Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

The next question is in the name of a Deputy who is not present. We will move on to the next question, in the name of Deputy Daly.

Question No. 5 replied to with Written Answers.

Aquaculture Industry

Pa Daly


6. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of aquaculture licence appeals currently pending in his Department. [38314/21]

Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an Aire mar gheall ar the aquaculture licences, and to ask him how many licence appeals are currently pending in the Department. Last year there was an issue with applications from Castlemaine Harbour, between Cromane Point and the town of Killorglin. Some applications had been languishing in the Department for up to four years. What plans are in place to perhaps review the whole situation in that area?

I thank Deputy Daly for his question. The Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, ALAB, is an independent body established by statute for the purpose of considering appeals of ministerial decisions in respect of aquaculture licence applications. The situation in respect of the number of appeals pending is an operational matter and one on which the board can respond directly to the Deputy. We will ensure that the Deputy is provided with the relevant information from ALAB.

There has been a challenge in recent years in relation to a backlog of licensing appeals within the Department in particular. That backlog then started to impact on the number of appeals that were forthcoming to ALAB. Significant work has been under way over the past number of years to get on top of that licensing situation and the backlog in terms of making licence decisions within the Department. Thankfully, it has now been addressed and we are in a situation whereby applications are being dealt with in a timely fashion as they are received. That is most important in relation to providing certainty to those who make applications. There has also been a significant issue in recent years where, as a result of the need for a different approach to licensing and for appropriate assessments to be completed on many of our bays, many of the licences had expired and applicants were given temporary licences, pending full consideration of the licence application. Thankfully, licences are being issued in a prompt fashion now.

The Department resources ALAB. It is an issue on which I have engaged with ALAB. We are willing to resource ALAB further to ensure that it is in a position to deal with the applications it has received. It is important that decisions are made and responses are given within a reasonable timeframe, right through the system, in respect of both initial decisions and appeals.

The Minister mentioned providing clarity. In respect of the area that I spoke about between Cromane Point and Killorglin, we all saw the devastation that was wrought on the tourism industry last year and this year. Given that industry is in such a precarious position, the aquaculture jobs are essential to the area. They provide supplementary income and part-time income to many small farmers and local people, many of whom have been farming oysters for generations. When many of the people made their applications, there seemed to be a blanket ban or a blanket refusal to grant applications in that particular area. Some of the information relied on in the decision-making was a report that dates back some years. I ask the Minister to consider committing to producing an updated independent ecological report for that area in order that clarity can be provided. If there is no point in applying for the licences, it should be made clear to applicants. If there is a chance, given the jobs are essential, I ask the Minister commit to the publication of a report for the applicants.

It is not appropriate for me to get involved or to comment on decisions that are currently with ALAB, specifically. ALAB operates statutorily separately from the Department and has to be given the opportunity to fulfil its statutory obligations to assess any appeals. I understand that there are appeals in respect of the applications and the areas to which the Deputy referred.

On a broader note, I must emphasise the importance and dedication of the Department in ensuring there is a timely approach to ensuring that licences are issued when applications are received and that the resourcing and supporting of ALAB is appropriate for it to fulfil the responsibilities on it.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. I am aware of his commitment to ensuring an effective licensing system. I am also aware of the importance of the aquaculture sector to his county, just as I am aware of its importance to mine.

I thank the Minister for the reply. He is aware of another area of Kerry, around Renard Point, where applications were made for oyster licences. That process was abandoned last year for various reasons but I believe it is up and running again. Is the Minister aware of whether there have been difficulties with notification in respect of licensing applications in the Renard area? Some local people who have expressed an interest in the special area of conservation have been inquiring whether the difficulties that arose last year regarding the submission of applications have been arising since the application process was reopened.

I thank the Deputy. I do not have the details on the application in question or the notifications associated with it because those details were not encompassed by the initial question. I will, however, have a note sent to the Deputy outlining the current position.

Agriculture Industry

Bernard Durkan


7. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he remains satisfied that the combination of Brexit and CAP reform will not negatively impede the development and viability of the agrifood export sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38178/21]

This question seeks to raise the possible double negative impact of Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, to try to ensure the future viability of the agrifood production sector and our exports.

I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this important point. As he will be aware, political agreement on CAP reform was reached at the end of June. The agreement strikes the right balance between ensuring a fair distribution of payments between farmers and achieving a higher level of environmental and climate ambition. This is a fair, flexible and farmer-friendly deal in the context of the many competing pressures we face in reaching a solution.

The agreement provides member states with the flexibilities required to implement the CAP in a way that best suits their national circumstances, more than has ever been the case. This flexibility was one of our key objectives, and we intend to use it as effectively and as fairly as possible to ensure that our CAP strategic plan, CSP, will be designed in a way that secures a sustainable future for Irish agriculture on all levels — economically, environmentally and socially. We cannot have one without the other; they are all interlinked, as our agrifood strategy for 2030 recognises, based on Ireland taking a food-systems approach.

As the Deputy will be aware, the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into effect on 1 January 2021. It creates a new framework for the future EU–UK relationship based on tariff and quota-free trading arrangements. Now that the UK is outside the Single Market and customs union, it is setting its own import policy, including in regard to controls on imports from the EU. The next phase of these controls will come into effect from 1 October 2021. All consignments of products of animal origin moved to or through Great Britain must be accompanied by an export health certificate and pre-notified to UK authorities.

My Department continues to refine its preparations, which include the deployment of the necessary staffing resources, IT systems and administrative processes to meet the requirements. Industry will also have a vital role to play in ensuring that these requirements can be met as seamlessly as possible, through consolidating and simplifying their official certification requirements to the greatest extent possible.

I am satisfied, as are my colleagues in the Department, that a collaborative approach, involving the Government and stakeholders, to meeting the challenges that lie ahead will ensure a viable agrifood sector.

I thank the Minister of State for his substantive reply. Does he remain satisfied that the negotiations on compliance with revised UK standards will be resolved to the satisfaction of the industry here? Is he satisfied that the steps being taken by the industry are sufficient to ensure the future viability of the sector, with particular reference to employment in our respective constituencies?

Absolutely. Deputy Durkan will be aware that the changes brought about by Brexit comprise entirely new ground for us. These are challenges that Irish agrifood businesses face. We in the Department are dealing with the agrifood businesses every day to make them as prepared as possible for all the next stages, with 1 October being another important date in the calendar for companies that export products of animal origin to or through Great Britain. We work really closely with those concerned. Extensive planning and trialling of all systems is ongoing to try to identify all the challenges we will face and to ensure our businesses will be as prepared as possible. We are taking the time we have to ensure businesses are aware of the challenges and informed about what is expected of them. There is a range of approaches. In my area, covering trade and market export, it is important that businesses are aware of the changes because there is now a new normal. Brexit has brought that about in that it has made Britain a third country. I am satisfied that every effort is being made and every step taken to ensure businesses are prepared for all the changes that are coming.

I thank the Minister of State again. Is he satisfied that there is in his Department a quick-response system that will identify the issues as they arise and attempt to clarify outstanding difficulties to ensure the streamlined continuity of exportation from the point of view of industry here and given the importance of the industry in the aftermath of Covid and the need for the economic recovery that we all long for?

The Minister mentioned Britain being a third country. One of the biggest effects of that is that it is free to negotiate deals with other countries. What impact, if any, does the Department foresee from the deal Britain has concluded with Australia, particularly concerning the importation of beef and the possible displacement of Irish produce? If Irish produce is to be displaced in Britain - even if it is not - live exports will assume a certain importance in Ireland. I do not know whether the Minister of State’s Department has any update on that. I do not expect him to have the information off the top of his head. I appreciate the fact that I am able to ask the question. If the Minister does not have the information off the top of his head, he might provide an answer in writing to either or both of the supplementary questions, which arise from Britain’s exit from the European Union.

It is not possible to touch on all the points raised here in the minute I have. The points Deputies McNamara and Durkan raised are valid. They relate to all the challenges Brexit presents. My Department has been preparing for this eventuality since before the people of Britain voted to leave. We have been working extensively on it since. Part of the work has involved examining our dependency on the UK market and reducing it. Previous Governments have been successful in reducing it. In my area, new market development, it is a matter of considering the opportunities. One such opportunity involves increasing our access to Japan’s beef market, on which we had great success in recent months. We are continuing our work in areas such as South Korea and trying to get our beef back into China through ongoing diplomatic efforts on my part and that of the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. That is important.

Our trade with the UK, resulting in a proportion of 37%, is really important. In response to some of the concerns raised by both Deputies, we take great heart from the fact that the British consumer has very high regard for Irish food produce and trusts it as much as indigenous produce. It is regarded as being way ahead of the produce of others. There are threats and challenges in this regard but we are taking every step we can. The work of my officials is ongoing to make sure we are as prepared as possible.

On export certification, to which Deputy Durkan alluded, there is a new normal and businesses need to prepare for it. There will be a need for them to be aware of the changes that are coming. Most of them are aware. We encourage all of them to engage with our Department so they will be aware of the challenges they face.

Common Agricultural Policy

Violet-Anne Wynne


8. Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the measures he plans to include in the CSP in order to redistribute funding to smaller and poorer family farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38543/21]

My question is on the measures the Minister plans to include in the CSP to redistribute funding to smaller and poorer family farms.

I thank the Deputy for her question. The aim of the CAP is to all support farmers across the community to continue to produce top quality and sustainable food. The redistributive mechanisms currently in place under pillar I of the CAP seek to create a more even payment landscape and target funds where they are needed most. These redistributive mechanisms comprise a core EU policy and are set to continue into the new CAP from 2023. The development of Ireland's CSP involves several stages, including a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, SWOT, analysis, in addition to a needs assessment, intervention design, financial allocations, target setting and governance systems. The draft CSP will be subject to an ex ante evaluation, strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment, including public consultation on the draft CSP and draft environmental report.

I continue to engage extensively with stakeholders on the future of CAP. Consultations on the development of the CSP will continue via the CAP consultative committee, which comprises representatives of the main stakeholders including farm bodies, NGOs, industry representatives and academia. This committee has met on 18 occasions and further meetings are planned.

The Presidency compromise package includes a suite of measures which will enable us to ensure the fair implementation of redistribution measures such as capping, convergence and complementary redistribution of income support for sustainability, CRISS, as it is known. The agreement strikes the right balance between ensuring a fair distribution of payments between farmers and achieving a higher level of environmental and climate ambition. It also provides member states with the flexibility required to implement the CAP in a way that best suits their national circumstances. This flexibility was one of my key objectives from the outset.

While agreement has been reached, further work remains on certain technical details of the proposed reforms. I expect to shortly bring a memo to Government and launch a public consultation on the draft interventions proposed for the CAP Strategic Plan. I will also continue to engage with stakeholders as we develop our CAP strategic plan 2023-2027.

Gabhaim buíochas for the information that the Minister has provided there. I refer to the flexibilities the Minister has held out for. These have left uncertainty as to what the final result will be, and most pressingly, whether it will abide by the status quo of favour to the bigger farmers or whether it will genuinely reallocate resources and do more to protect the small and medium-sized farmers. The 10% ring fence as a frontloaded payment, specifically with smaller farmers in mind, is one measure I know that has been mooted as a protection measure and I am aware that the Minister has referred to a few others there.

One would hope that there would be suite of measures being employed. The Clare farmers, in particular, have mentioned to me that access to and being able to avail of the eco schemes is of great importance to them and they are looking for clarity around that and a commitment that that will not impact on their single farm payment.

I thank Deputy Wynne for her comments. I will certainly be engaging now very comprehensively with farmers right across the country on the flexibilities that I delivered and it is important that we have those flexibilities at national level so that farmers can participate in framing our national plan that works for our country and that they have a role in that. This is very important to their incomes for the coming years and it is important that we had national capacity to frame that as opposed to it being decided at European level.

One of the key things I achieved and on which I very much set the agenda both at national level here and at European level was ensuring the capacity to significantly reduce the maximum payment under CAP from €150,000 in the current CAP to bring it down as low as €66,000 in the next CAP. That is something on which I will also be engaging with stakeholders over the coming period.

It is important that we ensure that CAP works well for farmers particularly on the eco schemes and while these deliver additional benefits it must ultimately be money that ends up in farmers' pockets. That will certainly be a key objective of mine on framing the final plan and in working with everyone it has affected.

It is very important to implement a definitive set of upper limit payments to avoid what happened last year, for example. We know that obscene payments were received by some individuals during the last CAP cycle, which some have called criminal. While the average smallholding and farmer struggled to make their vocation viable, reform is well overdue. The fact that the Minister has avoided responding to the call for the CAP strategic review to come before the Dáil does not exactly inspire confidence. Sinn Féin has and will continue to call for 100% convergence. If it was in place for the upcoming CAP cycle, for example, there would be an additional sum of more than €3 million streamed into the county of Clare. Can the Minister now commit not to deviate from the 10% front-loaded payment and to resume convergence in 2022 on the understanding that it is an incremental process and that we will need several years to reach that target? The fact that last year just 20 farms and 20 enterprises received €3.6 million when we know wealthy businessmen received €414,000 of European money is astonishing.

I thank the Deputy and call Deputy McNamara who wanted to come in on this question.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Some of the Minister's responses to my constituency colleague have been a bit short on detail but that, in fairness, may well be because the detail is just being worked out. I also appreciate that the negotiations have only been concluded very recently.

One of the things that the negotiations will allow is more co-funding being put into Pillar 2 and that is one of the most essential measures that the Minister and the Government can undertake to support small farmers, the farmers I and my constituency colleague represent in Clare, most of whom practise a very environmentally sustainable type of farming. They need, however, to be rewarded and protected in doing that. Is the Minister able to give a commitment that his Government will give the maximum co-funding possible, which is a greater percentage of a greater sum of money, for Irish farmers going forward?

I thank both Deputies Wynne and McNamara. First, to address Deputy Wynne, as I said to Deputy Carthy earlier on, I find it ironic listening to Sinn Féin being so insistent on Dáil involvement on the CAP strategic plan when it was its party's position that all of this should have been agreed at European level, that we would not have a role and that our hands would be tied on that. I fought hard to ensure that we would have the flexibilities to be able to frame our own national plan and to have farmer, stakeholder, and indeed Oireachtas involvement in shaping that and making those decisions.

On the issue of lowering the payment, that is something that I laid out at European level to ensure that we could bring it in. My objective was to bring it to €60,000 and €66,000 was the level achieved. I welcome the Sinn Féin support now for the position I had previously laid out on this.

On Deputy McNamara's point, he is completely correct. The co-funding on this is going to be very important and is something that I am engaging with my Government colleagues on and I will be doing everything I absolutely can to maximise this position. We also have the programme for Government commitment on the carbon tax which will be in addition to that.

Climate Action Plan

Seán Canney


9. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the increase in budget his Department will receive in 2021 to deal with the cost of implementing the Climate Action Plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37230/21]

On the climate action plan and the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 that is going through the House at the moment, can the Minister inform us what ring-fenced budget he has to assist farming and all of the works they will have to carry out in order to start to comply with climate action, where that budget is coming from and is it separate from what is there at the moment?

The first all-of-Government Climate Action Plan 2019 established sectoral emissions reduction targets for the first time. The target for agriculture was to reduce emissions by 10% to 15% by 2030. The climate action plan 2021 is currently being developed. This plan is seen as the key mechanism to deliver on the programme for Government commitment of a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide by 2030.

All sectors will need to contribute to this step-up of ambition, including agriculture. The climate action plan is scheduled to be finalised in the coming weeks and preparations are running in parallel with the Climate Change Advisory Council deliberations on carbon budgets.

Annual revisions to the climate action plan will focus on the near and medium-term perspectives, be consistent with the adopted carbon budget programme and provide a roadmap of actions, including sectoral actions that are needed to comply with the carbon budgets and sectoral emission ceilings. To bridge the gap between the Climate Action Plan 2019 and the new climate action plan 2021, the Interim Climate Actions 2021 was prepared following a consultation process across Government Departments and bodies. This was published in February 2021 with over a total of 250 measures, of which 50 are led by the Department and its agencies.

The funding of the 2021 climate action plan will be determined based on the final agreement on the targets for the agriculture sector. It is clear that the targets will be challenging on the sector and that a multifaceted approach will be required.

For my part, I secured additional funding of €79 million in the 2021 budget to support agriculture. I also maintained supports to the sector under the rural development programme continuing all the schemes in the transitional period in 2021. This is the first time that multi-annual contracts for GLAS and organics were continued in the transitional period.

In addition, the CAP strategic plan funding will be aligned to support the achievement of the targets.

It is clear, however, that the CAP funding alone would not necessarily be sufficient to address the level of transformation we require.

There is a lot in what the Minister has said, but the nub of the issue, or the question, is that we now face, as the Minister said, huge challenges in achieving the targets we have set out in the climate action Bill. Farmers want to be part of it. We have a huge amount of work to be done. We have a huge amount of research to be done as to how we will reach our targets. Underlining all that is the fact that there is a serious need to set out a separate, ring-fenced budget to make sure the farming communities are supported in achieving what we want to achieve nationally for climate action. I urge the Minister to make sure further funding is made available. While we are putting in place all these action plans and while a huge amount of paperwork is being thrown around the place, the fear is that, at the end of the day, the farmer will have to pay for a lot of it.

The point Deputy Canney makes is a good one in that while there will be increased ambition and asks made of farmers, it is important that this is done in a partnership approach and, in particular, that farmers are paid for the work and actions they are being offered to participate in. That has to be central to how we approach this. It will be an important part of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan. We also have the commitment in the programme for Government for carbon tax funding to be allocated to the agriculture sector to support the new flagship agri-environment scheme from 2023 onwards. That is really important. A central theme running through how we approach this is that where there is increased ambition and increased opportunity for farmers to participate in measures which will deliver significant benefit to the environment, their income is central to that and they should be rewarded for the work they do. Farmers have shown their appetite and willingness to play their part and to take a leadership role, but it is important we do that together and recognise in financial terms the work they are carrying out.

I agree with the Minister, but it is important to say that in microgeneration especially, as one example, there is huge potential, including the potential to create clean energy and to double back on the perception of agriculture as an offender in respect of carbon emissions. The problem is that at the moment supports are fragmented between the SEAI and all that goes on and getting connections to the national grid. There is, therefore, a need for a cross-departmental approach to this. Also, it is important that the farmer who wants to get involved is supported fully - and not in a tokenistic way or in such a way that he has to produce a lot of paperwork without getting the gain - because otherwise farmers will just turn their backs on this. They are frustrated by the huge amount of bureaucracy attached to every scheme. Can we just keep it simple?

I concur with a lot of Deputy Canney's sentiments as to how we approach this. As we go forward, we will identify the level of ambition that is required and then engage as to how that is supported financially and how farmers are supported in that work. There is undoubtedly real potential in respect of renewables. That is an area we are exploring and will continue to explore and that farmers are very keen to explore and get involved in too. That work will continue.

Farm Safety

Brendan Griffin


10. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to further promote farm safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38474/21]

The question relates to farm safety. It is a very important issue. I know it is an area the Minister and the Minister of State have prioritised so far during their Ministries. Will they update the Dáil not only on initiatives to date but also on initiatives that are planned in respect of this very important area?

I thank Deputy Griffin for raising what is a crucially important issue for us and a very timely one in light of the fact that next week is Farm Safety Week, when we bring an additional focus to the need for farm safety and for a change in the culture across how we operate on our farms and the unacceptably high level of farm fatalities on Irish farms.

To highlight the importance of farm safety, the Government, as part of my ministerial portfolio, assigned me specific responsibility for farm safety, and I am very proud to be the first Minister of State with such a responsibility. It is a key indication of the Government's determination that in our programme for Government we put a renewed focus on this area. As Deputy Griffin will be aware, over the past decade, 21 people on average have lost their lives on Irish farms every year. Recently, I attended the Embrace Farm service, and when you hear the individual stories and see the pictures of those who have lost their lives, from very young children all the way through the generations of farmers, it is absolutely heartbreaking and completely unacceptable. When you remember that 50% of workplace fatalities are attributed to agriculture, which makes up only 6% of the entire workforce, it is clear we are a complete outlier and that a change of culture is badly needed.

That is why my Department has a range of measures both in place and being put in place by me to incentivise and promote farm safety. First, there is the ongoing TAMS II scheme. Under the suite of seven TAMS measures, there is a wide range of farm safety-related investments available to be grant-aided. As part of the TAMS II schemes, health and safety guidelines are included in building specifications drawn up by the Department for the construction of agricultural buildings and structures. Additionally, it is a requirement for all applicants under the TAMS II schemes to complete a half day of farm safety training. We get really good feedback on that. Farmers may not be too enthusiastic going to the training but find great benefit in it afterwards. In my follow-up reply I will outline further some of the new measures we are bringing into place. This is about taking every opportunity, engaging with farmers, to continue to raise this really important issue.

An approach that sees every death on Irish farms as one death too many is very important. The Minister of State rightly pointed out the disproportionate number of workplace fatalities that take place on farms versus the wider workplace. I commend him on how enthusiastic he has been and the approach he has taken to date to this matter. We can look at statistics over a long period but, thankfully, this year has seen a reduction in the number of deaths. However, that is no consolation whatsoever to the families who are bereaved.

Has the Minister of State considered being more proactive in how we move forward on this such as by linking farm safety promotion to CAP? Is that something he would consider in the future?

Absolutely. My general approach is to make sure that in everything we do, we do not talk about farm safety as a separate issue. Every engagement my Department has with farmers is an opportunity to drive home the message of farm safety and to support the work of the HSA and others. I have seen from the start the opportunity CAP provides for us to incorporate farm safety across all measures in CAP to make sure it is central to what we do. I acknowledge the support of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, in achieving the ambition that this CAP will be the most focused on farm safety, that we will take that opportunity in every engagement, including with livestock handling, which is a high-risk area, and that the new livestock schemes will have safety training elements to them such that in every involvement farmers have with CAP, farm safety will be central.

I am really conscious of the fine weather coming this weekend and that farmers in Kerry, in Deputy Griffin's constituency, will be making hay, kids will be off school, and all the risks will be there. We need every farmer to identify the risks on their farm, mitigate them and take steps to make sure we do not have further instances over the summer and into the year ahead.

As someone who grew up surrounded by farms, I believe a focus on the wider community is important as well in order to emphasise to people that proximity to farms is a danger, particularly for small children. In those terrible conversations we have when we meet the bereaved and people who were lucky to survive farm accidents, the word "complacency" very often comes up in conversation. That seems to be one of the real dangers, that when you do something day in and day out all your life you sometimes drop your guard. A lot of the focus has to remain on that area.

I would welcome a comprehensive, all-encompassing approach to farm safety. In everything the Department does in regard to agriculture, it should be central to all messaging. That constant reminder would help address that complacency.

The CAP is a fantastic opportunity for us to do that, but there other measures I have introduced over the past year. My Department and I launched a call under the locally led innovation partnership model, specifically related to farm safety and a first for farm safety, at the end of 2020. It will see the provision of at least €1 million in funding support for farm safety initiatives. Initial project proposals were submitted in January and we were delighted to be overwhelmed with a large number of good-quality applications. Those projects that successfully progressed to stage 2 have submitted additional details and these are being assessed with a view to rolling out the final successful projects as soon as possible.

In addition, the Department and I, in conjunction with the Department of Finance, are finalising the accelerated capital allowance scheme for farm safety and disabilities adaptation equipment. When the scheme is up and running, relief will be available for eligible expenditure incurred since 1 January 2021. The scheme will provide for accelerated capital allowance at 50% per annum over two years for eligible specified farm safety and adaptive equipment. The Department and I will continue to work closely with our colleague the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the HSA on that important issue. There is also the initiative On Feirm Ground, regarding farmers' health and well-being, because the two issues are inextricably linked. I guarantee the Deputy that my determination and that of the Minister and the Minister of State at the Department, Senator Hackett, is to drive on with changing the culture regarding farm safety.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Aquaculture Industry

Holly Cairns


12. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the role of the salmon farming sector and its impact on local ecology and tourism will be reviewed. [38149/21]

In the same week we found out about the granting of a licence for a large salmon farm in Bantry Bay, Argentina effectively banned the practice due to its serious environmental implications. Bantry Bay is the latest of several recent aquaculture projects that locals are deeply concerned about. Will the Minister conduct a review of salmon farming and its impact on biodiversity, ecology and industries dependent on the local environment, such as fishing and marine tourism? So often community groups in west Cork have had to raise huge sums and devote a great deal of time to seek judicial reviews to right questionable decisions about this in regard to the environment. We cannot ask them to do that again.

All applications for aquaculture licences for the cultivation of salmon are considered in accordance with an extensive suite of national and EU legislation, including the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997, the Foreshore Act 1993, the EU birds and habitats directives and the consolidated environmental impact assessment directives of 2014. This suite of legislation provides for stringent consideration and consultation in respect of the environmental and ecological impacts of the proposed activity, as well as extensive consultation opportunities with both the public and statutory bodies regarding all aspects of the application including tourism.

All applications for salmon farm licences must be accompanied by a detailed environmental impact assessment report. This report forms a key element of the deliberative process and is fully assessed by my Department’s scientific and technical advisers. The reports are, furthermore, subject to scrutiny and assessment by a significant number of prescribed statutory consultees. The environmental impact assessment report and application form are also made available to the public as part of a public consultation process.

The statutory consultees include Bord Fáilte Ireland, whose role is to support long-term sustainable growth of the economic, social, cultural and environmental contribution of tourism to this country. The views of Bord Fáilte and of all statutory consultees, together with the views of the public as submitted as part of the public consultation process, are taken fully into account in arriving at a determination in respect of the aquaculture application. The consideration of the impacts on local ecology and tourism constitute an important element of my Department's consideration of any application for an aquaculture licence, and rightly so. It is a comprehensive and detailed assessment, with significant public consultation.

The granting of the salmon farm licence is against the wishes of a substantial number of local groups, including community organisations and fishing communities. The Minister referred to marine tourism but it is difficult to understand how this could ever benefit marine tourism. Campaigners, State agencies and businesses have repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of such an industrial farm. Sea lice from salmon farms can have a significant and detrimental impact on sea trout and wild salmon. Officials from the Department have identified issues with the company involved, including overstocking farms and harvesting higher quantities of fish than permitted under the licence. Moreover, one of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Creed, discounted a licence for a farm in Kerry.

I appreciate what the Minister said about reports and so on but he and I both know the reality of farming. Given what other countries are doing, it is difficult to understand why we are going in this direction. What will the Minister do for communities such as that in west Cork, who are deeply concerned about the economic and environmental impact of this salmon farm? Their only hope seems to be an expensive judicial review, which we have had to do so many times.

It is important that every aspect of an application be taken into account, and an important part of that is the ecological and environmental impact be fully assessed. The application and assessment process is rigorous in that regard and goes through it in great detail. As I pointed out, the list of consultees that make submissions is extensive, while the legislation, which has to be complied and against which any application has to be benchmarked, is comprehensive as well. All those issues are considered.

Our aquaculture and salmon farming sector is one that delivers significantly for our local economy. It can be done sustainably and we can continue to develop it sustainably too. Obviously, any applications have to be rigorously assessed. They have to meet all the tests and they do. Different people may have different views and that is why the public consultation process is there and why the public consultees are involved in order that they can feed in to that, with a fair and rigorous assessment made of all submissions before a final decision is made. It will be approved only if the application meets the required standards and tests.

Local concern about Bantry Bay is only one case from west Cork. There was a strong campaign to oppose an oyster farm application for Clonakilty Bay, a special area of conservation, while groups in Kinsale are objecting to a planned mussel farm, an application about which there is confusion due to an error that took place regarding initial public notice regarding the aquaculture licence. I would appreciate if the Minister could examine whether the community has been left feeling unclear and disenfranchised. I hear what he said about the system, but these issues are symptomatic of a dysfunctional licence system. In 2017, a review recommended a complete reform of the system.

I accept that the Minister has to read out his prepared contribution about the system in place, but the system is leaving itself open to legal action and intervention from European authorities. This, as well as more than 20 salmon farms currently operating with expired licences and without environmental impact assessments, has not been addressed. I understand what the Minister said and that he has to make these points, but what is he doing to reform the system more broadly? The system is dysfunctional and cannot go on like this. The business in question is operating without licences or environmental impact statements and continuing to get licences at the expense of fishing communities, the environment and tourism in the area.

It is not a matter of me having to say anything. These systems were not dreamed up; they were put together after rigorous engagement and in full compliance with all European and national laws, particularly environmental law and those relating to habitats and ecological requirements. It is a comprehensive and rigorous assessment-----

A report in 2017 recommended complete reform of the licensing system.

A robust system is in place. There have been significant-----

Why then would there be a-----

The report in 2017 was significantly concerned with the delays and backlogs that had developed up to that point. That is being worked through-----

The recommendations-----

-----and licences are being dealt with in a timely fashion. It is important to have a balanced approach to this. While the Deputy outlined the views of those who are opposed to salmon and oyster farming, many people in her constituency and others are very much in favour of it. It can, and does, contribute very positively to the economy and to producing sustainable, healthy food. We have to take a balanced approach, which is why a comprehensive and detailed licence process is important in reaching equitable and reasonable decisions.

Question No. 13 replied to with Written Answers.

EU Directives

Ruairí Ó Murchú


14. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the current supports and information channels available for farmers impacted by EU Directive 2019/904 prohibiting products in Ireland used to cover maize grown and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38310/21]

I had a short conversation with the Minister about this issue. I have been inundated with messages from farmers and contractors. I suppose it is an unintended consequence of the European directive on single-use plastic, which will affect those involved in growing maize. Is there is anything the State intends to do to mitigate these difficulties?

I thank the Deputy for his question. As required under the provisions in EU Council Directive 2019/904, the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications recently signed into force national regulations prohibiting the use of single-use plastics. This includes films of the type used to cover sown maize. I understand that the industry is developing alternative products for use in the sowing of maize that will comply with the new requirements set down by this EU directive.

In parallel, in terms of support for the sector, the Department recommenced value for cultivation and use, VCU, trials for uncovered maize in 2020 as a means to identify varieties better suited to Irish growing conditions that do not require plastic covering. This work will build on the 2015 uncovered recommended list in which a high-performing variety was identified and is currently available on the Irish market for growers.

Alternative means need to be looked at but, like anything, we do not have the transition period we would like. I have spoken to a number of contractors and farmers who have invested in serious plants that can only be used with these types of plastic. We are talking about people who have made an outlay of approximately €80,000. There is a need to engage with the stakeholders. If there are alternatives that are fit for purpose, this discussion needs to be had very quickly. That is the significant issue. There needs to be engagement with stakeholders. They will state that they are not quite sure these alternatives are fit for purpose and ready to go. Again, the difficulty for some of them arises from the fact that they have put a serious amount of money into this plant and did not see this coming. It is an unintended consequence which relates to the fact that there is no distinction between oxo-degradable plastic and other oxo-degradable material. Can anything be done at European or national level? Could a derogation or mitigation be secured, even in the short term?

I understand the challenges this pose. As already stated, the Department is conducting the VCU supporting trials for uncovered maize. We will look at any means by which we can support the industry to adjust to this. The background to what is happening is the EU directive on single-use plastics that was adopted in June 2020. This directive aims to prevent and reduce the impact of certain plastic products on the environment, particularly on the aquatic environment and human health, and promote the transition to a circular economy with innovative and sustainable business models. The directive is required to be transposed into national law and applied as of 3 July last.

We can all agree that the directive is important because 80% of marine litter is composed of plastic items and plastic does accumulate in our oceans and on our beaches and has a significant impact of which we have all become increasingly aware and to which we must respond. Obviously, this can present challenges but we must be cognisant of the impact of what we do as well. I take on board the points made by the Deputy and will continue to engage with the sector in any way I can to support it to adjust to this.

I agree with the Minister. Everybody accepts the difficulties that we face regarding plastic, waste and climate change. As a result, we all accept the necessary moves that must be made. It concerns the timeline. I welcome the fact that the Minister has spoken about supports and that the Department is looking at alternatives. I call on him to engage with those people who have contacted me. I would be only too willing to pass on their information. It is about reaching some sort of interim solution for them in order that maize production is not affected and we get to a better place with better alternatives. We would all be happier with that, including those people who have made contact with me. Again, the difficulty is that some of them have put a serious amount of money into new plant and were unaware that this was going to affect their business.

Approximately 14,500 ha of maize are grown in the country. As we have discussed, there are two types of system - the uncovered approach and the covered approach. The covered approach is a more expensive one. With the inputs, it is about €300 per hectare but the yields tend to be far more stable, higher and more weather-resistant. The evidence is that in the region of 90% of maize crops in the country are covered, while 10% are uncovered. It is, therefore, something that is posing a challenge and we must make every effort to find sustainable alternatives that do not have the negative impact of plastic. We all agree that this can be quite damaging. I am happy to engage with the sector in any way I can and to work with the particular constituency that has been in contact with the Deputy regarding these issues in order to try to address the challenge.

Gender Equality

Matt Carthy


15. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the articles of the new CAP he plans to avail of in order to increase the number of female farmers in Ireland, the additional measures he plans to put in place in order to address the low level of female farm ownership and the manner and type of supports that will be provided. [38159/21]

I am sure the Minister will agree that there are many female farmers across the country. The difficulty is that very few of them are recognised as such. The level of female farm ownership is pitifully low. I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts and proposals on how the next CAP plan and other measures can try to address that.

I thank the Deputy for this very important question. Gender equality is a key priority of my Department, one of the founding values of the European Union and a key objective of the United Nations sustainable development goals. The programme for Government includes commitments to develop and implement a new national strategy for women and girls and to act on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality. The Department will represent the interests of the agrifood sector in policy development on these commitments. The recently published draft agrifood strategy to 2030 recognises the importance of gender balance to the long-term sustainable future for primary producers and includes actions to promote and improve gender balance at all levels, including at senior management and board level.

The Central Statistic Office, CSO, labour force survey 2019 showed that 13% of workers in the primary agriculture, forestry and fishing sector were female. For 2020, the figure was 15%, the highest since 2010. The CSO’s 2016 farm structure survey recorded 71,700 women working on farms, of whom fewer than one quarter, or 16,100, were farm holders. In a European context, the number of women in farming has been slowly increasing and data from 2016 suggest that, on average, approximately 30% of farms across the EU are managed by women. That is significantly higher than the figure for Ireland, albeit with some considerable differences across countries.

The development of the CAP strategic plan, CSP, involves a number of stages, including a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, SWOT analysis and a needs assessment. The SWOT analysis in preparation for Ireland’s CSP identified gender inequality and the low levels of female participation in the agri-food sector, especially in leadership roles, as weaknesses, while the economic benefits of increasing female participation were identified as an opportunity. The needs assessment for the CSP points to the need to increase opportunities for women in agriculture and business development. A number of interventions were identified for consideration. They are LEADER programme-----

The Minister will get a chance to come back in. We are over time.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am glad to hear that he is considering this matter an important one that needs to be addressed. If we are to have a farm structure process across the country that is reflective of the reality on the ground, it must involve culture change and policy changes. A draft CAP plan was published on 11 June in terms of negotiations and contained two articles.

Article 72a states:

1. Member States shall adopt specific actions focused on promoting a greater inclusion of women in the rural economy, through interventions in line with the current regulation with the aim of contributing to the objectives... [and]

2. Member States may, in their CAP Strategic Plans, grant support to promote the involvement of women, inter alia, in knowledge transfer and information actions, advisory services, investments in physical assets, farm and rural business start-up and development, installation of digital technologies and co-operation.

They were removed from the final CAP agreement. The Minister may be able to shed some light as to why. Will he ensure that at a domestic level, those measures are included in our plan?

I again thank Deputy Carthy for putting this matter on the agenda. It is a matter we need to ensure is addressed as part of our CAP plan. Earlier, I outlined some of the interventions that were identified for consideration. The LEADER programme, CPD for advisers, knowledge transfer programme and national supports, including the ACORNS programme have been identified as opportunities here.

Under the rural innovation and development fund, the Department has provided funding support for the ACORNS programme for several years. This has been successful in supporting female entrepreneurs living in rural areas to start new businesses or who have recently started a business, through peer support and collaboration to develop and expand them.

I have continued to engage extensively with stakeholders on the future of CAP, including supports to promote gender equality. Consultations on that are ongoing and will continue. I welcome any ideas or initiatives anyone may have in this regard. We need to make significant progress on the matter on which we are underperforming to the detriment of our agriculture sector. I am very much open to working collaboratively on any suggestions to improve the situation.

I thank the Minister for his response. Just as we need more young people to enter farming, we also need more women, which will make farming a more successful endeavour and ensure it makes an even more positive contribution to our society. The evidence we have seen in other sectors is that statutory bodies such as Teagasc must be obliged to ensure that women enter training and education programmes, along with other measures. The CAP can play a role by providing financial supports and encouragement. We all have a role to play in encouraging farm families to move beyond the notion that it is the eldest son or another son who automatically takes over the farm. Farms can become richer and better places if a broad spectrum of young people and women are entering that process.

Thankfully we have seen improvement in recent years. It has been refreshing for the sector to see an increasing number of women take up leadership roles, including running and managing farms. Some of the most high-profile, innovative, productive and passionate farmers are women and are leading the charge in that regard. Much of the generational renewal that is happening now is bringing significant improvement in that regard. It is important to bring balance and more gender equality throughout the agrifood sector, particularly at primary producer level. I am very happy to work together to facilitate bringing about that cultural change which will bring real benefit for the agrifood sector.

Aquaculture Industry

Holly Cairns


16. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the public consultation in process relating to an aquaculture licence application by a company (details supplied) in County Cork. [38152/21]

I touched on this issue earlier. A company applied for a mussel farm licence in Kinsale Harbour in January 2019 after which a public information process followed. A few weeks ago, another public notice appeared in local publications stating that there was an error in the previous notice, including ambiguous language around people or groups resubmitting objections. I ask the Minister to clarify the status of the public consultation process for this application. He has talked about the process being foolproof and well thought out but on the application we discussed earlier, the Department rejected the application which was appealed and a licence granted based on assessments done by the company, not the Department.

The Department considers all applications for aquaculture licences in accordance with the provisions of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997, the Foreshore Act 1933 and applicable national and EU legislation. The licensing process involves consultation with a wide range of scientific and technical advisers, as well as various statutory consultees. The legislation also provides for a period of public consultation.

In addition, the legislation governing aquaculture licensing provides for an appeals mechanism. Appeals against licence decisions are a matter for the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, which is an independent statutory body.

In accordance with the applicable legislation, the statutory and public consultation phase in respect of the application referred to is now concluded. Every effort is being made to expedite a determination in respect of this application having regard to the complexities involved. As this licence application is under active consideration as part of a statutory process, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the matter.

We have two interconnected issues here. First, we have another aquaculture project in a heavily used and important bay, this time adjacent to one of Ireland's premier tourist destinations. There is considerable concern over the environmental impact and the lack of clarity on the safeguards that may be put in place. Second, there is confusion over the second public notice. In particular the language about resubmitting objections was unclear to members of the public, who are the intended audience. With this in mind, the objection period should be reopened both to allow public consultation in the fullest sense and to remove uncertainty, which would inevitably lead to appeals on any decision. Those in the community have genuine issues with the potential impacts on their local environment. Crucially they have a right to be properly heard in these public consultations.

As Minister, my role is a policy one, that is, putting in place the legislation for this procedure. The process of dealing with the applications is one on which the independent Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board is statutorily independent. I cannot get involved in particular cases one way or another. Obviously, the Deputy can make her views known on that but it is a matter that should be addressed to ALAB, as opposed to the Minister. It is not appropriate for me to get involved a case that is under consideration by the appeals board.

The application was first submitted in January 2019. A few weeks ago, they put in a new notice that was completely unclear. The language was ambiguous and nobody could understand what it meant. Therefore, I am asking the Minister to reconsider it. I have outlined the flawed process and echoed the concerns raised by constituents. I ask him to act in good faith and accept their request for another public consultation that is unambiguous in its call for any submissions. This also highlights my earlier comments about the dysfunctional licensing system, which needs significant reform.

We referenced the 2017 review of the aquaculture licensing system as identifying delays. It also identified the need for more stringent enforcement proceedings for non-compliance with licence conditions. What is the Minister doing to address this and to address the cases where licence conditions are being breached? The licensing system cannot be unclear and be allowed to change randomly to suit businesses. The one in Bantry was refused by the Department, appealed and granted based on assessments done by the company, not by the EPA or by the Department. There must be more consistency in the licensing process. I ask the Minister to act in good faith on these issues because there will be appeals, which is an expensive process. It is unfair on communities to have to take this up again.

The nature of an appeal process is that the appeals body can overturn as well as agree with the decision made initially. That is a matter for it to consider in accordance with the legislation. The legislation is comprehensive, taking into account all environmental considerations and the potential impacts of an application. The application the Deputy is referring to is under the consideration of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board. It is a matter entirely for it. It would be unfair to assume that an appeals body can only make a decision in one direction. It must look at every decision in detail in a way that fully assesses all the legal requirements on it and then come to a decision consistent with those laws and regulations. That is the approach that the Department in its initial decision and the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board must follow.