Iarraim ar an Taoiseach, Teachta Micheál Martin, an rún a bhogadh maidir le duine nua a ainmniú mar bhall den Rialtas.
Nomination of Member of the Government: Motion
The Dáil Éireann approves the nomination by the Taoiseach of Deputy Charlie McConalogue for appointment by the President to be a member of the Government.
It is my intention to assign to Deputy McConalogue the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As the House will know, Deputy McConalogue's knowledge of this area is both broad and deep. A proud son of Donegal and the Inishowen Peninsula, he brings with him a perspective rooted in communities which have always been defined by their spirit and determination to shape a more prosperous future. In addition, he has always been active in promoting deeper cross-Border opportunities, something which is built on the true republican spirit of uniting people in the cause of shared interests. Immediately, and throughout the Government's term, he will face a number of urgent challenges which are central to securing the long-term future of rural Ireland and the industries at its heart. We must prepare for whatever the post-Brexit trade situation brings. We must negotiate a final CAP deal that serves the interests of our communities and we must redouble efforts to achieve a sustainable and prosperous rural economy. I have no doubt that Deputy McConalogue will discharge this role with distinction and will form a highly effectively team with Ministers of State, Senator Pippa Hackett, and Deputy Martin Heydon.
This appointment was made necessary by the resignation of Deputy Dara Calleary following his attendance at the Oireachtas golf dinner which he accepts did represent a clear breach of the guidelines on Covid-19 which all of us must adhere to. I thank Deputy Calleary for his work and for the fact that he has apologised sincerely and has accepted accountability for his actions.
Deputy McConalogue will join the Government at a time when we continue to tackle the impact of an unprecedented pandemic. Over the past two months, our sole focus has been on the substance of addressing the urgent needs of our society and economy. The July stimulus package, an unprecedented €7.4 billion investment, was prepared and implemented within weeks. It provides direct and indirect support which is benefitting hundreds of thousands of our people and many economic sectors. Legislation has been drafted, debated and enacted in response to urgent needs. Every part of Government has been involved in trying to protect and support vital social and economic activity while also preparing for addressing the long-term issues which are at the core of our programme for Government.
This week we are seeing the largest and most complex element of the return of normal activity with the reopening of our schools. Approximately 1 million students and staff are involved with hundreds of thousands of others affected. I pay tribute to the diligent work carried out by the Minister, Deputy Norma Foley, and her departmental officials in partnership with principals, teachers, special needs assistants, school staff and parents. The speed with which they developed and implemented a support programme, policies and communication campaign shows public service at its best. Our work over the past two months has been during a period when the virus has again posed a rising threat in much of Europe and every country has been working to respond to new developments. Plans made in every country three and four months ago have had to be continually updated with new responses required. I pay tribute once again to the work of our public health officials, particularly the acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ronan Glynn, as well as the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and his departmental officials. They have often been the bearers of tough messages and they face a situation where the national and international consensus on action is nowhere near where it once was. However, they have continued to work tirelessly and with great effect.
I understand the frustration which people felt when we rolled back elements of the reopening plan and introduced new measures but there is no doubt that these have kept the worrying rise in cases well below where they might otherwise have been. A range of research in recent weeks shows that the Irish people remain committed to controlling this virus. Compliance with guidelines is up, thereby setting in even starker relief prominent examples of the breaking of guidelines, including the golf dinner in Clifden. The face-covering mandate has made a major impact with extremely high rates of compliance. The temporary lockdowns in three counties were a major imposition on the counties involved but they had an immediate impact due to the acceptance by the people of Laois, Offaly and Kildare of the need for shared action. We will continue to react as necessary. We will listen to the public health advice and respond quickly to new developments. The plans and policies may continue to change as the threat posed by the virus will continue to change. What will not change is our determination to do everything possible to get our country through a pandemic which has already claimed the lives of 2,337 on this island.
I take this opportunity to also inform the House that it is my intention to seek the approval of Cabinet for the appointment of Deputy James Browne to the position of Minister of State at the Department of Justice with responsibility for law reform. Since his election to this House, Deputy Browne has repeatedly distinguished himself as a committed legislator and he has secured significant measures in the area of mental health law. In his new position Deputy Browne will take the lead in moving forward the Government's ambitious programme of wider reform.
I congratulate Deputy McConalogue on his appointment as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I extend my good wishes to him as he embarks on what is a very important job. There is no doubt that his appointment comes at a time of very great challenge and uncertainty for Ireland's agricultural and fishing communities. Our farmers and our fishermen deserve focus, energy and resolve from Government as Brexit talks reach a critical juncture and as family farming in Ireland faces an uncertain future. I also extend my congratulations to Deputy James Browne on his forthcoming appointment.
We cannot ignore the circumstances in which this ministerial vacancy arose. Deputy McConalogue becomes the third Minister for Agriculture and the Marine in less than three months, as a result of what is a deep dysfunction at the heart of this Government. We faced outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat processing plants and food production and we faced those without a Minister for Agriculture and the Marine. Controversy, chaos and confusion have consumed this Coalition. This has not happened by accident. It is the consequence of the culture of entitlement and rivalry that still prevails within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and which is writ large across this Government.
These are aspects and dynamics that do not serve the public good. In recent times, the politics of the old boys' club rose to the surface again. If there is anything we do not need in public and political life, it is the old boys' club. What we need is real change, now more than ever.
Let us recall that last February when people voted, they were very clear on what they wanted the Government to prioritise. The pandemic has made progress on these issues even more urgent. Class sizes need to come down. We need a strong public health service. We need to deliver affordable housing. We still have an unprecedented housing crisis and the highest rents in Europe, yet the Government's approach has been lethargic and uninspiring. Incredibly, the Minister with responsibility for housing has still not published a plan to deliver affordable homes or a strategy for tackling extortionate rents. Even prior to the pandemic, our public health service was under the most enormous pressure. Now with the most serious public health emergency we have an unparalleled backlog in hospital appointments, yet the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, has still not produced a winter plan. As we live through this pandemic, I have to say it beggars belief that Government fails to utilise to the full the full testing and tracing capacity available to us. That is a big mistake.
We now need an urgent plan to build capacity in our cancer care system, which has been really badly affected by this pandemic. There is a significant backlog in screening and treatment. Cancer touches us all, every family, every community. Cancer services and screening need investment and an ambitious plan if we are to ensure the health system can now catch up and keep up with the provision of cancer care.
It is fair to say that incredible work by very many has been delivered to ensure that our schools are open and our children can return to education. The challenge now is to ensure that we keep the schools open and that we keep everybody safe. This means rapid testing, protecting the jobs and incomes of parents when a child has to stay home, tackling teacher shortages and ensuring children with additional needs are not left behind. Critically, this plan must be built on reducing class sizes, not as an emergency measure but as a permanent change and feature in the system.
A Cheann Comhairle, I believe this coalition Government needs an attitude adjustment. It needs to begin to take seriously the responsibilities it faces and we need very rapidly to see solutions to the many challenges and dilemmas across our society. If ever there was a time when more of the same simply will not cut it, that time is now. It is time for the Taoiseach and our new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to get their act together, wake up and get serious.
I congratulate the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. It is a logical appointment given his role as Opposition spokesperson for a number of years. I met him last week and congratulated him before his appointment. I presumed it was going to be him. I sincerely wish him the best in the role. I also wish Deputy James Browne, the new Minister of State, the best in his role. I nearly felt sorry for the Taoiseach as regards the political outcome of what happened at "golfgate". Public anger was at a level I have never seen before. I acknowledge Deputy Calleary. It was remarkable that he grasped the situation and resigned so quickly. I wish others had followed his example.
The new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has enormous challenges from day one and even straight away. We have a real issue in the meat industry. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has said he is going to have a full review of the industry. We all know the history and what the Irish public has done for the meat industry in this country in the past. Things are cyclical sometimes and here we go again. Are we going to put the meat industry before the public? What balance are we going to get? The public always comes first. I have spoken to the Taoiseach privately about this. We need to ensure that this industry is regulated, and I mean regulated. I worked in the industry as a student for a number of summers. It has not changed that much. It was not a very good experience but I needed the money to go to college. It is still not a very good experience. We need to deal with fundamental issues here as regards workers, their living conditions, activities, transport and most of all their working conditions. I repeat to the Taoiseach that if we do not deal with sick pay in this industry, somebody will be melodramatic but it will not be me. The Taoiseach may live to regret the fact that he is not acting quicker on this. If we end up with lockdowns in other counties because of outbreaks and clusters, I will be reminding the Taoiseach of what he said here today. This issue has to be dealt with. Everybody knows the conditions under which many of these workers work, their options to go into work, the risk of losing their jobs and their contracts of employment and the choice between working and not getting paid. When we are living in Covid, it is not an acceptable choice for society. The Taoiseach needs to deal with it. There are a number of other issues that the new Minister is going to have to deal with as regards Brexit and its outcomes. There is the issue of the family farm and how we are going to protect incomes across the country. I genuinely wish the Minister well. I and the Labour Party spokesperson, Deputy Sherlock, will engage with him in a very positive way.
Hopefully the Government has crossed the line and the shambolic situation we have seen since its commencement will change. When it comes to health, we need to see the winter plan that the Minister keeps promising. He needs to ensure that we can now live with a capacity in healthcare which is Covid and non-Covid. We had conference calls during the week with him as leader, and with the acting Chief Medical Officer, the head of the HSE and so on. They need to be supported. The HSE and Paul Reid in particular need to be supported from a current and capital funding point of view like they never have been before. I hope the Minister is able to deliver that because it has to be delivered on behalf of the people.
On education, I acknowledge that the Minister for Education and Skills changed her position in respect of school profiling. My colleague, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, led on this all summer. He fought for this. I acknowledge that the Minister has made that change. However, there are other issues. We need to ensure that the process is dealt with by which outbreaks in schools are managed as regards who is going to mind the children. I note that we have another one today. That is why we need the parental change I have outlined before. Finally, the issue concerning school transport is a complete and utter disaster at the moment. I will give the Minister and Taoiseach some private information if they so wish. It is a disaster particularly around rural areas and it needs to be got to grips with immediately. I have had four messages since I came in here from parents of children who cannot get bus tickets. They are getting €13 million. The Minister should do something about it, please.
On behalf of the Social Democrats I congratulate Deputy McConalogue on his appointment as the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I wish him well in his new role and hope we can work in a collaborative fashion within this important portfolio. I also extend congratulations to Deputy James Browne, who is to be appointed a Minister of State.
One is tempted to quote Oscar Wilde with respect to the loss of two agriculture Ministers in quick succession. There is no doubt that carelessness was a factor in both these cases and at the very least both cases saw carelessness in the adherence to rules. The Taoiseach did what he needed to do following Deputy Barry Cowen's drink-driving ban controversy and it seemed at the time like a sign that the era of the golden circle, where certain politicians saw themselves as being above the law, was slowly coming to an end. Unfortunately, we saw the opposite only a few weeks later during the "golfgate" scandal. As we know, this scandal precipitated the resignation of Deputy Dara Calleary as Minister.
This scandal was a resounding message to the public that a golden circle still exists where certain people, including politicians, operate as if they are above the rules applying to everybody else. Deputy Calleary was right to resign in the circumstances following this scandal and he clearly seriously misjudged the position in light of the Covid-19 restrictions and public health guidance that he had a part in introducing while at Cabinet.
Covid-19 is the biggest shock to our State and the world in 100 years. How can the public have any confidence at all in the job being done by the Government if the people who set the rules do not follow them? The public has put in a major effort in the fight against Covid-19, sacrificing visits to loved ones in hospital and saying goodbye to them at funerals, as well as visiting parents in nursing homes, cheering children and grandchildren at matches and celebrating at weddings. These are the moments that make life worth living and they have been forfeited so we might have a chance of fighting the virus and protecting each other.
The golf society event was a gross affront to everybody who has made those sacrifices for the past six months and the public is understandably and justifiably angry. We need absolute buy-in and clarity at every level of the Government in approaching this pandemic; action must start at the very top, at Cabinet level.
The controversy surrounding agriculture Ministers has brought further disruption to a sector coming to grips with the impact of the pandemic. Farmers, fishing communities and all those in the agri-food sector need the support of a Minister in full control of the brief. There are serious concerns, highlighted by my colleague, Deputy Holly Cairns, that have been badly neglected as a result of all the instability in recent months.
There is the controversial forestry Bill, which is significantly flawed and in direct contravention of European Union directives and the Aarhus Convention. The new Minister must address serious concerns about the forestry licensing system and demonstrate how the public submissions during the very short consultation period are being incorporated into the Bill. The sudden enactment of a penalty points system for Irish fishermen and women without proper engagement with the industry was signed off by the Taoiseach and announced to the surprise and anger of those in the industry.
There have been outbreaks of Covid-19 in meat plants that directly led to the recent regional lockdowns in three counties, with nearly 1,500 Covid-19 cases associated with 28 meat or poultry factory outbreaks. These have served to highlight the serious underlying problems with worker rights in the industry. The Taoiseach must commit today to establishing a task force on this sector.
The new Minister, Deputy McConalogue, must bring a renewed focus on the serious issues presenting in the agriculture sector, putting an end to the controversies surrounding the post in recent months. This is so every effort can be focused on suppressing Covid-19 and ensuring consistent and sustainable support for the important agriculture sector.
The Taoiseach's Government is 67 days old today and here he is asking the Dáil for the third time to approve the nomination of a Minister with responsibility for agriculture. The Government may need to come to us again next week or the week after with another new Minister, perhaps one with responsibility for foreign affairs this time. Never before in the history of the State has this happened. Never before in the history of the State has the Government been reduced to such a shambles.
As Oscar Wilde once nearly said, to lose one Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine looks like carelessness, but to lose two looks like a total and absolute omnishambles. The ruling class does much of its business by way of social networking. When the old boys' network meets on the golf course, the decisions do not go down in the minutes and members of the public are kept in the dark. When a bit of light was shone on the dinner at Clifden, what did the people see? There were Deputies, Senators, broadcasters, bankers, a commissioner and an ambassador from a dictatorship giving a collective two fingers to the Irish people.
We meet today to replace the former Minister, Deputy Dara Calleary. They say every cloud has a silver lining and if there was such a silver lining to golfgate, it was surely the anger of the people that forced the resignations. I hope that anger does not go away but rather stays so this Government can be put under pressure this autumn. This Government needs to be kept under sustained pressure, including on worker rights, among other matters. This is to ensure there is no public sector pay freeze or pay freeze for workers on the minimum wage. We must also ensure there is justice for the Debenhams workers.
Deputy McConalogue will today become the fourth Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in four months and nothing sums up the dumpster fire that is this Government as succinctly as the revolving door at the Department. It goes around, bringing in a new Minister each month. We started lockdown with the former Minister, Deputy Creed, who rushed to the defence of the meat plant owners, ignoring the pleas of the workers and the left for factory inspections. His legacy is the outbreak of Covid-19 in these plants.
We then had Deputy Cowen in the role. His attempt to break the record for shortest term as a Minister was clearly seen as a challenge to be bested by his successor, Deputy Calleary, who told us Covid-19 loves to party before proceeding to demonstrate this by joining the golf society in Clifden. What unites all these tales of fallen Ministers is the arrogance of the golden circle in Irish society, including people from the political, judicial and economic spheres. These people view themselves as being above the rules and functioned as the protectors of the beef barons and the rich.
Again and again, Minister after Minister defended and protected meat plant bosses. Back in April, the then Minister, Deputy Creed, refused to listen to warnings about conditions in the plants. He accused me of smearing the companies for raising these points. There have since been 1,500 cases of Covid-19 in meat plants. These are 1,500 cases of workers who caught this virus because the Government turned a blind eye to what was going on. How many of them have or will suffer long-term effects from Covid-19? Will workers die as a result of contracting Covid-19 in meat plants?
The new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must stand up to the beef barons. Even to this day, meat factory owners are refusing to provide proper sick pay for workers. We need proper sick pay for all workers so that if they feel unwell they do not feel compelled to go into work. This means following the example of Germany and banning the use of subcontractors and bogus self-employment in the meat plants to stop bosses from getting out of providing workers with the rights to which they are entitled. The trade unions must be allowed full access to the plants to organise the workers. The beef barons have shown that they cannot be trusted to run these plants. Instead, we need elected workplace health and safety committees. They should be the ones to run the factories. Worker control is the only way to ensure that corners are not cut and workers' lives are not put in danger by billionaires like Mr. Larry Goodman.
First, I offer my congratulations to Deputy McConalogue, who is to be appointed as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine today. It has been said that this is the Taoiseach's third attempt to appoint a Minister to this portfolio. I wish the new Minister the best of luck in his position, which is vital to the economy. I also congratulate Deputy James Browne on his appointment as Minister of State. Agriculture provides 173,000 jobs and accounts for 10% of this country's exports. The position of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is so important to the economy, to agriculture and to the family farms that are found throughout rural Ireland and that constitute its heart.
We can talk about how we arrived at today's position, but my message to the new Minister is that the industry is at a very critical juncture. Farmers are worried. Young farmers are reluctant to take over the family farm. Farm incomes are disrupted and unsure. There are so many uncertainties right now. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will face challenges, the first of which is Brexit. The Common Agricultural Policy will determine our farmers' future. We also need an effective beef market task force to ensure a fair price for everybody involved in the industry. Our agrifood policies must ensure that we add value to all our products and get the greatest possible benefit for our producers. Our sheep farmers need solid markets. The forestry licensing situation has been mentioned. I can tell the Minister that with the way things are going, we will have no timber in this country by the end of the year. That must be tackled head on. Farming must be supported in dealing with climate change. We must protect the family farm and ensure that rules and regulations do not drive people away from agriculture. We cannot continue to target farmers, who are best in class when it comes to carbon emissions in beef and sheep production.
Many farming families are watching today with their fingers crossed, hoping that the new Minister will be someone who understands the issues and will engage with the very hectic challenges that dominate agriculture. He must hit the ground running. No lead-in time will be afforded to this Minister. Farmers cannot wait any longer. It is now time for this Government and the new Minister to demonstrate the leadership required to bring farmers together and to unite the industry so that it can prevail in the future.
Again, I offer the new Minister my new wishes. As a rural Deputy serving Galway East, which has many small family farms, I commit myself to engaging positively and constructively with him in the interests of agriculture in Ireland.
I am delighted to congratulate the Minister. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta agus lena chlann go léir. Deputy McConalogue's wife, Jackie, his two young boys, his home town of Gleneely in the north of Inishowen and the entire constituency of Donegal will be delighted. Importantly, the new Minister comes from a farming background.
I thank the previous Minister, Deputy Calleary, and acknowledge that he had resigned before the 8 o'clock news the morning after the story broke. He is an honourable and decent politician who saw that he had made a mistake - a major one, although he did travel to speak about a long-serving deceased friend. He did that in good faith but it was the wrong decision. He has acknowledged that and stepped down.
I want to assure the new Minister that we in the Rural Independent Group will work closely, honestly, fairly and hard with him and with the Government to try to rescue the situation in farming. By rescue, I mean support. Farmers want to support themselves, but face issues such as Mercosur, Brexit and this year's weather conditions. While it has turned out to be a great year, there will be a difficult harvest. I was in the Minister's constituency last week on a trip through Donegal and I am happy to report that it had a good summer, unlike what we faced in the south east and other parts of the country. The Minister will have our support.
The will have to deal with many issues. He will need to tackle the beef barons and the power of Meat Industry Ireland, MII, which the last Minister did not do. Last year farmers gave up their summer to stand outside the factory gates in protest. They are not normally given to protesting, but they were looking for recognition as the sole primary producers of prime beef and for a decent price. The then Minister, Deputy Creed, set up a review group run by an insider, a former head of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We need independent oversight of the beef industry. Deputy Kelly has spoken about the need to respect workers' rights. Of course workers need rights, but farmers, who are the primary producers, do not get any sick pay and have no-one to support them. They have to take what they get. It is important that we support the workers and I support them. I acknowledge the jobs provided by the meat industry, but there must be transparency and openness there as well.
I also wish the new Minister of State, Deputy Browne, well in the Department of Justice and Equality and I know he will make his mark there. His dad, with whom I served in Dáil Éireann, will be proud to see him do so.
There are huge issues facing agriculture. I refer to red tape. Forestry has been mentioned. People in that sector cannot get felling licences. One serial objector, who is an ardent member of the Green Party, has submitted 80 objections though he lives here in Dublin. This is nonsense. We must change this. People have invested hugely in forestry and have been encouraged to do so. A 40-year growth cycle is a long time to wait for payments. Contractors are lined up to cut timber. They have machinery costing up to €2 million. All of this lies idle because of a serial objector. That cannot be fair or right.
The concerns of agriculture must be recognised. We want the Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland, FCI, and all the other independent farmers' associations to be recognised. We have seen the cosy cartels between the big farming organisations and the Government too many times. We saw what happened with the distasteful incident in Galway and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his very wise words today.
As a final word, I appeal to the Minister as a member of the Cabinet to please respect the publicans of rural Ireland. There has been a system of apartheid towards them. I refer to one young man, TJ McInerney, who runs TJ Mac's bar in Mullinahone with his family. It is associated with the famed CJ Kickhams Mullinahone GAA Club. Like other rural people, all he wants is to open his pub. Businessmen like him intend to be here next week in a deputation to meet Ministers and the Taoiseach and to explain that they want to file tax returns next October. They want to resume trading and providing employment. They want to be able to provide a pint, a cup of tea or coffee or a meal to the farmers who are trying to salvage the harvest. These farmers come home from the mart and are now even more lonely because they have no place to go. The pubs in many villages, tá siad imithe. They are gone and long forgotten. Farmers want to be able to go into the Stack of Barley in Mullinahone. They want to go into TJ Mac's, a pub run by a proud business family and a political family of decades' standing.
TJ McInerney has single-handedly organised the publicans. Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows. The publicans will be here next Tuesday unless the Government allows the pubs to open before that. They do not want to come here. They will be careful and maintain social distancing, but they want to be heard. Fair play is fine play. That is all they want from the new Minister and the new Minister of State. They want to be allowed to trade. They have done nothing wrong but they have been victimised, criminalised and demonised. They need to be able to run their businesses according to guidelines, and let them prove themselves that they are right. Unlike any other sector in the country, they must apply for licences annually, and there is the process there for weeding out the few bad publicans. Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows. I salute TJ McInerney and his family for what they want to do.
I am sharing time with Deputies Fitzmaurice and McNamara. I wish Deputy McConalogue all the best and congratulate him on his elevation to the position of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I also wish Deputy James Browne the best on his promotion to Minister of State. I have no doubt that the incoming Minister, Deputy McConalogue, will fill the position well and I hope he stays in it longer that the previous two incumbents did. His appointment will be vitally important for Donegal. I do not think Deputy McConalogue plays golf and I hope that means he will be longer lived in the role. In all seriousness, there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with and the incoming Minister knows well what those issues are, especially in regard to small farmers, who are the lifeblood of farming and make up the majority of farmers in this country. I hope he will oversee the full convergence and flattening of payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, which is what he espoused when he was in opposition. That is vitally important for farming in this country.
Coming from Donegal and with Greencastle right on his doorstep, the incoming Minister will understand the importance of the marine part of his portfolio. Unfortunately, the marine sector has been left behind a lot relative to agriculture within the ministerial brief to which he is being appointed. I hope he will give the fishing industry, which is vitally important as well, the attention it needs. It is interesting that the Taoiseach headed off some of the problems for Deputy McConalogue before he was appointed by introducing the penalty system last week. I hope that does not augur how the fishing industry will be treated with in the coming years. I wish the incoming Minister well and I hope everything works out for him in his role. I hope things work out for small farmers and fishermen as well.
I wish Deputies McConalogue and James Browne the best of luck in their new roles. I have worked with Deputy McConalogue on the agriculture committee. He is a country lad, which is a good start, and the first thing he needs to do is to look at CAP. A report published today shows that, under the scheme, farmers in Cork will be able to earn €53,000 but a farmer in Leitrim may only earn €8,000. It is the dead same all along the west coast and that needs to be addressed.
The rollover of the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, needs to be done straight away and the new agri-environment scheme that was promised must be got up and running. Last year, I supported a motion put forward by the incoming Minister where he proposed that farmers deserve at least €200 for a suckler cow. I hope he puts into place what he proposed in that motion, which he brought to the floor during the previous Dáil. Another issue he must deal with is the refusal by the chairman of the beef task force to allow the task force to discuss Bord Bia's proposed new system for protected geographical indication, PGI, status. The incoming Minister should address that straight away. Another issue he needs to address in the coming days, not in the coming months, is the forestry situation. The sector is in chaos throughout the country. There are contractors going bust and 12,000 jobs at stake but no one in the Department seems to be getting a handle on it.
Another crucial issue that has come to attention in recent days relates to the piece of paper which was sent out to farmers concerning the TB status of their stock. In my opinion, those pieces of paper should be burned in the fire. I am asking the incoming Minister to scrap what the academics have put together without listening to the farming organisations and farmers. We will see the effect of this in marts soon enough. The first thing the incoming Minister can do to show he is on the side of farmers is to initiate a consultation on the TB forum. Farmers must be listened to on this issue, not the academics in universities who are looking at what is done in other countries. The incoming Minister should listen to farming families around the country. The best thing he can do to show he is the Minister in charge of the Department is to recall the TB status letter that went out to farmers and give them a new chance.
I wish the incoming Minister, Deputy McConalogue, well in his new role. He and I were first elected to Dáil Éireann on the same day and I wish him the very best in a role which has become something of a boat trip through the Bermuda Triangle in this Dáil. I hope that has come to an end and that Deputy McConalogue will be able to bring some stability to a role that desperately needs stability.
I agree with previous Deputies on the need to revitalise the beef task force and perhaps replace it with a new forum that is functioning. The current task force was simply something to get Fine Gael over an election and it seems to have achieved its only purpose in that sense. It certainly has not shone a light on the beef sector in Ireland, a light that needs to be shone not just in terms of how it treats farmers but also how it treats workers, as Deputy Kelly noted, and how it treats consumers and everybody else right across the sector, including Irish taxpayers. Like Deputy Fitzmaurice, I also wish to highlight the problems in the forestry sector and the necessity of reform.
I wish the incoming Minister the best of luck in his role. The Taoiseach's predecessor as Fianna Fáil leader once described the Department of Health as Angola. That Department has gone on to run the country, as we have seen in recent times. Perhaps the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will have a brighter future under Deputy McConalogue.
In accordance with the order of the House today, I must put the question now.
Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?
As fewer than ten Members have risen, I deem that the question has been carried. In accordance with Standing Order 82, the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
I congratulate the new Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and also the new Minister of State, Deputy James Browne.