Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Aire as ucht teacht isteach chun an ábhar seo a phlé tráthnóna inniu. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé fíorghnóthach sa Roinn ar a bhfuil sé i bhfeighil faoi láthair.
I want to speak about farmers' markets. I remember well the traditional view in west Cork when the farmers' markets originally came to Clonakilty and Skibbereen and towns like that, there was a kind of resistance towards the markets from the established traders. There was a view that the markets were not contributing anything to society and they were making their way on the backs of others. As the passage of time has evolved there is now a significant shift in attitude towards how people view farmers' markets. We need only look at the thousands of people who go to farmers' markets every week and who wish to purchase produce that is produced locally, on a small scale or at home. In many Irish towns the farmers' markets are supported by the existing town traders because the traders are delighted with the footfall brought by farmers' markets in to towns facing the increasing challenge of desertion due to online trading. If we are to be serious as a Government and a State we must acknowledge this development and movement. We must do more than just give a nod to this trend.
We have to recognise the enormous value attached to the burgeoning and blossoming trade of farmers' markets. On top of that, it is now a huge social event every week in rural towns such as Clonakilty, Skibbereen, Bandon and my own bailiwick of Kinsale. Nothing has really replaced - in any of these towns - the social event that was centred around the creamery. Many of my generation and older will remember attending the local creamery. While we refer to schools as social hubs there really is not a social life to the school yard. We come in our cars, we drop our children off and we move on again. In this context there is a lot to be said about rural isolation and the social aspect attached to farmers' markets.
Many people produce goods at home to make a living for themselves and their families and sell their wares at farmers' markets which are a massive tourist draw. We need only look anywhere on the Continent to see how enormously successful farmers' markets are. It is also the case in Ireland and it is high time we did a little more than pay lip service to them. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine which is in charge of the promotion of food products needs to think outside the box. The Minister and his officials need to acknowledge the phenomenon that is the country market. I would like to see a funding stream provided for local authorities, in my case Cork County Council, to allow them provide hard-stand areas for farmers' markets, including a concrete channel. Instead of being choked by generator fumes, a system could be put in place, with outlets which could be charged using existing pay-as-you-go systems. Running water could also be made available. Awnings could be placed over the hard-stand areas to protect not only the traders but also the thousands of customers who like to visit the markets and purchase the produce on sale. This would take a little thinking outside the box. The Department provides funding through a number of agencies, but we need to up our game and move into the next sphere. We need to recognise the phenomenon farmers' markets are and their success and put our money where our mouths are and provide real funding to provide the genuine hardware associated with these events.