Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Basic Payment Scheme Payments

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

31. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of basic payment scheme applicants who have not received their 2019 advance payment; the reason for non-payment to date; if he will he consider providing the advance payment to those farmers who have been selected for on site and-or satellite inspections, in view of their severe financial position and the fact that they greatly depend on such payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49428/19]

Tá an chéad cheist, Uimh. 31, in ainm an Teachta McConalogue ach tá sé le tógáil ag Teachta Cahill.

I ask the Minister for the total number of basic payment scheme applicants who have not received their 2019 advance payment and to outline the reason for non-payment to date. Will he consider providing the advance payment to those farmers who have been selected for on-site or satellite inspections or both, given their severe financial position and the fact they greatly depend on such payments? I ask the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

My Department has received more than 122,000 applications this year from farmers under the basic payment scheme, BPS, which is fully funded by the European Union and is worth in excess of €1.2 billion annually. There are no delays in the issuing of payments to applicants with clear applications under this scheme.

The Deputy will be aware that advance payments under the BPS commenced on schedule on 16 October, which is the earliest possible payment date allowed under EU regulations, and balancing payments will commence as scheduled early next month. Ireland remains to the forefront of member states in relation to the early payment of BPS moneys.

EU regulations governing the administration of the basic payment scheme and the various other area-based schemes require that full and comprehensive administrative checks, including ground or remote sensing inspections where applicable, are fully completed to ensure eligibility with the scheme's requirements before any payment issues. Such checks aim to ensure that payments do not issue on ineligible areas or features, that only eligible applicants are paid and that an applicant does not receive an undue payment that would require subsequent recovery by my Department.

Cases that do not pass the administrative validation process go into error and cannot be paid pending a resolution of the error concerned. These errors can include over-claims, dual claims, commonage errors and incomplete application forms. My Department enters into correspondence, mainly through the issuing of query letters to farmers, in order to resolve these error cases.

The EU regulations prescribe the minimum number of inspections that must take place annually. These inspections can be undertaken by means of field visits on the ground or by means of remote sensing using up-to-date satellite imagery. The regulations further prescribe that for inspection cases, the process must be fully completed before any payments can issue. Where an application is selected for inspection under any of the area-based schemes, the outcome of that inspection applies to all schemes for which the applicant has applied.

Approximately 8,000 applications are subject to an inspection in 2019 under the various area-based schemes. As of 25 November, my Department had received inspection results for more than 93% of these inspections, of which 92% had been advanced to payment stage. The balance of these cases falls into a number of categories, namely, where applicants have been notified of the inspection outcome where an area over-declaration has been identified and a response is awaited, and where applicants have chosen to submit comments on notified inspection outcomes. These cases are being examined with a view to final processing. The remaining outstanding inspection results are being finalised and will then be advanced promptly through the final stages of processing.

Some 7,700 of the overall number of inspection cases are eligible applicants under the 2019 basic payment scheme. To date, some 6,500 of these cases have received the advance BPS payment. The balance of these cases falls into the various categories I have already outlined.

I am pleased to confirm that to date, more than 119,100, or more than 97.5%, of eligible applicants have now been paid €786 million in advance BPS and greening payments. The second instalment of BPS payments will commence on 2 December.

I assure the Deputy that my Department continues to finalise cases, including ground and remote sensing inspection cases, daily, to ensure that BPS payments are issued as quickly as possible.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I acknowledge the hard work and efficiency of the departmental officials in getting out the vast majority of payments on time. It is only right this is acknowledged. Unfortunately, we have all been lobbied by constituents who are still awaiting payment. The vast majority of people awaiting payment need that payment to meet their bills. It will be 1 December at the end of the week and people's financial cashflow is under extreme pressure. We still have 1,400 cases awaiting payment of the single farm payment, 1,500 cases awaiting a greening payment and more than 1,200 cases awaiting areas of natural constraints payments. Would it be possible for applicants to be paid their advance payments and if there was a need for penalties or reductions that they could be taken out of the balancing payment issued later in the year? That would be a common-sense approach and would allow a person's cashflow to meet their living expenses and pay their bills. People depend on the single farm payment and payments for areas of natural constraints to pay their bills. I accept the hit rate is high but anyone waiting for a payment is one person too many. It is almost 1 December and a total of 1,400 people are waiting for single farm payments. What I have suggested would be a compromise and a common-sense solution, with regard to allowing penalties arising to be paid from the balancing payment.

I accept the point and it is often made in engagement I have with farmers and farm organisations. I wish it were so but the regulations are quite clear. They state that if a case is selected for inspection the inspection must be concluded and processed before payment is made. Regrettably, this is the EU regulation under which we operate. This is why every effort has been made to get applications online. This has increased the efficiency of the process. We are comfortably within the targets set out in the farmers' charter. A total of 119,135 farmers have been paid out of 122,000 applications. For those still waiting approval, it is a significant financial issue.

As I said, there are difficulties with over-claims, boundaries, commonage problems and dual claims. We are trying to work through them as quickly as possible with a view to getting out balancing payments at the earliest possible date.

Employment Data

Brian Stanley

Question:

32. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on recently published figures by the CSO which show that in quarter 3 of 2019 fewer than 100,000 persons were employed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors, a decline compared to the same quarter in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48946/19]

This question relates to recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures which show that in quarter 3 of 2019, fewer than 100,000 people were directly employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. There has been a significant decline compared with the same quarter of 2018. I believe this is feeding into what is happening and I want the Minister to make a statement on the matter.

My Department continually monitors the levels of employment in the agriculture and wider agrifood sector. Employment figures are primarily sourced from the Central Statistics Office quarterly labour force survey. Additional data on specific sectors is also sourced from Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association.

The agrifood sector is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of Ireland, especially in rural and coastal areas. Irish food is produced by farmers, fishermen and agrifood companies around the country and this locally-produced food is exported to more than 180 countries around the world. Primary agricultural output increased from €5.9 billion in 2008 to €8.2 billion in 2018, an increase of 39%. Agrifood exports increased from €7.9 billion in 2009 to €13.7 billion in 2018, marking growth of over 73% since 2009.

At the same time, the numbers working in the agrifood sector have seen a gradual decrease. In 2008, employment in the sector averaged 182,350 compared with 172,800 in 2018, a decrease of 5.2%. Much of this can be attributed to increased productivity and the adoption of new technology, although there have also been changes to the way the figures are measured by the CSO. The Food Wise 2025 strategy includes actions to support farmers and agrifood businesses in improving the competitiveness and profitability of their enterprises. These supports make Irish farm enterprises more efficient and maximise their contribution to regional and local rural economies.

Based on the first three quarters of the year, the 2019 employment figure for the agrifood sector as a whole averages 163,000 or 7.1% of national employment. This must be seen in the context of record employment figures across the economy as a whole. Employment in primary agriculture is 96,800 and 4,600 are employed in the forestry and fishing sectors. The food and beverages sector employs 55,600, with wood and wood processing accounting for a further 6,000 jobs.

It should be noted that the labour force survey is based on the main employment a person reports in the survey. Where a part-time farmer reports his or her off-farm job as his or her main employment, he or she will not be recorded as working in primary agriculture. It is also important to note that while the overall level of employment from these sectors is 7.1% of total employment nationwide, the proportion of employment outside Dublin is much greater.

There has been a 41% decline in the number of people employed since 2011. The Minister referred to increases in output, turnover and everything else. However, there is a problem with the level of profitability. Desperate farmers have protested in the city for the past two days because they are unable to make a living. Their margins have been slashed.

We need a new strategy which gives farmers a sustainable income, as well as some kind of decent future and security. They have a major role to play in a number of different areas and I do not see a sense of urgency from the Government in terms of creating new income streams for farmers and allowing them to get involved with schemes to produce renewable energy. An area in which we need to make progress is on-farm forestry, something I will come to in another question. There will be major regulatory difficulties for some small plantations with regard to harvesting.

We need reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. While we all accept that output has increased - the figures are there in black and white – farmers' margins are not sufficient to allow them to sustain themselves through farming.

I draw the attention of the Deputy to the point I made earlier to Deputy Cahill in the context of applications for the basic payment scheme. There have been 122,000 applications, not taking into account the substantial number of farmers who, for one reason or another, do not make any application or do not have any entitlement to payments.

In respect of those employed in primary agriculture, it comes down to what they report to the CSO census. Many part-time farmers contribute significantly to the rural economy and agricultural output. However, if they report in the labour force survey that they are a construction worker, a teacher and so on, that is listed as their main employment despite the fact that they make an important contribution to the rural economy in terms of their participation in farming. We track all of these issues and they are an important source of data.

The numbers need to be processed properly in order to get an accurate picture. The number of basic payment applications is a further piece of information which should be appropriately considered. It is a question of recognising that those who are part-time farmers, for one reason or another, make a significant contribution.

Many are working in other jobs because the margins in farming are not viable. Farmers in other countries in Europe have better margins as well as additional income, through other enterprises on farms such as renewable energy. I do not sense that any great importance is being given to this by the Government and Department. There are difficulties in connecting to the grid, for example. In regard to on-farm forestry, we will have problems with small plantations. Farmers need new long-term schemes, rather than schemes which will only last for 15 years or are being used as retirement plans.

CAP reform is necessary. It is immoral to give one farmer €150,000 or €160,000 in payments, while a farmer around the corner gets €2,000 or €3,000. That is not sustainable. We need to make small and medium-sized farms more sustainable and help farmers achieve that by levelling out payments in the CAP negotiations.

The CAP reform process is ongoing. There is a consultation process. It is important that we develop the levers that will be available to us to deliver the maximum support to those who need it most. The Deputy referred to renewables. My Department recently introduced a new scheme to support renewable energy through grant aid for solar panels under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS.

Part-time farming is an important part of the rural economy and is recognised in terms of its contribution and entitlement to be supported through CAP. I have publicly stated many times that I continue to see those farmers as equally important in the context of entitlement to support under CAP reform.

I remind Members that we will get through more questions if people stick to the six-and-a-half-minute timescale. Deputies in the Chamber will not have their questions answered if people go over time.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

33. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions at the most recent EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting regarding transitionary provisions for CAP post-2020; his plans to ensure that existing rural development programme, RDP, schemes such as areas of natural constraint, ANC, the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, sheep welfare and so on will continue for this transition period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49429/19]

This question relates to the need for proper transitionary arrangement for post-2021 in the event that the new CAP is delayed, which seems likely. Given the events of yesterday and today, it is important to ensure that, alongside CAP, farmers have a proper return for the hard work they put into farming and that primary producers are protected. A number of questions on the beef task force have been tabled. I urge the Minister to clarify the comments he made yesterday on C&D Foods and to give a clear commitment to getting the beef task force up and running to ensure that farmers in this country get a fair deal.

At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 18 November 2019, the Commission presented two proposals for CAP transitional rules. Such transitional measures are normal practice between consecutive programming periods to provide legal and financial certainty where a gap arises due to any delays in finalising a new budget and CAP regulations.

The recent Council accepted the need for such proposals and broadly welcomed them. However, discussions are ongoing, with a number of key issues yet to be agreed. The first and most important for the majority of member states is the financial flexibility regulation, which allows the continued transfer of funds between Pillars I and II in the year 2020. This is expected to be adopted by the end of this year.

The second more substantial regulation provides the option to extend the current rural development programme, in certain circumstances. It aims to provide certainty on the process around granting of support for the year 2021.

Agreement on this regulation is not expected to be achieved until summer 2020, subject to agreement on the EU budget. Discussions on the latter regulation will continue over the coming months. The transitional regulations are complex. A number of issues need to be considered in more detail with regard to the RDP and how the transitional regulation will work in practice. I am continuing to work with the Commission and my European ministerial colleagues to reach agreement on these important legislative proposals. I want to provide certainty to Irish farmers at the earliest possible date. I expect that the transitional regulations will, at a minimum, provide for the extension of the existing RDP payments into 2021. I anticipate that there should be no interruption in direct payments. The current proposals provide for the optional extension of the current RDP and potentially for new commitments for some measures for a maximum of three years. The precise arrangements will be clarified when agreement is reached on the regulations. In the meantime, the N+3 rule will continue to apply, which will mean that scheme commitments entered into by farmers prior to the end of 2020 will continue to be honoured after that date.

As the Minister is well aware, there is grave concern among the farming community about what exactly will happen after 2020. It is clear at this stage that there is going to be a gap. The key question is whether the funding will be continued, at least at its current level, during the period until the new CAP comes into play. Many of the schemes that are paid through Pillar 2, including the areas of natural constraints scheme; the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, which is known as GLAS; the beef data and genomics programme; and the sheep welfare scheme account for a significant part of the annual incomes of farmers. It is essential that they are not brought to a stop at the end of 2020. Farmers should not be out of pocket during 2021 while we are waiting for the new CAP to kick in. Farmers who have exited the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, are not being facilitated by the Government in getting into the new GLAS even though it has the capacity to do so. The Minister needs to open GLAS to those farmers. In my view, every farmer deserves and is entitled to be in an environmental scheme at any stage. We need to get away from the pattern that involves farmers being unable to enter new schemes for gap periods of two or three years after these five-year agreements come to an end. It is having a massive impact on their incomes. It also goes against our ongoing work to try to ensure we meet our environmental commitments.

It is important to set out the things we can say with absolute certainty. There is no change in entitlement to payments for 2020. The Commission has published draft proposals in respect of 2021. My personal view is that the transitional arrangements are highly likely to be necessary for a second year in light of the challenges that are being faced around the share of the multi-annual financial framework, under which the EU is funded, that relates to CAP. This significant challenge is separate from the other CAP challenges. I appreciate the point the Deputy has made about Pillar 2 payments. We pay a substantial number of farmers under the various Pillar 2 schemes, including the beef data and genomics programme. We are anxious to ensure those schemes are rolled over. The challenge in this regard relates to the funding requirement. We will be trying to make progress with our campaign, which is seeking to ensure they roll over with the current funding arrangements. I am conscious of those who have seen their schemes expire and to whom other schemes are not open. However, they had opportunities. They were invited to transition over to GLAS. In the context of the transitional arrangements, we would like to be in a position to open up new schemes. The details of these arrangements are the subject of ongoing negotiation.

Farmers were invited to leave the AEOS and transition to GLAS. I do not think it was reasonable of the Minister to expect them to leave the previous scheme to enter a new one. When they entered the AEOS in the first place, there was an expectation that they would be able to complete it out. There is an onus on the Minister and his Government colleagues to ensure there is a GLAS-type scheme for them to be able to continue on to. Likewise, when the current seven-year CAP programme runs out, transition arrangements will be necessary before the next programme starts. We need to see a very different approach to these RDP schemes from the Minister and the Government and at European level. This is necessary to ensure all RDP schemes are open and are funded for farmers during the relevant period at the same level as at present. If this is not the case, the vast majority of farmers in this country will face a significant drop in their incomes.

The Deputy is conveniently ignoring the fact that the funding available under Pillar 2 for the RDP is a finite resource. We offered the people who were in the AEOS the opportunity to make the transition to give them the greater certainly of the five-year GLAS contract. Some of them made this transition and others chose not to do so. I understand that some of them now claim that they were unaware of what was involved. I am acutely conscious of that in the context of the transitional arrangements. As part of the ongoing negotiations, consideration is being given to the possibility of opening up new schemes to those who are outside the existing contractual arrangements, which the Department will honour.

Beef Industry

Brian Stanley

Question:

34. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps that have been taken by his Department since 15 October 2019 to get the beef task force up and running. [49407/19]

The beef task force has not met since there were difficulties on 15 October. I think it would have been better if that meeting had taken place. What steps have been taken by the Minister in the six weeks since 15 October to try to convene the talks at the task force? During the protests that took place over the late summer period, one of the key demands was that talks should take place. It is important for this to happen as quickly as possible.

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural meeting of the beef task force, which was scheduled for 14 October, was prevented from proceeding. Since then, the independent chair of the task force and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been continuing to engage proactively with members of the task force with a view to making progress with the implementation of the provisions of the agreement. The Department and its agencies are continuing to make progress with the commitments they signed up to under the agreement. The full text of the agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website. An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place. The initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain include the commissioning of an independent review of market and customer requirements, an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain and a summary of competition law issues relevant to the Irish beef sector. The Department has issued the request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December. This will enable the award of the tender before the end of 2019.

With regard to market transparency initiatives, the Department has published an expert report on the mechanical carcass classification review, introduced an appeals system for manual grading and initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December. Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components: a cattle price index; a beef market price index, including retail and wholesale; and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website. Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment system grid. The Department is engaging proactively with several potential beef producer organisations that have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been fully recognised by the Department in recent months. I established the beef market task force to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have said previously, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the task force goes ahead. I hope all parties will agree to come together around the table at the earliest possible date to make progress with this important work.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He has outlined some of the work that is being done. The problem is that the task force itself is not meeting. The various stakeholders are not around the table. I want to say two things to the Minister this morning. First, the case of the two farmers against whom there are injunctions is causing a great deal of ill feeling across the farming community. I would like to ask the Minister a question that I have put to him in this House previously. As far as I can recall, he indicated that he had spoken to Mr. Goodman, or to C&D Foods, about these injunctions. I take it from the Minister's reaction that this is not the case. I thought he indicated in this Chamber previously that such a conversation had taken place. I ask the Minister to speak to C&D Foods about these injunctions. I recognise that it is a legal matter. They sought the injunctions and they got them. It would be helpful if the injunctions were lifted. I also want the Minister to correct the Dáil record and what he said here yesterday in relation to death threats against departmental officials and Meat Industry Ireland.

Not departmental officials.

That needs to be lifted because as far as I am aware, there is no record from the gardaí or anyone else that this actually happened. I ask Fianna Fáil to join us in calling for the injunctions to be lifted. We need to create a bit of a positive mood in this regard. The beef price index has been established and has been welcomed by Mr. Pat McCormack of the ICMSA on the basis that it clearly shows "that the markets where we sell our beef are moving in a positive direction and at a momentum that demonstrably justifies an improvement in our beef price". This is a step in the right direction, given that the UK market takes half of our beef produce.

I ask the Minister to address those two matters to get people back around the table.

I share the wish of the House and all of its Members, clearly expressed today and previously, that the beef market task force would convene at the earliest possible date. I have outlined the endeavours of my Department and the independent chairperson to progress matters that were agreed, even in the absence of the task force meeting in plenary session. That has been facilitated by bilateral engagement with all of the stakeholders to progress the issues I alluded to earlier. As I stated yesterday, I wish we had the environment where that task force could reconvene tomorrow. We have been unsparing in our efforts, at all levels, to have this matter dealt with and to create the environment where that can happen. Many issues are making that difficult and the injunctions are a significant impediment. I reiterate that I wish those injunctions were dealt with and that we would create the environment that would help to bring a resolution of this situation.

Time is running down for this question.

I would like to deal with the matter of the Dáil record. I attended a meeting, in the presence of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, with representatives from Meat Industry Ireland, MII, where the issue regarding threats directed at management in C&D Foods was raised directly with us. The nature of those threats is as I outlined in the Dáil yesterday. The details of those against whom those threats were made were given to my Department and that information was conveyed to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. He spoke to the individual concerned and confirmed those were the facts of the case. I state clearly that I have never made the connection or allegation that it is, in any way, those who protested or were injuncted who were involved. Those threats are, however, a further complication. We are trying to move to a situation where we get all of the parties around the table. There are problems, and those are well known, concerning what happened and we are trying to find a solution.

I accept the-----

I had to cut Deputy Cahill off during his second supplementary question. I ask Deputy Stanley to take no more than 30 seconds.

We always get a supplementary question.

There is a time limit on each question of six and a half minutes.

I accept the progress made. I ask the Minister, however, to contact C&D Foods about having those injunctions lifted to try to improve the atmosphere. The Minister has acknowledged that there is a bad atmosphere at the moment and that needs to improve in order that we can get people back around the table talking. We want to see that happen. It is important, therefore, that the task force meets in plenary session and that issue is dealt with. I hope Fianna Fáil, and everybody in the House, will support the lifting of the injunctions. I hope as well that the Minster will pick up the phone today and talk to C&D Foods about this issue. It would be really helpful.

Beef Industry

Willie Penrose

Question:

35. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps taken to ensure the beef market task force issues are progressed; when he expects a meeting to be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49336/19]

I accept the Minister is trying to do his best in a difficult situation. The interruption of the beef task force meeting on 14 October has not helped. I did not support the actions taken then by certain individuals. Those actions were not helpful because the task force is critical. Many farmers in Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and adjacent parts have contacted me. They see it as absolutely crucial that the beef task force would deal with the central issue at stake, as well as ancillary issues. I urge the Minister to make every effort in addressing this situation, notwithstanding the intransigence of MII and everybody it represents.

As the Deputy will be aware, and to which he has alluded, the inaugural beef task force meeting scheduled for 14 October was prevented from proceeding. However, the independent chair and my Department have continued to engage proactively with task force members with a view to both progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement. My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments signed up to under the agreement. The full text of the agreement is available on my Department's website.

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of that agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place. Initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of a number of reports, namely, an independent review of market and customer requirements, an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain and a summary of competition law issues, as relevant to the Irish beef sector. My Department has issued the request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December. This will enable the award of the tender before the end of December 2019.

Regarding market transparency initiatives, my Department has published an expert report on mechanical carcass classification, has introduced an appeals system for manual grading and has initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submissions of 13 December. Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components, namely, a cattle price index, a beef market price index, including retail and wholesale prices, and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website.

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment system, QPS. My Department is also proactively engaging with several potential beef producer organisations that have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months. I established the task force to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the task force goes ahead. I hope all parties will agree to come together around the table as soon as possible to progress this important work.

I am aware of the legal injunctions and as a barrister, I am acutely aware of how they should be dealt with. It is incumbent upon the ABP Food Group to show some positivity and to cultivate and create a positive environment. I am aware, as the Minister may be as well, of one of the people involved in the situation in Edgeworthstown. I urge that situation now be addressed in order that a good and positive environment can be created. Workers in the industry share common cause with the beef farmers supplying cattle. Neither of those parties is getting just rewards for their efforts.

The MII organisation represents the major players in the industry and the record of engagement with workers in that industry has been depressing to date. Overtures from SIPTU concerning holding talks on behalf of the workers were rejected. Those workers labour arduously in the meat plants. The rejection of those overtures from SIPTU does not bode well for MII's willingness to engage with the beef forum. The organisation always arrives with one arm longer than the other and its sole aim is to protect its own profits and margins. MII does not give a sugar about the primary producer. One or two of the companies concerned are in a dominant position and they are abusing that position. It is about time they were taken on because they have no care for anybody but themselves.

I have previously commented on the toxic nature of the relationship between the processors and the primary producers. I had hoped that the establishment of the beef market task force, arising from all the events we can recall during the summer of discontent, would mark a new departure. That is because, in the long term, it is not sustainable to have an industry survive and prosper without good relationships between the primary producers and the processors. Key to that is the convening of the task force at the earliest possible date.

I acknowledge Deputy Penrose's expertise in the law. I had some engagement this morning with protestors who felt that I could unilaterally waive the injunctions. I know Deputy Penrose is well aware of how the law works and that those injunctions are not the property of this Department. We have no locus standi in respect of going to court to seek the lifting of those injunctions. I agree with Deputy Penrose, however, that the company involved should see the bigger picture. That will be a part of the resolution of the toxic nature of the relationship. We need to start building bridges, to reach out and move outside of our comfort zones to get these round-table talks up and running. All parties have co-operated bilaterally regarding the progress made. Let us take the next step and meet in plenary session at the earliest possible date. That is what I committed to trying to achieve.

Deputy Penrose has 30 seconds for his final supplementary question.

It is very hard to retreat and they have been cheerled by too many in this House in the past. I was not one of the people cheerleading, thank God. Regarding beef producer organisations, how many applications have been received and how many have been processed? Will the Minister ensure that they are set up with such a structure that they do not start running from Billy to Jack when somebody gets an extra cent here or there? Those organisations should be legally sound and give farmers strength and muscle to take on those boys once and for all once the beef task force is up and running. A difficult situation lies ahead of us. I know many of the people protesting outside but at the end of the day, the Minister cannot deal with 100 different voices looking for 100 different solutions. That is why the beef task force is the only way forward now.

I have always stated that the strength of the industry is in collaboration with the general agrifood industry. While that principle is strongly established in other enterprises, it is problematic in the beef sector and the task force is critical to building that new departure for the industry. That is what we are trying to do. Turning to the issue of producer organisations, I acknowledge the point Deputy Penrose made about discipline. Those organisations are only as effective as they are disciplined regarding their membership. There will, inevitably, be an effort to peel off suppliers and that would undermine effectiveness. We have approved two producer organisations. There have been other inquiries but none has been approved yet.