Priority Questions

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

43. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed budget cuts for the 2021 to 2027 CAP programme are reversed in view of the publication of the recent MFF proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23925/18]

The European Commission recently published budget proposals for the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework, MFF. Will the Minister outline the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme between 2021 and 2027 are reversed? He knows that the stakes are exceptionally high for the agriculture sector. It is crucial that he acts in the coming months to ensure the proposed cuts will not come into play.

The Multi-Annual Financial Framework, MFF, proposals for the period 2021 to 2027 were published by the budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger on 2 May. The negotiation of the framework is a matter for Finance Ministers and the proposals will ultimately require the approval of the European Council and the European Parliament. In so far as funding for the Common Agricultural Policy is concerned, the proposal indicates a cut of around 5% in the next MFF period from 2021 to 2027. European agriculture policies have delivered for Irish farmers and consumers and it is important that support continue to be provided for these programmes.  In the next few years farm families will be required to play a vital role in the protection and enhancement of the environment and the production of food to the highest standards in the world. These high standards and the family farm model are part of the fabric of European values.  EU citizens have shown that they support this model. 

We need farmers to take active steps to mitigate climate change, protect water quality and biodiversity and improve their competitiveness. A strong CAP is a prerequisite if these objectives which are in the best interests of all citizens are to be achieved.  However, member states are facing into difficult negotiations and a number have already indicated that they are not willing to provide additional funding for the MFF. From Ireland's perspective, the Taoiseach has indicated that we are prepared to contribute additional funding but only if critical policies are supported. It should be noted that the proposal published by the European Commission is the initial MFF proposal. The final outcome will be determined in negotiations at EU level in the coming year. Achieving Ireland’s priorities in the negotiations will be a key issue for the Government. In that context, I have been meeting EU counterparts since January - most recently the German and French Ministers - with a view to building consensus among Farm Ministers on the need for a strong CAP budget.  I will continue to work on these matters with my colleagues across Europe, as will my officials.  

The next stage of the CAP post-2020 process will be publication of the legislative proposals. They are due to be published in early June. I look forward to engaging constructively with the Presidency, my European counterparts and the European Commission to ensure the next CAP will continue to provide necessary support for the Irish and European agriculture sector. I reassure the Deputy, organisations and farmers throughout the country that I will continue to seek a strong budget for the CAP in the upcoming negotiations.

I thank the Minister for his answer. As he knows, farm incomes are under tremendous pressure. When we look at them in general, CAP payments account for 75% of net income. For the beef and sheep sectors, they account for almost 100% of net income. Therefore, the stakes are immensely high for the farming sector and farm families. Unless we can ensure the budget is protected and that the proposed cuts are reversed, we will see farmers deciding to leave the sector as it will become unsustainable for some to make a living from agriculture. It is crucial that we see a massive effort not only by the Minister but also the Taoiseach to try to ensure other countries are brought onboard as allies to ensure the budget will not be cut.

The Minister outlined it is 5% in Pillar I. Professor Alan Matthews has indicated that, when inflation is taken into account, it will amount to more than 15% over the course of the next budget. Of course, in regard to Pillar II payments, a 21% cut is proposed.

What is the Minister specifically going to do with regard to a strategy for engaging with those countries which are resisting additional budgets? Will he ensure the Taoiseach shows an increased interest in ensuring we protect the budget and that we liaise closely with France, in particular, to try to build a coalition and bring other countries around in order to ensure that budget is protected?

I assure the Deputy and all Members of the House that we share a common objective. What we are engaged in is a series of strategic alliance building efforts to try to bring about a situation where member states will agree to increase their contributions. It is important to be realistic about it. When the Commission published its proposals on CAP, there were a number of member states that criticised the proposals specifically on the basis that they did not go far enough in terms of cutting the budget. That is a significant challenge. Increasing the budget contribution of member states requires a unanimous decision so, politically, it is a very significant task to undertake.

As the Deputy knows, the Taoiseach clearly stated in the European Parliament that Ireland was prepared to increase its contribution. What is not widely understood is that we are a net contributor to the European Union since 2014 and, in fact, a net contributor at the higher level, perhaps in the top three or four for per capita contributions to the EU. We are prepared to pay more but we want to do so in the context of important projects that we believe should be funded adequately. It is important also to acknowledge that we get in the region of 70% of our receipts from Europe through the CAP and that the multiplier effect this has in rural communities is very significant.

Thank you. The time is up.

We are building alliances, making bilateral arrangements and having meetings with Ministers. I am going to Madrid tomorrow to meet a series of member states that share our analysis but there are many member states that do not.

We must stick to the time slots. I call Deputy McConalogue.

I accept there are many states that do not, which is a challenge. This means that, as a country, we have to leave no stone unturned to try to meet that challenge. The Taoiseach needs to be foursquare in regard to ensuring that is a top priority when he is engaging with other European leaders, as does the Minister when engaging with his counterparts.

With regard to Pillar II, on which I want to focus in particular, there have been indications it will be cut by up to 21%. Given that payments for the areas of natural constraint scheme, GLAS, TAMS and Leader come out of Pillar II, this poses a very real risk of undermining our rural economy and farm incomes.

With regard to the co-financing aspect of this, Commissioner Hogan has indicated the contribution from the EU will drop by 10%. At this remove, what is the attitude of the Government in regard to increasing the national contribution if it comes to the stage where that is required? We cannot have a scenario where Pillar II is undermined and where the funding of those very important schemes does not add up to what it currently does for farmers. Will the Minister clarify the Government position in regard to ensuring that, whatever the outcome, Pillar II is not cut?

I share the Deputy's analysis that Pillar II is very important because we have used it to be quite innovative in terms of the challenges we face. The Deputy mentioned GLAS and there is also beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, which is helping us meet the objectives of the environmental area and climate change, perhaps ahead of other member states. We have used Pillar II very significantly. It is co-funded and any cut there would be regressive in the context of our ambition to meet the new challenges, particularly around climate change.

I believe it would be strategically incorrect for us to now put our hand up and say that we will make up the shortfall when, in fact, our overwhelming objective is to secure an adequate budget from CAP funding, so we will have a properly funded Pillar II. I appreciate all the schemes that flow from it, including areas of natural constraint, Leader and so on. However, our objective now is to get the best possible outcome in terms of the CAP negotiations and look then at what our national obligations will be in terms of co-funding. I believe it would be strategically wrong now to let the Commission off the hook and say that whatever it decides to cut, we will make up anyway. That would be strategically incorrect.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Martin Kenny

Question:

44. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which basic payments to farmers will be affected under the new CAP arrangements in view of the fact so many farmers are working off-farm in order to sustain their livelihood. [23721/18]

This question refers to something we have heard talked about on many occasions recently, namely, the issue of farmers having to be full-time farmers, or at least to get the majority of their income from farming. On many small holdings on marginal land, it is very difficult for people to make a living. The reality is at least one person, if not two people, in the household have to work off-farm in order to be able to do that, and this is particularly so in areas of natural constraint, where it is more difficult to make a living. I question whether there is a trend coming in the new CAP arrangement towards some restrictions in this regard, which would be very worrying for the majority of farmers who find themselves in that category.

The CAP regulations are expected to be published by Commissioner Hogan shortly. Until the formal proposals are received, it is difficult to make any assessment regarding their effects. While I am aware of leaked drafts, I will not be commenting until my Department has had an opportunity to examine the published draft guidelines. It is also important to note that, following publication, the draft regulations will be the subject of detailed negotiations before final agreement. During these negotiations, I will continue to work with other member states to ensure that the measures proposed deliver greater added value for the Irish farming and rural community and for all European citizens.

Direct payments are a vital part of farm incomes, especially in the dry stock sector. I will continue to seek an EU budget with a robust CAP programme to include necessary support for direct payments. Proposals already published on the multi-annual financial framework provide some insight into Commission thinking, with references to capping and targeting of direct payments included. I have already indicated that I am supportive of efforts to better target direct payments and I look forward to examining the detailed proposals as they emerge.

On the question of farmers with off-farm income, this has been a significant feature of Irish rural communities for many years and will continue to be in the future. I intend to ensure that such farmers will continue to be supported under any future Common Agricultural Policy. We can also reasonably expect that the Commission proposals will involve a higher level of environmental ambition for the farm sector. We simply have to use the tools at our disposal to address climate change and other environmental imperatives, but, of course, it is also critically important to protect incomes in our vulnerable sectors.

I am currently engaged in a round of meetings with EU counterparts regarding the expected proposals on CAP and the published proposals on the multi-annual financial framework. Equally, my Department will continue to engage with its interlocutors in this regard. I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to seek a strong EU budget for CAP and a regulatory framework that protects Irish farm incomes.

I welcome the clarification. I understand it is only a draft that will be seen and that there are negotiations involved. However, we would welcome reassurance from the Minister and his Department that, in those negotiations, everything will be done to ensure that no definition of farmer is introduced which would mean many in the farming community who are on marginal land, and have to depend on off-farm income, would in some way be punished for that. The reality is that small farmers, certainly in the west and on hilly ground, cannot survive on farm income alone and very often have to have off-farm income. This is one of the things that is leading in many cases to the abandonment of the uplands, where we see farmers abandoning the land and taking other options, such as forestry or just selling the land and getting rid of it. The truth is it is bad for our community and for the whole farming sector if it goes in that direction. Every effort needs to be made in the negotiations to ensure the definition of what a farmer is, and what farming is, is that the land is being farmed. It should be based on the full utilisation of the land, which is being used to the best of its capacity and where farmers are doing their best to take as much income as possible from it, and if farmers require further income off-farm they will not be punished for that.

I am aware of this issue in my constituency and that it is a national issue. The question of the definition of "genuine farmers" and "active farmers" always crops up. I wish to reassure farmers who lack the capacity to generate a sufficient income from their holdings. We have recently seen the publication of figures for farm incomes which point to two Irelands. I refer, in particular, to the figures for the livestock and sheep sectors that are really challenged in terms of their lack of capacity. Like any of my predecessors and I assume any sane occupant of this office in the future, I will be motivated only by the best of intentions when it comes to dealing with that reality. I aim to ensure those farmers who are as genuine as any other farmer and as active as any other farmer, given the constraints on their holdings, will continue to be the focus of supports under the Common Agricultural Policy. They may not be able to generate a high income owing to those constraints, but they perform a host of other valuable services in the protection of the environment. They are really important players. They are both active and genuine. The fact that owing to economic necessity they may have to have an off-farm income does not in any way put them beyond supports under the Common Agricultural Policy, nor should it in the future.

The difficulty is we often hear about armchair farmers and individuals who do not engage in farming, yet receive all of the subsidies. Sometimes there is a view that to try to ensure this will not continue, we have to delineate certain categories. I fear that, with the tiny minority in that category, there is a larger group who would be affected in a negative way. I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensuring this will not happen and I am satisfied that the small family farm will be at the centre of future negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy. The Minister mentioned sheep and cattle farming and how income levels in these sectors were so low. That is the reality for so many farmers who do the best with what they have got, yet they cannot make a proper income from it, but that is not to say they are not productive. They are highly productive for the type of land they use.

The Minister mentioned greening and the environmental impact. Yesterday evening at the committee we heard from representatives from UCD. One of the questions I forgot to ask them was about research into the level of carbon sequestration on low-impact grassland, on large areas of which farmers have very low stocking rates. That is something we have not taken into account. It is one of the good things those farmers are providing.

We share the same objectives. What we have to guard against are the unintended consequences. Yes, at a high level people will talk about "armchair farmers", those who gather income under the Common Agricultural Policy and who may not be considered active by other farmers. I am anxious to ensure the category about whom the Deputy spoke, those with small and marginal holdings from which because of the constraints of them they are not able to make an income, will continue to be supported. They are both active and genuine.

There is another debate taking place at a different level about those who receive extraordinarily high payments and whether they constitute genuine or active farmers. There are proposals related to capping, which I think is good in principle. There are about 1,000 farmers in the country who receive a payment of more than €60,000. When that money is redistributed between 130,000 farmers, the gain is minimal. Nonetheless, the Deputy should be reassured that we share the same ambition for those farmers who are both active and genuine.

Trade Agreements

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

45. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position on the latest Mercosur talks; his plans to protect Irish farmers by ensuring beef will not form part of a final Mercosur deal at EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23926/18]

Will the Minister outline the position on the Mercosur talks, specifically what he is doing to protect the interests of Irish farmers and ensure beef will not form any part of a final deal? As he knows, farmers are greatly concerned about the potential impact of additional beef imports from South American and Mercosur countries on prices within the European Union. There is talk that a deal is imminent. I hope the Minister can update us on where things stand and provide reassurance that he is seeking to ensure beef will not form a part of that deal.

Ireland's position on the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations is well known and has not changed. We have consistently opposed any agreement that will have negative consequences for the Irish and EU agriculture sectors and the beef sector, in particular. This position has been reiterated many times, for example, by me and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, at meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, as well as by other Ministers in the relevant EU trade policy fora. It has also been done through direct contacts with Commissioners Hogan and Malmstroem and by the Taoiseach at the European Council and through his own direct contacts, including Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

I have been very consistent in urging caution in the approach to the negotiations. I have expressed Ireland's very grave concerns about the offer of a beef tariff rate quota of 70,000 tonnes made by the European Union to Mercosur last October and our strong view that this figure should not be exceeded. I have been working closely with member state colleagues in that regard and also remained in close contact with Commissioner Hogan on the matter.

There have recently been reports of agreement being reached on other aspects of the negotiations. I would be very concerned if progress on these aspects were to lead to further concessions on beef. I am aware that there will be a further round of negotiations in Montevideo in the week commencing 4 June. In that regard, I continue to remain in close contact with European Commission counterparts and member state colleagues to press Ireland's concerns. In an overall sense, there is, undoubtedly, a need for continued vigilance in the conduct of these trade negotiations. I will continue to insist that they be handled appropriately and in a manner that will safeguard the interests of the Irish and European beef sectors. In that regard, I will also continue to work very closely with member state colleagues. In particular, 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 the potentially very damaging impact of Brexit on an already delicate balance in the European beef market.

The Minister should be highly aware, given the studies already carried out, of the potential impact of a Mercosur agreement in bringing additional beef into the European Union. The European Union's own assessment indicated that it would lead to a 16% drop in the prices farmers in Europe get for beef. It would also lead to a €5 billion drop in the cumulative value of the European beef market. I note that the Minister has indicated that he has communicated to the Commission that he does not want to see the 70,000 tonne quota exceeded. That constitutes him giving up the ghost and indicating his acceptance of a figure of 70,000 tonnes being part of any final agreement. Frankly, given the impact it would have on the farming sector, that is simply unacceptable. Will the Minister vote against any deal at European level that has beef as part of it? What will be the ratification process for a final deal? Will it be the case that deciding any tariff rate quota will be a European competence, or will it have to come back to be voted on by this national Parliament? Has the Minister sought the advice of the Attorney General in that regard?

Our objective is to secure the best deal, of which beef would not be any part. That is what we have been campaigning on. The reality is that an offer of 70,000 tonnes has been made. We are not happy with it, but Ireland is only one member state of the European Union and the negotiations are not being conducted by the Agriculture Commissioner; rather, they are being conducted by Trade Commissioner Malmstroem. I have spoken to Commissioner Hogan about this matter as recently as this week. We will continue to press our case, but we also recognise that trade is a two-way street. In certain areas of Mercosur we see opportunities, particularly in the dairy sector. However, we feel particularly exposed in the beef sector, but we will continue to try to negotiate the best possible deal. "Negotiate" is probably the wrong word to use because we are not a party to the negotiations, but we remain in direct contact.

I have been in contact with Commissioner Malmström in the past and again this week to express our concerns.

It appears that part of the process of ratification may be for domestic parliaments. That remains to be seen from the nature of the deal that is done. At a time when we are seeking solidarity across the European Union on a range of issues, however, it would be inappropriate that we would stand alone in this case, when no deal has been concluded, and isolate ourselves.

I thank the Minister.

What we continue to do within the European fold is to influence and secure the best possible outcome. After that, it will be a decision for all the appropriate bodies, including national parliaments.

We are yet to do three questions. I call Deputy McConalogue for his final supplementary question.

It appears that, as part of the negotiations, agriculture is being expected to take the hit for other sectors of the economy. While we all agree that trade is very important, there must be fairness. Beef, which is particularly important to the Irish economy, is being asked to take the hit so that other parts of the European economy can benefit. Unanimity is required for any deal to be passed, but the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has rolled over on the 70,000 tonnes figure. That is what he has told the House today. That alone will create a massive difference and represents a massive hit for European beef prices. It is simply not good enough.

That any deal will have to come back to national parliaments for ratification should surely strengthen the Minister's hand in pushing back and trying to fight for Irish farmers to ensure that there are not further concessions and, indeed, that we can row back the 70,000 tonnes figure because of its impact.

The Minister is unclear about whether the Oireachtas will have to ratify any tariff rate quotas. In the case of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, tariff rate quotas are provisionally applied even though ratification is not fully complete. Will the Minister rule out this applying in any Mercosur deal?

The important point is there is no deal yet. The direction of travel in beef is worrying and we have made our views quite clear on that. I am advised that whether this Parliament ultimately has a say is contingent on the nature of the deal that will be concluded. We see opportunities in certain respects in agriculture but we see significant threats in beef. We will continue to apply all the pressure we can to ensure that the deal is as good as it possibly can be for Ireland, bearing in mind that we are only one of all the member states. This is a minority Government and if this House has a say, it will be the House that decides its view on the agreement. We are applying the maximum possible pressure, bearing in mind that we also benefit from trade deals in Europe and recognise that in the broader context, trade deals are a two-way street. There cannot be a negotiation where we say that we want to sell our products to everywhere else but no one may sell their products to us. That is not the nature of trade deals. The detail is where the question is at and we are trying to ensure the best possible outcome in the detail of beef.

I reiterate what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said. We have done only three questions in 34 minutes. We have gone way over time and I will be very strict on every side about answers. If we do not, there will be people sitting here in the expectation of answers that we will not reach.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett who has 30 seconds to put his question.

Forestry Sector

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

46. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps and work being undertaken to encourage and incentivise agroforestry with a particular focus on native species in view of Ireland's historically low afforestation figures and rates. [23989/18]

As I have said on many occasions in this House, the levels of forest cover in this country are pitifully low, and one of the lowest in Europe. There is little sign that we are doing anything to improve it. My question refers in particular to agroforestry and the potential it has to change that situation significantly, if not dramatically, with a particular focus on native and broadleaf species.

Agroforestry was introduced for the first time by my Department in 2015 as part of the Forestry Programme 2014-2020. Agroforestry is positive for animal welfare, improves biodiversity and can prevent nutrient run-off when planted in strategic locations. Some farmers who may not be inclined to plant trees may see agroforestry as a first step in terms of a possible commitment to more traditional forestry. By engaging in agroforestry farmers may begin to see timber production as part of the farming mix in terms of climate mitigation and adding to the overall productivity of their farm.

Applications for agroforestry are considered by my Department for silvopastoral systems such as pasture, grazing, silage or hay. Other systems may be considered on a site-to-site basis, however, as long as the tree stocking rate is between 400 and 1,000 trees per hectare, that is, at least 0.5 ha in area and at least 20 m wide. Acceptable tree species include oak, sycamore and cherry. Other broadleaves and conifers will be considered on a site-to-site basis, including other native species. The planting of fruit and nut trees is also provided for under agroforestry and these species can account for up to 15% of the trees planted.

A modest target of 55 ha of agroforestry was set in the forestry programme. The response has been far below this level, however, at just 6 ha planted during the first three years of the programme. The recently completed midterm review concluded that there is very little tradition in Ireland in agroforestry and this is most likely contributing to the slow uptake. The premium levels on offer were also considered to be insufficient to encourage farmers to get involved in this land use. The cost of tree shelters was contributing also to the high cost of establishment, and this also made agroforestry less attractive to farmers.

Following the midterm review, significant increases have been introduced for agroforestry, with the annual premium payment increasing from €260 per hectare to up to €660 per hectare. The establishment grant was also increased from €4,450 per hectare to €6,660 per hectare.

The Minister of State will have two further opportunities to respond.

There is a lot at stake in the area of afforestation and forestry. Ireland faces huge fines because of carbon emissions, and forestry, as a carbon sink, can play a significant role in mitigating that. However, we are failing pitifully. The midterm forestry review makes for very sad reading. We have a target of 7,500 ha annually. COFORD, the National Council for Forest Research and Development, recommended that to reach the afforestation levels necessary, we need to plant double that -10,000 to 15,000 ha. However, we only plant 5,000 ha. We failed to meet what was an inadequate target and this year we are heading towards planting 4,000 ha.

As the Minister of State noted, the take-up in agroforestry is pathetic. It is 9 ha. We missed our targets on native woodlands by two thirds. Our native woodlands conservation scheme achieved zero results because the options in agroforestry and the supports and incentives for farmers to move into agroforestry are not adequate.

I thank the Deputy. He will have another minute later.

It is interesting that the Deputy referred to the target and said that the incentives are not adequate. We have ambitious targets. We have put aside €108 million from Exchequer funding for afforestation. We have all sorts of lobby groups and so on pulling against us. We need to be on message here. This morning I attended the launch of a conference on Irish forestry in the bioeconomy in Enfield. Yesterday, I visited Kilkenny for the inaugural RDS Teagasc farm forestry award. We are doing everything we can to promote it. There are so many interest groups which do not want to see afforestation and who misconstrue all of its benefits. If people pull together on this, we can achieve it. The midterm review is indicating that we will reach 30% of the overall plantation figures that will be broadleaf, so it is beginning to work.

I thank the Minister of State.

The midterm review was salient but it does improve the incentives in many areas.

I thank the Minister of State. He will have a final minute later.

I do not doubt that the Minister of State is making a serious effort in this area but the facts tell us that we are failing. We must dramatically change things. Coillte did not help matters by messing farmers around with the farm partnership scheme and not paying them. I do not know if that has been resolved, but it has left a bitter taste in the mouths of farmers when it comes to initiatives that might increase forest cover.

The point about agroforestry is that although we need to explain it to people and encourage people, we need to examine models such as that in Norway. In south-west Norway, the forest cover was increased from 0% to 50% in 50 years, and now 70% of the income for the farmers in the area is from forestry. This is because there were supports and grants to encourage the natural regeneration of forests, not forestry according to the industrial or commercial model. It worked brilliantly. It was very good for the environment and is now generating considerable income for farmers. That is the sort of model we need to follow.

We will get the Deputy to speak at a few events promoting forestry in certain parts of the country. It will be very helpful.

On the last point the Deputy made, about continuous cover forestry, which is what he is talking about, a lot of work is being done in respect of both conifers and broadleafs. The new midterm review rates for broadleafs under the continuous cover forestry and native woodland schemes are very significant.

The reality, however, is that the only way to increase cover to 17% or 18%, which are the figures the Deputy is proposing, is to drive afforestation through the commercial wood industry. It needs that and it lifts all boats. It is a huge employer. I was in a remote part of Galway last week where there are 150 people employed directly in the industry and another 200 employed in the industry around it. I ask the Deputy to show me any industry or sector that can offer that kind of employment in such areas.

Aquaculture Regulation

Mick Wallace

Question:

47. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of salmon farm escapes that were reported in 2017; the investigations that have been carried out relating to farmed salmon stock being caught in the rivers Delphi, Erriff, Kylemore-Dawros, Newport and Bunowen catchments in August 2017; the location of the farmed salmon stock; the action taken in regard to the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23913/18]

The North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization states there are 19 rivers in Ireland threatened with the complete loss of salmon. Three rivers have lost their wild Atlantic salmon stock completely. Every comprehensive, independent analysis of the farmed salmon industry indicates salmonid aquaculture has a detrimental effect on wild Atlantic salmon populations owing to the spread of sea lice, disease, pollution and genetic interactions of escaped farmed salmon with wild salmon. Last August, the Minister told us that if fish presented to the Marine Institute for analysis are determined to be from farmed stock, the Department would, in the normal way, take appropriate action on the matter. Will the Minister provide an update on that?

Aquaculture in the marine environment is regulated by my Department in accordance with the provisions of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997, the Foreshore Act 1933 and related national and EU legislation. Regulatory agencies such as the Marine Institute also play an important role in the regulation of the industry from a scientific perspective.

Decisions in regard to aquaculture licence applications are made following the fullest consideration of all technical, scientific, legislative, environmental and public interest aspects of each application. It is important to note that the application process involves a period of statutory and general public consultation. Inland Fisheries Ireland, which has responsibility for the management of wild salmon stocks, is a statutory consultee and therefore plays a very important role in the licensing process.

All licences issued contain both general and specific terms and conditions. Provision is made for the reporting of fish escapes to my Department, the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland. The failure by a licensed operator to notify the relevant parties of a fish escape would be regarded by my Department as a serious breach of licence conditions.

My Department's records indicate that, during 2017, one fish escape incident was reported. In July 2017, a salmon farm operator notified my Department, the Marine Institute and Inland Fisheries Ireland of a fish escape incident at a salmon farm located at Glinsk, Mulroy Bay, County Donegal. My Department's records indicate that all relevant stakeholders, including Inland Fisheries Ireland, were informed in accordance with the applicable aquaculture licence conditions.

Also during 2017, my Department noted media reports of salmon being found in rivers on the western seaboard which may have been from farmed stock. My Department advised Inland Fisheries Ireland that where anglers or officers of Inland Fisheries Ireland suspected they had collected salmon from farmed stock, the fish should be sent to the Marine Institute for analysis with a view to determining whether they were in fact from farmed stock.

The Marine Institute has confirmed that it received no stock for examination from anglers or from Inland Fisheries Ireland. In addition, the Marine Institute did not receive any request from Inland Fisheries Ireland to examine salmon that appeared to be from farmed stock.

There seems to be conflicting information. We all agree that farmed salmon escapes are very bad for our indigenous wild salmon population.

There were 65 farmed salmon caught in rivers in Galway and Mayo in August 2017 and September 2017. The number is estimated to total 500 farmed salmon by Inland Fisheries Ireland, one of the Minister's own statutory bodies. There were many questions but very poor answers.

On 11 October, Mr. Richie Flynn of the Irish Salmon Growers Association told the Irish Examiner its members always reported escapes, without exception. He said, "There has been no such escape to report." The day before, The Irish Times ran an article stating the Department had confirmed to Inland Fisheries Ireland it had received no reports of escapes, yet on 16 February 2018 Inland Fisheries Ireland published its report stating tests on a number of fish confirmed they were farmed fish. A few days later, however, the Department, alongside the Irish Salmon Growers Association, was dismissive of the one report. It came as a bit of a surprise when the Marine Harvest Group, in its end of year report, stated 20,000 farmed salmon had escaped from the site, as the Minister mentioned. Suddenly, the collective amnesia of the Department got a bit clearer.

Some 20,000 farmed salmon escaped on 3 July 2017. The Department was informed the next day, 4 July. Incredibly, no one in the Department, the Marine Institute or the Irish Salmon Growers Association seemed to remember that.

Aquaculture and the associated angling and tourism interests can coexist. My Department is fully committed to a properly regulated aquaculture sector. We will have no truck with abuses of licences attached to aquaculture operations.

We are significantly underachieving in the context of realising the potential of the Irish aquaculture sector to expand further. My figures are from recollection but I believe we produce approximately 15,000 tonnes. The Scottish produce approximately 100,000 tonnes, and Norway, for example, which along with Chile is considered one of the global leaders, produces in excess of 1 million tonnes. We do not need to have ambition at that scale. We can find a niche in the organic farmed salmon area.

The important point in the context of the question is that there were no reported allegedly farmed stock taken to the Marine Institute or Inland Fisheries Ireland in 2017. The fundamental point is that we will try to ensure at all times that our licences are operated to the letter of the law.

Inland Fisheries Ireland is saying something different. It states in its report that it gave the scales of something like 34 fish to be examined and that it was shown they were farmed fish. I do not understand what is going on.

Some seriously destructive salmon farming practices are being covered up and are not being policed properly. Are there any sanctions against salmon farmers when they misbehave? How many licences have not been renewed over the past ten years? Why is the Department intent on expanding this destructive industry by issuing more licences?

I read a report by Mr. Tony Lowes, who gave a presentation at the Salmon Watch Ireland conference last year. What he came up with is shocking. In 2007, thousands of small net fishermen were forced off rivers throughout the country in an effort to halt the decline in salmon stocks. For many, it was the end of their livelihood. Even with those fishermen gone, the stocks continued to decline. At the same time, salmon farm production has increased by over 60% and no one seems to care how the sector is run. Does no one give a fiddlers anymore about the wild salmon in the rivers?

It is unfortunate that the Deputy uses the term "destructive industry". All around our coastline, people with aquaculture operations, either for fin fish or shellfish, are operating according to the letter of the law and giving valuable employment in regions where there are very often no alternative operations.

Very little employment.

It is valuable nonetheless. Every job is valuable for the person who holds it. The Deputy appears to be prepared to throw all of that industry under the bus.

Marine Harvest Ireland-----

More employment would be created by going the other way.

The Minister, without interruption.

My Department is motivated by ensuring we maximise the potential of the sector without compromising the potential in other sectors. That is contingent on compliance with licences that are issued. In the context of the specific question raised by the Deputy, we do not have any evidence to suggest fish were taken to the Marine Institute to confirm they escaped from salmon aquaculture operations. I appreciate there is regular media commentary on these matters.

Is the Minister indicating Inland Fisheries Ireland is not accurate?

I am only telling the Deputy in the context of the question he asked. The industry is valuable, has a future and it can expand. However, we should only facilitate such growth through compliance with regulation, which is really important. It is the only way everything can co-exist.

Despite what I say, Members continue to break the time rules completely. As I keep pointing out, it is not fair to other Members.