Other Questions

Beef Data and Genomics Programme

Martin Kenny

Question:

31. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the latest communication to farmers from his Department on the beef data genomics programme listed the star rating of cows but not their eligibility for the programme; and if he will instruct his officials to include eligibility information in such communications. [7157/18]

The Department's recent communication on the beef data genomics programme lists the identification numbers and star ratings of cows in the scheme but does not indicate whether they are eligible. The scheme is complicated and involves three and four star designations for cattle and rules that apply to cattle bought into a herd after 2013. Given that the Department has all of the relevant data, it would be simple to include in the communication an additional column indicating that a cow was either eligible or non-eligible, possibly using the abbreviations "E" and "NE". This would simplify the process for farmers who will be required to have a certain number of animals in their herd that are fully eligible or have money clawed back.

To be eligible as a suckler cow or replacement heifer under the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, the animal must be rated either four or five star, genotyped, at least 16 months old and born in 2013 or later. In respect of BDGP II, the animal must have been born in 2015 or later. All of this information is already shown on the profiles being sent to programme participants. The farmers are also being given a one-page euro star summary of the females in the herd showing the number of reference animals in the herd for BDGP and the percentage that are four or five star. Participants will be required to have at least 20% of their reference number of animals at four or five star by 2020. All of the data being sent are intended to help farmers with their breeding and replacement decisions in the run-up to 2020.

The genotyping carried out on animals since the inception of the beef data and genomics programme in 2015 and male pedigree calves under the beef genomics scheme 2014 enable the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, to assign a star rating based on a number of traits, including fertility, milk, easy calving and docility. Evaluations of the animals are undertaken by the ICBF three times a year, with a hard copy of the evaluation reports issuing to all BDGP participants once a year. The evaluations indicate which animals will be eligible to meet the replacement requirements of the BDGP. A text message issues to all participants on the other evaluations advising that they are available online.

While the Department's communication indicates the star rating of the animals, it does not state whether they are eligible under the scheme. Many farmers, particularly those with large herds, are having difficulty in identifying the category into which their herd falls. The Department has all of the relevant information and only needs to communicate it to farmers.

While the beef data genomics scheme has worked well for some farmers, others are experiencing difficulties with it. We have an opportunity to do more with it. The former suckler cow scheme is often discussed. Would it be possible to improve the BDGP to deliver more value for farmers, for example, by paying them for better husbandry to ensure calves are reared better, rather than focusing solely on breeding? Farmers buying weanlings at marts in my part of the country tell me that they are not as good as they were five, six, seven or ten years ago. The beef data genomics scheme is supposed to be producing better calves, yet many of the farmers at marts state that is not the case. Animal husbandry and the way calves are being reared and weaned are among the reasons for this.

I was at a mart on Saturday last where I watched sales of weanling cattle. I was struck by the high quality of what was being produced, both from the suckler herd and from calf to beef. This was reflected in the number of interested buyers. I accept the Deputy's comments on buyers with whom he has engaged. The beef data genomics programme is an effort to improve the genetic merit of the herd through better fertility, earlier finishing of cattle and so forth, all of which are important.

The BDGP benefits approximately 25,000 farmers, of whom an estimated 800 are below the 20% requirement for four or five star breeding females that must be reached by 2020. This is not an alarming number. The Department, in conjunction with the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation, will hold a series of public meetings to create greater awareness of the obligations under the scheme well in advance of the deadline. No scheme is perfect and communications can always be improved. I am sure the meetings will assist farmers in that regard.

As a direction of travel, the beef data genomics programme has the potential to do on the beef side what the economic breeding index, EBI, has done on the dairy side for many years. It will be a long process which will require an ongoing commitment from the industry to genetic improvement. The programme makes a start and can achieve much more.

I agree that the scheme could achieve much more. The core issue is that it is extremely complex and needs to be simplified for many farmers. Unfortunately, certainly in my part of the country, many farmers find the scheme extremely complex and some are opting out of it for this reason. The Department has an opportunity to engage with farmers to simplify the process. "Simplification" is a buzzword we often hear, even when we visit Brussels, and it would not be hard to simplify the BDGP. All the Department needs to do is indicate to farmers which cows are eligible and not eligible alongside the star ratings. The current system is complex and farmers must try to work it out for themselves. My proposal could be easily implemented.

I take the Deputy's suggestions in the spirit in which they are offered. The pilot meetings envisaged by the Department and direct engagement with farmers at that level will provide an important opportunity to explain the scheme further to individual participants. As I stated, approximately 800 of almost 25,000 participants do not meet the required targets, but they have considerable time in which to do so. The Department will certainly consider at the forthcoming meetings the issue of providing for better communication.

Trade Agreements

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

32. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the latest Mercosur talks at European Union level; and the measures he is taking to protect Irish beef farmers by ensuring that beef does not form part of any final Mercosur deal. [7148/18]

This is to ask the status of the latest Mercosur talks between the European Union and the four South American countries involved and the measures that the Minister and the Government have taken to protect Irish beef and ensure a final Mercosur deal does not lead to a drop in price and the viability of many farms as a result.

There has been recent engagement between the European Union and Mercosur negotiators on the finalisation of a trade deal. My understanding is there are a significant number of areas of disagreement, both offensive and defensive, between the parties, including in the agrifood sector with respect to ethanol, sugar, geographical indications, beef and dairy. Ireland's position is well understood with respect of beef and it has been communicated at the highest level. It has been reiterated many times by me at Council of Agriculture Minister meetings and through direct contacts with Commissioners Hogan and Malmström. It has also been set out by other Ministers in the relevant EU trade policy fora and by the Taoiseach at European Council and through his own direct contacts, most recently with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and French President Emmanuel Macron. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, also made a very strong intervention on this point at the Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels on 29 January.

We have worked hard to build a coalition of member states that share our concerns about further agricultural concessions by the European Union in the negotiations and who consider that their offensive interests have not been adequately addressed. Of course, other member states strongly support the conclusion of a deal on the balance of their broader economic interests. Ireland has argued that full account must be taken of the findings of the Commission’s own assessment of the cumulative impact of trade deals on the agrifood sector and that the uncertainty around Brexit has the potential to exacerbate an already delicately balanced EU beef market. We will continue to work with other member states to ensure the interests of European Union agriculture are protected in the negotiations.

As the Minister knows, there is tremendous concern among the farming community and beef farmers in particular as to the impact of the Mercosur deal on the beef sector, as well as what has been offered already as part of the negotiations. It is quite clear an offer of 70,000 tonnes has been made by the European side to the four South American countries in Mercosur. The EU's impact assessment indicates that to have a significant amount of beef of that nature coming into the EU could lead to up to a 16% drop in the EU beef price. This is particularly if this relates to prime cuts of beef. I am sure the Minister has a read on that. Will the Minister update us on the offer of 70,000 tonnes? Does it relate primarily to prime cuts? The 70,000 tonnes would represent approximately 1% of the overall EU beef market, but if it was 70,000 tonnes of prime cuts, it would represent 10% of the total EU prime cut market. Those are the most expensive and highest value cuts of beef so there would be a significant impact on the profitability of beef farming as a result. Has the Minister any feedback in that respect? What is the Department's assessment of the impact this would have on Irish agriculture if the deal proceeded?

The offer of 28 September last year contained a quota of 35,000 tonnes of fresh beef, including an unspecified quantity of high quality beef, phased in over six years at an in-quota rate of 7.5%, as well as 35,000 tonnes of frozen beef, again over six years at 7.5%, with an unspecified amount of this to be dedicated to further processing. I share the Deputy's concern. We are not happy with the 70,000 tonnes that has been offered. The Deputy makes the point about Brexit and the Commission's cumulative impact assessment, which are significant indicators of the problem this would create in the European beef market. It is a static, if marginally increasing, market in terms of consumption levels. We have been working assiduously with like-minded member states on this and the French are the most important ally we have in this context.

It is true to say there are very significant other forces across the European Union favouring a deal and which would willingly trade beef access for access to other agricultural or industrial products. It is a real battle. I have been in contact with Commissioners Hogan and Malmström and I have spoken with the French Minister on a number of occasions about the matter. It is a real cause of concern.

There is no doubt there are significant forces across the European Union that would be quite satisfied to trade beef for concessions in other sectors of the economy. Why would they not? They are not being exposed or taking a financial hit. The reality is the country taking the biggest financial hit will be Ireland because we are such a significant exporter of beef. It behoves us to take a hard line and push against that so we can have an impact and get results. Unfortunately, I have seen that, whereas there is lip service coming from our Government on the concerns, the reality is that at the European level, this is driving on ahead. The offer has gone to 70,000 tonnes and we have every reason to believe it went to 99,000 tonnes at the last negotiation round.

I see from replies to parliamentary questions which I put to the Minister that 70,000 tonnes had been offered in the last round but "our determination is not to have this exceeded". The Government is sort of folding the tent on the 70,000 tonnes offer. Likewise, the Taoiseach has not at any stage clearly said we will object to the 70,000 tonnes offer and we will not have it. The reality is the Government is having it and Europe is plugging on ahead. Unless we see a hard line taken by the Minister and the Taoiseach we will not just be faced with the 70,000 tonnes already agreed but a lot more. Ireland and Irish beef will carry the can for the deal.

I assure the Deputy and the House that the Government and I remain absolutely steadfast in our opposition to a Mercosur trade deal involving significant volumes of beef. We have indicated clearly we are unhappy with the 70,000 tonnes offer for obvious reasons including, as mentioned, the Brexit scenario and the Commission's cumulative impact assessment. The European Council and its decision making process is made up of many member states with many competing interests. We are one voice but we have built a coalition of like-minded member states on this. We are doing everything we possibly can to ensure the view holds sway. At this stage, the negotiations are at a point where the next move with respect to impediments to a deal will come from the Mercosur negotiators. We remain constantly engaged on the matter with every player involved, including Commissioners Hogan and Malmström. I am in contact with like-minded member states, particularly the French, to ensure we get the best possible deal.

Dairy Sector

Pat Deering

Question:

33. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which dairy exports performed in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7012/18]

How did dairy exports perform in 2017 in view of the fact that dairy production has increased by over 9% in the past year? In December alone there was a 13.7% increase in dairy production. I recently read an article produced by a man mentioned earlier, Commissioner Hogan, in which he made the point that alarm bells should be ringing with respect to dairy expansion. There is a perfect storm building involving Brexit, oversupply and Food Harvest 2025, with certain targets for increasing dairy production.

Analysis from Bord Bia and my Department, both based on Central Statistics Office, CSO, data, demonstrates the resilience of the Irish food and drink export sector and the dairy export sector in particular. Whereas full-year CSO data becomes available towards the middle of this month, estimates made by Bord Bia for their annual performance and prospects publication provides a positive assessment of Ireland’s performance in 2017, as well as our prospects for 2018 in both the food and drink sector and the dairy sector in particular.

The year 2017 was the eighth consecutive year of export growth for the food and drink sector as a whole, with the dairy sector, which comprises more than a third of the total, having the strongest performers in terms of export growth for the year. Bord Bia analysis indicated that for the year as a whole the value of food and drink exports is estimated to have increased by 13%, or €1.5 billion, to €12.6 billion, representing growth of almost 60% or, €4.7 billion, since 2010. When one adds exports of other primary products, such as hides and skins, animal foodstuffs and forestry products, the final aggregate total for the entire agrifood sector can be expected to be in the region of €13.5 billion in 2017.

Furthermore, driven by increased production and higher dairy market returns, the analysis indicates that Irish dairy exports increased by 19% in 2017 to €4.02 billion, an increase of €655 million.

It should be noted that this figure as used by Bord Bia excludes dairy-based prepared consumer foods, as well as enriched dairy-based powders which, if included, increase the export figure for dairy related products by a further €900 million approximately.

On the prospects for 2018, as a small, open economy, Ireland’s relationship with trading partners around the world is a key driver of our success in this global food business. Based on this, we can say the prospects for dairy exports in 2018 look positive. The rates of growth recorded in 2017 for key product areas and the ongoing demand levels in Europe and international markets for powder-based products, butter and cheese bode well, as does the fact that wholesale prices remain very high, reflecting international demand. Ireland exports more than 85% of its milk and dairy produce to markets all around the world. In the context of the Food Wise strategy and as a key part of the Brexit response, Bord Bia, my Department and I will continue efforts to widen our access to third country markets, as well as deepen existing trading relationships, including through inward and outward trade missions.

There is no doubt that the export of food products has been the good news story for the past few years. One could argue that without the agriculture sector the economy would be in a far worse place than it is. In view of the fact, for example, that dairy exports to the United Kingdom dropped by approximately 10% in 2016, are we finding alternative markets? The United Kingdom is our nearest market and a key player. What efforts have been made to find alternative markets? The Minister referenced some markets, but what efforts have been made and where exactly are we headed?

One of the most welcome aspects of the Bord Bia publication in January was that, while the value of our exports to the United Kingdom had increased in financial terms, the volume of exports to the United Kingdom had dropped from almost 40% in 2016 to 35% in 2017. This is a vindication of our strategy to try to find new markets, both within the rest of the European Union and in third countries outside it. Interesting figures include the rate of growth in exports to Asia in 2017 of 6% to €850 million. The level of trade with Africa recovered by almost 20% to a value of over €200 million. Exports to the Middle East were stable, at approximately €290 million, while the value of the North American market grew by 7% to approximately €270 million. It was driven particularly by growth in exports to Mexico and the United States. At more than €650 million, China accounts for approximately 37% of our international dairy trade and 16% of our total dairy exports.

I thank the Minister for those figures. It is encouraging to see that we are moving further afield. Some of our products are particularly perishable and may not reach these destinations in time. Should we be diversifying some of our products at this stage? For example, at 85%, the British market is our main market for cheddar cheese. How will we replace that market? It is a key concern in the context of Brexit, in particular. If events do not go in a very satisfactory way, that market could be totally wiped out.

The exposure of the dairy industry to cheddar cheese exports to the United Kingdom is a particular concern in the context of Brexit. As the Deputy mentioned, it will be difficult to find a home for all of the 80,000 tonnes on international markets. I took part in a recent trade mission to Korea and Japan where those involved in the dairy industry saw some prospect of increasing the volume of cheddar exports. If, in the context of a hard Brexit, it was no longer financially viable to export to Britain, we would be faced with a significant challenge. Therefore, in the recent budget we committed to the provision of funding for Teagasc for the development of a food innovation hub at Moorepark. The rationale is that the food industry could leverage the expertise of Teagasc and research at UCC to research new product formulations for dairy products and also to see how it might test and bring to a conclusion research with a view to the substitution of cheddar. That is part of the strategy.

Fodder Crisis

Niamh Smyth

Question:

34. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason for and his plans to review his Department's decision to leave out farmers in counties Cavan, Monaghan, Longford and Roscommon from the right to avail of the fodder transport subsidy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7114/18]

Will the Minister clarify if farmers in counties Cavan and Monaghan are eligible for the fodder transport scheme? Given that there is some confusion about it, will he throw some light on the application process.

Weather conditions for much of last autumn were challenging for farmers in some parts of the west and the north west, in particular. Difficulties in harvesting fodder in some of these areas were compounded by the need to house livestock earlier than usual, resulting in additional pressure on fodder supplies over the course of the winter. To immediately address this issue I prioritised the payment of farm supports to assist farmers with cash flow. The European Commission agreed to this request, informed in part by the poor weather conditions of last autumn, for an advance payment of the 2017 basic payment measure and agri-environmental measures. These payments commenced at the earliest date possible - 15 October 2017 - and balancing payments issued in early December 2017. These payments, together with those issued under the areas of natural constraints measure, injected more than €1.4 billion into the rural economy by the end of last year and are providing a very welcome boost for farm families and will help to finance additional fodder purchase, where necessary.

At this time I also requested Teagasc, through its farm advisory service, to identify farmers who would be most at risk of running out of fodder and provide them with support to carry out fodder budgeting on their farms and explore all viable options to ensure they had sufficient feed for the winter months.

In order to provide additional assistance for those livestock farmers severely affected by ongoing fodder shortages, mainly in parts of the west and north west, I introduced a targeted fodder transport support measure, operated through the co-operative structure, to partly offset the cost of transporting fodder between those areas where it was available and those where it was scarce. This measure applies only to fodder purchased in the period from 29 January to 20 April 2018.

While the areas identified by Teagasc as being the most affected are predominantly located in parts of the west and the north west, the measure is not county specific within the region. Teagasc is also monitoring the fodder situation in adjoining areas and will carry out further assessments, if necessary.  Like all measures, certain criteria apply. Farmers in a locality within the region identified by Teagasc as having a significant fodder shortage, having completed a fodder budgeting exercise with their Teagasc adviser, will be eligible to receive a financial contribution towards the cost of transport of fodder sourced through the co-operative system. Only the shortfall in fodder will be eligible to receive support under the measure.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Teagasc assessment of whether there are significant forage shortages in specific areas is ongoing. It is important to emphasise that this is a targeted and locally focused measure, centred on areas of fodder scarcity that normal local trading in fodder cannot service. The measure will provide a financial contribution of €8 per standard bale of hay or straw for feeding and €12 per standard bale of silage or haylage towards the additional cost of transporting the fodder from the east and the south of the country to the affected areas of the west and the north west. Farmers will still pay the cost of the fodder in the normal way. To ensure normal local trade in fodder is not disrupted, a minimum transport distance of 100 km will apply.

Financial assistance under the fodder transport support measure is payable in accordance with Commission Regulation (EU) No 1408/2013 on de minimis aid in the agricultural production sector. No applications for support under the measure were received up to last Friday, 9 February. Processing and verification of applications for support will be carried out in a timely fashion.

Full details of the operation of the measure, including application forms and Department contact details, are available on my Department’s website.

I take it from the Minister's comments that farmers in counties Cavan and Monaghan can apply for the scheme. As he knows, we have suffered a significant amount of rainfall and the problem is getting worse. There has been huge flooding across agricultural lands in counties Cavan and Monaghan where farmers are coming under increasing pressure. They do not have enough fodder to keep their cattle fed, which is placing significant financial pressure and strain on already hard-pressed farmers. While the fodder transport scheme may provide some limited relief, it does not address the problem if introduced as a stand-alone support. In fact, it could exacerbate the fodder crisis. My colleague, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, has been front and centre on the issue and repeatedly called for a meal voucher scheme to be rolled out as a matter of urgency. Considering the huge underspend of €78 million in the Department last year, I do not see why such a scheme could not be introduced.

I am sure the Deputy is not suggesting I spend someone else's scheme payment on a fodder scheme.

No, just within the agriculture sector.

In making her suggestion about the underspend she is suggesting just that; therefore, it is necessary to be careful. She was seeking guidance on what a farmer needed to do to avail of the scheme. Farmers need to complete a fodder budgeting form which is available through their Teagasc adviser who will certify that a farmer has insufficient fodder and will need assistance. The farmer will then need to submit a completed application form from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as a completed co-operative declaration of transport and purchase of forage. They are the three steps. Teagasc will have to certify that there is a fodder shortage to ensure those not deemed to have a need will not piggyback on the system. There are localised pockets where there are needs. This applies in areas in which there is heavy ground, in particular. However, the issue is not widespread regionally. I made the point to Deputy Charlie McConalogue earlier that there were more than 750 people in the region to which Deputy Niamh Smyth alluded who were offering silage for sale in the locality on some of the online platforms available for trade in farming services. The scheme is to assist with the cost of longer hauls where fodder is not available locally.

That evidence would suggest there is sufficient fodder in the region at present.

I am not a farmer but I would say even the farming community is extremely confused. It sounds cumbersome. There are a number of steps to take to access what should be a simple scheme. More paperwork and more bureaucracy is not going to help farmers considering the pressure they are under on a daily basis in doing their job. I urge the Minister to take up the straightforward proposal made by my colleague, Deputy McConalogue, for the meal voucher, which gets to the heart of the problem. It would help fund the increased use of cereal-based concentrated feeds on farms in the worse affected areas and allow farmers to reduce significantly their requirement for grass-based fodder, which is also in short supply. I urge the Minister to make it simple and not cumbersome or complicated. Farmers need to get this money as soon as possible.

As I said to Deputy McConalogue earlier, the scheme I have introduced assistance with the transport of fodder over long distances. It may well be the advice available to a farmer is to supplement existing hay or silage fodder he or she may have with stretch rations. That may be the best and most appropriate thing for him or her to do. In the scheme I announced, we are not in the business of purchasing fodder, in the form of silage, hay or straw, or meal. The purchase is still the function of the farmer. We are assisting with transport over longer distances.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Brendan Smith

Question:

35. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if indications have been given at the EU Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers in relation to funding level for CAP post 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7113/18]

Ireland must send out a clear message that it cannot countenance any reduction in the CAP budget post 2020. We all know CAP is of critical importance to farmers through direct payments. We also know those compensatory payments support our agrifood sector which has 174,000 people employed throughout the country. It is a key driver of economic activity throughout the country.

We need to get the message out that CAP is not just critical for farmers but that it is good for consumers and the environment as well. We want to get away from the lazy narrative that CAP is a transfer of funds to farmers. It is not. It is of huge importance for the environment, for consumers and for the agrifood sector.

I thank Deputy Smith for his question. The future of CAP is an issue of enormous importance for the European and Irish agrifood sectors. The CAP has demonstrated its capacity to evolve effectively in response to changing market, consumer and environmental demands in recent years, to the point where it now plays a central role in delivering the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth sought under the Europe 2020 strategy.

The European Commission published its communication on the future of food and farming on 29 November 2017. It proposes a simpler CAP, with significantly more flexibility for member states, and a sharper focus on objectives and results, particularly in the environmental area. The communication covers many of the key issues and challenges for CAP post 2020.

However, the communication does not pre-empt the outcome of the multi-annual financial framework for the period 2020 to 2027. Initial proposals on this are expected to be published in May 2018. While no figures have been published at this point, the budget Commissioner, Mr. Oettinger, has indicated he sees future budgetary requirements being funded by a combination of additional contributions from member states and cuts in existing areas, including CAP. I recognise there will be pressure on the CAP budget post 2020, both as a result of the impact of Brexit and because of emerging funding priorities in areas such as security and migration. Nonetheless, I will continue to argue that a strong CAP budget is more important than ever against the background of Brexit and having regard to increasing global population and demand for food.

Of course ultimately the CAP is funded by taxpayers across EU member states. It is critically important against that background to reinforce the legitimacy and importance of the CAP, and its role in achieving European priorities and objectives in areas such as employment creation and retention, food security, food safety and quality, the protection and enhancement of the environment, the development of the rural economy and the prevention of land abandonment and rural depopulation.

I assure the Deputy that Ireland will continue to do that, and to work with other member states and the Commission to ensure that the CAP continues to be funded appropriately from 2020 onwards.

Will the Minister outline what work is under way in maintaining and growing the strong alliances with like-minded member states that were there over the years and decades in protecting CAP and its budget. The Minister referred to the budget Commissioner's comments in respect of the multi-annual financial framework. Some detail will be available in May of this year. He also referred to the fact that at least 30% of the overall EU budget would be for CAP.

If that was realised, it would be of very serious concern to us. The budget from 2014 to 2020 is between 38% and 40% of the overall EU budget. In 2016, I think it was 38% of the total budget and by 2020 it is expected to be at 34%. For the budget Commissioner to state, even at this early stage, that it could be down to 30% has to be a source of concern to all of us who are interested in seeing CAP being protected and who realise the importance of CAP for the agrifood sector throughout Europe and for the rural economies as well.

I thank Deputy Smith for his insights and analysis. We can have all of the ambition we want in respect of generational renewal and greater sustainability but if we do not have the budget, to which the Deputy referred, that is all wishful thinking. I see securing an adequate budget as the fundamental prerequisite to any of the rest. Commissioner Oettinger's commentary on CAP and the beady eyes of other Commissioners around the table looking at the other challenges the EU faces are a cause of concern. However, the Government would say Europe faces other challenges and security and migration come to mind. They could well learn from our experience that common problems could well do with a common approach. However, that is not a reason to raise the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy which has been spectacularly successful. The public consultation showed there is continuing public support for a Common Agricultural Policy provided we embrace the bigger challenges now around sustainability. We are working hard with member states for that reason.

France has always been an ally in CAP negotiations and recent soundings from President Macron are a bit more reassuring in respect of France's commitment to an adequately funded CAP. Recent soundings coming from the Germans have also been positive. We work closely with what might be described loosely as the older member states of the European Union in the context of these matters and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that is resolved satisfactorily.

I would re-echo what the Minister has stated. There are new demands in the areas of defence and migration. Extra funding has to be raised to provide for those endeavours. CAP is of critical importance for a secure supply of safe food for the citizens of Europe. It has been spectacularly successful but it has been reduced. Unfortunately, the last reform of CAP was the first time the budget was reduced as a percentage of the EU budget. We cannot allow that to happen again. There are particular challenges. However, the European economy is improving and there is no reason additional funds cannot be raised across Europe for the overall EU budget. Some of the countries that joined the European Union most recently would have huge interests in agriculture as well. However, they also have a concern about defence issues. We have to bear that in mind. The Minister will have to work even harder to build stronger alliances with the traditional countries that have always been on the same wavelength as ourselves in regard to CAP.

Those states Deputy Smith mentioned would equally be adamant that now is their time for a greater or, as they would see it, a fairer share of the CAP budget. There are a lot of moving parts in this. We are certainly vigilant in the area of ensuring there is an adequate budget. The direction of travel is interesting. If we go back to the Treaty of Rome and the early 1970s, the level of the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy was in the region of 70% and above. It is down now to under 40%. I share Deputy Smith's concern and much of his analysis as well. The most critical objective we have to meet is sustainability. I refer to not just environmental sustainability but to social and economic sustainability for the agriculture sector. An adequate budget is critical for that. We are committed to making sure that, before we start talking about all the things we would like to do, we are sure we have the money in the bag to do it.

Suckler Welfare Scheme Payments

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

36. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline his views on a €200 annual payment for suckler cows under the RDP scheme to ensure the sustainability of the national herd. [7151/18]

What are the Minister's views in respect of the necessity for an annual €200 payment per cow for our suckler cow herd? It is under tremendous pressure, with numbers are dropping by the day. We also see the potential impact of the Mercosur agreement, to which it looks like the Government is going to have to acquiesce in regard to the 70,000 tonnes.

Another factor is Brexit and the fact that 50% of our beef goes to the UK. As the Minister responsible, I am interested in hearing his proposals and thoughts on trying to provide supports to ensure that this important sector is maintained.

I am aware of the importance of the suckler sector to Ireland's rural economy and the wider agrifood industry. My Department provides a range of income and investment supports to suckler farmers, including direct payments and grant schemes such as the basic payment scheme, the areas of natural conservation, ANC, scheme, GLAS and TAMS, as well as the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP. Analysis of Teagasc national farm survey data shows that existing direct payments to suckler farmers provide support equivalent to approximately €500 per suckler cow.

The BDGP is the main support specifically targeted for the suckler sector, which provides beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current rural development programme, RDP, period. So far, approximately €125 million has been paid out to farmers, and I will continue to support that through the lifetime of the RDP. In addition to improving the environmental footprint of the national suckler herd, the programme will, through increasing the genetic merit of the herd, make a positive contribution to productivity and efficiency at farm level.

Ireland has been a strong supporter of the greater market orientation of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, over recent reforms, including by decoupling payments from production, because allowing farmers freedom to respond to market signals is vital for the sustainable development of the sector, as set out in the Food Wise 2025 strategy. As the Deputy is aware, any proposal for a coupled payment for suckler cows under Pillar 1 of CAP would require a linear cut across the basic payment scheme for all farmers. In terms of providing additional supports under Pillar 2, which provides for Ireland's RDP, there is no surplus funding above and beyond the funding already allocated to the RDP, which has been committed to existing schemes within the programme.

In the context of CAP post 2020, we must examine the most effective way of supporting the sector while being aware of the future direction of CAP in terms of public good and environmental benefits. We need to examine further ways in which we can improve economic and environmental efficiency while responding to the constraints of WTO and state aid rules in terms of farm supports.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The future CAP will play a key role in the sustainable development of the sector, and I urge people to participate in the public consultation meetings on the post-2020 CAP that are taking place around the country.

I wish to be brief, as Deputy Gallagher has tabled an important question on penalty points for fishermen that we would like to have answered within time as well.

The Minister is coming up with every reason as to why support cannot be forthcoming and is not considering the matter from the point of view of ensuring that the supports required to sustain our suckler herd are put in place.

Regarding Mercosur, the Minister has indicated in response to parliamentary questions that the figure on the table is 70,000 tonnes and that his focus is on ensuring that it does not increase further. It will have an impact on our beef trade. In return for that, surely the Minister, when engaging with his European counterparts, should be determining what additional supports can be acquired so that our suckler and beef herds are protected and sustained. Something must be done. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is overseeing a situation in which people are getting out of suckler beef farming and suckler cows are being sold. It behoves him to turn his attention to what types of support can be put in place to sustain the herd and to keep people in family farming.

I am also anxious to facilitate Deputy Gallagher, so I will be brief. It is important that we deal with facts. There is no exodus from suckler herd farming. Indeed, it was expected that with the lifting of dairy quotas, there would be a significantly greater exodus. The current figures show a reduction of in or around 6% in the suckler cow herd from just under 1 million to approximately 960,000. Most of that reduction has not happened along the western seaboard but in Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford, which has the highest number, and Cork. That is mostly because activity is being displaced into dairy production. There is no mass exodus and it is important that we not talk ourselves into a crisis.

The Deputy has not addressed an interesting issue, namely, that I am constrained by funding. If we want to provide funding under Pillar 1, there will be a cut of just under 20% in every farmer's basic payment. I do not propose to do that, but it is unclear whether Fianna Fáil proposes to do that. Perhaps the Deputy will enlighten us.

Fishing Vessel Licences

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Question:

37. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to outline the position regarding the penalty points statutory instrument as previously drafted in view of the fact that a written Supreme Court judgment has found the draft instrument to be flawed and invalid; if a new attempt to draft a statutory instrument will make provision for the Supreme Court judgement particularly to comply with the fair procedures aspect in the judgement; the timeframe for its introduction; if he has engaged with the fishing sector since the Supreme Court judgement issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6757/18]

I thank Deputy McConalogue, the Minister and the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating me. This question relates to the penalty points system and the Supreme Court's decision on the statutory instrument, and asks the Minister for his position now that the Supreme Court has deemed the statutory instrument to be invalid due to a lack of fairness and the right to appeal for the fishermen affected.

I thank Deputy Gallagher for his question. As he will be aware, the Supreme Court judgments on the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2014 - SI 3 of 2014 - were delivered on 12 December. This statutory instrument established a points system to apply to the licence-holder of a sea-fishing boat when a serious infringement of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy was detected. My Department is examining the implications of the judgments on an urgent basis. I expect this process to be completed shortly, and thereafter I intend to sign a new statutory instrument to revoke the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2016, SI 125 of 2016.

Regarding stakeholder consultation, on 20 October I discussed with industry representatives at the sea-fisheries liaison group meeting my plans to introduce a new statutory instrument and explained some key amendments that I was planning and the justification for same. I informed the meeting that pilot infringement proceedings by the European Commission for non-implementation of the EU points system had been taken against Ireland. It remains an option for the Commission to proceed to formal infringement proceedings in respect of the licence-holders system.

I also indicated at the meeting that there were serious implications for the release of funding under the European maritime and fisheries fund, EMFF. The early enactment of legislation for the points system is essential to ensure the continued contribution by the EU to the costs of investment by the control authorities under Ireland's EMFF programme in infrastructure, equipment and skills to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of measures to enforce the provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Commission is at this time poised to suspend EMFF payments to Ireland relating to control and enforcement because of delays in enacting legislation for the points system. This legislation is a condition of the EMFF regulation and EU funding is tied to compliance with this condition.

I assure the Deputy that the contents of the new instrument will, to the extent possible, take on board issues of concern relating to procedures and processes highlighted in the Supreme Court judgments and provide for appropriate procedures to ensure fairness in any relevant provision. Having an effective, proportionate and dissuasive system of points for all fishing vessels, Irish and non-Irish, operating in our 200 mile zone is beneficial to maintaining the sustainability of fish stocks on which our seafood sector is dependent. The points system is equally applicable to foreign and Irish vessels fishing in our 200 mile zone. This system will ensure that the majority of our law-abiding fishermen are able to compete effectively and look forward to a sustainable future in the industry.

I must highlight the Minister's statement that he had consulted with the industry on 20 October. We did not have the Supreme Court judgments until December, though. If the Minister discussed the matter with the industry in October, then it is vital that he enter into consultation with it post the judgments of December. Consultation is essential.

Furthermore, I presume that, while preparing the statutory instrument, the Minister will take into consideration affording fishermen a full right of appeal. It will not be sufficient to say that they may appeal on legal grounds. They must have a full right of appeal. Unless that right is inserted into the new statutory instrument, the Government will not be compliant with the Supreme Court judgments. The burden of proof must be removed from the accused and placed on the State when a charge is applied, which is in keeping with common law, the legal system found in Ireland and Malta.

I appreciate that pressure is being exerted on the Minister by the Commission in light of the EMFF, but the Commission must recognise the jurisdiction of this country and the decisions of the Supreme Court. The prospect of withdrawing funds is nothing short of blackmail. I am confident that the Minister will fight the Commission.

We will await the Minister's draft and I will reserve our party's judgment on signing it until we see it.

I appreciate the Deputy's long-standing interest in this matter. I assure him that there has been a long and extensive consultation with the industry on it. Most recently, I engaged with the industry in October. The industry was a party to the Supreme Court ruling, which was issued in December.

The findings of the Supreme Court were published during the December Council meeting in Brussels. The new statutory instrument will reflect entirely the findings of the Supreme Court. It would be remiss of us and illegal not to act within the framework of the judgment and we will take on board all the findings. That is why it is the subject of detailed legal examination. I intend to move on this issue at the earliest possible date after that adjudication process is completed. The industry would be the first to acknowledge there has been widespread, longstanding and protracted engagement on this issue, particularly with my predecessor. We are now at the last chapter of this. We need an statutory instrument to ensure compliance and access to EMFF funding. Infringement proceedings have also been initiated at EU level. I am very anxious to make progress on this issue at the earliest possible date.

It can be brought to a conclusion. It is in the Minister's hands to bring it to a conclusion provided he ensures that the statutory instrument reflects the Supreme Court judgment and that there will be a full right of appeal and that furthermore penalty points would not be attached to licences until such time as the appeal is heard. If the Minister does that, he will have no great difficulty but in the interim he should have a meeting with industry and consult before he takes a final decision. We, in our party, will then take our decision.

The statutory instrument will fully reflect the Supreme Court ruling.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.