Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Food Exports

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill


35. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which his Department and associated agencies have adapted to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic to develop new markets for Irish food and drink producers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41513/20]

How have the Department and its associated agencies adapted to the challenge of Covid-19 to try to continue to develop new markets for Irish food and drink producers?

Gaining third country market access and opening up trading opportunities throughout the world for Irish exports has long been integral to the Department’s strategic approach to the development of the agrifood sector. This has grown increasingly important as we deal with the challenges presented by both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit. While trade missions will continue to play a key role here, our traditional in-person method of developing trade with customers is not currently feasible.

To that end, the Minister and I, in conjunction with Bord Bia, recently held a series of virtual trade missions with customers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines. These interactive engagements spanned five dates in November and December and included Irish industry and existing and potential customers overseas. We have also engaged in a series of virtual meetings with key international customers from Germany, the UK, Japan, China, the United Arab Emirates and south-east Asia. In these uncertain times, meaningful and continued engagement with Ireland’s growing customer base throughout the world is more important than ever. This innovative approach of bringing trade missions online creates an opportunity to further deepen trading relationships between Ireland and key customers in these regions. These virtual events also remind our key customers that Ireland remains committed to them and is able to supply foods in which their consumers can have confidence.

The Government’s commitment to new market development was further illustrated by my appointment earlier this year as Minister of State with specific responsibility for this task. The Department has also placed four additional agriculture attachés in the Irish embassy network in recent years, in Berlin, Tokyo and Mexico city in 2019, and in Seoul, South Korea, in 2020. In addition, the Department's international trade activities are being reorganised and further developed to deal with the challenges of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. We are doing everything we can to be agile and responsive to the challenges that Covid is presenting. In the context of the challenges that Brexit poses, we are not letting our foot off the gas and are continuing to drive on with accessing and developing new markets. We are also ensuring that we grow the markets we have.

I congratulate the Minister of State on that work. Agrifood is a very significant part of our export economy and our national economy. It has developed and it is great to see the momentum. It is clear from the Department and from listening to the Minister's and the Minister of State's responses today how much emphasis there is for dairy and beef, which is appropriate, but I might also flag the innovation-led businesses that are not on that side, such as in dry goods and other products. I am thinking of early start-ups in my constituency such as Homespun Foods and others that are purely innovation led. They draw from global sources and really need the help of State agencies to access emerging markets in the same way as dairy and beef producers. There are extraordinary food producers of all different types in Ireland and we have an extraordinary reputation for the quality of the food we produce, which we do in a clever and sustainable way. Support to enable those small producers to access newer and larger markets, particularly as we face into these difficult weeks and the difficulty of next year, would be so welcome.

The Deputy makes a valid point. With any new start-up, whether innovative or otherwise, there are challenges of scale and of ramping up all of the competences within that company quickly enough for it to be able to put its best foot forward. From the political perspective, the Minister and I use our good offices to open those opportunities. Working closely with the State agencies, we try and open the door for businesses which have key market opportunities in these areas. We deal closely with the likes of Bord Bia in terms of the research it provides as to where the big opportunities are, but I am happy to engage with some of the smaller innovative companies in the Deputy's constituency to which she referred and with which she is familiar in order to hear their first-hand experience of challenges they might have and how we can work to help them adapt. From Bord Bia through to all the other State agencies and ourselves in the Department, we are there to open up those opportunities and to allow the businesses to put their best foot forward. I would be interested to hear about some of the challenges that the smaller companies have in trying to do that.

I thank the Minister of State. That is so welcome. One of the challenges for small businesses is that they have been able to take some of their own steps where there has not been a language barrier but the United Kingdom leaving the European Union makes it much more difficult. Indeed, the agencies are very supportive. I suppose some of the smaller businesses feel that there is this emphasis on dairy and beef and it is just to make sure that we are still investing in that innovation-led food enterprises to give them the support that they need. I thank the Minister of State for the opportunity to link them with him. It is always great to hear practical examples from businesses on the ground in any walk of life and agrifood is no different. I really appreciate the Minister of State's support for those businesses. I thank him for his answer.

The Department has a network of agricultural attachés throughout the embassy network. Through the Department of Foreign Affairs and the embassy network, we have increased significantly the footprint of Irish diplomats and supports all across the world. The Bord Bia team is phenomenal. In my short time in the Department and in this role, I have been impressed by the young dynamic talent we have all over the world in terms of opening those doors. Therefore, there should be no barrier to small innovative companies, which are looking for those niche markets and which are look for support in areas, because it is not only a matter of language.

The Deputy is correct to point to the fact that Brexit provides us with this opportunity when we become the only English-speaking nation in the EU but there are also cultural challenges. In different areas there are different cultural emphasis that are important for a company to be aware of for their customers and that is the type of insight that our agricultural attachés, our diplomatic team and agencies such as Bord Bia can provide. I am happy to link any small companies looking to break into new markets with those support services.

Health and Safety Inspections

Martin Browne


36. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the findings of a centre (details supplied) and HSA reports into meat factories across the country; his views on the findings of those reports in terms of Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 standard breaches; the date his attention was drawn to the contents of those reports; the measures that have been taken by his Department regarding these findings; his views on not publishing these reports at the time; his views on the overall operations of these facilities in view of these reports; the measures that have been taken to address those shortcomings; his views on the working conditions of staff at these facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41517/20]

Can I get the Minister's views on the concerning findings in the HSA reports into meat factories across the country that were obtained by the Right To Know group? Could he tell us the date on which his attention was drawn to the contents of those reports, the measures that have been taken by his Department regarding these findings, why these reports were not published at the time and his views on the overall operations of these facilities in light of these reports?

The HSA comes under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and any specific questions about its reports are a matter for that Department. Statutory responsibility for health and safety in the workplace rests with the HSA. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, primary responsibility for public health policy and implementation rests with the Department of Health and the HSE.

My Department's statutory responsibility is to ensure that food business operators within these premises operate in compliance with the EU's food hygiene legislation, animal and plant health, and animal welfare standards. However, in the current circumstances, in addition to this statutory role, the Department is continuing to provide any support required to the HSE and the HSA at local and national level in monitoring the effective implementation of all relevant guidance in Department-approved food plants. As at 27 November, the Department had completed 575 inspections on behalf of the HSA, including unannounced inspections, in Department-approved food premises, and these inspections are ongoing. To be clear, this is in addition to the inspections carried out by the HSA itself, and in addition to the 49 premises where the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a permanent presence.

In ongoing engagement with the meat industry since the start of the pandemic, my officials have emphasised that the health and safety of workers must be the absolute priority. In September 2020 Meat Industry Ireland and SIPTU agreed a code of practice for the safe management of staff in the primary meat processing sector during the pandemic. I welcome such initiatives as very positive steps in ensuring a safer working environment for employees in the meat slaughter and processing sector. If employees or their representatives have any specific concerns about employment conditions they should contact the relevant statutory agencies, that is, the HSA, the Workplace Relations Commission or the Department of Social Protection, as appropriate.

It was concerning to read these accounts in the media at the end of last month. They referred to a number of inspections by the HSA on meat factories that had not been released to the public at the time. The reports were damning - face-coverings not being used, the potential for cross-contamination, the minimal level of acceptable personal protective equipment, PPE, being in place, staff working at close quarters, and inadequate health and safety signage being in place. These concerns were all voiced by us at a time when cases started emerging in meat factories. Can the Minister indicate whether the inspections in question took place in the early days of the Covid crisis, at the height of the crisis or later? Given the poor working conditions does it mean that the Department and the HSA did not act early enough to ensure that the protective measures had been put in place? How were these conditions allowed to emerge at these facilities? Can the Minister tell the public how a decision was made not to release them and why was the Right To Know group offered the redacted versions of the reports and not the full versions?

I thank the Deputy. As I pointed out, I do not have the details here that the HSA would have because the authority comes under another Department's remit. I outlined the assessments and the checks that my Department has carried out on the authority's behalf to supplement that work. At all times we have been clear about the absolute importance of safety across all working environments, particularly those in the meat industry. Activity in this industry was designated as essential during Covid. It has continued throughout the period and the risk has been more significant as a result. We have always highlighted the absolute importance of ensuring that possible precaution is taken and that this is done consistently. Certainly, I have ensured, as have other Government colleagues, that this message has been put out there consistently. In terms of the sector, those involved are very much aware of that too because, ultimately, the health and welfare of employees is more important to them than it is to anyone else. It is essential that that is at the centre of everything we do.

I appreciate that most of the factories are doing everything above board and correctly because I have spoken to many of them. We ourselves found out that they had stopped testing in some places. The report also reveals serious health and safety problems that were not Covid related. They contained repeated concerns about bandsaws without emergency stop buttons, open effluent treatment tanks with no edge protection and, in one case, asbestos roofing being visible throughout the site. These are health and safety issues that pose serious risks to the employees regardless of Covid-19. How were these issues allowed to go on? Are these factories not being inspected enough or was it a case of looking the other way because those who own them are friends or buddies of the Government? If the factories were not inspected for compliance with Covid-19 guidelines, would we not even know about these breaches of health and safety that are putting employees' welfare at risk? Finally, if Sinn Féin's request to make Covid-19 an identifiable workplace illness was adopted in the early days of the outbreak, would these issues have been spotted earlier?

I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Farrell, for the latitude he has extended to us and commend Deputy Martin Browne on tabling this question.

The Minister will know my views. The fact that responses to requests for freedom of information are being so heavily redacted sends out all the wrong signals. These are matters that should not embarrass anybody. Certainly, the factories should be eager that these reports are published to give the public the knowledge.

My question follows on from Deputy Browne's. At present, there are some intensive activities taking place, for example, in turkey factories. Turkey factories play an important role in many local economies, including my own, but they also at this time of year incorporate many new staff, many of whom work part-time or in some instances include large numbers of migrant labour.

Is the Department paying any particular attention to those factories at this time of year? In my view, what happened in the meat plants during the summer played a much larger part than has been attributed to them in bringing about a second wave of infections. We do not want to see a third wave as a result of a lack of scrutiny in this area.

I thank the Deputies for their questions. The health, welfare and safety of workers must be absolutely central to everything we do, particularly in environments where essential work is continuing. That is the clear message we are putting out to all sectors, particularly the meat processing sector. My Department has worked to assist the HSA in this regard, including in the carrying out of more than 500 inspections, alongside the ongoing work we do in this area.

On Deputy Carthy's point regarding turkey farm operations, my Department has an engagement in terms of veterinary oversight but the HSA is the authority with responsibility for liaising in those situations. Regardless of the setting, the advice has been very clear to everyone. Ultimately, the onus is on employers and operators to ensure the health and safety of their staff is central to all that they do. There is also a strong onus on staff to ensure they work with their employer and call out any issues that arise. If there are any instances where people's safety is not being properly catered for, they must be brought to the attention of the HSA, which will move immediately to ensure the correct conditions are put in place and to hold to account anyone who is not following the guidelines.

Agri-Strategy 2025

Emer Higgins


37. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to develop a successor to the sustainable healthy agri-food research plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41483/20]

Deputy Durkan is taking Question No. 37 for Deputy Higgins.

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which the Minister proposes to follow up on the previous sustainable healthy agri-food plan.

The sustainable healthy agri-food research plan, SHARP, was developed and published in 2015 in response to the then Government's national research prioritisation exercise, NRPE. The plan has guided our key research priorities over recent years in respect of the competitive funding programmes we operate.

My Department, as part of its agri-food strategy to 2030 will, in due course, develop a new research and innovation agenda as a successor to SHARP. This will reflect the key focus on innovation in both Food Wise 2025 and its anticipated focus in the agri-food strategy to 2030. The preparations for this new research and innovation agenda will commence once the overarching agri-food strategy to 2030 and the successor to Innovation 2020, the current national strategy for research and development, science and technology, are completed.

It is envisaged that the new research and innovation agenda will most likely take the form of an overarching framework that aims to provide for a coherent approach to the competitive funding and conduct of research and innovation in future years. The new research and innovation agenda will also be guided by high-level EU policy developments such as the European Green Deal and its related strategies, as well as specific EU research and innovation strategies such as Food 2030, its bioeconomy strategy and its research and innovation plan for agriculture and rural development.

As Minister of State with responsibility for research and development in agriculture, I was pleased to announce an additional €3 million allocation to the Department for research, bringing the total investment allocation to €18 million for next year. This is a sign of the prioritisation the Minister, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and I place on research and development. There is huge potential in areas like the bioeconomy and we are mindful of the pressures coming down the line in terms of innovation and sustainability around everything we do, including food production and increasing our output, and the challenges we face in this regard. I very much welcome this important increase in funding in this area for the year ahead.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. Will he outline the degree to which he intends to shift emphasis, given the challenges that are coming down the track? Will he indicate the degree to which he and his Department have evaluated those challenges and, as a result, made decisions in terms of a particular shift in policy in order to obviate any negative impact?

The national research prioritisation exercise and how it related to SHARP was born out of the wake of the financial crisis. The then Government established an independent group of mainly external experts to identify priority areas for research funding under competitively operated programmes based on set criteria. Two of those areas were smart, sustainable food production and processing and food for health. Just as was done on that occasion, we, too, will look at the present set of circumstances.

The successor to Food Wise 2025, which is our ten-year agricultural programme, will be published early in the new year. It will be key that our research plan mirrors the targets and objectives set out in that programme. We must also be aware of the challenges facing us in the coming years, many of which are already set out. There are opportunities as well as challenges in terms of the European Green Deal and the farm to fork strategy, and at the heart of those opportunities is sustainability. The Deputy can take it as given that while innovation will continue to be absolutely key, sustainability will be at the heart of our efforts in that regard, as it will be at the heart of our food strategy into the future. It is an area in which we in Ireland have real strength in terms of the story we can tell around our food production and our food and drink exports.

Can the Minister of State inform the House as to the degree to which he has, at this time, identified precisely the nature and extent of the challenges facing the sector, particularly post Brexit? Does he consider that it may be necessary to introduce a more ambitious programme to shift the emphasis and focus onto new areas that will be of benefit directly to the agri-food sector?

Devising strategy is an ongoing and ever-evolving process. The Department and I are absolutely determined to identify new opportunities for our premier producers to improve and supplement their income. There are huge opportunities in a number of areas. When we talk about environmental elements, it tends to be with a fairly negative approach insofar as they may impact on agriculture, primary producers and farmers. However, if one looks at the bioeconomy, for example, there is potential for us to identify areas where, in the past, certain products were seen as waste elements within the food production process. There is scope to identify the value and added value such products may have. For instance, the €20 million Glanbia plant in Lisheen is taking what was a waste product and identifying potential out of it. The European Innovation Partnership, EIP, model in west Cork is making a range of uses out of the grass-fed dairy produce system, with really innovative outcomes. All of that is feeding into what our new research programme will look like, and we must ensure that marries with our 2025 agri-food strategy. It is an ongoing process and one we continue to monitor very closely.

Fishing Industry

Pádraig MacLochlainn


38. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason Ireland has not received a single tonne of the hundreds of tonnes in additional international quota total allowable catch for the lucrative bluefin tuna species that has been secured by the European Union since 2016; his views on the scientific information he has to hand on the abundance of this species in Irish waters or the Irish exclusive economic zone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41612/20]

What is the reason that Ireland has not received a single tonne of the hundreds of tonnes of additional international quota that was allocated to the European Union since 2016 for one of the most lucrative fish in the world?

I thank the Deputy for his question, which has been raised with me on many occasions by fishermen. Bluefin tuna is a highly migratory large pelagic species which spawns in the Mediterranean and then migrates over a wide area of the north-east Atlantic to feed.  This migration brings some of the fish into the Irish 200-mile zone for part of the year, as we discussed previously. At the time we see the fish in the Irish zone, there are also fish being caught in the international high seas and over a wide area from Spain all the way up to Norway.  There is no survey from which the abundance in Ireland's 200-mile zone may be determined.

Ireland does not have a national quota for bluefin tuna, as the Deputy indicated.  The available bluefin tuna quota is allocated each year to member states on the basis of relative stability, as established in the late 1990s.  At that time, Ireland did not have a track record of commercial fishing for bluefin tuna and, accordingly, did not receive a quota allocation.  A small bluefin tuna by-catch quota is available to Ireland, primarily for use in our important northern Albacore tuna fishery and Celtic Sea herring fishery, where there can be bluefin tuna by-catches.

In 2018, Ireland was successful, for the first time, in securing agreement that allowed countries without a commercial quota to set up a catch-tag-release fishery to contribute to the collection of scientific data. A catch-tag-release science-based fishery for authorised recreational angling vessels has been in place since 2019. It supports the collection of valuable data on the migratory patterns of bluefin tuna in Irish waters.

The only way to obtain a share of the EU quota now would involve changing relative stability within the EU. The EU percentage share of the international total allowable catch is set down. There is no likelihood that an international country will concede any share to the EU. This means that EU member states with a national quota would have to give up a share of their allocation to Ireland.

The European Commission has advised that it intends to commence the Common Fisheries Policy review process when there is clarity on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. The review is expected to be detailed and comprehensive. It is expected that all stakeholders will have an opportunity to engage actively in the review work including the fishing industry and member states. I will consider how Ireland will prepare for and participate actively and effectively in the review, including the interaction with stakeholders to prepare Ireland's case and identify priorities.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is the body that sets the international quota. Since 2016, the European Union share of that international quota has increased by 73% - some 8,000 tonnes - from 11,200 tonnes to 19,360 tonnes. Ireland, however, has not got one of those tonnes. Irish fishermen, right around the coast, are reporting to me as Sinn Féin's fisheries spokesperson that they are looking at this lucrative and predatory fish getting fattened up on a range of fish species in our waters, which then goes out and gets caught by an array of international vessels. These vessels are making a fortune from fish fattened in our waters. It is an absolute mortal sin that we have not got one tonne of that additional quota in recent years. The Minister will have to fight harder.

From speaking to fishermen, I know the challenges and the difficulties with not having a quota for bluefin tuna. The Deputy knows from talking to fishermen the challenge of changing quota allocations every year. He will also know how, whether it is mackerel, herring, haddock or whiting, we hold on protectively to our total allowable catches and how we would like to get more. If the total allowable catch increases in a year, we look to ensure that we hold the percentage we have of that species. We would not give away a single fish of it and would like to have more.

That is the dynamic in the context of bluefin tuna. Other member states would have a track record that we do not have. Accordingly, they have a percentage of the total allowable catch. As that has increased in recent years, they have held their percentages of it. I am committed to doing all I can, particularly under the review of the Common Fisheries Policy, to address that. I do not underestimate the challenge as everybody looks to hold on to their quotas. I certainly will be doing all I can within the Common Fisheries Policy review to fight on behalf our fishermen.

One of these bluefin tuna can be worth $10,000. In the Japanese sushi and sashimi markets, it is an incredibly lucrative fish. More than 8,000 additional tonnes in the past four years were secured by the European Union for this fish but we get nothing. As the Minister knows from wearing his agriculture hat, we are looking at the Common Agricultural Policy, the single farm payment, the historical relationship in that regard and how it can be unjust. This fisheries situation is profoundly unjust. It is a mortal sin that we have this healthy lucrative fishery that our fishermen are allowed to go out on a chartered vessel, catch the fish and release it again, only for it to go out fattened from our waters and to make a fortune of money for vessels from other countries. This is madness. The Minister is an intelligent man and a Donegal man. He knows it is madness. He has to stand up and fight for Irish interests. We cannot put up with this any longer. It is absolutely sickening to see the amount of money lost. It could be used for our inshore fleet. The Minister could control the way it is fished to make a nice income for boats all around our coast.

I will be doing all I can to fight for our fishermen and push at European level, as part of the Common Fisheries Policy review, to secure some of that bluefin tuna catch for us. As the Deputy well knows, the challenge in that regard should not be underestimated. I will certainly step up and do all I can to fight in that regard.

The Deputy knows the background, which I have well explained, of traditional catch records which went to inform how various quotas were allocated and how protectively every member state, including ourselves, holds on to them and tries to increase them.

We have to ensure that we fish in a way which is sustainable into the future. We must ensure we do not overfish and thereby undermine stocks. This means there is a ceiling on the total allowable catch which is dictated by the health of fish stocks. The move in 2019 in terms of a scientific catch-and-release scheme will, hopefully, give us some evidence to work with concerning the health of the bluefin tuna stocks in Irish waters. It will allow us to push hard at European level for that. I can assure all fishermen that I will not be found wanting. I will do all I can to make progress in that regard.

Agricultural Colleges

Kathleen Funchion


39. Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if it will be ensured that agriculture students attending Teagasc colleges will be eligible for the same financial supports as other third level students. [41618/20]

Deputy Funchion is unable to be here to take this question.

The Minister knows that if farming is to have a future, then we need to have a strong and robust agricultural education sector. Teagasc colleges and other such outlets provide an important output to train our next generation of farmers to meet the challenges they will face. They need to get the same support as all other students, however. How does the Minister plan to bring that about?

I know the absolute value of the body of trained young farmers who will revitalise our farming sector, as well as the absolute importance of our educational system in equipping them to farm in the most efficient, effective and sustainable way into the future and to underpin our agricultural sector. Crucial to that are our educational providers. Teagasc plays a strong and crucial role in that regard. I am committed to ensuring agricultural college students are treated fairly and the same as all other students.

My Department and Teagasc are working together ensuring that supports will be put in place to reflect the additional challenges on students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A Covid payment is being made available to ease the financial burden on full-time students in the colleges. Students who qualify for the Teagasc maintenance grant will receive a top-up payment of €250. Students not in receipt of the grant will receive a fee rebate of €100 if they have paid the annual contribution charge of €990 for Teagasc level 5 and level 6 full-time courses. Overall, the foregoing is expected to benefit approximately 1,000 learners at a cost of over €200,000. I am confident that this package of measures will greatly assist Teagasc learners to adjust to the impact of Covid-19 in a manner no different to learners in the wider education sector supported through the Department of higher education.

I made this a priority in recent weeks and have worked closely with Macra na Feirme on it. I acknowledge its campaigning and advocacy on this particular issue with me to find a solution. Macra na Feirme has welcomed this warmly. I recognise the central role it played advocating on behalf of these students, many of whom members of it.

I also commend Macra na Feirme for highlighting this issue and ensuring it would not go away. The Minister knows I am an incredibly positive person and always welcome positive developments. I did so last week when it was announced that additional supports would be made available. I actually commended the Minister on his role in that. I expected he would play some role in the funding of it, however.

Only subsequently did I learn that the funding the Minister outlined is coming from Teagasc's existing budget so there was no additional funding provided by his Department or any other. This is not to say that the scheme, as it stands, is not welcome. What it says to me is that we can go further. We can ensure that every student who attends an agricultural college course can receive the same level of supports, recognising they are all going through the same difficulties as a result of Covid-19. I would appreciate it if the Minister would outline whether he will endeavour to make sure that this will happen.

I thank Deputy Carthy. I assure him that the funding did come from the Government and, ultimately, from the taxpayer. Teagasc plays a very valuable role, which I strongly support and certainly, as Minister, it is one I prioritise. I ensured that it received an additional €4 million in the budget this year in order to support it. As the Deputy knows, that €4 million came as part of an 11% increase I secured for the farming sector in the budget over and above last year in order to try to ensure we underpin farm incomes and try to support farmers throughout the country. I recognise the tremendous effort Teagasc has gone to, working with me and the Department, taking on board the efforts of Macra na Feirme and representations from the students to ensure those students would be treated fairly and proportionately in the same way as other third level students have been. This was very important and I recognise the work of Teagasc in that. I will continue to support Teagasc in the very important work it does by means of funding from the Exchequer.

The Minister did not answer my question on those students who will not receive supports under the package that has been announced. We need to have a holistic view of agricultural education. At present, there are disparities. It is not that there are too many agencies involved, it is that they do not appear to be working together. The Minister for Education has simply dismissed concerns of the Irish Agricultural Science Teachers Association, which has raised genuine concerns. The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science apparently just washed his hands entirely when the issue of disenfranchised students attending agricultural colleges was raised with him. He fobbed it off to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Now we have a situation whereby Teagasc is being asked to provide finance to students out of its existing funds. For all other students it is coming out of the Department of Education funds. Will the Minister outline to the House whether he has proposals to have a full overview of the agricultural educational system as it stands to ensure it is robust and fit to meet the challenges we know will face Irish agriculture in future?

I thank Deputy Carthy. I can reassure him, and he will be glad to hear, there was no hand washing on agricultural or Teagasc students. I certainly stepped up to the plate and worked with Teagasc to ensure that they would be supported. I also ensured that Teagasc would continue to be supported in the important work it carries out in the recent budget. The fact this funding was in place has been very welcome. I should point out it is alongside some funding for laptop provision for students at agricultural colleges, which is also something on which Teagasc worked with me. I commend Teagasc on how it has worked with students in this regard. It does exceptional work in a very hands-on practical manner in training our farmers and providing very high quality certified courses to ensure we have a very strong and fully educated young farmer base coming into renew our agricultural workforce. I assure Deputy Carthy I will continue to work with Teagasc to support those students in the important educational remit it has in the time ahead.

Common Agricultural Policy

Éamon Ó Cuív


40. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made to date in agreeing transitional arrangements for the CAP for 2021 and 2021 or until a new CAP is agreed and implemented for the period 2021 to 2027; the progress made on the negotiations on the CAP for these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41610/20]

We are coming to the end of the year and 2021 beckons. There is a small typo in the question and I think I made the mistake when I submitted it. It should refer to the years 2021 and 2022. I believe it will be 2023 before the new CAP, comes into force, and perhaps the Minister will confirm this. What are the transitional arrangements going to be for 2021 and 2022? What progress has been made in the greater scheme of things for the CAP from 2021 to 2027, in other words, the full CAP that will come into force sometime in the coming years? Obviously, it will not be there on 1 January next year.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for the question and I am pleased to update him and the House on the state of play on the transitional arrangements.

Discussions on the legislative proposals are now nearing completion after an extended and intensive period of engagement at EU level. The legislation is expected to be approved shortly, by mid-December, and published shortly afterwards, subject to agreement on the EU budget. In this regard, the proposals incorporate EU recovery instrument funding, of which €190 million is earmarked for Ireland. This will be programmed through the rural development programme in the two-year transitional period in 2021 and 2022.

In the meantime, my Department has made preparations for the transitional period within the parameters of the current rules, and in anticipation of the finalised EU transitional rules being forthcoming. In October, I announced my intention to extend schemes under the rural development programme into 2021, and I provided the necessary funding of €628 million in the budget.

The extension of existing rural development programme schemes required approval from the EU. I am pleased to advise the House that approval was received last week for the extension of contracts under GLAS, the beef data genomics programme, the Burren programme and the organic farming scheme. My Department will be in contact shortly with farmers whose contracts are due to end this year, to advise them how to opt in if they wish to extend their contracts. Support for other annual schemes is expected to continue, including the sheep welfare scheme and the areas of natural constraints scheme. I have provided for €80 million for TAMS in 2021 to meet existing commitments, and decisions on other tranches will be made when there is more certainty around the transitional rules. I will continue to consult with stakeholders on the options for the transitional period over the coming weeks as we have more certainty around the rules and funding.

The European CAP national strategic plan is being finalised. Over the course of the coming months, it is something that will have to be considerably fleshed out in terms of our national plan that will decide how we structure the seven-year programme at national level, obviously being compliant with the overall European programme.

Will the Minister confirm that I am right in understanding that the basic payment scheme will continue in 2021 and 2022 more or less as it is until the new CAP comes in, the areas of natural constraint scheme will continue as is for those two years also, GLAS will continue for another year and other schemes, such as the sheep welfare scheme and the beef data genomics scheme will see out their full course?

Will the Minister confirm whether we have more detail on the proposed new environmental scheme for the transitional period he mentioned, which will be done on a pilot basis? How widespread will it be? How available will it be to people who have left the agri-environment options scheme and did not get into GLAS or who have never been on a scheme, such as young farmers? Will the Minister flesh out what he now knows about the alternative environmental scheme to GLAS for those who are not in it at present? It is a matter of concern because people depend on these environmental payments to put bread on the table. Will he confirm the current schemes and I will come back in on the longer period schemes.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív. The basic payment scheme is 100% funded by the Commission and it will continue as a basic payment directly from it. The multi-annual financial framework will run for seven years alongside the seven-year CAP. There will be a two-year transition period, although I am not sure whether the second year has been formally signed off at European level. The full expectation is that it will be a two-year transition period. While the full CAP will not get going until January 2023, in every likelihood the new basic payment scheme and the seven-year multi-annual financial framework will have already started.

The domestic budget I introduced in October was very important with regard to the rural development schemes, which will continue next year. Next year's budget will be important to ensure they are in place for the year 2022. The rollover will happen next year so people will be able to continue with it.

I will come back to the Deputy in respect of the new scheme in my further response.

I take it that, even though the money from the basic payment scheme is coming out of the new programme, the scheme rules are likely to remain more or less as they are in 2021. My understanding is that after 2021, whatever replaces the basic payment scheme and greening could be different, even radically different, from what we have. The scheme relating to areas of natural constraint could also be different, as could all the rural development schemes. Have we any idea, from preliminary papers that are probably floating around the system, of the post-2022 shape of the schemes and the changes, particularly their impact on farmers and farmers’ incomes, because that is obviously going to become a concern over the next two years. Is it going to be radically different and are there going to be a lot of conditions that might make it difficult for some farmers to access these schemes and keep their payments going? The Minister might give some indication of how these schemes are beginning to take shape in Europe. No doubt there are discussion papers floating around the system, as there always are, and my experience was that 90% of what they produce at the beginning is implemented at the end. The Minister might give us some insight into that.

To go back to the point I did not have time to finish earlier, the €79 million in additional funding for next year is in regard to additional environmental measures. It will be spent in a variety of ways. A fair proportion of that will be open to all farmers - those currently in GLAS and those not - and there is also going to be a pilot environmental scheme for those who are not currently in GLAS, for whom this is being rolled over. That is something I will be consulting on shortly with farming organisations, perhaps into the start of the year, and we will then have it up and running early in the year.

On the framework and how the next CAP will look, there is going to be a change in regard to pillar 1 because we are going to have the eco scheme as part of that. That is going to have to set a baseline of conditionality that will then be built upon in regard to pillar 2. I will be consulting very widely with farming organisations and farmers, and within the political system as well, in regard to how we structure that and what schemes we put in place. Obviously, they will have to meet the general requirements at EU level but we will have a lot of discretion at national level. I will consult widely on that to ensure it is practical and will deliver as well as possible for farmers.

Questions Nos. 41 and 42 replied to with Written Answers.

Animal Welfare

Bernard Durkan


43. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which animal health, husbandry and processing standards applicable throughout the country and the EU will continue to be observed in full after Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41631/20]

European Union legislation provides for a set of harmonised rules to ensure that food and feed are safe, and to ensure a high level of human, animal and plant health, as well as animal welfare along the agrifood chain. Primary responsibility for ensuring that the obligations set out in Union legislation are met rests with operators. The official controls regulation is clear that the responsibility to enforce Union agrifood chain legislation lies with member states, whose competent authorities monitor and verify, through the implementation of official controls, that relevant Union requirements are effectively complied with and enforced.

My Department is one such competent authority and other Departments and State agencies also have a role in this regard. My Department will continue to meet its obligations in respect of the official controls regulation, irrespective of Brexit. From 1 January 2021, obligations to carry out official controls will continue to apply equally across all EU member states, including in respect of the need to carry out sanitary and phytosanitary checks on imports of animals and goods from all third countries, including Great Britain. In this regard, my Department has invested significantly in staffing, IT and infrastructure to ensure that it is able to continue to efficiently carry out the official controls on goods entering Ireland from Great Britain after the end of the transition period.

In simple terms, animal health, animal husbandry and processing standards are applicable throughout the country and the EU, and they will continue in full after Brexit. Our requirements do not change. What changes is the fact Britain becomes a third country, so the amount of those checks and balances we have to put in place will be greatly enhanced because of our very significant trade with Great Britain. It makes it all the more important to, hopefully, get a trade deal over the line in the next couple of days. While we would prefer it was not so late, we have all of our preparations in place to account for every eventuality. Irrespective of what happens in the coming days and weeks, there will be disruption and change on 1 January in terms of the role Great Britain will play as a trading partner.

Does the Minister of State expect that imports into third countries like Great Britain after 1 January will be subject to the same rigorous rules in respect of husbandry, processing and animal health? Will this be rigorously enforced to ensure that there will be no undermining of the standards that apply here and no undermining of the Irish producers in the context of what they are competing with?

That is a fair point. At the end of the day, we control what we control on the EU side, and we have to presume that what the final set of agreements is would have reciprocal approaches on both sides. What we have always wanted, both in Ireland and as part of the EU, is as close a working relationship as possible with Great Britain. A huge amount of our trade, particularly in the agrifood sector, goes both ways across the Irish Sea. Anything other than a close working relationship makes no sense for either of us. One would definitely hope that common sense prevails in that regard.

In the context of what we can control, we control our own measures. Irrespective of what is going to happen in terms of a trade deal and whether that can be struck in the coming days, the fact is that circumstances will change after 1 January. My Department, through the State agencies, is working closely with the Irish agrifood business and processors to make sure they are prepared for those changes in dealing with Britain as a third country.

Again, the most important thing in the kind of situation that is likely to emerge after 1 January is the degree to which the rules are enforced. Any breaches of the rules that go unchallenged would have a serious knock-on effect. Can the Minister of State be assured, and in turn reassure the House, that any breaches to introduce product into third countries and, subsequently, into EU countries will be vigorously contested and pursued?

What I can guarantee is that Ireland, at the heart of the EU, will maintain the integrity of the Single Market, which is critical. We see our place as being at the heart of Europe. We see the benefits for the Irish people, the Irish agrifood business, farmers and food producers to be at the heart of a European Union that is a trading bloc of 500 million people. As a very active member of that European Union, we will not allow the Single Market to be undermined and we will vigorously uphold that market. That is why the EU cannot accept proposals which impact on the integrity of the Single Market or that damage the long-term political or economic interests of the Union, of which we are an integral part. I assure the Deputy of that.

At the same time, we would like to see as close a working relationship with the UK as possible, and we are doing everything on our side to try to make that happen. For any deal to happen, there has to be agreement on both sides. We have always been extremely clear within the EU as to what our goals are around the level playing field and similarity of standards. We will continue to uphold them into the future.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.