Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Climate Action Plan

Darren O'Rourke


6. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether the forestry targets in the climate action plan are sufficiently ambitious; his plans to achieve or surpass them in view of the ongoing challenges in the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60843/21]

I ask the Minister about the climate action plan targets for forestry. First, what are they because it is not entirely clear and we have not seen the annexe? What is his understanding of the commitment? Is the figure 8,000 ha per annum and, if so, will that be enough? When will the annexe be printed? How many hectares have been planted this year?

The climate action plan 2021 highlights the importance of forestry in removing from and storing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ireland's forests are a net sink of carbon dioxide and the timber produced also stores carbon in long-lived harvested wood products.

It is for this reason that the climate action plan recognises the importance of maintaining our forest areas, preventing deforestation and increasing the amount of wood used in construction. It also highlights the importance of afforestation.

The Climate Action Plan 2021 sets an afforestation target of 8,000 ha per year, which builds on the significant amounts of afforestation carried out since the 1990s. This target is ambitious when compared with recent afforestation rates and will be challenging to meet in the next decade. However, it something we must achieve. My Department is committed to addressing the current barriers, particularly with regard to licensing - especially afforestation licensing - which have, as we have seen, resulted in low afforestation rates in recent years.

Project Woodland, which I established earlier this year, is examining a number of work streams. This includes a focus on reducing the backlog in licensing, which is having an effect across the board in respect of licence output. It has also initiated a regulatory review, through which we will be looking at efficiencies in work processes with regard to how we deliver on licences.

Key to the success of increasing afforestation rates is the building of confidence among landowners and farmers regarding the benefits of forestry. The forestry programme has a wide range of generous grants and premiums to incentivise landowners to plant trees. I am aware that some stakeholders are calling for higher afforestation targets, in excess of 8,000 ha. That may well be required but we have to try to get on the right track and start planting the trees we need to plant. That is where we need to get to. That is what we aspire to.

I will quote directly from the climate action plan, which states: "Afforestation is the single largest land-based climate change mitigation measure available to Ireland." That means that this is incredibly important and that we have to get it right if we are to have any hope. The plan states that land use, land use change and forestry, LULUCF, emits a net total of 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, although there is work still to be done on those figures. We are entering a period of carbon losses from forestry as harvesting outstrips growth and regrowth. We have missed our targets since 1996. There is something fundamentally wrong here. The State needs to lead from the front on this. What is the current backlog for licensing? How many hectares have the State and its agencies planted this year?

We absolutely accept that there are significant issues with regard to licensing and getting licences out there. It may be worth noting that in the region of 5,000 ha are currently licensed for planting that are not being planted, for whatever reason. It is important that we understand those reasons and find out why landowners who have been issued with licences to plant have chosen not to. That is also a concern. I ask that landowners who have received licences to plant to please do so. We are entering the time for planting at the moment. It is important that we get those trees in the ground. It would be worthwhile to reach out to those individuals to ask why they have not planted because others are scrambling to get licences which are not forthcoming.

I thank the Minister but none of that inspires confidence at all. We know that the decisions and measures we take today will have an effect in the future. The chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, CCAC, clearly told the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action yesterday that there is a need to act quickly, to get this done correctly, to be ambitious and not just to wonder why we are reaching our targets, but to actually deliver on them and increase our ambition. We also heard these comments in the media. I ask again, what is the backlog in respect of licences? Are the State and its agencies leading from the front? How many acres have they planted? Forward counting was provided for by the CCAC. Is this something the State is going to do? This has been reported in the media. I have concerns about that. Is the State going to begin forward counting in respect of forestry?

I will allow Deputy Bacik to speak before the Minister of State comes in.

I will follow on from my earlier question, in which I raised concerns about delays in the issuing of licences for forestry, as it fits in with this question. I just wanted to confirm a point. I believe the Minister of State said that just 50 licences were issued in November.

They were for afforestation, yes. The Minister of State said she was hopeful that we would reach 4,000 by the end of the year.

The problem is the lack of detail as to how we are going to meet the targets in the climate action plan and how forestry targets will fit within that. I thank the Minister of State for confirming that the detailed annex to the climate action plan, including a timeline, will be published before the end of the year, which would be within the next three weeks. Will she confirm whether it will be published next week, before the Dáil finishes sitting next Thursday? It is crucial that climate spokespersons in the Opposition have a chance to look at that, debate it and see how we propose to reach those ambitious targets on forestry, afforestation, Project Woodland, the development of farm forests, as endorsed by Teagasc, and so much more.

In the climate action plan, the target for sequestration from forestry post 2030 is 2.1 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, but that is premised on the assumption that we will plant 8,000 ha of new forestry each year. There is not a hope that we will reach that goal. The Minister of State asked why farmers who have licences are not planting. She has asked that question three times that I am aware of in Dáil debates. She has said it would be interesting to find out why. Why has she not asked them? I can tell her what those I know who have such licences are saying. They tell me that the experience of ash dieback has had a big impact and acts as a disincentive for even those who have licences to enter forestry. There is also a backlog in felling and roads licensing for those who have previously planted. The potential to enter into the agri-environmental scheme is particularly important. There is also a need for a specific payment to encourage the planting of broadleaf species, which are much more popular within communities. Is the Minister of State going to do any of those things or resolve any of those matters?

There is no doubt but that there are some significant challenges ahead in getting farmers and landowners engaged in planting. We are looking at incentivising small-scale planting. These would be non-commercial plantations of native species. These could be counted towards our carbon inventory. I am hopeful that we will have something on that very soon and that we will be able to roll out something for landowners, perhaps next year. This will not involve the jumping through hoops required for forestry licensing, which is onerous. The independent regulatory review is also looking at the concerns and the delays in the system from the day a farmer or forestry company decides to plant trees onwards. It will examine the process and try to identify where the issues are. We have tried to address the issues. We have put in more resources and more people. While there have been net improvements, we are not where we need to be. That is why this regulatory review will be crucial. It will hopefully uncover where those backlogs are throughout the system. I do not have current figures on the backlogs with me but I will have them sent on to the Deputies.

Will the Minister of State refer to the annex?

I do not have a date for the annex. I hope it will be published in the coming weeks.

Common Fisheries Policy

Pádraig MacLochlainn


7. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the share of the fish quota in the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ, under the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, for the Irish fishing fleet; the overall share or percentage of the fish quota in the Irish EEZ under the CFP allocated to the Irish fishing fleet; and the overall share and percentage of the fish quota in the Irish EEZ under the CFP allocated to the fishing fleet of each of the other European Union member states by species in tabular form. [60426/21]

This question seeks to establish definitively the position of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in respect of the percentage of fish from Irish waters allocated to the Irish fishing fleet under the CFP. I refer to the Irish exclusive economic zone. I seek to establish that percentage. As the Minister will know, the fishing industry argues that the percentage is 15%. I understand that the Department has argued that it is over 40%. This information is fundamental because, if the extent of the problem is not accepted, how can it be solved?

I thank the Deputy for his question. This is one I have answered on many occasions previously. I welcome the opportunity to clarify this matter again. I hope this information will be helpful to everyone.

Under the CFP, EU fishing fleets are given equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds, subject to allocated fish quotas and the rules of the CFP. There are restrictions on access within the 12-nautical-mile zones of member states, including ourselves. Quotas for the various fish stocks are allocated for management areas, as set out by the scientists of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, ICES, who assess stocks and detail ICES areas. The quotas for various stocks are allocated for those ICES areas, rather than for member states' EEZs. For example, the total allowable catch for the hake stock is in ICES areas 6 and 7, and that area stretches from the north of Scotland down to the northern coast of Brittany and into the English Channel. This area includes parts of the Irish, UK and French EEZs and some international waters. Ireland's quota for that stock may be fished in any part of this area. In addition, Ireland's main mackerel quota covers ICES areas 6 and 7, stretching from the north of Scotland to the north coast of Brittany. The full quota may be fished in UK waters off the northern North Sea, and normally is, because it is fished primarily early in the year and in that area. Access to the northern North Sea in particular is economically important for our fleet for that reason.

Regarding Ireland's 200-mile zone, and the fisheries catch taken there, the Marine Institute has estimated the landings from the Irish EEZ for the top 25 species from 2015 to 2019. These figures show that, overall, Irish vessels take 35.5%, by weight, and 38.8%, by value, of the landings from the Irish EEZ. The total value of Ireland's fish quotas for 2021 is approximately €229 million.

I believe there is such a thing as lies, damn lies and statistics. If we look at the stock book from the Marine Institute from 2020 and at the total tonnage taken, and its overall value, it will be seen that the total value of the Irish catch was €251,563,000. That was out of a total catch taken from Irish waters by all the EU fleet of €1.62 billion. This is where this 15% comes from. I just checked the stock book for the most recent year, and the catch for last year was even lower - down to €180 million. This is the problem. If the Minister's officials cannot get their head around what we are getting out of our waters for our Irish fleet, how can we ever resolve this issue? We are in serious trouble here if they do not accept the scale of the injustice.

The detail is very important in this regard. I am fighting the battle all the time at European level to try to maximise our fish quotas. I will be in Brussels on Sunday and Monday, once again fighting the battle regarding our national fish quota. We were also fighting that at the last Council meeting. Ireland was the only EU member state to vote against the proposal. I voted against it because I disagreed with it. I will fight that battle at every opportunity to do the best we can for our fishermen and to try to maximise our quota. That has been my form at every opportunity since I was appointed as the Minister.

The facts and the figures are important. It is important that there is clarity in this regard if we are fighting that battle. The scientists at the Marine Institute are the people who keep these figures. I have outlined to the Deputy today, as I have on many occasions before, what the figures are, namely, 35.5%, by weight, and 38.8%, by value, of the landings from the Irish EEZ. That amounts to two thirds of our total catch, because the other one third is caught in British waters. That is the factual position as established by the authorities that monitor this aspect and that do the fullest and best possible assessment of the reality.

I know the Minister engages with the producer organisations and the relevant representative groups. However, I ask if he will sit down with the four main producer organisations, the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation, the Irish Fish Producers Organisation, and the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, his Department's officials and representatives of the Marine Institute to reach agreement as to what the percentage is in this regard. Those organisations produced the stock book for 2020 for me, and it does not make for good reading concerning the most up-to-date figures from 2020-2021. That is where we are at right now. The situation is even worse after Brexit, as the Minister is aware. This is critical because the Minister is about to go into the December Council meeting and this is the year when the quotas are agreed. There was no burden sharing after Brexit and there was no fairness. The Minister must try to rebalance this situation. Will the Minister engage with those producer organisations, try to get an accurate and agreed number and then go and fight for it in Europe?

This is an issue that I have discussed with the producer organisations before, one I have clarified and one that the Marine Institute does a full assessment of. I outlined the challenges in that regard in my response. The quota areas, which are based on ICES areas, do not reflect economic zones. Regarding the most accurate assessment possible in respect of calculating this figure, the Marine Institute, which is the body that does that task, has calculated that we take 35.5% of the volume and 38.8% of the value of fish caught in 200-mile EEZ. On top of that, we catch an additional one third in British waters. That was why continuing to have access to British waters was so important coming out of Brexit and such an important strategic objective as well.

I will never believe that this share is enough and I will always fight for us to have more. I have fought that battle at European level every time and I have fought it consistently since I was appointed. However, this is the starting point in respect of the best possible assessment of what the figures are and what the reality is.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Departmental Investigations

Peadar Tóibín


9. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of commissions of investigation currently ongoing under the remit of his Department; the duration of each commission of investigation; the deadline for each commission of investigation; and the actual and projected cost of each commission of investigation. [54098/21]

This question is about investigations in the Department. I am concerned with one investigation in particular. The farm nutrient management scheme in the North of Ireland provided funding for the improvement of animal waste storage. The scheme cost more than £200 million and nearly 4,000 farmers participated in the scheme. It is alleged that the tanks constructed under the scheme are now leaking raw emissions into the environment. Have any incidences of leakages of these raw emissions been investigated in the waterways that cross the Border into the South? The Minister is a Donegal man, and that county would be exposed to these potential leaks.

I thank the Deputy. He will get a chance to come back in.

I thank the Deputy. He requested information the number of commissions of investigation currently ongoing under the remit of my Department and the duration and cost of each of those. The Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 provides for the establishment of commissions of investigation that can investigate matters of significant public concern. To be clear, no commissions of investigation are currently under the remit of my Department. As regards the duration or actual or projected costs involved, there are none.

This is unusual because, in 2003, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the North of Ireland introduced a farm management nutrients scheme in accordance with the European Parliament legislation to prevent farm pollution. Some 4,000 farmers participated in the scheme and the specifications set out for the scheme involved the construction of new, impermeable slurry tanks and dirty water storage tanks in compliance with the EU nitrates directive. That code required that all concrete structures designed and constructed under its terms must pass the seven-day leak test before use.

It is alleged that what was then the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the North of Ireland illegally gave a waiver allowing for construction without a seven-day test. I understand that this happened under the former Ministers for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew and Michelle O'Neill, and continued up to the current Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots. Has the Department here investigated the possible damage being done to watercourses in the south of Ireland by leaks from the slurry tanks in the North? Has the Minister spoken to the Department in that regard or sought to have this investigated? This matter has been raised with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, but it has said that it is not investigating it. I have also raised this question with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and it stated that it is not investigating this topic. I raise this issue with the Minister because he is from Donegal and this concerns the watercourses in his county.

I thank the Deputy.

This is not something that has been raised with me as an issue. It is a matter best addressed to the Northern Irish Administration since it is a question specifically for the latter.

On our work on protecting water quality and ensuring the appropriate management of all farmyard nutrients, we have put massive investment in through the targeted agriculture modernisation, TAMS, on-farm investment schemes. Farmers across the country have put in significant resources of their own, assisted by Government supports through those grants to radically transform the facilities on each farmyard in the country over the last two or three decades. A very different infrastructure is in place now. It is something we continue to build on because it is really important that while we farm and produce food really well, it is done in such a way that water, our natural environment and biodiversity are protected. That is fundamental to our approach.

Before Deputy Tóibín comes back in, I ask him to avoid mentioning people's names if he could. That is the practice in the Dáil.

I will not mention them. I appreciate that this matter may not have come across the Minister's desk so far. This is why I am raising it with him today. This crisis in the North could be as big as the cash for ash scandal. Some 4,000 farmers were told that they built correctly and £121 million of grant funding was given. A total of £212 million was spent on these tanks. If they are leaking they will have to be fixed, which will cost hundreds of millions of euro. There were be pollution damage which will cost millions of euro to ameliorate. Farmers may have to reduce their stock while the tanks are fixed and so on. This is an all-Ireland issue. Watercourses do not stop at the Border. I ask the Minister to use his good offices. Gemma Brolly, an Aontú representative for East Derry, has already questioned the Minister, Mr. Edwin Poots MLA, on this and he has not answered the questions. Given how serious this is, will the Minister hold conversations with the Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in the North?

I have no doubt that the Northern Irish Administration takes as seriously as we do the importance of ensuring that nutrients are well managed and facilities of the highest standards are in place on each farm to do that. We give massive grants of between 40% and 60% to support farmers to put in place slurry tanks, sheds and appropriate handling facilities. Farmers take it really seriously. It is something I take very seriously. Our environment is absolutely crucial to us and central to that is the appropriate use of organic manure and fertilisers and appropriate storage of them. We will continue to take that very seriously here and I have no doubt that the Northern Irish Administration will do so also. If the Deputy has particular questions about this matter, he should direct them to the Northern Irish Administration.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Common Agricultural Policy

Aindrias Moynihan


11. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the range of measures that were considered for the new CAP farm eco-scheme; if measures such as milk recording and the use of sexed semen or improving herd economic breeding index, EBI, were considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60773/21]

To have the most meaningful impact on the environment we need the greatest level of participation from farmers. The various schemes should include actions that will engage the maximum number of farmers from right across the different enterprises in order to get the best impact on the environment. Will the Minister outline the measures he has been considering and the rationale behind including some and not others?

I thank the Deputy for raising this today and for engaging with me intensively in recent months on the issue of putting together a CAP that will serve farmers well. I particularly acknowledge his representations on ensuring eco-schemes are available that will serve all farm types. I am glad to inform him that following the consultations I have done with him and other Oireachtas representatives, and considering the various ideas and suggestions put forward, I was able to announce an additional five eco-schemes. I also carried out extensive public engagements across the country and held a public meeting with farmers in every county to assess their ideas and suggestions, receive their feedback on the draft CAP plan, and discuss how we needed to update it to ensure it would serve the sector and farmers well over the coming years. There is now a range of eco-schemes in place which will serve agriculture, farmers and, importantly, the environment. These include: leaving aside a certain percentage for space for nature on farms; rewarding extensive livestock production; limiting chemical nitrogen usage; planting native trees on farms; soil sampling and appropriate liming; enhanced crop diversification; and sowing multispecies swards.

The Deputy mentioned the issue of milk recording within eco-schemes. The European Commission is very clear in its guidance that eco-schemes designed solely for the purpose of collecting data do not seem appropriate. That is the feedback we had from the Commission in respect of milk recording. We did explore the matter, and the Deputy and many others raised it with me. It was not regarded as being appropriate. However, I do believe there is a very strong suite of measures in place having taken on board the Deputy's representations and feedback from farmers across the country.

I thank the Minister for those details. I acknowledge that he has taken feedback on board and made modifications and extensions with those five options, making the process more accessible and meaningful for farmers. Can he outline the options that were considered and did not make it? One of those schemes focuses on working in co-operation with neighbours on adjacent farms. There are areas where it will not be possible to get all of the farms around involved in the scheme. Maybe somebody is letting out land or neighbours are not seeing eye to eye. We will end up with some farmers being excluded. Is there some measure to get the maximum benefit in an area so that people would not be excluded in that situation?

The key objective I have had is to include options which will ensure that every farmer can participate. I want every farmer to participate. It is really important on every farm type that the interaction with the environment, the synchronicity between agricultural production and the environment are fully considered and taken cognisance of in terms of farming practice. The objective behind the CAP is to further improve that environmental ambition while also ensuring that we focus on farm profitability. We want farmers to participate in the eco-schemes. We wanted to make a range of measures available which would provide options for everyone. The suite we have in place now provides real opportunities for everyone, including those who may be leasing land. For example, reduced chemical fertiliser user and enhanced crop diversification in the tillage sector are really important.

I want to focus back in on the point about those who are not just dealing with their own farm but taking in a commonage or land along a body of water body, for example. It is going to give much more meaningful environmental benefit if there is a larger number of people involved and the action is being taken across a wider area. There are situations where it may be on commonage or the landowner may not be interested in engaging. Not only are we losing the environmental benefit in that case but also the other farmers may not be able to go in on that scheme. That is the one that pays better but they will end up having to be on the individual action scheme. If there was some way of ensuring that people who wanted to get on that wider area with a large number of participants would be able to engage and would not be locked out because of somebody not wanting or being unable to participate.

The eco-schemes will run alongside the new agri-environmental scheme, which will pay up to a maximum of €10,000 to farmers participating in co-operative measures. Up to a maximum of €7,000 will be paid to those in the standard environmental scheme. The range of options in the eco-schemes in Pillar 1 will give opportunities to everyone. We encourage everyone to participate, make an environmental contribution and, importantly, draw down 25% of the Pillar 1 payment.

Under Pillar 2, there is also a really strong suite of options. Farmers will be paid to address further our biodiversity challenges, on which they will continue to lead. There are also incentives to reduce emissions. Overall, the CAP is a really strong one that has farm incomes at its core and that fully supports the effort to address our biodiversity and emissions-reduction challenges.

Exports Growth

Neale Richmond


12. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to expand the number of trading destinations of Irish agrifood exports in view of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60845/21]

As we know, the vast majority or a large proportion of Irish agrifood products have gone and will continue to go to Great Britain. However, Brexit has changed the trading situation utterly. What efforts are the Minister of State and his Department making to diversify the trading destinations of Irish agrifood produce?

I thank the Deputy for his question and ongoing interest in this area. While the immediate threat of Brexit may have passed, we must continue to prepare for the full reality of our new trading relationship with our nearest neighbour. The promotion of Ireland's high-quality, safe, nutritious and sustainably produced food is a core objective of my Department and the relevant Government agencies, especially Bord Bia. This has been a particular interest of mine since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for new market development. Along with developing new markets for Irish produce, we must protect our strong position as a trusted nation in existing markets.

Encouragingly, despite an extremely challenging 2020 and 2021 as a result of Brexit and Covid-19 issues, Irish agrifood export performance has remained very resilient, with exports for 2020 totalling €14.3 billion and exports in 2021 to date, including those to the United Kingdom, continuing to grow.

My Department, in close collaboration with industry, has invested significant resources, both financial and political, in developing new markets for Irish food in a wide range of places, including continental Europe, the United States, China, Japan and the Middle East. The Government's commitment to this strategy is clearly demonstrated by the additional funding that has been provided to Bord Bia in recent annual budgets. This funding has supported Bord Bia's extensive marketing and promotional activities, in addition to individual companies that are establishing and expanding their presence on international markets.

Another component of our strategy to develop and diversify markets is ministerial trade missions. Despite the challenges presented by Covid-19, the Minister and I have led several virtual trade missions and other key customer engagements in 2021. These have focused on Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, China, Singapore and West Africa, in addition to our traditional markets in the European Union and the United States. In 2022, provided the public health situation will allow us to implement our plans, we will have an extensive schedule of in-person trade missions in several key target growth markets for Irish food exports.

I thank the Aire Stáit. A couple of really interesting points have been raised but, considering the difficulty that Covid-19 presented to trade missions, we are only scratching at the surface of the potential of a wide range of new markets. I would like to ask about co-ordination and co-operation between Bord Bia and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am referring to the notion of Ireland House model, whereby officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the traditional agriculture counsellor, and officials from Bord Bia could work with Tourism Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Irish embassies to realise all the opportunities, particularly in the agrifood export sector.

I would like to tease out the opportunities associated with existing and potential trade deals involving Irish agrifood exporters. In this regard, we are talking about the roll-over, the deal with Mexico and the opportunities relating to desiccated milk. We are also talking about the opportunities presented by the huge trade deal with Japan, as the Minister of State mentioned, and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.

The Deputy is dead right. There are significant synergies. There is a need for interdepartmental co-operation and co-operation with our State agencies. I am aware of several Ireland House-type arrangements, particularly in the EU, whereby the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia are all in under the one area. In recent years in my Department, there has been a really significant investment in agriculture attachés, who are based in embassies in our key markets. When travelling or participating in virtual trade missions, we see the important work they do on the ground to help to make progress on the local intricacies in every area for Irish companies that are seeking to enter or expand in a market. We are trying to navigate the local political circumstances also.

The Deputy referred to the many opportunities we have, including in Mexico and Japan. These are all places where we have agricultural attachés working with our diplomatic teams in the embassies and Bord Bia, which has great staff all around the world.

That is really interesting. It is really drilling down into the importance of the entire brand of Ireland. Ireland is known as a good food-producing country, a sustainable food-producing country with very high standards. We saw the great opportunities that existed in respect of getting people into markets such as China and the United States over the years. It is a matter of considering co-ordination in the coming years, identifying export markets that are environmentally and economically sustainable and ascertaining how they relate to our overall political objective of maximising the potential of EU trade deals and, crucially, the potential of the EU Internal Market. The latter tends to be undermentioned. Despite Ireland’s having been a member of the EU for nearly five decades, it is not getting the most out of the EU Internal Market. We must remember this. Going into 2022, we might double our efforts in this regard.

I commend Deputy Richmond for asking this question. On his final point, I agree we did not utilise the EU market outside Britain sufficiently. There is scope for growth in the EU market. This must be based on a premiumisation model whereby we compete based on the quality and sustainability of our food rather than on price or the quantity exported. We cannot win a race to the bottom but we can win a race to having top-quality, sustainable food produced a relatively short distance from where we can have the biggest impact. Crucially, we need to ensure that, when we find and open new markets, the people who benefit will be our primary producers. It is all for naught if it just results in our processors the big retailers securing more profit, which has happened in the past.

Both Deputies are right. Already, about one third of our food and drink exports go to the EU. There is potential for further growth. I witnessed that at first hand when I attended the Anuga Food Fair in Cologne in October. The European team of Bord Bia was there engaging with many companies across the spectrum.

When Deputy Carthy talked about the premiumisation of the market, he was absolutely right. It is the Government policy, as outlined in Food Vision 2030, which refers not only to environmental sustainability but also to economic sustainability for our primary producers. We intend to grow the value of our exports from €14 billion to €21 billion during the lifetime of this plan, not necessarily based on quantity but on quality, premium markets and the objective of getting a higher return for our produce for our primary producers and agrifood businesses. This is interlinked with our approach to the climate and improving sustainability even further. We are aware that we produce some of the best and most sustainable food in the world but we have to do so even better because, in the premium markets, that will be the higher level of ambition that will be expected.

Brexit Issues

Neale Richmond


13. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the work of his Department to mitigate the impact of Brexit on the food and drink industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60844/21]

I am not sure whether this question could have been taken before the last one because the two are very much interconnected. It is a bit more general than the last one. What efforts will continue to be made by the Department to mitigate the impact of Brexit in our food and drink sector?

I thank the Deputy again. Brexit has presented a range of challenges for the agrifood and fisheries sectors. The trade and co-operation agreement reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom at the end of 2020 did, however, provide some welcome certainty around the future EU–UK trading relationship, including in respect of tariff-free trade. The fact that the UK is no longer in the EU Single Market or customs union still creates significant extra challenges for Irish food companies trading with the UK.

Both within my Department and across Government, we have prepared intensively, in collaboration with the agrifood industry, for these changes. In particular, we have invested significantly in assisting the industry to meet the new import and export requirements that do now, or will in the near future, apply to agrifood trade with the UK.

This investment has included recruitment of additional staff, provision of new port infrastructure, development of new and enhanced IT systems, provision of detailed training programmes for food businesses and provision of financial supports to help businesses to adapt to the new arrangements.

Most recently, on 15 October, along with Government colleagues, I launched the Brexit impact loan scheme, which makes up to €330 million in lending available to eligible businesses in Ireland. This followed the launch earlier this year of a €14 million capital investment scheme to support the food processing industry and comes on top of regular increases in funding to Bord Bia over recent budgets aimed at helping the industry to pursue market diversification opportunities.

I acknowledge the Irish agrifood sector's resilience despite the challenges associated with Brexit. I assure the Deputy that the Government remains fully focused on supporting the industry as it seeks to grow into the future.

I ask the Minister of State to tease out a little more the exhaustive preparatory work and engagement the Department and agencies have carried out with the sector, particularly on the looming checks that will come in on 1 January and the changed checks for those exporting to the GB market.

The funding announced is very important and is playing a huge role but, in light of the approval by the European Commission and the authorisation of the Brexit adjustment reserve, amounting to close to €1 billion, and the amount of money that will be drawn down by the Irish Government next year, could the Minister of State elaborate on where that targeted spending will be used in the agrifood sector?

There have been a number of changes, many of which are in the hands of the UK. The UK has been changing the goalposts by pushing them out. It has postponed the next stage of the import control regime on two occasions, including on 14 September. The most significant element of the most recent UK announcements was that the requirement for pre-notification of agrifood imports will be introduced on 1 January 2022 as opposed to 1 October 2021. The new requirements for export health certificates, which were due to be introduced on 1 October 2021, will now be introduced on 1 July 2022. Phytosanitary certificates and physical checks on sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, goods at border control posts due to be introduced on 1 January 2022 and 1 March 2022 will now be introduced on 1 July 2022 instead. The requirement for safety and security declarations on imports will be introduced on 1 July 2022 as opposed to 1 January 2022. I reassure the Deputy that our Department, despite that, continues to drive on with the original dates that were in place to have our staff in place and to make sure that the required officials and veterinary staff who are needed are there to process documentation and to support Irish business.

I appreciate that there was quite a lot in that minute. If the Minister of State could follow up with some extra information, it would be really useful. He might in his supplementary reply refer to the Brexit adjustment reserve fund and its potential targeting in the agrifood sector.

The last point I wish to make, which is tied to both the previous question and this question, is that a lot of these problems that are emerging are not of our creation and there is nothing we can do about them. As the Minister of State said, they are in the hands of the British Government. When it comes to exports, a lot of goods will still go to GB, but looking at the diversification of export routes is vital. As Deputy Carthy said, it is a matter of maximising the continental market, but that requires the encouragement and engagement of the Department. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on how this is being done to encourage exporters, producers and everyone else to use direct shipping models, straight to the Continent, straight to our biggest market, to go around the potential and existing issues with the GB land bridge.

We could do with half an hour for this debate because there is so much to cover in it. To respond first to the Deputy's last point, we have seen exponential growth in sailings and movement of Irish goods directly to mainland Europe, specifically France, because of the challenges with the land bridge, but the land bridge is still important. That is an example of everything we are doing in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which aims to recognise that the UK is still a very important market for us. Its presence is hugely important to us and provides that competition, but we also need to diversify, to become more flexible and to work on other markets because there is now a medium-term threat from Brexit as the UK opens up more trade deals. That is where the focus needs to be from a trade perspective. That is why we have continued to invest even more money in Bord Bia, with a €4 million increase in its budget for last year and a further slight increase for this year.

Work is ongoing on the Brexit adjustment reserve and our asks from that. The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and I will continue to keep a close focus on that to make sure it is targeted. There is also the Brexit loan adjustment scheme, on which I will maybe go into more detail later.

Forestry Sector

Éamon Ó Cuív


14. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of timber felling licences issued in each of the past five years to date; the volume of timber involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60442/21]

I will not delay the House by reading out the question. The supply of timber is vital to the timber industry. The question asks the Minister how we are doing on felling licences. The timber can be standing, but unless you can fell it you cannot get it into the mills. The Minister might provide the information and then I will come back with supplementary questions.

The supply of timber this time last year was a very significant worry for the sector. There was deep concern among sawmills about where their supply would come from. I am pleased to say that in the past 12 months we have worked really hard to make significant improvements in that regard. Each week the Department publishes extensive information on forestry licensing and forestry-related statistics on the weekly forestry dashboard. Unfortunately, I do not have with me the year-by-year figures; I have the overall five-year figures. I will send on the specific details of the year-by-year figures the Deputy has requested. In the past five years, more than 14,000 tree felling licences have issued. My Department commenced compiling its own timber volume data for issued tree felling licences last year, when the 1,700 felling licences issued covered a volume of just over 5 million cu. m. To date this year, to the end of November, more than 7.7 million cu. m of timber has been licensed. That is expected to be about 8 million cu. m by the end of the year. That will be the highest volume of timber ever licensed in a single year and highlights the improvements we have made in the issuing of felling licences in the past 12 months.

Coillte's 2022 felling programme will be fully complete by year end, which again instils confidence in the sawmill sector. Coillte recently completed its contract position to Irish sawmills for 2022, which means that those sawmills enter next year with some certainty around their supply, which certainly was not the case this time last year.

The Central Statistics Office compiles data on actual volumes of timber harvested from forests based on surveys. I have been advised that timber harvested from Irish forests ranges from 3.6 million to 3.9 million cu. m over the period 2017-20. This volume harvested closely relates to the capacity of Ireland's forests to produce timber based on the age of forest crops.

Has the Minister of State any information to hand on what the capacity of the mills we have in the State would be if they all worked at full capacity and whether the supply can be organised in order that it meets that capacity? Interestingly enough, in view of the debate on the previous question, selling to the primary market, which, outside of the State, is obviously the UK market, is not a difficulty. The Minister and I visited a mill at which they said that getting timber through all the formalities was, I think, a 50-second job. That is a good news. This is therefore not a problem of Brexit; it is a problem with getting the supply. Is there or will there be a matching between capacity and the ability of the licensing system to license enough timber, allowing that the producers such as Coillte have enough timber to license?

Certainly, that is the intent. As the years will progress, we know there will be a significant volume of timber to come onto the market. We have to match our licensing capabilities with that to be able to deliver that. We sometimes hear the discussion of Coillte felling licences versus the private side. As a note for this year, Coillte tends to submit its felling licences in batches, whereas private individuals submit them daily, one or two at a time, perhaps. In March Coillte submitted more than 1,800 applications and in November a further 430 applications were received. Those were the two batches. Private felling licences are submitted daily, but on the breakdown of the total licences that have been issued to the year to date, 1,200 private licences have been issued versus 1,378 licences to Coillte, which is a 47%-53% split.

Bearing in mind that Coillte is the largest supplier of timber to our sawmill sector, I think there is a little bit of fairness there in terms of the number of licences.

I ask the Minister of State to put on the record of the House the value of exports of processed timber to this country every year and the total number of people employed in the timber industry, including those working in felling, production and sawmills. It is important to put on the record the value of this industry to Ireland.

I do not have the specific figures to hand. We are a massive net exporter of timber products. I think we export 90% of what we produce in Ireland. That is a credit to the sawmill and the wider sector, and the landowners and farmers who grow the trees and produce them. I will get the employment and value figures sent on to the Deputy.