Other Questions

Question No. 28 replied to with Written Answers.

Bovine Disease Controls

Thomas Pringle

Question:

29. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason it was necessary to permit the shooting of five cattle on a County Monaghan farm recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21316/16]

The actions in question were undertaken under the overall control of the official assignee in bankruptcy acting as an officer of the court, who has stated publicly that the decision to proceed in the way he did in respect of the cattle was made reluctantly and in the interests of the public safety of the local community. It should also be noted that the cattle were at the time in the ownership of the official assignee, into whose name the herd number had been transferred, and that the herd in question was TB restricted on 18 February due to the disclosure of TB lesions in cattle slaughtered from the herd.

Significant efforts had been made to contain the animals, but these proved futile because of their feral nature. In the interests of public safety, the official assignee, in consultation with the Garda and the Department, considered that the optimal course of action to be taken was for the animals to be euthanised. The protocol agreed between my Department and the Department of Defence was invoked and the animals were subsequently killed by skilled Army personnel in line with it.

It is the view of my Department that the actions taken were the most humane in the circumstances and I am advised that there was no alternative action available to the official assignee in the circumstances, taking account of the fact that the interest of public safety was the primary consideration at all times.

The action has been taken and the matter has been well rehearsed in the House in the past week. Given the size of the national herd, I find it difficult to believe, and many people found it shocking, that these cattle could have gone feral in the first instance and that expertise was not available, in particular to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to gather up the cattle and have them removed from the farm without their needing to be shot by the Defence Forces.

For how long was the official assignee responsible for the herd? How was he managing the herd in the run-up to this situation? There should have been another way of dealing with it that was not as visible and shocking to many people as seeing soldiers in fields shooting cattle. Will the Minister examine whether the Department could have had the expertise to address the situation more efficiently?

There was more to this situation than was in the public domain. How often do the Defence Forces act at the request of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in such cases? Was a departmental vet present? Do the Defence Forces receive training in how to handle such situations? Are they always under the charge of departmental personnel when they are called on to aid the civil power in cases where livestock is the focus?

Deputy Clare Daly is correct, in that there is more to this than meets the eye, although some weekend publications gave a pretty accurate summation of the bigger picture.

The Department is not in the business of shooting cattle. In any circumstance, it is the last resort. For this reason, there is an official protocol. This was invoked by the official assignee in consultation with my Department’s veterinary office in Cavan. Departmental veterinary inspectors and local gardaí were involved. On at least four occasions, unsuccessful efforts were made to round up the cattle. There were other instances in which locks on gates were tampered with and cattle were on the public road. The area is near the Carrickmacross-Dundalk road. In trying to manage the herd, the assignee’s concerns about public safety escalated because of incidents.

I appreciate that the outcome was a sight that no one wanted to behold, but what if the cattle had caused a serious, even fatal, accident on the public road? My Department would have equally been in the dock. It was a no-win situation but, in the assignee invoking the protocol and the participation of the Garda, my Department’s veterinary service and the Defence Forces, there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure that this is not something that is done lightly.

I am not aware of when the protocol was last invoked. It is certainly not a routine occurrence. It is not an annual occurrence. We would have to search our records to see when it was last invoked. I will try to find that additional information for the Deputy.

Given the considerable public interest in this matter, I assure the House that the protocol is a last resort for the Department. We do not use it lightly. Associated matters surrounding the appropriate management of the farm and the ability or otherwise of the assignee to manage the process effectively in extraneous circumstances led to this event occurring. It was regrettable, but ultimately necessary for the protection of public safety.

Agrifood Sector

Pat Deering

Question:

30. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the progress of Food Wise 2025; the progress to date on the actions detailed in the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21312/16]

Food Wise 2025, the new ten-year strategy for the agrifood sector published last July, replaced Food Harvest 2020. It identifies the opportunities and challenges facing the sector and provides an enabling strategy that will allow the sector to grow and prosper. Food Wise 2025 includes more than 400 specific recommendations spread across the cross-cutting themes of sustainability, innovation, human capital, market development and competitiveness, as well as specific sectoral recommendations.

The implementation process for any strategy is vital for its success. I chair the Food Wise high-level implementation committee, HLIC, with high-level representatives from all relevant Departments and State agencies. The committee reviews progress on detailed actions on a quarterly basis in order to identify and solve problems quickly. Stakeholders regularly present to the committee meetings on their priorities for particular sectors or themes and, by the end of this year, the HLIC will have reviewed in detail progress on the five cross-cutting themes and the 12 individual sectors outlined in Food Wise 2025. As such, it is very much a live and continuously updated process. For example, the HLIC convened following the UK vote to leave the EU to agree on a co-ordinated approach for the agrifood sector.

I today launched a first year progress report on Food Wise 2025, entitled "Steps to Success 2016".

Of the 414 actions in the Food Wise implementation plan, 330 were due to commence in 2015 or 2016. Of these 330 actions, 28% have been achieved or substantial action has been undertaken, and a further 67% have commenced and are progressing well.

Food Wise 2025 stressed the need for my Department, other Departments and State agencies to work collaboratively, and I am pleased to say this is occurring. Some of these collaborations are reported in Steps to Success 2016.

I would like to emphasise the following successes from year one of this ten-year strategy. Bord Bia’s The Thinking House, which opened in June, will be a world-class consumer insight and innovation centre. The meat technology centre, hosted in the Teagasc food research centre, Ashtown, will be an internationally leading centre of excellence for meat processing research and innovation. I am pleased to announce that in 2017 we will launch a major initiative focusing on improving grassland management use and profitability. The Department will establish a committee with representatives from the agencies and relevant stakeholders to plan a year-long programme of events. It will celebrate and build on Ireland’s comparative advantage in sustainable grass-feed production.

A detailed report on the status of Food Wise 2025 actions is available on my Department’s website together with the progress report for the first year.

This time last year, the Minister launched Food Wise 2025, a very ambitious programme. There was a target to increase milk production by another 20% on top of the existing target of 50% envisaged as a result of Food Harvest 2020. Considering that the past year has been a very difficult one for dairy producers, how does the Minister envisage the targets being achieved over the coming years?

There is a target to increase the value of agrifood exports by 85%, to €19 billion, over the next ten years. This is very ambitious. Does the Minister believe the target can be achieved in view of the challenges facing the beef and dairy sectors? Additional challenges have emerged in recent weeks with Brexit. There will be serious sectoral challenges and uncertainty over the value of sterling. How does the Minister envisage the targets being achieved? Were they too ambitious initially?

I do not believe the targets were too ambitious. They were compiled by all the stakeholders together. Food Wise 2025 is, in fact, the industry’s document. It involves the collaboration of the industry both inside and outside the farm gate. Therefore, the plans are not overly ambitious. In the context of difficulties we are facing owing to Brexit and fluctuating commodity prices, as alluded to by the Deputy, I do not believe it is a time to lose our nerve.

One response to the challenges that exist is to diversify the range of markets into which we sell. On the dairy side, for example, China has in a very short space of time become our second largest market destination after the United Kingdom. My Department is continually attempting to seek new market opportunities in order that we can lower the risk if any particular market runs into difficulty. We have discussed this previously on Question Time. We face specific difficulties associated with currency fluctuations in the UK market but, at the same time, the euro has weakened relative to the dollar. Therefore, in dollar-denominated markets, we have opportunities arising.

It is a time in which to hold our nerve regarding our ambitions, which are significant and can be achieved over a ten-year horizon while acknowledging the present difficulties. The UK beef market is the best market to be in. I will be leading an effort to diversify our product in this regard. We will be going to China and south-east Asia in September. In the past two weeks, the US market for beef for grinding opened up. This is a significant step in the right direction. Some 80% of beef consumed in the United States is beef ground for mincemeat or burgers. We were already in the US market for prime cuts but this is a significant breakthrough. It is now up to the industry. Now that the market has opened, it faces a significant challenge to avail itself of market opportunities presented in that context.

What is important is that Food Wise 2025 is the industry’s document. The Department is obviously a facilitator in terms of the industry’s ambition. In the post-quota era, we have harnessed it collectively to achieve very significant targets in terms of export earnings and job creation. The jobs are, by and large, in rural areas. It is important that we continue to have faith in the industry to achieve the targets.

I will allow Deputy Pat Deering one minute but there will not be time for a response.

With regard to the targets the Minister mentioned, our dairy sector has an advantage because of grass-based production. We should be emphasising and concentrating on that advantage further. What are we doing to ensure our competitive advantage is maintained?

There is no doubt job creation in the industry is very significant. Over the recent difficult years, agriculture was key to rebuilding this economy. We have to diversify. Diversification is important in the industry and we need to create more jobs. A good news story in recent years has been the re-emergence of distilleries and breweries. We need to concentrate on them. I recently attended the opening of a new brewery in my area. Some €25 million was invested, and the brewery will employ 60 people in a rural area. This will be very beneficial, but we need to maintain a competitive advantage and to be concentrating on these issues.

Live Exports

Clare Daly

Question:

31. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if consideration was given to or any mention was made of the continuing imprisonment without trial of a person, details supplied, in an Egyptian prison during the brokering of the Irish-Egyptian agreement to allow Ireland to begin exporting live cattle to Egypt, which concluded in February 2016; if any effort was made during negotiations to leverage the deal to secure the release of this person; and if he will now consider calling off the deal before the first live exports take place near the end of this year. [21010/16]

This question relates to the much-lauded deal by the Minister’s predecessor on the export of cattle to Egypt and the matter of whether the Irish State took advantage of the negotiations on that deal to raise the appalling plight of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, demand his release and, given the publication of the Amnesty International report today, raise the other human rights violations that continue to feature in Egypt.

Questions relating to the release of the person referred to by the Deputy are a matter primarily for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. In this regard, I understand his Department, both in Dublin and Cairo, is actively engaged in seeking a resolution in this case, as is the Taoiseach. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, gave a comprehensive speech to the House last Thursday, 7 July, on this matter. I understand Deputy Clare Daly also contributed to the debate which resulted in an all-party motion being passed by this House. My Department has had no involvement in this consular case.

The Irish Government has not finalised a deal with the Egyptian Government on the sale of live cattle to Egypt. However, veterinary officials from the Egyptian General Organization for Veterinary Services conducted a technical visit to Ireland in February to determine the suitability of Ireland’s animal health controls and agree a veterinary health certificate for the export of live cattle to Egypt.

The protection of farm incomes is a key plank of A Programme for a Partnership Government, and in this context there is a specific commitment to prioritise and develop new live export opportunities to provide farmers with alternative markets. This is particularly important in light of the pressure on the incomes of the 100,000 farm families involved in the production of beef, the prospect of increased cattle numbers in the latter half of 2016 and the potential for this and other market factors to exert downward pressure on farm incomes. The outcome of the visit in question was the recognition by the Egyptian veterinary authorities of Ireland’s veterinary health certificate. This will allow Irish operators to export to Egypt, subject to the normal exigencies of the marketplace, and may provide a potentially valuable alternative market outlet to hard-pressed farm families.

I reiterate that questions in regard to this important and sensitive consular case are a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I do not agree. There is a certain doublespeak in the attitude of the Irish Government. On the one hand, we are passing motions stating the manner in which the Irish citizen is being dealt with is terrible but, on the other, we continue to do business with and turn a blind eye to what is, in essence, a brutal regime.

The Minister made the point that the protection of farming is a key part of the programme for Government. Is that at any cost? With regard to farming per se, we could have alternatives to the exportation of livestock, for example.

With regard to the publication of the Amnesty International report today, Mr. Colm O'Gorman was on the airwaves expressing concern over the fact that many countries continue to maintain close diplomatic trade and other ties with countries without prioritising human rights. This is simply not good enough. As Mr. O'Gorman stated, we should be using our influence to pressurise Egypt into ending these appalling violations that are being committed under the false pretexts of security and counterterrorism. It is regrettable that the Minister would not do that.

I am in favour of maintaining live exports. While I respect Deputy Clare Daly's concern about the Halawi case, all the countries with which we trade have flaws. In developing live exports, the approach to the pooling of cattle is causing problems for dealers and purchasers of livestock. They would like the Department to take a more relaxed approach to the way in which cattle are collected because the current approach is causing problems.

I appreciate that Deputy Clare Daly is trying to paint a picture in which all the good in the Ibrahim Halawa case is on the Opposition side, while the Government is on the wrong side of the issue. The Government and its predecessor have left no stone unturned in this case. Notwithstanding some of the public commentary and finger-pointing that has taken place, the Government, both individually and collectively, is as committed to the release of Ibrahim Halawa as any other Member of the House.

The Government is still trading with Egypt.

That is true. Deputy Coppinger is in favour of building walls and cutting off contacts, whereas I am in favour of deepening contacts in order that we can improve our relationships and bring pressure to bear that would ultimately serve the objective the Deputy and I both seek, namely, the release of Ibrahim Halawa.

The Minister's approach is not working.

While I appreciate where the Deputy is coming from on this issue, a narrow, mean-spirited approach will not serve the interests of Ibrahim Halawa one iota. The Deputy can frown as much as she likes but she should not impugn my motives or those of any other Member. On a human level, we are concerned as anyone else is about the fate of Ibrahim Halawa. My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, and the Taoiseach have raised this issue at every opportunity. If Deputy Coppinger believes it is appropriate for veterinary officials in my Department to raise this issue with veterinary officials in the corresponding Egyptian department, she fails to comprehend how best to pursue the release of Ibrahim Halawa.

I tabled this question and I assure the Minister I am not being in any way mean-spirited. Like my colleague who spoke last week, I do not doubt that, on a personal level, Government representatives are absolutely committed to the release of Ibrahim Halawa. However, the point we were trying to make last week was that the tactics the Government has employed in trying to secure that end have not yet worked. The Government is sending mixed signals by making representations, while continuing to do business as usual. The comparison we made was with the Australian Government, which adopted a much more hardline attitude in a case involving an Australian citizen. The Australian embassy in Cairo made clear that the case would have ramifications for Egypt in terms of trade with Australia and the country's reputation. The point we are making is that mixed signals are being sent and it is utterly appropriate to use trade and influence to deliver human rights. That is not a mealy-mouthed contribution to the debate.

I spoke recently to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on this matter and also when he was a Minister in the previous Government. While I appreciate the point Deputy Clare Daly makes, there is no monopoly of wisdom on this matter. We must make judgment calls on how best to pursue the interests of Ibrahim Halawa whose case would not be best served by disadvantaging Irish agriculture. That would not advance the process one iota in terms of bringing forward Mr. Halawa's release date. We must maintain the maximum possible diplomatic, consular and political pressure. A dialogue on the issue between the veterinary service of my Department and its counterpart in Egypt is not an appropriate mechanism for pursuing the interests of Ibrahim Halawa.

Greyhound Industry

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

32. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 1011 of 17 May 2016, if he or his officials have met any persons or organisations with an interest in greyhound welfare regarding the export trade of greyhounds to the Macau Special Administrative Region, China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21137/16]

Has the Minister or his officials met any persons or organisations with an interest in greyhound welfare to discuss the export of greyhounds to the Macau region of China? I am sure the Minister is aware of concerns surrounding this issue. Three renowned animal welfare organisations, the ISPCA, the Irish Blue Cross and Dogs Trust Ireland, wrote to his predecessor expressing concerns about the export of three greyhounds to Macau.

As stated in a reply to a parliamentary question tabled by the Deputy on 17 May last, the position is that once appropriate animal health and welfare certification requirements are met, dogs, including greyhounds, may be exported internationally. Exporters are also required to comply with the provisions of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1 of 2005 on the protection of animals during transport.

I emphasise that while a very small number of greyhounds were exported to Macau earlier this year, it is nevertheless imperative to ensure the transport of greyhounds over long distances is conducted in a manner which safeguards the welfare of animals being transported and minimises the risk of transmitting infectious diseases.

Bord na gCon is responsible for the governance, regulation and development of the greyhound industry in the Republic as well as the well-being of greyhounds. The board has developed a comprehensive code of practice on the welfare of greyhounds which sets out specific standards that all individuals engaged in the care and management of registered greyhounds are expected to meet. The code emphasises that owners and keepers take full responsibility for the physical and social well-being of greyhounds in line with best welfare practice.

On 23 May, departmental officials met representatives of Bord na gCon and the welfare members of the International Greyhound Forum, which was represented by the ISPCA and Dogs Trust in Ireland, to consider the issues surrounding the export of greyhounds. At that meeting, the officials emphasised that the well-being of greyhounds, including their physical and social environment, is at the core of Ireland’s greyhound industry and the need for the industry to comply with the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the associated code of practice, which sets out clearly specific standards that all individuals engaged in the care and management of registered greyhounds are expected to meet.

Bord na gCon has reiterated its advice to all owners involved in the export of greyhounds to only export to destinations that provide the expected levels of care and management, as defined in the board's code of practice for the welfare of greyhounds. I fully endorse this view.

The Minister met representatives of the ISPCA on 29 June last. On the specific issue of Macau, the ISPCA recalled the positive engagement of the International Greyhound Forum on this issue. I understand that trade with Macau has ceased and I am confident that greyhound owners heeded the advice being offered by Bord na gCon.

The Minister of State indicated that the export trade with Macau had ceased. Does this mean the Department will introduce a ban on the export of greyhounds to China because a ban is the only safeguard animal welfare organisations are willing to accept? The export of greyhounds to countries known to have a poor record on animal welfare is ill advised and a major step backgrounds for those seeking a well-regulated greyhound industry.

I have been contacted by a man who has followed the case involving the export of greyhounds to a track in Macau. He states that the track involved is old and narrow and its length is not good for animals. Many accidents happen, which results in dogs being killed and more being needed to replace them. He notes also that dogs cannot be brought in from China as they must be quarantined for rabies, which is impossible because of the lack of space. The individual in question states that approximately 30 dogs per month die in the Macau racetrack. No one in Ireland would support allowing the export of greyhounds to this race track. People want reassurance on this matter.

Exports to Macau have ceased because none of the airlines will agree to carry greyhounds. If the Department tried to ban greyhound exports to Macau, the animals would be transported to the region indirectly through another jurisdiction if the people involved wished to continue to export them. I appreciate everything the Deputy said on animal welfare. International pressure was brought to bear by people involved in the welfare of greyhounds and the airlines responded to it. Everyone should accept that if no mode of transport is available, no greyhounds will be exported.

It is good that airlines acted in this matter. From what I have read, the airlines involved were based at Heathrow Airport and their decision was not connected to the Department. Concerns were raised about the mode of transport used to export greyhounds.

Deputies received an e-mail which indicated that people involved in animal welfare believed the Department was about to agree to amend the Welfare of Greyhounds Act and introduce changes to the greyhound industry to prevent the export of greyhounds to countries that do not have good welfare standards.

This was something people were hoping to hear an announcement on. I do not think the Minister of State is in a position to make that announcement and that is rather disappointing.

Draft heads of a Bill are being prepared for pre-legislative scrutiny. I was chairman of the agriculture committee in the last Dáil. At the time, we were hoping to have the Bill ready for the pre-legislative scrutiny process. Essentially the new greyhound Bill is based on the Welfare of Greyhounds Act. We are trying to get it into the committee for the autumn session in order that it can be enacted as soon as possible. However, I cannot foretell the conclusion at this stage.

Questions Nos. 33, 34 and 35 replied to with Written Answers.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Thomas Pringle

Question:

36. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures he will put in place to manage the reduction in the value of sterling for farm enterprises to assist them in maintaining their income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21294/16]

The most immediate concerns for farm enterprises and exporters arising from the UK decision to leave the European Union centre on euro-sterling exchange rates. While the fall in the value of sterling against the euro is significant, it is not unprecedented. Nevertheless, a sustained period of currency volatility could be of concern. In that regard, the Central Bank of Ireland has established contingency plans to deal with market volatility surrounding the referendum result. The bank will engage with the Department of Finance and individual financial institutions with regard to potential risks. Actions by the European Central Bank and other global actors will be monitored closely.

In addition, I have asked the relevant agencies, including Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and BIM, to provide practical guidance to small and medium-sized enterprises. Last week, Bord Bia announced a number of measures to support food and drink businesses. These measures include managing volatility impacts, providing consumer and market insight, deepening customer engagement and extending market reach. The aim is to help companies maintain their competitiveness. Similar support is being provided by Enterprise Ireland as well.

I will continue to monitor the situation closely, in particular through the consultative committee of stakeholders that I established recently and which met for the first time last week. I will also ensure that the response of the agencies is fully co-ordinated through a contact group established under the Food Wise 2025 high level implementation committee.

While it is true, I suppose, that fluctuations in the sterling exchange rate are not unusual, what has been especially difficult recently is the extent of the depreciation in such a quick period and the impact this is having on businesses.

The Minister referred to what would happen if this continued for a sustained period. What constitutes a sustained period in terms of the actions of the Department? There is a need to be ready to intervene to assist businesses in a practical way, perhaps by supporting their exports rather than advice and leaving them to rely on Bank of Ireland to deal positively with people. This needs to be managed closely. I am somewhat concerned with the reference to the fluctuation lasting for a sustained period. The Department needs to be able to move quickly to react and support businesses in a very practical way, rather than simply offering market advice and support.

Since the counting of the votes in the United Kingdom and the announcement that the UK was leaving, my Department has been proactive. Bord Bia and BIM have had engagement with their stakeholders and the companies they work with that export to the UK. The feedback of the high level implementation group on Food Wise 2025 has been interesting. The group includes agencies such as BIM, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia etc. Some feedback included concern emerging from their client companies. There was also feedback from their producers to the effect that price was an issue but also that quality and sustainability of the product was recognised as a significant factor in our favour.

While we need to be vigilant in respect of all of these matters, particularly in respect of currency fluctuations, we need to be careful not to panic people in this situation as well. I appreciate that certain sectors are significantly exposed and we are working with these to try to manage the volatility in currency exchange rates. However, there are opportunities on the other side in dollar-denominated markets. They offer significant export opportunities in other areas that we are trying to exploit in terms of new market opportunities.

The key point is that other opportunities take time to develop. It takes time to open up those markets and feed in to them. There have been anecdotal stories of businesses having orders cancelled since the Brexit vote. This indicates the immediate impact. We need to be ready to step in and protect these businesses to keep them going if the current situation continues to take hold.

I am concerned about the Minister's reference to a sustained period of fluctuation. What is a sustained period? If the devaluation continues or if it stays at this level for a longer period, how quickly can the Minister act? What can he actually do in practical terms to assist people?

It is important to remember that outside of a Brexit context we have been in this scenario with the euro relative to sterling for six of the past ten years. This is something the industry has managed previously. I appreciate that it is painful for some as well as threatening in terms of feasibility for others. While we have to watch this space in terms of the range of policy instruments that we may have to invoke, at the moment I am satisfied in terms of my Department's reach to its client companies, through BIM and Bord Bia. We are monitoring the situation and keeping in contact not only with those companies but with substantial purchasers of Irish exports in the UK to try to ensure that we navigate successfully the immediate impact of the Brexit decision in currency fluctuation. On the other hand, we are preparing a range of contingency measures in respect of negotiating strategies etc. I am liaising with my counterpart in Northern Ireland in respect of cross-Border issues that will arise in the context of negotiations as well.

I am satisfied that the dedicated unit in my Department and the reach the agencies have with their customers as well as the contingency planning under way in consultation with the Department of the Taoiseach are helping us to position ourselves in the best possible way to deal with the immediate and medium term issues that will arise in the context of the Brexit negotiations.

Bord na gCon

Mick Wallace

Question:

37. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline the recent discussions he has had with Bord na gCon regarding the publication of the Morris report into greyhound racing; if the report has been finalised yet; if the report will be published in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21330/16]

I wrote to the Minister recently asking why the Morris report has not been published. Clearly, those in Bord na gCon are failing the greyhound industry with their incompetence. They seem to have no regard for the integrity of the sport. The Government seems to support them no matter what and no matter how incompetent they are. I presume the Government will support them 100% until it chooses to support them 0%. It is rather frightening that irrespective of how bad and incompetent they are, the Government seems to stand by them.

I am not going to respond to those comments. They are not part of the question. It ill-befits the Deputy to make comments like that unless he has proof.

Maybe Deputy Wallace will come up with the proof.

The Morris report was carried out at the request of Bord na gCon by Professor Tim Morris, the independent scientific adviser to the Greyhound Board of Great Britain on anti-doping and medication control. The purpose of the report was to examine the use of doping and medication in the greyhound sector in Ireland. It will enable Bord na gCon to develop further its policy and regulation.

The Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 and the Bord na gCon welfare code of practice provide a strong framework for regulation and enforcement. Bord na gCon has made progress in tightening up on regulation in recent times.

While publication of the report is a matter for Bord na gCon, it is my understanding that the board expects to publish the report within the coming weeks. Once the Morris report is published I will examine its recommendations to determine whether any further measures are required.

The Minister of State thinks it is okay for Bord na gCon to have a report for 12 months and not publish it. I find that really interesting. That is an interesting position for the Minister of State to take. Numerous people who own and train greyhounds in Ireland have contacted me in respect of drugs and greyhounds.

They are disheartened that no proper procedure is in place. I cannot understand why the Government does not want the thing to be done right. Why is it acceptable to have a report for 12 months and not publish it?

The report was not ready 12 months ago; it was commissioned 12 months ago.

I was Chairman of the committee in the last Dáil that sought to have the new greyhound legislation brought before the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. In the time since I became Minister of State about eight weeks ago, I have asked the officials who drafted the heads of that Bill to send it to the agriculture committee. I mentioned it before the Deputy came into the Chamber. I have had plenty of contact with all parties, including several that claim to represent the industry. I am trying to meet everybody who represents the industry.

This group is not cohesive, as a collective, and work needs to be done. I am prepared to help make that happen. I am interested to ensure that the sector continues. The Morris report will be published and its findings will be acted upon. Some procedures are in place and there will be more. However, until the sector is given some shape, it is doing itself no favours.

I hope the Minister of State has a good attitude to it and he does actually-----

The Deputy either believes me or he does not.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt; he has only just arrived on the scene. I have not shot him yet.

He will not be; he need not worry.

I am taken aback that the Government has for a long time been so tolerant of an incompetent Bord na gCon. When someone presented the greyhound, Loughlea Pretty, for a sales trial at Thurles greyhound stadium on 23 June 2015 with the prohibited substance flunixin, the only outcome was that the nature of the substance, flunixin, was noted and a minimum fine of €100 was applied. It is completely nonsensical. The testing cost more than the fine. The disciplinary committee of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain fined an Irish sales agent £2,000 in November 2015 and banned him for three months for the presence of the same prohibited substance. It is little wonder the British are recommending to their owners and trainers not to buy Irish dogs because they are drugged to the ears. That is what they have said.

The trainer, Graham Holland, appeared before the Bord na gCon control committee meeting in May owing to the presence of the prohibited substance in four of his dogs. He was represented by a legal team and he got off scot free because he had a fucking legal presence. Another guy appeared before the committee over one dog. He did not have legal representation and was fined €100. What can be garnered from that is those with a legal presence will get away with anything, but without it they might pay a little fine.

The Deputy could repeat that analogy in many ways.

The steps Bord na gCon has already taken are out-of-competition testing at kennels; publication of laboratory results where there is an adverse analytical finding; prohibition of a greyhound from racing where an adverse analytical finding has been made until a further test for prohibited substance has been carried out and the result is proved to be negative; establishment of a list of laboratories approved for the testing of B samples in place of the public analysis; and publication of control committee decisions along with the reasons for them.

We now move on to Question No. 38.

On a point of order, would it be in order to take my similar question, Question No. 40, with Question No. 38 in order to avoid repetition?

Is that acceptable to the Minister?

I do not have any problem. There are some specifics on the dairy side, but Deputy O'Keeffe can ask supplementary questions on that.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

Martin Heydon

Question:

38. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures being taken within his Department to protect and promote the agricultural sector following the UK vote on Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21314/16]

Kevin O'Keeffe

Question:

40. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he envisages supports being put in place in view of the collapse in price in the dairy sector as milk prices will come under further pressure following the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union. [21318/16]

The decision of the UK to leave the European Union is one that creates considerable challenges for the agrifood sector. The UK 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 exports. Ireland is also the UK’s largest destination for its food exports, 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 UK is a significant net contributor.

Given these linkages and as the UK is a net food importer, both countries have a strong interest in maintaining a close agrifood trading relationship. In addition, the resilience of the Irish agrifood sector is well recognised. Together with the strong commercial relationships built up over years of trading, this will help us to negotiate our way through 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 - perhaps longer - and over that period existing arrangements will continue to apply.

Nevertheless, my Department has 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 UK’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. The bank will engage with the Department of Finance and individual financial institutions regarding potential risks. Actions by ECB and other global actors will be monitored closely.

I have also asked the relevant agencies, including Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland, to provide practical guidance to SMEs. Last week Bord Bia announced a number of measures to support food and drink businesses. 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 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 relate to tariffs and trade, the EU budget, regulations and standards, and Customs controls and certification, while complex issues also arise for the fisheries sector.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

However, we must remember that our trading relationship with the UK is not altered in any way until the negotiation process that will dictate the terms and conditions of the UK’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, namely: I have established a dedicated unit in my Department to work on all of the issues that 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 also ensuring that the response of the relevant agencies is fully co-ordinated through a contact group established under the Food Wise 2025 high level implementation committee; and the Department will continue to feed into the central contingency framework being co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach.

We discussed this matter the last time the Minister took questions before the vote on Brexit. At that time he outlined some of his efforts to communicate with Northern Ireland farmers and others as his predecessor also did. Unfortunately, from an agriculture perspective we have got the result we did not want. The Minister has outlined some of the very good reasons we did not want it to happen and it will be a challenge for us. There is considerable concern among many farmers and businesspeople in the agriculture and food sector. I ask that those specific agriculture-related concerns are raised when the Taoiseach is meeting various European leaders. It is one of the strongest reasons for us needing special consideration for our position.

The bloodstock industry, which is worth €1.1 billion to our economy, is inextricably linked to the UK in terms of our sales of foals and horses. Any changes to tariffs or borders with implications on trade would have a devastating impact on a bloodstock industry that is worth a huge amount to our economy and employs over 16,000 people. These are the key points that I am sure the Minister and his officials are bearing in mind.

One does not want to have too much repetition today, but it is a crisis situation. Everybody talks about when the British will trigger article 50. My concern is the six months leading into it. It is like the sheriff being sent to a property and the person in trouble gets word of it - he could clear out the contents. That is my concern. There is a window of six months before the incoming British Prime Minister proposes to trigger article 50 and I am concerned that the damage could be caused by then regarding our trade deals etc.

My question related to the milk sector in general. Over 12 months ago, organisations were putting the Government under pressure about collapsing milk prices. At that time it was barely above the cost of production at 28 cent or 29 cent a litre. Now the base price is 21 cent or 22 cent a litre. Farmers have gone very silent. They are not silent because they are doing well; they are silent because they are afraid to talk out. There is concern there. I go to agricultural shows around the county and one would know there is a problem there, but they are saying nothing. It is a new form of protest to say nothing. They are afraid that they are not being listened to. I ask that more emphasis be placed on the next six months as opposed to the period after that when the UK leaves the EU.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. The Government has done a great deal of contingency planning for Brexit. This work has been done across all Departments and has been co-ordinated by the Department of the Taoiseach. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been representing the interests of the agrifood sector as it has been feeding into the Brexit contingency process. Those interests can be summed up by the fact that we export agricultural products worth €5.1 billion to the UK. We are doing everything we can at that level. We are very conscious that the immediate impact relates to the decrease in the value of sterling. I have dealt with that issue already. I acknowledge the point made by Deputy Heydon about bloodstock exports, in particular. This question was raised as a specific concern when I met representatives of the bloodstock industry yesterday. Obviously, we are very anxious to maintain such exports. The Department of the Taoiseach has been doing preparatory work. As the Deputy will appreciate, the Taoiseach visited Angela Merkel earlier in the week and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has met his German counterpart. I will be meeting my colleagues in the Council of Ministers. We are creating and elevating an awareness of the unique position we are in because of our relationship with the UK and our trading exposure there.

Deputy O'Keeffe raised a few points about this matter as it affects the dairy side. This matter will be on the agenda at next Monday's meeting in Brussels of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, which I will be attending. We expect to receive from the Commissioner some proposals to assist the dairy industry. On previous occasions, we have successfully prosecuted the case for assistance at Commission level. My Department made payments earlier this year on foot of an announcement that was made in October 2015. That funding of €12.7 million was matched by €12.7 million in Exchequer funding. Deputy O'Keeffe will be interested to hear that these moneys went to both the dairy and pigmeat sectors. I appreciate that such approaches do not constitute an answer in themselves in light of the scale of the losses, especially this year when prices have decreased so significantly. Consideration must also be given in this context to the provision of direct aid, the bringing forward of single farm payments and the initiation of discussions with the banks. I accept the point made by Deputy O'Keeffe in the last case. I have met representatives of the three major banks - Bank of Ireland, AIB and Ulster Bank - to create awareness of the fact that a cohort within the dairy industry is significantly exposed as a result of investments that have been made. I have to say my request for forbearance in that context received a good hearing from the banks. I appreciate that a perfect storm is brewing at the back end of this year when merchant credit, tax liabilities and superlevy bills will come together. We need that kind of forbearance from the banks. We are working within the leeway we have been given by the Commission to develop other financial packages that might assist farmers, particularly in the context of the difference between the cost of a package that we might be able to put together and the cost that is being paid at present for credit, especially merchant credit and short-term loan facilities from the banks. We are working on a range of issues.

I thank the Minister for the response. I was about to make a point about the assistance that can be provided by financial institutions and others. It is good to see that the Minister is on top of such an approach. Will he outline whether any opportunities that Brexit might provide for the agricultural sector have been revealed during the contingency process? I appreciate that the opportunities in the financial services sector and other sectors are more obvious. We are trying to look for a silver lining in every cloud. Does the Department believe there are some areas in which Brexit might benefit the agricultural sector? I particularly welcome the Minister's comments on the bloodstock sector which, like the beef production sector, is a key area that is very vulnerable. It is important for the Government to take a co-ordinated approach. As the Minister has outlined, such an approach is being taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach and the officials in his own office.

I thank the Minister for his response. On the issue of financing, would the Government be prepared to put in place a low-cost credit scheme under the state aid mechanism? Would that be possible? The Minister mentioned earlier that the CAP payments are secure for this duration, but I remind him that the mid-term CAP review is ongoing. The Minister and his colleagues have followed up the Food Harvest plan with Food Wise 2025. Farmers need to be able to look forward as regards projected incomes and sources of income from the EU. They need to know how they can make a living.

While I appreciate that markets are extremely difficult on the dairy side at present, I remind the House that markets bounce back. The Brexit situation is complicating what was already a difficult situation, but the markets will recover. I do not want to predict when that will happen, but there are straws in the wind. I will not put it more strongly than that. We may have bottomed out and the recovery may be evident in 2017. That remains to be seen. It is important we do not add to the volatility in the market by making statements suggesting we are in a doomsday scenario. The market will recover. We will manage to ride out the sterling issues. If additional policy interventions and instruments are required, they will be considered by the Government in due course. We have been in this space - I refer to where sterling is today relative to the euro - on a number of occasions over the past ten years. I assure Deputy O'Keeffe that we are exploring the option of low-cost credit. I accept that our bank charges are out of kilter with the cost of credit internationally. We are working with organisations like the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland to examine how this issue might be addressed. We are working on a range of fronts. I regret to tell Deputy Heydon that I do not see an upside of Brexit for the agriculture sector. We are trying to ensure our unique relationship with the UK and our dependence on the UK as a significant market is recognised during our negotiations on Brexit.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.