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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Jul 2022

Vol. 1025 No. 5

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Farm Costs

Brendan Griffin

Question:

6. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the further supports that can be provided for farmers to address the cost of doing business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38529/22]

The cost of doing business for farmers has spiralled out of control in recent months, making life very difficult for them, their families and the wider farming communities that benefit from the income generated from agriculture. What further measures can be achieved, both in the budget and beyond, to help farmers as they struggle with the cost of inputs?

I thank the Deputy for his engagement and for his advocacy on behalf of farm families over these challenging months. The input price challenge facing our farm families is something we are both very much aware of, as is the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon. Over the past year, significant price rises have occurred, primarily in the energy sector, with natural gas and oil prices reaching record highs. These high prices have had significant impacts in all sectors. Following a strong year for farm incomes last year, when average incomes were up by 26% to more than €34,000, Teagasc has forecast that a decline in 2022 is now highly likely, given output price increases will fail to offset the increase in production costs.

Significantly higher production costs will be a feature across all sectors in 2022 and, as we know, higher fertiliser costs and fuel prices are leading to increased pressure at farm-gate level. As the Deputy also knows, I set up the national fodder and food security committee to provide leadership and bring all our key stakeholders together to plot and lead out in meeting these challenges over the course of the year. The Department also has a rapid response team in place to do this.

In terms of supports, I announced a number of measures valued at €91 million this year to support the agrifood sector, including, importantly, the €56 million fodder support package, which delivers €1,000 per farm family to support the increased costs of making fodder, silage and hay up to 10 ha. I also delivered €20 million in two packages for the pig sector. I am working closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, who is chair of the round table discussion on the pig sector and who has led out strongly on this challenge. I delivered €12 million for the tillage sector and then, with the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, €3 million for the horticulture sector, which has suffered a challenging situation.

These targeted measures are helping Irish farmers to mitigate the escalating costs they are facing. We are continuing to monitor the situation and, obviously, as we come up to the budget at the end of September, it will be very much to the forefront of our minds.

I thank the Minister very much for his response. He may have noted that in my question I used the word "further" because I acknowledge very much the interventions that have been made to date. Current political discourse too often ignores the interventions that have already been made and that is not positive for anybody. We must acknowledge when things have already been done.

I very much welcome the fodder, pig, tillage and horticulture interventions, which are very important. However, the Government must consider every possible assistance for farmers in those areas we can control, such as taxes of which the Government is in charge, and in areas such as energy by examining whether more can be done on green diesel engines, or even looking at areas such as motor tax to see if more can be done to help our farmers. Every possible Government charge that is applied to farmers makes it more expensive for them do business and affects their bottom line. I ask the Minister to focus on these issues in the budget and look at everything to try to bring down the cost of doing business for farmers.

As Deputy Griffin knows, these issues and challenges have been very much on the Government's mind in recent months, both at an Executive level and also among our parliamentary party members. It is something on which the Deputy has also engaged very closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and me, and we will continue that engagement.

The measures introduced in recent months have been thought through to try to deliver support to farm families in the best and most effective way possible in a way that supports them from a cost point of view, helps underpin their farm incomes but also, very importantly, delivers for the agrifood sector in terms of productivity. We will continue to reflect very closely on this as we come towards the budget at the end of September. We are assessing closely what the emerging and continuing challenges are.

We are working closely with the national fodder and food security committee, which I met as recently as yesterday. I asked the committee to come back with further assessments with regard to how we could support and grow our tillage sector in particular, which is important in the context of the Ukrainian grain supply challenges. I look forward to working closely with Deputy Griffin and everyone across government to continue to support our farm families in the coming months.

I encourage the Minister's work. In the context of budget negotiations - I have been there - Ministers have a responsibility to consider matters that are directly related to their Department and secure the best possible package. The Minister has already done that and I have no doubt he will do it again. However, I encourage him to also look at the bigger picture with regard to income tax and the universal social charge, USC. Taxation has a major effect on our farming families as well. The people who work hard on our farms all over the country, in every pocket and every size of farm, deserve a break. They are paying too much on income tax and USC. I encourage the Minister to engage with the Department of Finance to address what is needed for the agriculture sector but also to look at wider taxation issues. That will directly impact on the farmers the Minister represents. It will make a massive difference to our farmers in this very difficult time when they are paying much more to produce what they have been doing all along. I encourage the Minister to do that in the broader context of this budget.

I appreciate what the Minister has done so far but there is more that could be done. Farmers repeatedly hear that it is not possible to support them in certain ways due to European state aid rules, yet the European crisis reserve provided €15.8 million and allowed for co-financing at 200%, up to €31.6 million. However, the Minister opted for the minimal approach instead. What could have been crucial revenue for many farmers, including the pig farmers about whom the Minister spoke and who have been impacted by this crisis, has been forgone.

Fourteen EU countries believe so much in their farmers that they will co-finance to the level of 196% or higher but Ireland is not one of them. I know the Minister had to notify the European Commission of his intentions regarding the European crisis reserve by the end of last month. Given the current circumstances, I believe there would be an opportunity in that regard if the Minister were to engage with the Commission. Will he do right by our farmers and contact the Commission to see if we can we get the permission unlocked for that funding?

Deputy Griffin is absolutely right. Farmers are normal citizens with the same normal everyday pressures on their families that every other family has outside of their daily working lives. Obviously, there are particular pressures in terms of their work life and cost pressures, on which the Government is supporting them with as best it can.

Likewise, there is a real pressure arising from the general increase in the cost of living and ordinary non-farming life. It is really important that we look at how we can reward and support farmers and families in general. We will certainly look at this in the round with regard to families as we prepare for this budget.

With regard to Deputy Browne's point, €50 million came from the crisis reserve at European level. We have spent that on the pig sector specifically. As I outlined to Deputy Griffin, I have delivered €91 million overall this year in direct funding to support farmers. I chose not to use that particular mechanism because it is laden down with unnecessary red tape. Instead of co-funding that €15 million and imposing lots of avoidable terms and conditions on that funding, which would have made it more difficult for farming, I stepped outside of that and provided national funding, which I delivered to farmers through a different mechanism. This was much more straightforward whereas what Deputy Browne proposed would actually bog down everything in red tape and would not be to the benefit of farm families.

Ukraine War

Neale Richmond

Question:

7. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the Irish agricultural sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37483/22]

This question relates to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the impacts on Irish agriculture. First and foremost, I utterly condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is an appalling, barbaric act and has caused untold misery, death and destruction all over Ukraine. The impacts are also felt here in a very different way, however, and are causing great difficulty for people. How does the Minister of State plan to continue to respond to this?

I thank Deputy Griffin for raising a really important point. I completely agree that the humanitarian crisis will always take priority in terms of our view of this matter. As the Deputy outlined, there are also significant implications, which we are seeing across all sectors, including the agrifood sector, from Russia's illegal and awful war in Ukraine. We need to take the necessary steps to ensure food security is maintained for EU citizens, the Ukrainian people and in the wider global context.

Following a strong year for family farm incomes in 2021, where average incomes were up by 26% to more than €34,000, Teagasc has forecast that a decline in 2022 is now highly likely as output price increases will fail to offset the rise in production costs. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing our farm families as a result of these input price increases.

Significantly higher production costs will be a feature across all sectors in 2022, with higher fertiliser, feed and fuel prices leading to an increase in agriculture input costs. The current market outlook for output prices is uncertain, with significant upward pressure apparent, but this is unlikely to cover the additional input costs for many farmers.

The Minister and I meet stakeholders on an ongoing basis to discuss the impact of the Ukraine crisis on Irish agriculture and supply chains. At the start of the crisis, we established the national fodder and food security committee and tasked it with the preparation of a response to the emerging crisis in feed, fodder, fertiliser and other inputs and developing contingency plans and advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises. We also established a rapid response team within the Department, chaired by the Secretary General, to monitor the impacts on agrifood supply chains actively and to contribute to the whole-of-government response.

Fertiliser merchants have indicated that there are adequate supplies of fertiliser in Ireland at present. However, there may be issues with availability of certain products at times and importers are active in securing alternative supply lines where necessary. Fertiliser affordability and availability is one of the biggest challenges facing our farmers at present.

I certainly would not like to be a Minister with responsibility for agriculture at present because this is something that is massively challenging for any Minister. In fairness to both the Minister and the Minister of State they have worked very hard and have done their best in what are very difficult circumstances. That effort needs to continue because the three Fs - fertiliser, feed and fuel - are killing farmers right now. The impacts pale into insignificance in the context of what is happening on the humanitarian front on the ground in Ukraine, but the impact on farmers here economically is massive. In the context of the budget negotiations, and further to the previous question, I ask that all those input costs be factored into the Minister's and Minister of State's rationale in terms of the package they are seeking. Perhaps stuff that is not directly within their remit has to be examined as well in the overall picture when they are going to the Department of Finance and seeking a package for farmers. The cost of produce and of doing business for farmers has absolutely exploded and gone through the roof. It is unsustainable.

It is important that the point raised by Deputy Griffin and its impact are discussed in the House. I should point out that there are sufficient supplies of animal feed at present and importers are actively competing on the global market to ensure that supply continues uninterrupted. Animal feed stocks and imports are being monitored on a regular basis by my Department. What Deputy Griffin outlines is a stress and strain on farmers due to the very high input costs. Even though across a number of sectors there are very high commodity prices in many instances, it was a big stress for tillage, dairy, beef or sheep farmers to purchase either the seed for the tillage farmers or the fertiliser and all the different elements because if the price was to change after they had made that significant investment they would be very much caught out. That is why the Minister and I intervened with a number of measures valued at €91 million, so far, to assist the agrifood sector. They include the €56 million fodder support scheme and the packages for the pig sector, tillage sector and horticulture sector. The point the Deputy made regarding the budget is valid as well.

The planning relating to this matter needs to be more medium-term and long-term too. Unfortunately, the Russians, and we know their form, appear to be dug in for a war of attrition. They do not care how long this goes on or how many people die. They do not care about the destruction and the death they cause. This could be a situation that we will have to deal with for quite some time, so that has to be part of the Minister's and Minister of State's thinking and rationale certainly with regard to the forthcoming budget, to allow for a very lengthy disruption of what was normal business prior to 24 February.

In addition, could the green diesel situation be examined further? What more can be done on that front? That is having a massive impact on farmers and it is being felt by them in the pocket throughout the country.

Regarding green diesel, the interventions the Government has made to date have seen all excise duty removed from green diesel, in line with changes to ordinary petrol and diesel excise where there have been record removals in those areas as well.

The targeted measures I mentioned will help Irish farmers at a time of escalating costs and build resilience against the expected impact of the situation in Ukraine. We continue to engage with stakeholders and continue to work across government, and with our European partners, in response to this. We are taking a very proactive approach to the crisis in Ukraine. We must protect our farm families and their businesses through this period of significant upheaval. As Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety and farmer mental health and well-being, I am very conscious of the stress this puts on farmers and farm families. We have stood with them to date with significant interventions worth over €91 million so far this year. I, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and our colleagues in the Department will continue to stand with them, and that will obviously be to the forefront of our minds in our preparations for the upcoming budget.

Animal Diseases

Brendan Smith

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will ensure that compensation payment levels will be increased without further delay in respect of the depopulation of herds due to TB; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38353/22]

It is devastating for a farmer when his or her herd has to be partially or totally depopulated. We know that herds are built up over a considerable length of time. There is a big investment and big commitment by the individual farmer, and we do not switch on or off the breeding or development of herds. The current compensation levels do not reflect the reality of the prices paid in marts today. I appeal to the Minister to have the compensation levels for cattle that are depopulated due to tuberculosis, TB, revised upwards.

I thank Deputy Brendan Smith for raising this issue. As somebody who is a strong advocate on behalf of farmers in his constituency and as a former Minister for agriculture, this is an issue he has worked on consistently over the last number of years. I too am acutely aware of the emotional and financial burden that comes with a TB breakdown for a farm family, so making significant progress in reducing TB incidence rates remains a key priority of mine.

The main compensation provision of the bovine TB programme is the on-farm market valuation scheme which compensates eligible herd-owners up to the market value an individual animal would have attained on the open market at the time of its valuation under the scheme. The valuations are carried out by independent valuers who are informed by summary market prices which reflect the most up-to-date market values for various categories sold on the open market. In addition to the on-farm market valuation compensation package, depopulation grants may be paid to eligible herd-owners whose herds are depopulated either totally or partially. The grant is paid per animal removed in the depopulation measure and for those removed as reactors since the holding was restricted, on condition that the herd-owner agrees to the depopulation at the time specified by the Department.

As part of the work of the TB forum, a dedicated financial working group comprising representatives from my Department and the farming organisations was established 16 months ago to review the current financial model of the TB programme. Its remit includes a review of compensation schemes with respect to all types of bovine herds. Recommendations from the finance working group will be submitted to the TB forum for consideration.

Compensation rates for TB reactor animals are capped under the provisions of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. Herd-owners in possession of very valuable animals should give careful consideration to mitigating their risks by taking out insurance, thereby enabling them to recover the full market value of such animals in the event of an outbreak of TB in the herd. By all of industry working together, and I know the Deputy will agree with this, we can achieve significant progress in reducing the scourge of TB in our farming sector for farm families.

Given the areas the Minister and I represent, we are aware of the importance of cross-Border co-operation. That continues and it is hugely important for dealing with animal disease on an all-Ireland basis. I sincerely hope that this co-operation, which has existed for many years, will work as robustly as it did in the past.

The Minister mentioned the TB forum and the financial working group. I hope that will report without further delay. The Minister said it was established 15 months ago, but prices and costs for everything have changed dramatically in the meantime. Perhaps the Minister would ask the working group to report to the forum without further delay.

The caps are outdated at present. The Minister knows from talking to farmers at the marts and from being in the mart himself that the prices for a number of cattle are exceeding the maximum payment the Department can pay in respect of a depopulated animal. That live valuation scheme needs to be amended. There is also a need for simplification. I hope the Minister will amend the scheme to ensure that the true market value of the animals being depopulated will be reflected in the compensation payment.

I recently met with the TB forum. The next meeting of the financial working group is on 21 July. That will be attended by officials from my Department and representatives of the farming organisations. The group has held five meetings this year so I look forward to it completing its work. It was the TB forum that was set up 16 months ago and it has a number of working groups under it. It was very important to come together and work to one strategy. I acknowledge the work of all key stakeholders. It is only through everyone working together and everyone recognising the importance of following the scientific advice here that we can bring down TB rates and reduce the hardship involved for families as well as the cost impact for them.

The current animal ceiling under the on-farm market value scheme is €3,000 in respect of an individual bovine, except in the case of a stock bull where the ceiling is €4,000 or a pedigree stock bull in the same breakdown episode which has a ceiling of €5,000. However, it is all being considered by the financial working group.

I again appeal to the Minister to ask the working group to expedite its work. I have concern about the compensation being adequate for pedigree cattle. Those of us who were reared on farms and represent rural communities take great pride in looking at quality animals at our shows every year and in visiting individual farmers. I have a concern that valuable pedigree lines could be lost. I know of some individual farmers who win national awards every year and would have a number of substantive pedigree herds. If they are unfortunate enough to have a partial or total depopulation, it will mean financial ruin for them. We need to address that particular matter. I emphasise again that our farmers have built up quality herds over the years. When disease comes into a herd it is, to use a phrase we have often heard, like a death in the family. Farmers take such pride in the work on their farms and in building up herds and having the quality produce we all champion in this country. We talk about the quality of the food we export to so many countries throughout the world. We need to ensure the primary producer-----

-----is adequately compensated to meet all costs.

I call the Minister to conclude.

I thank Deputy Brendan Smith for raising this issue and for his ongoing advocacy on behalf of the farming community. I have asked that all of the work be completed as quickly as possible. The working group will meet at the end of this month and I look forward to progress being made there. Overall, we can take heart from the fact that by everyone working together in the TB forum and by agreeing the new TB strategy, we are making progress. We can make real progress on that in the time ahead by coming together working together. The financial aspects of that are important and the finance working group is considering those in detail. It will produce its report very soon and I am looking forward to that.

Climate Action Plan

Paul Murphy

Question:

9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine how he plans to meet the targets for cutting agricultural emissions in the lifetime of this Government. [38535/22]

I am sure the Minister has seen the news about the evidence of climate catastrophe all around us. In Europe, significant numbers of people are going to die in the coming weeks as a consequence of the heatwave we are seeing. Yet, in Ireland we are already off track on our already inadequate targets. The Minister is widely reported to be lobbying within the Government on behalf of big agribusiness to have the lowest possible emissions cuts within the biggest emitting sector. I ask the Minister to tell me how that makes sense.

I thank Deputy Paul Murphy for his question. As he will be aware, the Government will soon establish and publish our sectoral emission ceilings. The Climate Action Plan 2021 set out a reduction range of between 22% and 30% for the agricultural sector from an emissions baseline of 23 MT CO2 equivalent in 2018. The achievement of this target will take a whole-of-government and whole-of-sector approach. I am committed to working with the sector on achieving emissions reductions.

Earlier this year, I established the Food Vision Dairy 2030 group. The objective of this group is to propose measures that will reduce emissions in the dairy sector. The group is currently working on the final report, having submitted an interim report to me a number of weeks ago. A similar group was more recently established for the beef and sheepmeat sectors focused on the climate challenges facing these important sectors.

These groups were not starting with a blank page. We have a roadmap for the sector to reduce emissions over the course of the decade. The climate action plan set out a number of core measures that the sector will need to implement over the coming years. These measures include a significant reduction in chemical nitrogen fertiliser use, which is a key objective of the EU farm to fork strategy. Other important measures include changing the type of fertiliser N we apply, increasing the level of organic farming and reducing the finishing ages of our prime beef animals.

The Teagasc signpost farms initiative, along with many public and private advisors, will play a key role in upskilling farmers in the years ahead. The new CAP strategic plan contains a number of measures that will support a transition to a more sustainable agriculture sector, including increased financial supports for organic farming. Clearly, incentivisation from industry, in addition to regulation where appropriate, will be acquired to achieve our climate objectives. By implementing the measures contained within the climate action plan, I am confident that we can transition the sector to a more long-term sustainable platform with co-benefits for air and water quality and biodiversity, while at all times maintaining productivity in this sector. Strong progress has already been made. We will build on this in the time ahead.

Will the Minister outline why he is arguing for the lowest possible emissions cuts for the biggest emitting sector of the economy? Even if agriculture does 30%, the rest of society still has to do 60% to meet the inadequate target of a 51% reduction, on which we are already off track. If, as the Minister is widely reported as arguing for, we choose a reduction of 22%, the rest of society has to do 68%. If, for example, we do that through energy, that is an extra cost per household of €5,000 each. Will the Minister tell me how it makes sense to do this from the points of view of the climate, small farmers and households as a whole? Why should big agri-business basically take an extremely minimal approach to doing what is necessary, considering the extent of its emissions?

I know agriculture and the day-to-day lives of farm families would not occupy Deputy Paul Murphy’s daily workload or time very much. We have to consider the important role that agriculture plays in food production in this country. It is also important to know and understand that because we do not have the industrial base that other developed countries have, agriculture makes up a bigger proportion of our national emissions. Reaching the 22% part of the range would see transformational change in our agriculture systems. Our starting point is that we are one of the most efficient food producers in the world in terms of carbon emissions. Our food production is grass- and pasture-based and we have a very good system from an animal welfare point of view, as well as from an emissions point of view. We have to build on and improve that even further, as must all other sectors of society, and in a way that continues to produce food. As the Deputy will know, across the world it is becoming increasingly hard to produce food given the climate challenge we are all facing. It is important that we continue to play an important role for our farm families-----

Go raibh maith agat.

The Deputy likes to use the term “big agri-business” but our farm families, on which our agriculture is based, do massive work.

The Minister’s industrialised farming system does not work for ordinary farm families. Almost half of farms in this country have an income of less than €10,000. The Minister’s industrialised farming system works for Greencore, Kerry Group, Goodman and the big dairy farmers, but it does not work for others. The figures are there in Teagasc. Instead of incentivising and pushing farmers to engage in industrialised farming that does not work for small farmers, is extremely damaging for the environment and does not work for society as a whole, why do we not instead have a farming policy that is based on food sovereignty, the principles of regenerative farming and paying farmers for the carbon sequestration services they provide? Instead of subsidising farmers to engage in industrialised farming that is damaging for all of us, why not instead pay farmers for the important services they provide in terms of our environment? Who would win from that and who would lose from that? Big agri-business would lose from it and the vast majority of small farmers and ordinary people would win from it.

It is Deputy Paul Murphy’s industrialised farming model. He is the only one who uses that language. We have a family farming model in this country which, frankly and thankfully, the Deputy does not really have a bull’s notion about or an understanding of. It is based on work that farm families do right across the country. People throughout the food supply chain try to maximise the value of that. We ensure that farm families are supported. It is important that this work continues.

As I said our starting point for agriculture in this country is that we are one of the most efficient food producers in the world from a carbon and climate point of view. That is something we need to build on and improve, which we are determined to do, as are farm families and those right across the food sector.

In terms of my engagement at Government level, I am seeking to strike the appropriate balance between doing everything we possibly can to reduce the emissions footprint of how we produce food and continuing the important work of producing sustainable, healthy and nutritious food in this country.

Greyhound Industry

Paul Murphy

Question:

10. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has conducted a review into the funding and spending of Greyhound Racing Ireland; and if so, if he will report on same. [38536/22]

Why should we continue to give tens of millions of euro every single year to the greyhound racing industry? For me, the key issue is animal cruelty. However, even from the point of view of value for money, over the last few weeks The Sunday Times Ireland edition has exposed the fact that greyhound industry insiders make up over half of all race attendees and that all of the State funding into the Irish greyhound industry is effectively being lost because it ends up subsidising the low-cost sale of dogs to the UK.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The 2021 Power report found that the greyhound industry provides and supports considerable employment both directly and indirectly across the Irish economy. It is estimated that in 2019, the industry supported over 4,000 full-time and part-time jobs in the economy. In addition, there are over 6,000 active greyhound owners. The total number of people deriving economic benefit from the sector is estimated at over 10,000. The Department provides dedicated financial support under the Horse and Greyhound Fund to Rásaíocht Con Éireann, RCÉ, the statutory body responsible for the operation and regulation of the greyhound industry. Since 2021, my Department has ring fenced 10% of the RCÉ allocation from the horse and greyhound racing fund for welfare matters. In addition, the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 develops the legislative basis for the industry, strengthening the integrity and welfare of the industry. A key element of the new legislation is the provision, for the first time, for a full IT traceability system for racing greyhounds. The funding provided to the greyhound racing sector helps sustain a longstanding tradition as the industry is part of the social fabric of our country. The funding underpins economic activity in what are, in many instances, highly rural areas.

The future of the industry is dependent on a strong governance platform and on the industry having the highest standards of integrity and welfare. There is a strong commitment to improved animal welfare in this sector in the programme for Government. The Department remains focused on ensuring that RCÉ is compliant with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, including an oversight agreement in the form of a shareholder's letter of expectation, which is produced annually and updated as required. The annual report and accounts of RCÉ are audited by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General and are presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are very committed to the continued strengthening of welfare standards in the greyhound industry. Future funding of the sector is dependent on welfare standards being upheld. That is reflected in the annual parameters set out by my officials in their engagement with RCÉ.

The public is funding not only an industry that is responsible for the deaths of 6,000 greyhounds a year because they are not fast enough, but we are also funding the British greyhound racing industry. An analysis conducted by Preferred Results business consultants, and reported in The Sunday Times Ireland edition, found that 6,300 Irish greyhounds are exported annually to the UK and sold at a loss of almost €5,000 each. Effectively, it is a direct subsidy from the public, through the greyhound racing industry, to the British greyhound racing industry. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of funding the Irish greyhound industry, why on earth are we effectively funding the British greyhound racing industry? Why are we funding the greyhound industry when over half of those attending greyhound races are getting complimentary tickets? In other words, they are to some degree insiders. There is not a big public appetite for greyhound racing. We do not see big queues of people going to events. Why are we still providing public funding for the industry?

The reason that we are providing funding is that there has been a structure and support in place for the greyhound racing industry for many years now. It is particularly important to support it. It is something that we are continuing to do. The structure and the oversight of the industry is also important. The legislative underpinning of the whole sector was significantly changed and strengthened through the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 that we introduced in the Dáil and the Seanad. Going forward, while the provision of funding is important, public support, through attendance and participation, is crucial for the industry. RCÉ must focus on that and on its engagement with the wider public to ensure that its racetracks have strong public attendance. That is really important for the future health of the industry. Both of those aspects are important. Certainly, the public funding plays a significant role in underpinning the industry.

The public has provided €310 million for the greyhound racing industry since 2001. That is a huge amount of money, without which I do not think the greyhound racing industry would continue in this country. I think that would be a good thing in terms of animal welfare. Of course, I wish to emphasise that nobody should be out of a job as a consequence of that. There needs to be a just transition for those involved in the greyhound racing industry, with everybody guaranteed a job of at least equivalent terms and conditions and so on.

I ask the Minister to respond to the reports published in The Sunday Times Ireland edition, in particular, those highlighting the fact that we are subsidising the low-cost sale of dogs to Britain, that the majority of Irish public funding that is provided to RCÉ effectively goes to supporting the British greyhound racing industry and that the Irish greyhound racing industry is sustaining a shortfall of over €30 million a year in supplying greyhounds to the UK.

The public funding goes into our racetracks and funding prize money, which helps to support and underpin the industry and the jobs in the industry. The funding also goes into welfare measures and supports the welfare of greyhounds. As the Deputy said, without the funding the greyhound racing industry would be very much undermined. I am aware the Deputy has no problem with doing away with the industry altogether. He is not a big advocate of industry or business in general. I know that he would like to see the industry erased altogether. However, the industry provides employment. While it is not important to everyone, it is an important part of our social fabric and of many people's lives. We have to value that. Going forward, it is important that alongside the public funding, we see economic revenue generated through participation. That is a significant task for RCÉ in ensuring that revenue streams are improved.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Brexit Issues

Neale Richmond

Question:

12. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will report on the impact of Brexit on the Irish agri-foods industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37482/22]

For over six years now, Brexit has been a massive issue in this country and in Europe. At the same time, I long for the days when Brexit was the biggest crisis we faced. However, it is still a crisis. It has caused significant difficulty, particularly for the agri-food sector. I ask the Minister of State to update the House on matters pertaining to Brexit in that regard.

We long for the days when Brexit was the biggest challenge we faced. It was, and continues to be, a big challenge. We have to be aware of the medium-term challenges from the fallout from Brexit, particularly in the agri-food sector. The Deputy will be aware that the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, TCA, maintained tariff-free access for all goods traded between the UK and the EU. This was a positive outcome of the negotiations, particularly in respect of trade in agricultural goods, as the imposition of tariffs on these goods would have added considerable costs for Irish exporters to the UK. However, as I have outlined, the full impacts of Brexit on the Irish agri-food sector are still evolving and have not been fully realised yet. For example, the UK Government's decision in April 2022 to defer the introduction of full import controls on EU products entering the UK to the end of 2023 - the fourth time these requirements have been postponed - continues to create ongoing uncertainty for Irish food exporters. Uncertainty also continues in respect of the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, due to the UK Government's legislative proposals which could result in it disapplying large parts of the protocol. The conclusion reached on this issue could therefore also have significant impacts on Irish and British agri-food supply chains.

The Government will continue to do everything that it can to ensure that the UK Government meets its international obligations and, in conjunction with the EU, delivers solutions which address the needs of all the people and businesses on the island of Ireland. It is worth noting that despite this ongoing uncertainty, Irish exports of agri-food products to the UK have remained resilient since the end of the transition period. The value of our exports to the UK in 2021 was up by €438 million, or 8.2%, compared to 2020; and by €291 million, or 5.3%, when compared to 2019 figures. This underlines the value of the extensive collaboration that has taken place between the Government and the agri-food sector in preparing for the new trading environment post-Brexit. However, we cannot be complacent. We will continue to monitor developments closely and to put in place the necessary support for the sector to meet any new challenges that arise. I continue to work on the area of new market development outside of our dependency on the UK market, which I will discuss further in my supplementary response.

I thank the Minister of State for his response.

I acknowledge the very significant effort that has been made by the Irish Government and by officials both in the Minister of State's Department and across the whole of Government since 2016 in formulating a response to the Brexit crisis. I do not think any of us in 2016 envisaged we would still be talking about this in the Dáil Chamber on the last day of the summer term in 2022. Unfortunately, we are where we are. While we can start talking about the blame game and the appalling behaviour of the British Government and of parties such as the DUP, with their scorpion and frog approach to Brexit, we have to be pragmatic in keeping up the efforts to support farm families on this island in the challenges Brexit presents and the potentially fatal challenges it might cause to some businesses also.

I agree with Deputy Griffin that the UK will remain an important market for Irish food and drink. Since the result of the Brexit referendum, however, we have stepped up the efforts of diversification, and in my role with responsibility for new market development in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, I have worked very closely with the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and we have opened and improved access to markets around the world. We have looked also to grow our European markets to reduce the risk attached to an overdependency on the UK market that is now outside the Single Market.

Two of the most valuable markets, the USA and China, are non-EU markets, and in fact ten of the top 20 markets are. They stretch from Japan to Canada, both of which are examples of where we have improved access now. These markets may seem far removed from the Irish farm, but what happens on the shelves of the Canadian supermarkets or in restaurants in Japan actually really matters. We will continue to work to expand these and other markets to ensure we can position Irish produce to the highest value and obtain the best return possible for our farmers.

I acknowledge the efforts that are being made in sourcing new markets and we have come a long way since we were a neocolonial economy dependent so much on Britain. Those efforts need to be further intensified. For example, if there is one positive for us to come out of the current situation it the exports to the US, which is a market of great importance for us. It is something on which I would encourage the Minister of State to maintain his efforts.

The sooner we can have closure and certainty on the protocol and Brexit, the better for everyone in business, in particular, for our farmers, who are so exposed. I encourage both Ministers to continue the good work with the Department of Foreign Affairs, as that co-operation is very important in resolving this matter once and for all. We would rather not have to deal with this at all but we have to deal with reality, and this is something that needs to be concluded as soon as we can.

Deputy Griffin can take it as a given that we will continue to work across Government to hold the British Government to the international obligations it has signed up to. I am a firm believer in controlling the things we can control, and in respect of my role in the Department, that is clearly to look at tangible efforts to ensure we have a broader diversification of the markets we export into.

There was no better example of that recently than when the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and I attending the sod-turning of the €200 million investment in the new Glanbia cheese plant in Belview. This is an investment that will bring 400 construction jobs to the south east along with 80 permanent jobs and will support the incomes of 4,500 farm families who will supply the plant. It is being built as a result of Brexit because that plant will produce continental cheeses for the global market from 2024. This development will diversify Glanbia’s offering away from the more traditional Cheddar offering that is bound for the UK.

Through its partnership with Royal A-ware, Irish farmers will now be producing milk which will go to make Edam, Gouda, and Emmental cheeses destined for the shelves of European markets. Yes, the UK will remain an important market but we must continue to insulate ourselves against those future risks.

International Agreements

Matt Carthy

Question:

13. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will conduct a socio-economic and environmental impact assessment of the proposed EU-New Zealand trade agreement, in particular the impact on the domestic red meat and dairy sectors; and his proposals to support impacted farmers. [37914/22]

Will the Minister of State conduct a socio-economic and environmental impact assessment of the proposed EU-New Zealand trade agreement, in particular the impact it will have on the domestic red meat and dairy products sectors? What are his proposals to support those impacted sectors?

As the Deputy will be aware, the European Union and New Zealand reached a political agreement in principle on a new free trade agreement on 30 June 2022.

I take this opportunity to inform the House that since the launch of these negotiations in June 2018, Ireland consistently pressed the European Commission to ensure the outcome of these negotiations would be balanced and would take into consideration our concerns in respect of our sensitive agriculture products such as beef, dairy and sheep meat. Ultimately, we must defend the best interests of our farm families. This is a key focus at all times for me, the senior Minister, Deputy McConalogue and for all in government.

In this regard, it is worth noting that the scale of the additional market access for the most sensitive products has been limited to less than 1% of EU consumption levels. The increase in New Zealand's access to the EU markets for these most sensitive products has been significantly limited by way of new tariff rate quotas, which means these markets have not been fully liberalised, thus protecting the interests of Irish and EU producers. This is due to the efforts of Ireland and other EU member states in highlighting sensitivities for our agricultural producers and in limiting the Commission's scope to meet New Zealand's much higher demands in these product categories. An example of this saw the agreed sheep meat quota limited to 38,000 tonnes, which is significantly less than the original 114,000 tonnes offer made by the Commission.

My Department is currently analysing the full draft texts, which were only published last week, in particular on the outcomes on sensitive agri-food products. This analysis is ongoing and is being conducted in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which is the lead Department on trade policy. This analysis will inform any decision on whether to conduct a socioeconomic and environmental impact assessment of the final agreement.

There is a question right now about who benefits most from the proposed trade deal between the EU and New Zealand. This is a valid question to ask because while the EU Commission can talk of both trading partners being winners from reduced tariffs that open up the opportunities for exporters, when New Zealand's top exports are red meat, sheep meat and its imports comprise industrial goods generally, the export benefits for Ireland's agricultural industry seem very limited indeed.

Our family farmers are facing increased costs to produce their goods, and we all know that from what is happening. If New Zealand's beef, sheep meat and dairy are to enter our markets, with the additional injection from this agreement, with these very products coming from elsewhere, demand could fall and prices could be suppressed. A socioeconomic and environmental impact assessment for this proposed deal must be carried out. Our farmers cannot be left to deal with the consequences of what could be a badly arranged deal.

I outlined in my initial response the efforts that have been made and that a very close focus has been kept on this in my Department as to the impact this could have here and the need to protect the interests of farm families. The business model of our farm families in this country is very much dependent on the fact we are a small, open nation that exports 90% of the food and drink we produce here. Therefore, as an exporting nation, trade deals are very important. In respect of our place in Europe, it is the case we benefit greatly from the trade deals Europe has undertaken across a number of countries.

If the Deputy is to look at the discussion we were having in the previous question around moving away to new markets through diversification, all those trade deals matter. In respect of these deals, we will look at the sensitivities in these areas and we will protect farmers interests in that regard, but there are a number of offensive benefits to such trade deals as well for our sectors.

Lessons are there to be learned from the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, for example. The Government's own economic and sustainability impact assessment on it has resulted in its opposition to that deal. It found it would cost Irish beef farmers €55 million annually as the market would be diluted by another 53,000 tonnes of an increase.

Furthermore, the European Ombudsman accused the EU of maladministration precisely because it did not base the trade negotiations on an assessment of the socioeconomic and environmental impact. This only adds to the case for a similar assessment to be carried out on the EU-New Zealand deal. Will the Minister of State commit to this?

Now that the Government is opposed to the Mercosur deal, why has there been a delay in communicating this to the European Commission? Has the Government notified the Commission of this opposition yet and, if not, will the Minister of State tell this House when the Government intends to do so?

As I outlined earlier, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is the lead Department in trade policy but it takes a very clear direction and has very close contact with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on such matters. This is an area in which we obviously have a clear insight in respect of the sensitivities that would have an impact on Irish farm families.

Tariffs on EU exports to New Zealand will go down to zero from day one of application of the agreement, which is important to bear in mind, including for key EU export products such as pig meat, pet food, ice cream and dairy products, including cheeses.

The pig meat sector has gone through a difficult time and the Government has stepped in to support it. There are benefits for those areas. The Deputy asked for the analysis that will be done on this. That is ongoing in terms of our next steps as to analysis of the agreement, the details of which were only published last week.

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