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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 May 2019

Vol. 982 No. 5

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Brexit Preparations

Bernard Durkan


5. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which his Department can access particular European Union funding or other sources to address the issues for Irish agriculture arising in the context of Brexit and future uncertainty as a result; the steps he can take in the short term to address the issues drawn to his attention by the farming community recently on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20113/19]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which his Department can assist the agrifood sector now and in the long term, having particular regard to the impact of Brexit and the destabilisation of markets as a result of the ongoing and drawn-out discussions on Brexit.

The agrifood sector is critical to the Irish economy and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on the sector given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for €5.2 billion of agrifood exports last year. There are ongoing discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties that would face Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the assistance that might be required for its agriculture, food and fishery sectors. Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority.

I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Phil Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the Common Agricultural Policy's Single Common Market Organisation, CMO, regulation, as well as increased flexibility under state aid regulations. However, it is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been very difficult for beef farmers in particular following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance. In light of the ongoing depressed market prices I have, in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my European Union counterparts, said that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO regulation to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market is now merited. I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, and my officials are pursuing that matter with the Commission.

One of the unique strengths of the Irish agrifood sector has been the shared vision for the sustainable development of the sector in Food Wise 2025. It is crucial that we all continue to work together. I have highlighted the need for stakeholders to recognise their interdependency and to increase the strength of all links in the supply chain, including the development of beef producer organisations. I am deeply committed to fully supporting and developing Ireland’s beef sector. I am strongly of the view that the existing range of supports available to beef farmers under the rural development programme, together with ensuring access to as many markets as possible, both for live animals and beef exports, are appropriate for the continued development of the sector.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. In light of the ongoing and drawn-out discussions on Brexit, is there scope for an intervention with interim measures that may offset the negative impact and potential instability arising in the market, particularly in the beef area? Does the Minister believe it may be possible to move forward a plan in this context in the near future?

The Deputy will appreciate that the substantial emphasis up to relatively recently has been on dealing with the supports that would be necessary if the United Kingdom crashed out of the European Union. Fortunately, that scenario has been avoided to date and the deadline has been moved down the road substantially. The issue has not gone away but we have some respite from it in the immediate future.

The difficult market conditions are partially related to market sentiment arising from Brexit, sterling differentials and high costs associated with last year because of weather difficulties. There was static consumption at a time when there was an increased beef kill because of that bad weather. We have made the case to the Commission that there is reason for an interim support package not related to Brexit at all. It is a view that has some traction from other member states as well. I have been engaged with the Commission since we raised the matter in April and I await its response in that regard.

I thank the Minister and he has very correctly assessed the position. It is also important to recognise that as time drags on and there is continued indecision with respect to the outcome of Brexit, there will always be a potentially destabilising factor for the markets. In light of this, will the European Union institutions and colleagues in the Union be sufficiently alert to and aware of the vulnerability of the agrifood sector in this country and the absolute necessity to ensure its viability in the medium and long term?

Damage can be done in the short term as well.

There is no doubt about that level of awareness in the European Union. One of the Brexit strategies we deployed was increasing awareness of our unique exposure to the UK market and this is clearly understood. There is less understanding of the immediate difficulties we face because Brexit has not happened yet and the consequences cannot be felt. However, the reality is there is a market sentiment associated with Brexit and sterling which is currently having an impact. We are prosecuting the case with officials from the Commission. We have been doing other things such as on areas of natural constraints and with the beef environmental efficiency producer organisations to build resilience within the sector in terms of what we can do ourselves. It is a comprehensive response but a significant part of the strategy is a response from the Commission to our proposals and we await that.

Hare Coursing

Maureen O'Sullivan


6. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide the minutes of the annual meeting of the hare coursing monitoring committee; if he is satisfied with the make-up of the committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16674/19]

Will the Minister provide the minutes of the annual meeting of the hare coursing monitoring committee, is he satisfied with the make-up of the committee and will he make a statement on the matter?

A monitoring committee on coursing is in place, comprising veterinary and administrative officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Irish Coursing Club and the National Parks and Wildlife Service to monitor developments in coursing.  In that regard, the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is well run in a controlled and responsible manner in the interests of hares and greyhounds.  The work of the monitoring committee focuses on the maintenance of the highest standards of animal welfare and safety for both hares and greyhounds.  It is critically important that the monitoring committee continues its work to ensure that those in coursing operate in accordance with the regulatory framework and that the welfare and safety of hares and greyhounds are kept to the forefront at all times. The committee meets annually and, inter alia, considers any issues arising from the previous coursing season.

Wildlife rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and veterinary inspectors from my Department attend coursing meetings throughout the coursing season and report on their findings.  These reports are reviewed by the monitoring committee, which also arranges to have any complaints or reported incidents investigated.  I have no plans to change the composition of the monitoring committee. The report of the monitoring committee on coursing for the meeting held on 18 December 2018 was released on receipt of a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014.  I can supply a copy to the Deputy.  The report covers a review of the 2017-18 coursing season, the provision of new reporting forms, the issue of illegal hunting, the problems caused by buzzards, the media coverage of a disease outbreak in the United Kingdom and a single item under any other business.

Can the Minister clarify the date the report was released?

The report of the monitoring committee on coursing for the meeting held on 18 December was released on receipt of a recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. I do not have the date but I can provide a copy of the minutes to the Deputy.

That would be useful. The question arose from a freedom of information, FOI, request by the Irish Council against Blood Sports, ICABS, which was looking for the minutes of the monitoring committee, which it received in 2016 and 2017 but not in 2018. No independent animal welfare body is represented on the monitoring committee. At the 2017 meeting the CEO of the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, stated that "Coillte lands were largely free of predators and therefore have a thriving hare population." The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine agreed to contact officials in Coillte for permission for Coillte lands to be used by the ICC to capture hares but, thankfully, Coillte refused to allow this. Is it, therefore, appropriate for officials from the Department to intercede on behalf of hare coursers to net vulnerable hares for use as live lures for greyhounds? I believe the Department overstepped its remit by facilitating this request and this is why the FOI request was put in.

I would be pleased to give the Deputy what has been released under the freedom of information request. My understanding is that there was a meeting on 18 December 2018 to review the 2017-18 coursing season. Arising either from the review or an ongoing inspection by the National Parks and Wildlife Service or the veterinary service in the Department, one coursing club was sanctioned.

One other aspect brings this out into the open. There was a coursing meeting last January at Seven Houses in County Kilkenny. The coursers reported that four hares were confirmed by the vet as dying of natural causes but the ranger from the National Parks and Wildlife Service said four hares died of injuries received after being hit by greyhounds. The vet reported that six hares were examined for injuries, that none was confirmed injured, none was euthanised, none died from injuries and there was no post mortem. The vet's name was redacted.

There are serious questions for the monitoring committee. Video footage from the coursing event showed coursing officials running across the field pulling a hare from dogs before carrying off the doomed hare to whatever was going to happen to it. The Minister and I do not agree on live hare coursing but at the very least we could agree on the need for transparency at meetings and truthfulness about what exactly is happening. Earlier, the Minister said there could be no compromise on animal welfare but there is compromise in this instance in the case of hares.

The function of the Department is to provide veterinary supervision and I would not like to cast aspersions on any official. I am not familiar with the meeting to which the Deputy alluded. One of the functions of the National Parks and Wildlife Service is in the area of licences to capture hares for coursing purposes. I am surprised the Deputy alluded to a hare being released because greyhounds at coursing events race with muzzles and there should not be such a situation. My Department insists on compliance with the law in the appropriate running of these events. People have different views but I strongly believe that a regulated coursing industry is better than one that is driven underground and is unregulated.

Brexit Preparations

Pat the Cope Gallagher


7. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the timeline of his interactions with the EU in relation to his submission for assistance for the seafood sector in the event of a no-deal Brexit; the indicative amount of contingency funding he is seeking from the EU in the event of a UK crash-out from the EU; the state of readiness of such assistance should the seafood sector have to avail of it post October 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19852/19]

The industry and I are concerned about the impact of Brexit. Further to a question I asked of the Minister in January this year, I ask him what steps he has taken to ensure the marine sector is fully protected as far as possible in the event of Brexit at the end of October.

Both my officials and I have had intensive discussions with the European Commission, other relevant member states and stakeholders regarding the potential negative impact of a disorderly or no-deal Brexit on the Irish fishing industry and the wider seafood sector.  These discussions intensified in recent months and were based on preparatory work already done.  While the immediate threat of a no-deal outcome has been averted, the preparatory work and the discussions will continue.

The key issues in a no-deal situation, which I have stressed in all discussions, are the potential loss of access for Irish and other EU vessels to the UK fishing zone, the need to ensure ongoing protection of fish stocks in the waters around Ireland from a subsequent increase in fishing activity and potential mitigation measures for the seafood sector at EU level.  It is also important to be aware that in such a no-deal situation, the EU and Ireland could also face a loss of quota share.

Throughout the discussions, I emphasised the necessity for a co-ordinated European response to ensure that there would be proportionate and equitable use of mitigation measures overseen by the Commission. The outcome of these discussions can be seen in the EU Brexit contingency plan that was published on 10 April.  This highlights fisheries as one of the most immediately critical issues facing the EU in a no-deal Brexit.  We now have identified and agreed co-ordinated and fully prepared measures that will be immediately available to address a no-deal Brexit on 31 October if the UK were to decide to deny EU vessels access to UK waters.

As I have stated previously, I am seeking additional EU funds to support these mitigation measures if they ever become necessary, which of course I hope they do not. Such financial discussions are ongoing and there are many variables at play, but I assure the Deputy that the seafood sector will, along with agriculture, be a key priority for this Government.

The Minister will agree that either a no-deal Brexit or an orderly one will be serious for the sector because we are all aware that 60% of our mackerel, 40% of our nephrops and, on average, approximately 30% of our fish are caught in UK waters.

The Minister has mentioned the co-ordinated response, mitigation measures and funding. I want him to clarify if the funding will be additional rather than a rebranding of the funding that is available under regulation 508/2014 of the European Parliament and the Council which relates to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EMFF. I understand that some of those funds would be siphoned off to deal with the Brexit situation, and that is not acceptable. There must be additional funds.

Much of the focus has rightly been on agriculture, but the same focus must be brought to bear on fisheries. There must be contingency plans for every eventuality, and it is never premature to plan. What concerns me most is that, at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting last December, we were told that all of the fish could be caught, irrespective of the 30 March deadline, until the end of the year. That was only an informal agreement and the result has been that the landing of fish for the year has been front-loaded. The Minister and I both know the consequences of that. There is not a square inch of cold store in this country. The industry caught them all before 29 March. Greater assurances should be given and we should learn from that.

I am acutely aware of the latter point and appreciate the difficulties to which that has given rise. The Deputy and I have engaged on that issue. Those difficulties were hard to avoid because, as the Deputy alluded to, more than 60% of mackerel, the most valuable stock in our pelagic sector, is landed from UK waters. The fear of a crash-out by the end of March drove the industry, understandably, to catch that stock in the first quarter of the year. That is regrettable but understandable because the industry feared being locked out of UK waters.

Our response on the broader issue is, in the context of the future trading relationship, to ensure that the fishery sector does not get isolated, because the scale of the challenge for the fishing industry is almost existential, given the amount of pelagic, prawns and others that are caught in UK waters and the consequences if boats are displaced into the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ. There are implications and consequences that would arise from that for the sustainability of those stocks in our waters. That is critically important.

We are still engaged with the Commission about the funding that is necessary, and I share the Deputy's view that redirecting funding from the EMFF is not the appropriate response. The Commission has a co-ordination role and must ensure there is equity in the consequences for all member states. It also requires funding because we could not countenance a situation where we were ceasing fishing activity temporarily while others were fishing in our waters, visible from shore. The equity that would be required would require EU funding.

In the Minister's deliberations with Mr. Barnier, is there still an inextricable link between fisheries negotiations and access to markets? When considering the necessary funding that will be required, emphasis must be given to the producers, processors and services sectors and not forgetting the many seasonal workers who would have had such work for many weeks throughout the year, none of which is available now. All of those must be taken into consideration and, in short, there are considerable consequences across the board which we must ensure that the Minister protects.

In direct engagement with the Commissioner and the lead negotiator, Mr. Michel Barnier, and indeed in negotiations that we facilitated between the industry and Mr. Barnier, we are satisfied that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration ensure that the link is there between trade generally and the fishing industry. We will not find ourselves in a situation where fisheries is dealt with in isolation because it must be acknowledged that the UK holds the aces in that context. In the broader context, Britain will want things from us, including passports for their financial services, access to open skies and the broader trade relationship. We feel that our best interests are served by having fisheries as part of the broader trade agreement and we are satisfied that remains the situation.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Tom Neville


8. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to discussions regarding the next CAP reform and the protection of the CAP budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20101/19]

I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to discussions regarding the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform and the protection of the CAP budget, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The CAP post-2020 legislative proposals were published by Commissioner Hogan on 1 June 2018. Since then, intensive discussions have taken place. A significant number of working group meetings have been held under both the Austrian and Romanian presidencies. The proposals have also been discussed extensively at the Special Committee on Agriculture meetings and have been a standing agenda item at every Council meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

The Romanian Presidency has outlined its ambition to achieve a partial general approach on the CAP post-2020 proposals at its final meeting of EU agriculture ministers in June. To that end, the Presidency is undertaking ongoing discussions in Brussels on all elements of the proposals. While I am supportive of this ambitious timetable, it is very much dependent on a number of factors progressing in a timely manner. The European Commission's objective has been to have the proposals adopted by the co-legislators prior to the European Parliament elections in May. However, the European Parliament has not fully achieved agreement on the proposals and, until the position of the newly elected Parliament is known, it is difficult to have a clear timetable for the CAP reform process.

The draft proposals present a number of new and significant challenges for member states. The move from a compliance-based system to a performance-based system with a focus on results is perhaps the most significant change for member states to have to contend with in the new proposals. Member states will be required to prepare a CAP strategic plan, covering Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 expenditure. This will allow member states greater flexibility to design measures that are best suited to their own strategic needs. While I welcome this flexibility, preparation of the CAP strategic plan presents a number of challenges and complexities for member states, not least of which is the requirement for member states to submit their draft CAP strategic plans to the Commission for approval before the deadline of 1 January 2020. My Department is working towards this deadline, albeit amid uncertainty surrounding agreement on the funding for the next CAP as well as the finalisation of the regulations.

While significant progress has been made in the negotiation process to date, decisions on key issues, such as the provisions for direct payments and the new delivery model, have still to be agreed upon at EU level. The CAP proposals also point to a more significant environmental ambition than the current CAP. Member states will be required to design a specific climate and environment scheme in Pillar 1. This is something that I support as it is consistent with my Department’s long-term strategy for the agricultural sector, which recognises the critical importance of environmental sustainability. I believe that farmers play a vital role in the provision of public goods and need to be appropriately recognised and recompensed for this role.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With this in mind, the retention of a sufficient budget for the CAP post 2020 is an essential requirement for Ireland. I have been very firm in my view that the proposed 5% cut to the CAP post-2020 budget as outlined in the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, proposals for 2021 to 2027 is completely unacceptable for Ireland. I have been strongly advocating for the CAP budget to be restored to current levels for the EU 27 post 2020, and I will continue to work towards achieving this objective until agreement on the MFF post-2020 proposals has been reached. There is also consensus on this point among my EU agriculture ministerial colleagues. However, EU budget negotiations are led by ministers of finance.

Furthermore, agreement on the overall EU budget must be reached by unanimity and this is a challenging task. I have also sought to continue this work as part of ongoing bilateral meetings. Since May 2018, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and I have met EU agriculture ministers from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Hungary, inter alia, to support a strong CAP budget post 2020. I have also met ministers from the Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg and Austria. My officials engage regularly with counterparts in other member states on this issue. Ireland needs to work closely with its EU colleagues to build a consensus around the need to reverse the proposed cuts in the CAP. I can assure the Deputy that I will continue to do this and to fight for a strong CAP budget as the negotiations progress.

The Minister mentioned the environmental side and the development of agriculture. We already know that agriculture is our most important indigenous sector. I represent County Limerick and agriculture is the backbone of where I am from. Nationally, 8.6% of the working population is involved in agriculture and there are associated industries.

There are big things coming down the track, including that we meet EU commitments to Food Wise 2025. There are also challenges related to Brexit and climate change. Climate change is a challenge for agriculture. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, and over recent months the committee heard from the agricultural and climate change sectors about this matter. We were milking cows in Ireland while the country was going down the Swanee to help drag us out of where we were. The main thing is to protect agriculture as much as we can and, in tandem, protect the environment. The two should go hand in hand. What came out of the report of the Committee on Climate Action was not that there was a conflict between agriculture and climate action but that the two would work together, hand in hand, and that farmers, as custodians of the land, would be enabled to help with climate change and would be rewarded for doing so.

Could we explore that through CAP negotiations and funding? There should be a bottom-up approach to consultation.

Farmers being rewarded for that is a critical issue. The big challenge in the current CAP is that the proposals as they stand see a significant cut in the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy. We can have all the ambition we want but if we do not have a budget to implement it, it will be for naught. Much of our endeavour has been about the political manoeuvres required to see that budget restored at least to its current levels. That is challenging because it is not a decision for the Council of agriculture ministers but for the Council of finance ministers. Some member states have critiqued the proposals as published, stating that the cuts do not go far enough. That is a challenge. I think the Deputy is right in the sense that the environment will be a critically important part of farming in the future and the CAP must support that. It is abundantly clear that the market is saying that it is not enough any more to have just safe, nutritious or traceable food. It wants to know what is being done about numerous climate-related issues, including carbon footprint, antimicrobial resistance and animal welfare standards. In many ways, we have been on that treadmill already. We just need to speed it up somewhat and I think that farmers are up for that challenge.

As part of the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, we spoke to the farming organisations. There is a 28-point plan from Teagasc to follow. To give a brief outline, it includes agricultural mitigation, improved breeding, changing fertiliser types and slurry spreading, land use, carbon sequestration, increased broadleaf forestry, improved pasture management and energy efficiency, fossil fuel displacement, biofuel and anaerobic digestion. These points all came up. I have learned through commentators and media that the farming organisations are on board with and welcomed the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We want to drive it forward. With regard to CAP, communication and consultation will be vital. The bureaucracy relating to CAP has come up constantly as one of the issues under some of the research that I have just looked up on it. If that can be addressed, that will help to drive change and help the relationship.

We will go out to public consultation on all of these issues again later this year. The views of farmers on simplification and having less bureaucracy will be a critical part. That message is coming from the Commission too. We are already acting on matters such as improving the genetic merit of the herd, which reduces its carbon footprint, and on slurry management and low emission slurry spreading, which releases less methane. That reduces the amount of greenhouse gases produced. As for what is published, there will be conditionality on Pillar 1 payments, which will contain a significant environmental element. The direction of travel is abundantly clear and that suits us because we are global players with regard to exports. The markets that pay the highest dividends ask the most challenging questions. Those are the markets we want to be in. It is a good fit for us. It is challenging. How we send the message and bringing the farming community with us will be important. From all the soundings from farm leaders, I think it is recognised that we do not have a choice about this but it is the right thing to do for economic reasons and for future generations.

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, replied to after Question No. 22.
Questions Nos. 15 to 21, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Brexit Preparations

Pat Deering


22. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to seek new markets in the context of Brexit; the efforts being made by agencies under his remit to provide support to agrifood businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20103/19]

My question is to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to seek new markets in the context of Brexit; the efforts being made by agencies under his remit to provide support to agrifood business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. Brexit is a significant challenge. The beef sector is going through a difficult time. Some 40% of our beef exports currently go to Britain. In order to ensure that all our eggs are not in one basket in the future, what efforts are being made to ensure that we have other markets developed to replace those markets that perhaps have a limited time left?

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agrifood exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agrifood sector as set out in Food Wise 2025 and is of particular relevance given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our exposure to the United Kingdom market in light of Brexit. Over the last number of budgets, I have significantly increased funding to Bord Bia to allow it to identify alternative priority markets, to support market diversification efforts by individual companies and to support promotional campaigns for Irish agrifood exports to international markets, for example, in the case of beef to Germany and the Netherlands.

Since the UK referendum, I have led trade missions to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia and, in February of this year, to Turkey.  Further missions are planned this year to China, which commences this weekend, to Japan and South Korea in June, and to Algeria and Egypt in November.  Trade missions play an important role in securing greater market access and in deepening trade with existing markets, and destinations are chosen in accordance with market access requirements, industry intelligence and the market prioritisation activities of Bord Bia.

I highlight my Department's plans to expand its staffing in international locations over the period to the end of 2024 in accordance with the Government's Global Ireland 2025 initiative. This will see the creation of new agriculture attaché posts in a number of new locations, primarily aimed at supporting the market development activities that will take place in these regions over the coming years.  More generally, my Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am ready to respond as appropriate to other opportunities that may arise.

There is no doubt but that there have been many trade missions recently, which are very welcome. The result is that we have seen the Chinese market in particular open up but progress seems to be slow. What efforts can be made to accelerate the pace of these markets opening? The amount of beef that has been exported to China and other markets which have opened is quite small in the overall scheme of things. For us to be able to replace the market that we have in Great Britain, we will have to accelerate exports to other countries at a greater speed than is the case at present. Bord Bia can obviously do quite a bit and the Minister can do a lot in trade missions but what can be done to accelerate getting to the final destination?

I am not sure that we should be in a headlong rush, although I know the Deputy is not suggesting this, out of existing traditional and high-paying markets, with the UK being the obvious example, since it is probably the best-paying market for beef in the European Union, if not in the world. We have significant market exposure there. I am not sure that we should be rushing headlong out of that market since it is hard won but we should be strategically looking for new market opportunities. The volume that we export outside the European Union, including the United Kingdom, is small but it is growing and all of the market intelligence would suggest that the Asian market, where there is an increasing middle class with more disposable income, is looking to replicate western dietary habits with regard to protein sources etc. We see opportunities there for dairy, beef and other proteins in the short term.

It is a question of trying to work with the industry. They are the people who are in the marketplace trying to make a living. We operate on the intelligence that is accumulated from them and from Bord Bia in our endeavours to open new markets but deliberately moving product into one over another is an industry call. The function of the Department is to have as many markets as possible open and we are making significant progress in that regard. The market access unit in my Department has received significant additional resources, as has Bord Bia. It is never a case of saying that we are always right and all-knowing but we continually test our systems against the intelligence available to us from the industry and from Bord Bia.

The Minister was right to say I was not suggesting that we should displace our total Great Britain market. It is an important market and we should try to continue to develop it. In the event of difficulties, having seen recently when difficulties arose and having seen the consequences of a price drop, we need to have something to replace that market in the event that situations develop in future. Hopefully we will not have a catastrophic situation whereby there will be a hard Brexit, which obviously would be difficult.

It is difficult when we have all our eggs in the one basket. Traditionally, we have seen that when everything was in the one basket, there was a difficulty because we did not have an alternative. It is important that we develop these alternatives as quickly as possible. That will create greater competition in the market. Competition is the life of trade in any business. The more markets we have, the better the competition. What can we do to speed up the veterinary process, which is very important, to make sure these markets are ready when we have the supply of beef, for example, at its prime level?

In terms of market access, we are dealing with the competent authorities of other jurisdictions who see their function as being to make sure that they are protecting their consumers in terms of the quality of the product. If it was a case of meeting a universal standard, I have no doubt we would meet it. No individual country is going to cede its sovereignty in that area, so we have to work and engage with the competent authorities in every country. The Turkish authorities are in the Department this week to consider how we might improve our trade there. The Department received communication this morning from our embassy in Egypt about a delegation coming from Egypt later in the year. We are constantly on alert and working with the industry to improve the terms and conditions under which we trade with those countries. The UK market is geographically the closest to us and geography is a huge determinant of where we should and do trade, but the China market will grow significantly this year. In the first quarter of this year we have put in nearly 1,000 tonnes where we put in 1,400 last year.

Animal Welfare

Maureen O'Sullivan


12. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which he can address concerns of residents close to fox hunting events regarding encroachments into residential areas; and the measures taken to address this reality to date. [20110/19]

My question relates to fox hunting and how to address the concerns of those residents who live close to fox hunting events regarding encroachments into residential areas and the measures being taken to address this to date.

As the Deputy will be aware, detailed debate was held around the issue of hunting during the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 and the Dáil voted overwhelmingly to allow the continuation of fox hunting in accordance with an appropriate code of conduct. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 specifically prohibits the hunting of animals which have been released in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition. Section 25 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 also allows for the establishment of codes of practice and for the adoption of codes published by other persons for the purposes of providing practical guidance relating to any aspect of the Act, including fox hunting. Voluntary codes of practice have been established by the Hunting Association of Ireland, HAI, which detail the conduct to be adhered to in respect of the hunting of foxes and the treatment of the animal during the hunt. The code prohibits the hunting of foxes where the animal is injured and advocates the humane disposal of a fox when captured. The code also takes into account local concerns and the concerns of the landowners on whose land hunting takes place.

In light of the concerns raised by residents regarding encroachments into residential areas, officials of my Department met the Hunting Association of Ireland to discuss several such incidents. My officials underlined the need for those involved in hunting to take greater action to avoid such incidents. The association committed to avoiding any recurrence of incidents such as this. In light of this, it is noteworthy that there do not seem to have been any recent reports of such incidents in the media. The need to strengthen the existing code of practice to avoid such incidents where hounds entered housing estates was discussed. The association undertook to review the existing code of practice.

I am fully committed to promoting good practices that respect the welfare of animals, and my Department devotes considerable resources to protecting animal welfare and in dealing with breaches of animal welfare legislation. Under the Act, on summary conviction, a person can receive a fine of up to €10,000 and, on indictment, €250,000 and-or imprisonment up to five years. There are fixed penalty payments for lesser offences. The Act provides the framework within which the welfare of animals can be safeguarded, and I am hopeful that the substantial and significantly increased levels of penalties for offences of animal cruelty provided for under the Act will act as a deterrent to animal welfare abuses.

The Minister’s reply is very much like a previous one he gave me. The codes of practice for the Hunting Association of Ireland are voluntary. Therefore it does not have to abide by them. The Minister says the Department has been in contact with the association, which said it would review and update this area, but we have not seen any real changes to date. I accept that there does not appear to have been any encroachment recently, as the Minister said.

For hunts to take place in an area, they rely on the "express or implied" permission to be on land. I understand that the Minister was going to approach the association to remove the word "implied" so that hunts will need express permission to be on somebody's land. Hunts are encroaching on land whose owners do not want them. That is not to mention encroachment on housing estates where, as the Minister knows, a dog was killed by the hunt in a collision and somebody's pet was also killed.

As the Minister said, the Act also prohibits the pursuit of animals "released in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition". When the hunt comes out and the dogs are in a frenzy to get after the fox, they do not know if that fox has been injured or mutilated. It is a very loose area. The Minister spoke about the fine but the one fine in Macroom of €1,000 between more ten people was like a slap on the wrist.

I met one of my constituents who had this experience and I accept that it was a traumatic incident. On foot of that and indeed other incidents which had a media profile and perhaps others that did not have the same profile but occurred, we engaged with the HAI to ensure that this never happens again. I was satisfied from the engagement that there was a commitment that steps would be taken in the association's code of practice. Compliance with its own code is important, and in so far as the code omitted to refer to issues in housing estates, that would be addressed. My information is that the written code has not changed yet but that there has been communication with hunts. I will ask officials in the Department to engage again with the express view of updating the code to reflect the concerns that arose in those incidents.

That is far too loose. There are three areas of concern, one of which is the dogs being used. I do not think there is any inspection of the way the dogs are kept. There are alarming reports from people involved in animal welfare of the conditions in which the dogs are kept. There is also a report from one group of a particular huntsperson who exceeds the number of breeding bitches allowed under the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010. Who is following up on this?

Just before Christmas the Cork Dog Action Welfare Group had to close because it could not take in any more dogs. It had in excess of 70 dogs in its care, and 30 of those were hunting dogs. Is the HAI really taking responsibility for its own dogs as well as for what it does with fox hunting? Fox hunting is a relic of our colonial past when we were oppressed by a colonial power. While that same colonial power has banned fox hunting, we still see it as a worthwhile practice in rural Ireland. That beggars belief.

Anybody who breaks the law should face the rigours of the law. Our 2013 legislation is considered to be best practice. The Deputy refers to another jurisdiction that has travelled a different road. It is considering our legislation. The current minister responsible there referred to his proposal to update that jurisdiction's legislation, which I believe was the same as the legislation that existed here prior to 2013, going back to prior to the foundation of the State. Ours is considered to be fit for purpose, although – and we would not agree on this – there are carve-outs in respect of coursing, fishing and hunting.

The Deputy refers to people breaching the welfare regulations in respect of breeding bitches in kennels. Anybody who does that will find no comfort. They should be reported and action should be taken. The responsibility for that legislation does not rest with the Department but with local authorities. Those issues should be brought to the attention of the relevant local authorities and action taken if people are found to be in breach.

Beef Industry

Charlie McConalogue


13. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the price beef farmers are receiving for their produce from factories; the details of recent discussions at the beef forum; the actions and deadlines agreed; the steps being taken to protect beef farmers from a hard Brexit and a Mercosur deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20060/19]

What are the Minister's views on the price the beef farmers are receiving for their produce from factories?

I ask the Minister to provide details on the recent discussions at the beef forum, including any actions and deadlines agreed at that forum. I also ask him to update the House on steps that are being taken to protect beef farmers from a hard Brexit and a Mercosur deal.

As the Deputy will be aware, in accordance with competition law, neither I nor my Department has a role in determining market prices for any commodity and I cannot intervene in this particular process. The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the economy and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. Brexit has the potential to have a significant impact on the sector given its unique exposure to the UK market, which accounted for 38% or €5.2 billion worth of agrifood exports last year.

There are ongoing discussions with the European Commission regarding the difficulties Ireland would face in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the assistance that might be required for our agriculture, food and fishery sectors. Avoiding a no-deal Brexit continues to be the Government’s overriding policy priority. I have held a number of discussions with Commissioner Hogan regarding the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the sector. I have stressed the need for the Commission to be ready to deploy a range of measures to mitigate the potential impacts on agrifood and fisheries, including through traditional market supports and exceptional aid under the CAP's CMO regulation - Regulation (EU) No. 1308/2013- as well increased flexibility under state aid rules.

It is also important to acknowledge that the past few months have been difficult for beef farmers in particular, following a difficult year in 2018 due to weather conditions. There has been a prolonged and exceptional period of depressed prices since last autumn, with the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the outcome of Brexit, among other factors, contributing to this market disturbance. In light of the ongoing depressed market prices, I have said in discussions with Commissioner Hogan and my EU counterparts that I believe that the deployment of exceptional measures under the CMO regulation to provide targeted aid to farm families who have suffered a sustained reduction in returns from the market is required. I made an intervention to this effect at the April meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and my officials have followed up with a detailed submission which is under consideration by Commission officials. In addition, I have consistently stressed at EU level the need to protect the EU beef sector in trade discussions with Mercosur.

Finally, I chaired the 12th meeting of the beef round table last October. A press release summarising the discussions and presentations made at that meeting is available on my Department's website. The round table dealt with issues such as the interdependence between the primary producers and processors and progressing the producer organisations.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I note that while he covered the engagement he had with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Hogan, regarding the fallout from Brexit, he gave very little attention to the other part of the question relating to the beef forum and any actions, timelines or deadlines agreed at the most recent meeting of same. That is because the beef forum has become irrelevant and has not been doing the job it was set up to do. I understand and accept that the Minister does not have a direct role in setting prices but the price that farmers are getting for their produce is central in the context of Irish agriculture. The income of farmers is an important matter and should be a matter of concern to the Minister. Unfortunately the beef forum, which was set up by his predecessor, Deputy Coveney, in 2014 has become little more than a talking shop. Indeed, the President of the IFA, Mr. Joe Healy, said recently that under the Minister's chairmanship, the forum has become a "mudguard for inaction". The Minister must engage seriously with the beef forum to ensure price transparency in the sector. A commitment was made to introduce price transparency to the sector but there has been no action on that to date.

The functioning of the beef forum is contingent on all of the stakeholders participating in it but the latest meeting that we held saw the withdrawal of all of the farming organisations. If we are to meet the challenges facing the sector we must sit down together and work collaboratively on that endeavour. I cannot force people to attend meetings and while the forum cannot address issues related to price, it can address a host of other issues including markets, the next CAP and how we can best structure supports for the industry. I am open to that but there is little point in convening meetings of the forum if members do not want to attend. Obviously, in the intervening period I have met all the constituent members of the beef forum and I continue to engage with farming organisations and other stakeholders.

The reason that stakeholders have not attended recent meetings is that they have lost faith in the beef forum. They have also lost faith in the Minister and his party in the context of making national agriculture policy work for farmers. They have seen that the beef forum has been little more than a talking shop. One of the key commitments made by the Government, through the Minister's predecessor when he set up the beef forum, was that there would be more beef price transparency brought into the system. In particular, a commitment was made to introduce a wholesale price index, which would be published by Bord Bia and the Department, but that has not materialised. The Minister and this Government have failed to deliver on the original aims of the beef forum. A core commitment associated with the establishment of the beef forum was the introduction of a wholesale price index. Where stands that and why has it not been delivered?

It is untrue that there have not been any achievements through the beef forum. One achievement is the application on beef prices which is now regularly used by farmers to find out the price being quoted on a daily basis by all of the beef processing plants. There is more work to be done and some of that work involves stakeholder engagement on price transparency issues. I know that Bord Bia and the industry are working on that but it is not as straightforward as the Deputy suggests. As I said earlier, the functioning of the beef forum is dependent on members sitting down and engaging. If it becomes entirely about the current price of produce, then it will miss a host of other areas that can contribute to the viability of the industry.

Beef Environmental Efficiency Scheme Pilot

Martin Heydon


14. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the beef environmental efficiency pilot; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20104/19]

I ask the Minister to provide an update on the beef environmental efficiency pilot, BEEP, scheme. It is a very good scheme that is in its first year. Have farmers been contacted about it and what is the position with regard to the roll-out of the scheme?

In January of this year, I launched the BEEP scheme with a funding provision of €20 million in 2019.  BEEP targets the weaning efficiency of suckler cows and calves by measuring the live weight of the calf pre-weaning as a percentage of the cow's live weight. BEEP was announced in budget 2019 as part of the €78 million Brexit package for the agrifood industry. As well as clear environmental and climate benefits, BEEP will provide additional farm income at a time of market volatility and uncertainty relating to Brexit.

Some 18,883 farmers had registered their interest in participating in the pilot by the closing date of 22 February 2019 and they will qualify for payment provided they comply with the requirements to weigh each cow and calf and provide the requisite data to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the scheme. The €20 million funding available will allow for payment of up to a maximum of €40 per calf.

The ICBF has been registering privately-owned scales and accepting weight records from participating beef farmers since 8 March. More than 1,700 individuals have registered privately-owned scales to date and some 30,000 weights have been recorded. Last week, I welcomed the roll-out of rental scales to 70 Irish Co-operative Organisation Society, ICOS, affiliated livestock marts and co-operatives across the country. Scales are now available to rent from these locations allowing those farmers who do not have access to privately-owned scales to record eligible cow and calf weights to meet their requirements under the pilot. The roll-out of rental scales is in conjunction with the earlier release of smart phone applications for both Android and Apple devices to facilitate the quick and accurate submission of weight records. Weights may be submitted online, by smart phone application or on a paper form available from the ICBF.

I thank the Minister for that update. When can farmers enrolled in the scheme expect to receive payment? Will the Minister outline the climate and environmental benefits of the scheme? How does the weighing of animals provide benefits to farmers and the environment?

On the most important element, payments are scheduled for early December.

The data that will be collected will be very useful to the ICBF, as it will complement the BDGP, which is part of the endeavour to improve the genetic merit of our beef herd, thereby driving down its carbon footprint and helping the Department fulfil its climate change obligations. Apart from the financial support it delivers to individual farmers who apply through the payments they will receive, it is also part of the bigger picture in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of the industry.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.