister's predecessor stated specifically that a good proportion of the quota would be ring-fenced for small-scale fishermen in the inshore sector with particular reference to fishing vessels under 10 m in length. That is vital. While the quota is small, it represents a significant income for fishermen at that scale and would be of most value to them. The quota would not be of much commercial use to larger-scale fishing vessels due to the costs involved in catching the fish. It is vital to ring-fence the quota for small vessels under 10 m in length. I urge the Minister to ensure that the regulations are implemented to reflect that.

I am aware of the broad interest in the herring quota which has been fished by boats of all sizes. The Deputy makes the point well on smaller vessels.

In the context of the exceptionally small quota that has been proposed, there is a case for considering amended arrangements focusing on the inshore fleet. We must first await the outcome of the request that we made to the Commission. I hope that it is finalised sooner rather than later. If there this is to be a 2016 quota, we need to get the arrangements in place. If we are to amend the apportionment of quota arrangements vis-à-vis inshore fishermen, we must engage in consultation on the process sooner rather than later. I hope for a definitive word from the Commission, which would allow us to enter consultation with a view as to how the quota is reallocated.

Hopefully, that means a matter of weeks for final approval rather than anything more. Could the Minister not consult on the basis of the 4,800 tonnes that were initially granted so as to start the process earlier and enable people to avail of the quota? I presume that the National Inshore Fisheries Forum will be a part of the consultation on the quota allocation. That would be important. I cannot understate the importance of smaller vessels and the inshore fleet availing of the quota if their viability is to be ensured.

I have met the National Inshore Fisheries Forum, which gave an interesting presentation on a range of issues, including this one. It will be a part of any consideration of how the quota is allocated.

I am conscious of the fact that if we do not get this matter over the line by the end of July, the Commission will go into hibernation for August. The clock is ticking and I am anxious to have the issue finalised soon. I do not want to give a specific timeframe, as I appreciate the logistics of getting a final word from the Commission, consulting and people being told of their entitlements within what is a relatively small quota allocation. When I am in Brussels next Monday, I hope to have an opportunity to progress this matter.