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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 10 Feb 2022

Vol. 1017 No. 7

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Farm Costs

Matt Carthy

Question:

99. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his proposals to alleviate the crisis facing family farmers arising from rapidly rising costs in fertiliser, feed, energy and other inputs. [6885/22]

Holly Cairns

Question:

102. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will respond to the high price of fertiliser, which is having a major impact on farming families. [7037/22]

There has been much discussion in recent times around price inflation. For well over a year now, farmers have been speaking about the challenges they have been facing with regard to rising input costs. Fertiliser costs in particular are having a devastating impact. There are challenges across the board in that feed and energy prices are rising drastically and almost all input prices have negated any stabilisation or increases in the prices farmers receive. I would like the Minister to outline this morning what the Government is going to do in response.

Fertiliser prices have increased significantly in recent months and Irish prices are among the highest globally. These high prices are likely to continue, with uncertainty around supply and distribution and, in particular, international restrictions on ammonium nitrate. This will impact most on non-organic small family farms, which are already squeezed with any profits made from, for example, meat prices being eroded by rising fertiliser costs. I ask the Minister to outline the actions being taken to support family farms.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99 and 102 together.

I thank the Deputies for the questions. I am acutely aware of the impact of rising input costs on farmers, family farms and businesses, as highlighted in the Deputies' questions. The very significant rise in fertiliser prices in the past year, particularly in recent months, is concerning. There are a number of factors at play in the market, including energy prices remaining well above January 2021 levels. Increased global demand, especially from the big grain-producing countries, controls of fertiliser exports from large fertiliser producing countries, increased transport costs and EU-imposed tariffs and duties on certain third country imports are all impacting prices here for our farmers.

I have been following the rising fertiliser price issue closely for the past number of months. In October 2021, I tasked Teagasc to lay out a credible roadmap to assist farmers in the short term as well as offering a long-term solution in the move to reduce dependency on chemical fertiliser. I launched the soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign at Teagasc in Ballyhaise on 26 January last. This is a strategy that can ease the price pressure on farmers and will be good for the environment and for farmers' pockets, particularly in seeking to address the challenge of increased fertiliser prices.

I have also raised the issues highlighted by the Deputes a number of times at European Council level. At the November Agriculture and Fisheries Council, I again raised the increasing challenge faced by farmers due to the rising costs of inputs. I called on the EU Commission to consider seriously all options to ease the pressure on farmers at this time, including the question of whether the imposition of anti-dumping duties on fertiliser imports continues to be appropriate and for this matter to be examined and addressed as a matter of priority.

Following the November meeting, I wrote to the EU Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, requesting that the Commission's assessment of the ongoing appropriateness of anti-dumping duties on fertilisers be completed as soon as possible. The EU Commission responded on 26 January that it is still collecting information to establish the relevant facts. In the meantime, Teagasc will continue to work with farmers through the soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign to help farmers to adapt to the current fertiliser market and support them to make informed decisions on what is best for their farms.

Teagasc has put together a comprehensive information pack for farmers and their advisers - a compendium of 20 fact sheets - to optimise the use of plant nutrients and to help farmers address the challenge of maintaining their farm outputs in the face of rising fertiliser costs and reduced availability. In addition, a new €1 million initiative by my Department will support the planting of multi-species swards to reduce dependence on fertiliser this year and in future years. A pilot soil sampling programme was introduced at the end of last year, which will provide farmers with comprehensive details of soil health and soil condition on their farms. I hope, as a result of that, to apply an appropriate level of fertiliser or organic manure to reflect the needs of the soil and to maximise growth.

As the Deputies can appreciate, Ireland is a relatively small market in respect of fertiliser sales and their usage compared with many of our EU neighbours. As a result, Irish fertiliser companies are price-takers that are dependent on global fertiliser supply and demand. It is to be hoped we may see a levelling off at least of some of these contributing rising price factors this year. This is not to diminish the pressures being faced by our farmers today. The initiatives I have introduced should support farmers reduce their dependence on fertiliser. I assure this House that both I and my Department will continue to monitor the situation closely. I am examining all options to ease the burden on farmers in the short and long term. There is no doubt this is the real challenge facing farm families this year. I am very much of aware of that and I know the Deputies are keen to ensure it is central to our thinking at the start of the year.

There is nothing in what the Minister said that will allow me or any other Deputy to convince the farmers that have been in touch with us that the Government understands the challenges they are facing and that it is taking action to resolve them. Essentially, the Minister has highlighted very well what the problem is, but he has not outlined sufficiently what the Government is going to do about it. Letters to the European Commission are well and good and are important in regard to fertiliser costs, but my question dealt with much broader issues in terms of input costs that are facing our farming families.

I will focus on one specific issue. Many of the challenges farmers are facing can be directly attributed to Brexit and the impact it has had. Will the Minister ensure the Brexit adjustment reserve is utilised to provide direct support to farming families to meet the rising input costs? To date, the only people in the agrifood sector who have got a cent of the Brexit adjustment reserve fund are processors. Larry Goodman and the meat factories have been getting money towards promotion of their product while the people who need support most have not got anything as of yet. Will the Minister change that?

I thank the Minister. Any measures that will immediately address the prices will make a big difference to families. I welcome the Minister's intention to address Irish agriculture's dependency on chemical fertilisers. It represents the type of intensive farming that has been forcing farmers to do more and more for less and less for a long time now, only to the great benefit of those fertiliser companies.

I think the term "sustainable agriculture" has become almost meaningless. It is frequently used by the Department and in the industry to describe its opposite. The term needs to mean practices that can be maintained using natural approaches that use the strength of our soil and climate rather than leaving farmers reliant on chemical imports. Our soil fertility is an incredible natural asset that needs to be respected and managed correctly. The Department must start ensuring nutrient management through the use of organic practices and we desperately need greater knowledge transfer in this area. The soils, nutrients and fertiliser campaign the Minister talked about is a welcome development but we need additional measures to foster far greater sustainable soil management practices. This change must happen and the sooner it happens the easier it will be for farmers. We need the information and the knowledge transfer.

I thank the Deputies. Deputy Carthy can see from the actions I took at the end of last year in asking Teagasc to do a significant roadmap for how we can make even more efficient use of our organic fertiliser that this is an issue of which I am aware. I tasked Teagasc with that last year and published the roadmap two weeks ago. I am very much aware of this emerging issue and continue to monitor it closely.

There are few farms in the country without the capacity to be more efficient in the use of organic nutrients and more than ever this year, it will be important we do that. As Deputy Cairns said, in the medium and long term, this will cause us to take stock of how we can further reduce our dependence on chemical fertiliser while keeping up productivity. We must focus on soil fertility and multi-species sward, in which there is tremendous potential. That does not take away from the immediate challenge and while I am supporting further take-up of multi-species sward this year and further attention being paid to soil fertility, there is an immediate challenge around the crisis. I am looking at all options but as of now, the advice from Teagasc is something to which all farmers should turn their minds. I will continue to engage closely with the sector on this important issue for all farm families this year.

Of course we need to improve efficiencies and reduce dependency on artificial fertiliser. However, we need solutions in the here and now. I asked the Minister about the Brexit adjustment reserve fund and he did not mention it in his response. I will give him another example of how the Government can set out a clear sign of its intentions. In May, it is the Government's intention to increase the carbon taxes again. That increases virtually all of the input costs for farmers. People might think farmers are exempt from the carbon tax in terms of their own fuel but the truth is that many farmers use farm contractors to carry out work on their farms and they are not exempt. Increases in carbon tax also mean increases in the cost of farm contractors and every single input on a farm. Will the Minister, who has a responsibility to protect our family farms, bring a message to Cabinet that the proposed increase in carbon tax in May must be suspended, if not ceased altogether?

I acknowledge the proactive approach the Minister is taking. I agree with Deputy Carthy that we need a more robust, short-term solution. When we are talking about medium- and long-term solutions, it is important to acknowledge that difficult times like this can also be opportunities. Farmers, as we know, are some of the most innovative people. The Department needs to look at ways of embedding methods and efficiencies which are coming out of the rising costs of fertiliser. Slurry and farmyard manure can be used in low phosphorous and potassium index areas. There are other options, such as grazing management and multi-species swards, which the Minister talked about. We also know it is long proven that cover crops of clover fix more nitrogen than those chemical imports on which farmers are spending so much money. We have knowledge transfer programmes and that fact should be embedded into them immediately so farmers can start learning how to do it. Farms need to be supported to move to this more sustainable model. It must happen now. We need more short-term solutions.

I thank the Deputies. Deputy Carthy asked about the Brexit adjustment reserve. I am open to hearing any suggestions he has specifically on that issue. This is obviously a Europe-wide issue. I do not think the energy prices relate directly to Brexit because every country is experiencing increases. Indeed, fertiliser prices are a challenge across the world.

For the Brexit adjustment reserve in particular, we must be able to show specifically the correlation between Brexit and the thing we are intervening in to use the Brexit adjustment reserve for. I would welcome any ideas or suggestions the Deputy has around that. My team is looking at all options for how we can use the Brexit adjustment reserve and if the Deputy would like to feed into that with a specific idea on the issue, I would welcome it. I am keen to find any way we can use the Brexit adjustment reserve to support farmers. As the Deputy knows, given my form, all the schemes I have introduced and all the funding I am bringing to agriculture, that is my core and key objective.

I know Sinn Féin supports the carbon tax. It used not to support it but it does now. However, it does not support the marginal increase that has been proposed. Sinn Féin tries to put a message out there that it is against it-----

Will the Minister answer the question?

-----but the reality is the party is in favour of the carbon tax. It is only the very narrow and marginal increase Sinn Féin is against.

What is the Government going to do in May? Is it going to increase the carbon tax or not?

Deputy Carthy had his time. The Minister without interruption, please.

It is obviously part of Sinn Féin's plan to transition to government. It intends to go from totally opposing something and everything, as in the case of the carbon tax, to now only opposing the marginal increase.

I ask the Chair to direct the Minister to answer the question.

The Deputy should not direct me to do anything. The Minister to conclude.

From the agricultural point of view, the sector is one of few where farm family enterprises have a double counting mechanism so that increases in carbon tax do not impact within the farm. There is a challenge there relating to contractors, where it will have an impact.

Forestry Sector

Seán Sherlock

Question:

100. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether the costs of maintenance of forests less than four years old have increased dramatically since January 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7054/22]

My question is more thematic in the sense that we are focusing heavily now on afforestation targets and the toolkit that is the dashboard. It has become the tool everybody now uses as the benchmark for progress on afforestation targets. The increase in the cost of living and the cost of inputs was alluded to earlier and concerns around fertiliser are also wrapped up in this question. Has the Minister now abandoned the afforestation target of 8,000 ha per year? That is ultimately the question I wish to hear answered. That is bound up in the specific question I have asked.

I thank the Deputy. The question he has asked is not the one I have on my page. Perhaps we have moved away from the question that was submitted but that is fine and we can deal with both.

I invite the Minister of State to give us her personal perspective on afforestation. I would be delighted to hear it.

The Deputy has asked about increase in the cost of living. The question I was provided with related to whether the costs of maintaining forests in the first four years have gone up. I understood the Deputy was referring to the general cost of participation in the forestry schemes. That is something which is under general review under Project Woodland. The reference to four years is presumably relating to the way my Department currently administers its establishment grant scheme. Under this, a proportion of the establishment grant is retained until year 4 of the establishment of the forest to ensure that it is developing as it should. This is done in the interests of protecting the landowner.

As the Deputy may be aware, Project Woodland was established in February 2021 to ensure that the current licensing backlog is addressed and that a new impetus is brought to woodland creation in Ireland. A national shared vision for the future of Ireland's trees and forests and a new forestry strategy are currently being developed. That will guide how we deal with the afforestation issue over the years and decades ahead. The new forest strategy will underpin a new forestry programme for the period 2023 to 2027.

An extensive public consultation process on the new strategy has commenced and stakeholders will have an opportunity to raise any issues they feel need to be addressed with my Department. Work on the next forestry programme will include a review of grant rates and my Department will examine current forestry operational costs during that process.

In the meantime, my Department is introducing an enhanced payment for applicants and forestry companies to acknowledge the additional cost of submitting the various environmental reports where required. This will be delivered through a higher payment at form 2 stage, which is the payment made when planting is complete. In addition, we will also examine a feasibility study into various grant payment approaches.

A licensing strategy for 2022 has just been published which has set ambitious targets this year of increasing licensing output by 30% and more than doubling the afforestation target by increasing it by 107%. This builds on the gains made in improved licensing last year which was 56% higher than the previous year.

It will be an important confidence booster for all with an interest in seeing more trees planted in Ireland and I firmly believe it must be matched by a renewed effort by all to promote the benefits of afforestation to farmers and landowners.

I thank the Minister for her answer. The announcement of a target of 1,040 licences for 2022 indicates to me that the forest service has abandoned the target of planting 8,000 ha this year. Tracking back over the numbers from recent years, the issuing of 1,040 licences would result in the planning of only 4,000 ha.

I am not convinced, as the Minister of State is, that all of the stakeholders through Project Woodland are as enthusiastic about the future of forestry policy. I think some of those stakeholders are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of ambition. I would certainly like to work with the Minister of State to see how we can be more ambitious in attaining and achieving those targets, precisely for the reasons she has outlined in respect of carbon sequestration and a proper policy intervention.

I put it to the Minister of State, however, that the lack of ambition here is disappointing. I mean that genuinely.

SI thank the Deputy. To clarify, the ambition of more than 1,040 licences equates to more than 8,000 ha of afforestation. The concern is that we are issuing afforestation licences and they are not being taken up.

Currently, in excess of 5,000 ha of afforestation licences have been issued but have not been planted. The ambition is there. It falls on us all to make a concerted effort to encourage and support farmers and landowners to plant. There is great pressure now on land use. We read today in the Irish Farmers' Journal about the pressure from conacre and the leasing element. We must do all we can to encourage our farmers to plant the trees for which they get the licences.

I do not doubt that the Minister of State is extremely genuine in what she seeks to achieve. There is no doubt about that in my mind. Dare I suggest, respectfully, there is a level of granularity that needs to be worked through. That must be acknowledged.

The Minister of State said the Department will reach the 8,000 ha target this year. That remains to be seen. I suggest respectfully that the stakeholders are not seeing the reality of that in the issuance of new afforestation licences. The proof of that is in the toolkit, which is the dashboard. The aspiration might be there but the evidence of the practical outworking of reaching the afforestation targets is not.

It comes down to the fact that the ambitions are there. The rate of planting is a big concern. My Department has engaged with the forestry companies as to why their clients are not planting. We are also going to write to the holders of afforestation licences, that is, those who have been in receipt of a licence for more than six months, to ascertain one on one what the issues are and whether they have changed their minds or leased their lands to a neighbouring farmer.

We absolutely need to get down to the granular level from which we are seeking to obtain that information. All I can say is we really need that concerted effort to get farmers planting and landowners engaged in this again. It is going to be a massive part of our future. It is essential that we get a start on that as soon as possible.

Organic Farming

Matt Carthy

Question:

101. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his proposals to increase the availability and participation of farmers in organic farming education, to increase the domestic and export market for organic produce, and to ensure the organic farming scheme is open to as many farmers as possible; and the Government targets for organic conversion in 2025, 2027, and 2030. [6886/22]

Recent changes to the organic farming scheme both in payment rates and terms are to be welcomed. Beyond those, however, what is the Government doing to increase participation in education related to organic farming and market opportunities for our organic project as well as the existing Government conversion targets?

I thank Deputy Carthy for the acknowledgement of the scheme as it is. I am fully committed to the development of the organic sector in Ireland, which is why the organic farming scheme was reopened this week for the second year in a row. That has been a long time coming. An increase of €5 million has been secured in the budget allocation for the scheme this year. Again, this additional funding would facilitate an additional 50,000 ha of land under conversion, which would represent an increase of more than 50% in the area currently farmed.

I am confident that the funding provided this year will be sufficient to allow all eligible applications to be accepted into the organic farming scheme. The scheme is now being heavily promoted in order that all potential participants understand the benefits of the scheme and feel fully supported if they wish to submit an application.

Teagasc and independent agricultural consultants also play a vital role in outlining the benefits of organic farming at farm level. The organic farming demonstration programme, which is run by Teagasc in conjunction with my Department, is an example of how this operates, whereby farmers can obtain a practical knowledge of an organic farming system.

With regard to the Government targets for organic conversion for 2025, 2027 and 2030, the current programme for Government is committed to aligning Ireland’s organic land area with that of the EU average at the time of the negotiations of the programme for Government, which was 7.5%. All organic policies are designed to achieve this ambitious goal. I will continue to progress the implementation of the national organic strategy for 2019 to 2025, which sets out ambitious growth targets in line with the market opportunities.

Along with the increase in funding for the organic farming scheme this year, under the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, I proposed the allocation of €265 million, which is a very sizeable and significant increase in funding towards this sector. To attain that land area of 7.5%, we will need to add an additional 80,000 ha every year during the lifetime of the CAP. The ambition is big and we certainly need to address the issues to get farmers to engage with the scheme.

It needs to be put on the record once again that our current organic rates are abysmal. They are actually embarrassing for a country with a proud reputation in terms of the production of good quality food that is produced to the highest standards. The target rate of 7.5% relates to an EU average from several years ago now. We know the EU average is already way beyond 8.5%. I want to nail down this particular target of 7.5%. My question asked for our target rates for 2025, 2027 and 2030.

The CAP strategic plan, which was finally published this week, set the 7.5% target to be achieved by 2025. Is that the Minister of State's intention or is that 7.5% target for land conversion set at a later date? If not, what is the conversion target for 2030?

My understanding is that the rate is during the period of the CAP to the end 2027. At that stage it would be in conversion and organically farmed land. That is the ambition. If we go beyond that, I will certainly be even more excited about it.

There is an issue at the moment and the Deputy is correct. The levels are painfully low given our wonderful agricultural nation as a whole. To be at the bottom of the European tables, unfortunately, in terms of organic farming is something that has been personally very frustrating for me over the years. We are in a situation now where we can address this and we are actively doing so. I look forward to seeing more farmers come on board with this. As we create a critical mass of farmers in this country, I would expect to see a snowballing effect in the years to come.

In order for targets to be achieved, annual subtargets need to be set. We need to know what the long-term vision is for this sector. As well as direct investment in supporting farmers, which the Minister of State knows we welcome, we also need to see greater ancillary investment, particularly ring-fenced funding for both Bord Bia and Teagasc. We need to have advisers and researchers for those making the conversion. We also need to provide them with the assurance that when they produce the high-quality organic food, they will be able to sell it and receive a premium for it. One of the reasons we keep getting questions about organic farming is because when people look at the climate action plans, the annex on actions regarding organics is very worrying. There is a single page with some positive steps but it is not nearly comprehensive and ambitious enough to give farmers the assurance that if they make the leap towards organic, they will be fully supported by Government at every step.

Absolutely. We are supporting Teagasc and independent agricultural consultants to play a vital role. Anyone who follows anything about organics on social media will have seen a step change in how Teagasc has been engaging with organic farming. Certainly, Bord Bia this year has invested €1 million euro to support the sector. The BioFach trade fair, which is usually held in February, has been postponed until July.

I will attend that event. We hope, subject to travel restrictions and in conjunction with Bord Bia, that there will be a ministerial trade mission to Germany, which is one of our main markets, to engage in market support. As I understand it, this will be the first specific trade mission on organics organised by the Department. I look forward to that.

Question No. 102 answered with Question No. 99.

Rockall Island Ownership

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

103. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason the Government continues to tolerate the actions of the British Government in blocking access for Irish fishermen to their traditional fishing grounds around Rockall; and the estimated financial costs of this action to Irish fishermen in 2021. [6887/22]

The Minister will be acutely aware of the impact of the outrageous blocking of access for Irish fishermen to the fisheries around Rockall by the British Government. As I understand it, this cost our fishermen more than €7 million last year. What are he and the Minister for Foreign Affairs doing about this absolute outrage?

I thank the Deputy for raising this question, which is particularly important for a significant number of fishermen, numbering some 25 or 26, who fish for squid and haddock inside the Rockall 12-mile zone. He referred to the estimated financial costs associated with this. As he knows, I received the task force report, Navigating Change, last October. The impact of the loss of access to these waters on the Irish fishing vessels that have traditionally fished for squid and haddock in the waters around Rockall was examined by the task force. To clarify the figures I provided to the House in response to a previous question on this issue, the task force estimated that, in 2019, the total squid fishery was valued at approximately €6.6 million. The majority of squid is taken from the waters surrounding Rockall and this amounted to 1,071 tonnes valued at in excess of €5 million in 2019, and 371 tonnes valued at €1.6 million in 2020. The estimate by the task force of the catch of other stocks near Rockall is €1 million.

I launched a Brexit temporary fleet tie-up scheme in September 2021 on foot of the task force recommendation. The scheme was established as a targeted measure for certain segments of the fishing fleet to mitigate the loss of income in 2021 arising from the significant quota reductions under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement. In line with the task force recommendations, I extended that scheme for an additional month to cover vessels that could not participate in the Rockall squid fishery. The scheme was administered by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM.

As the Deputy knows, Ireland has never made any claims to Rockall, nor have we ever recognised British sovereignty claims over it. Accordingly, we have not recognised and do not recognise a 12 nautical mile territorial sea around it. This remains very much the Government position. We have been in contact with the relevant Scottish and UK authorities on Rockall over recent years and intensively since the beginning of last year. Through this engagement, the Government is seeking to address the issues involved, reflecting the long-standing fisheries traditions in the area. Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I continue to consider all options for further engagement and are working in every way we can to secure a satisfactory resolution this year. I will continue to monitor the situation and will consider, later in the year, introducing a further tie-up scheme, if required, for the vessels impacted by lack of access to the fishery.

The problem is that we are one year on and what is happening is absolutely outrageous. I do not believe, for example, that the French President, Emmanuel Macron, would tolerate his fishermen being treated like this. We saw his response to the British Government when it pushed the boat in that scenario. It is astonishing that, one year on, I am getting exactly the same response from the Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs as we got a year ago. Internationally, the British claim on Rockall is not accepted. It is a very audacious and provocative claim and it is not accepted. Why are we allowing the British Government to enforce a blockade of our fishermen around Rockall when the British claim is not recognised internationally? Why have we not taken this to international arbitration? It is absolutely astonishing what is being allowed to happen and it reflects the lack of respect for our fishermen from too many Governments.

I assure the Deputy there is no lack of respect for fishermen from me or the Government. In fact, I massively respect the work they do, the challenging role they have, the daily ordeal and challenge of fishing in what can be very difficult and dangerous seas, and the contribution they make to our economy nationally and to coastal communities in particular. I have backed them since my appointment and will continue to back them in every way I possibly can, whether that be through investment in their sectors, in harbours and piers, or in processing and adding value.

The Deputy knows as well as I do the massive challenge we have in regard to Brexit. We see that in Northern Ireland in the ongoing challenges around the Northern Ireland protocol. It is not easy and nowhere near as easy as it would have been pre-Brexit, when all of the British fishing waters were part of the European waters. As the Deputy knows, one third of our fish is caught in British waters. If we had not had a deal on Brexit, we would have been blocked from all of those waters, not just Rockall. We would not have been able to go near Rockall and we would not have been able to go near any of the waters around Rockall in the event of a no-deal outcome because Rockall sits within British waters.

The issue at stake here is whether Britain can apply a 12-mile exclusive zone. Under no circumstances do we accept its claim on that because Rockall is in an uninhabited island. Arbitration could take years potentially. We want to try to resolve this and the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and I are working closely to try to do so as quickly as possible. As the Deputy knows, it is not easy and the experience regarding the protocol and so on speaks to the same challenge we face here.

We are one year on. I warned the Minister last year when he passed legislation that formally accepted Britain's claim over the Rockall area, which is exactly what it did, that he was strengthening the British case to block our fishermen. I watched him and the Minister for Foreign Affairs shaking their heads. Here we are, all this time later, and we still have an outrageous scenario whereby Irish fishermen are blocked from fishing in their traditional fishing grounds around Rockall, costing us millions of euro. The Minister knows the impact in Greencastle, Killybegs and Castletownbere. It is absolutely outrageous that this is allowed to happen. No harm to him and the Minister for Foreign Affairs but their efforts have not succeeded. I see no passion or outrage from them on this issue. It needs to be sorted out. If it needs to go to international arbitration to shame the British Government internationally, then so be it. What is happening cannot stand.

I remember that debate and how the Deputy used his contribution straight after the debate. No doubt he had somebody in his office on the Facebook machine. His closing line was "Rock on, Rockall" and the Facebook post included his contribution plus the tune from which that line is taken. It was playing to an audience and trying not to get into the detail and not to recognise the real challenges and facts.

That is exactly what the Deputy did.

(Interruptions).

Will the Deputy allow me to answer?

If we had not had a deal on Brexit, not only would we be excluded from the Rockall waters but from all British waters. We would not be having the argument about the 12-mile zone around Rockall; we would be having an argument about all waters within the British fishing zone, within which Rockall is placed and always has been placed. The Deputy can try to say it was not but it always has been. The part we have always disputed is whether the British Government has a right to an exclusive 12-mile access around Rockall. We say there is not an entitlement to a 12-mile zone because it is an uninhabited island. We dispute that claim. Technically, the issue can be difficult to explain, and the Deputy tries to exploit that and not give a clear representation of the facts.

Thank you, Minister. We must move on.

I assure the Deputy that I fully recognise the challenge this is for the many vessels involved and we are working to try to resolve the situation.

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