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Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine debate -
Wednesday, 3 Nov 2021

Farm Safety: Discussion

The Chairman, Deputy Jackie Cahill, sends his apologies. He will be joining us later. Members now have the option to be physically present in the committee room or they may join by Microsoft Teams, with the proviso that for meetings in public session, they must be in the Leinster House complex. If joining via Microsoft Teams, please mute microphones when not making a contribution and please use the raise hand function to indicate. Please note that messages sent to the chat are visible to all. Speaking slots will be prioritised for members of the committee.

Members and all attendees are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19. They are strongly advised to participate in good hand hygiene. You will note that seats have been removed in order to accommodate social distancing. I urge you not to move any chair from its current position and maintain appropriate levels of social distancing during and after the meeting.

Masks, preferably of a medical grade, should be worn at all times during the meeting, except when speaking. I ask for your full co-operation on these issues.

At today's meeting we are discussing the issue of farm safety. In the first session, we are joined by the Minister of State with responsibility for farm safety, new market development and research development, Deputy Martin Heydon. I also welcome officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Michael Moloney and Dr. Robert Leonard. There will be ten minutes for the opening statement before we go into a question and answers session.

Before we begin, I have an important notice on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter in these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Participants in the meeting who are outside the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protections afforded to those participants within the parliamentary precincts may not extend to them. There are no clear guidelines on whether or the extent to which absolute privilege covers such participation.

I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Heydon, to make his opening statement.

I thank the Vice Chairman, the Chairman, Deputy Cahill, and members of the committee for inviting me this evening to speak on the important topic of farm safety. I am joined this evening by officials from my Department, Mr. Michael Moloney, senior inspector and head of crop policy, evaluation and certification division with responsibility for farm safety, and Dr. Robert Leonard, agricultural inspector on farm safety.

Farm safety is an important area in the programme for Government and this was evidenced by my appointment as the first ever Minister of State with specific responsibility for it. I am determined to use this role to drive a change in culture on our farms, one that puts safety first in everything that we do. The day-to-day responsibility for safety on farms falls to the Health and Safety Authority, HSA. While the HSA has primary responsibility, my Department and I are fully supportive of its work and assist in the promotion of safe farming practices. I have introduced initiatives of our own to complement the work of the HSA, which I will detail further shortly.

Between 2016 and 2020 there were 100 fatal incidents on Irish farms. This is a stark reminder of the dangers on farms. Of these 46 involved a farm vehicle, seven involved machinery and 20 involved livestock. The age profile of those involved in farm incidents is also a serious concern, with the old and the very young accounting for 65% of fatal incidents on farms.

Of 54 workplace deaths in Ireland in 2020, 20 were on farms, which is hugely disproportionate to the share of the workforce of our country, with just 7.1% of people employed in the sector in 2019. Unfortunately, to date this year there have been seven fatal incidents on farms. Every death is one too many. Behind each of these numbers is a family, a farm and a local community that has suffered an irreversible loss.

I understand the committee has invited Embrace FARM to attend and discuss farm safety with it later this evening. I fully endorse the valuable work and support that the organisation provides to farm families at a very difficult time in their lives. I attended the annual ecumenical service hosted by Embrace FARM earlier this year. It was a sobering experience to meet with farm families and members of that organisation and to hear their personal experiences.

It is important that we continue to drive efforts to put farm health, safety and well-being at the centre of all we do. It is only through continuous attention to the risks that are present on farms that the rate of fatal and serious incidents will be reduced in a sustained manner.

I have been involved in supporting a range of initiatives in the areas of farm safety, health and well-being to help drive this cultural change. I launched a dedicated European Innovation Partnership, EIP, call for farm safety projects in December 2020, with an initial closing date for projects of 29 January 2021. The EIP ran in a two-stage process, with my Department receiving 30 project proposals in the first stage. Of these, 12 projects went through to the second stage. At the end of the second stage eight projects with a total value of €1.8 million were approved and are proceeding to implementation. Such was the level of interest that we increased the funding from €1 million to €1.8 million to ensure all successful projects could be funded.

These projects cover not just farm safety, but also farmer health and well-being and vulnerable people on farms. The projects address a broad range of issues in relation to farm health, safety and well-being, including supports for people who have been affected by serious and fatal farm incidents. They are generating ideas from the ground up. As we are all aware, there are many people in our communities doing great work in this area. These projects are a chance to scale up that work. We can roll out the most successful projects across a wider area, using what we learned initially.

At the beginning of October this year, I launched an accelerated capital allowance scheme for farmers wishing to modify farm vehicles or farm equipment for an operator with a disability. The scheme also covers certain qualifying farm safety equipment to help prevent farm accidents. The scheme is being operated in conjunction with the Revenue Commissioners and will help enable farmers who have suffered life changing injuries to continue farming. I am determined that while we work to make our farms safer places, these farmers are not left behind. The scheme has an annual budget of €5 million, excluding VAT.

Further to this, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the HSE, co-funded the On Feírm Ground programme, which I launched with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, last year. This project is providing training for agricultural advisers to engage with and signpost farmers to supports in relation to health and well-being. The training of farm advisers began last month and is ongoing. It is important that advisers are alert to the warning signs that farmers may be facing difficulties and know how to advise farmers on where they can get help. Our farm advisers do tremendous work. They are in a very important position in a farmer's life. They are often those who have the most regular contact with farmers and they are trusted by them too, so it is key they know how to support farmers when they are displaying signs of distress.

In relation to on farm infrastructure my Department’s targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS II, has more than 50 dedicated farm safety investments, in addition to all of the animal housing and other machinery that provide significant safety benefits. As part of the TAMS II, it is a requirement that all applicants complete a half day farm safety training course before submitting a claim. This has resulted in more than 19,000 farmers undertaking the required farm safety training.

Additionally, my Department is an active member of the farm safety partnership advisory committee, FSPAC. This committee is a sub-committee of the board of the Health and Safety Authority, and is chaired by a board member of the HSA. Currently, that chair is Mr. Ciaran Roche. It brings together all those who work in the area of farm safety to ensure all our efforts are joined up. The committee has five working groups focusing on different priority areas around farm health, safety and well-being. Officials from my Department sit on each working group.

My Department, in conjunction with the HSA, ran a combined television and radio campaign on farm safety in 2020 and 2021. The campaign focused on reminding farmers not to be complacent around machinery. Further to this, my Department is rolling out farm safety training to both farmers, as part of the agri-environmental and farm safety training package announced in budget 2021, and to farm advisers as part of their continuing professional development, CPD, training.

A farm safety leaflet is included with the annual basic payment scheme application packs, distributed annually to more than 130,000 farmers. All of these various means of reaching farmers, whether it be leaflets, training or media campaigns, help to keep our safety first message front and centre. We are using every available means to reach as many farmers as possible.

In budget 2022 a dedicated allocation of €2 million has been provided for farm safety. This will allow us to continue our work on farm safety, health and well-being. It is the first time the Department has ever had a dedicated budget for farm safety and it will be an important tool.

My Department is also continuing to develop the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and I am working to ensure farm safety has a central role in that when it begins in 2023.

I am determined to reduce the rate of serious and fatal incidents in the agricultural sector. I am open to looking at all options that may assist in encouraging farmers, and all those living and working in agriculture, to work in a safe manner and to manage the risks that are present in agriculture. Just because there are risks, it does not mean that farms should be dangerous places to work.

I thank you, Vice Chairman, and your colleagues for your invitation today. I look forward to answering any questions or any points that members may wish to raise.

I thank the Minister of State for that comprehensive opening statement. There is significant interest among members. We already have seven if not eight members indicating. I call on Senator Paul Daly.

I will let Senator Boyhan in. He has to go to the Seanad.

I appreciate that. I thank the Chair and Senator Daly. I have to go to the Seanad for Private Members' business. I welcome the Minister of State. He comes from my neck of the woods, Narraghmore in County Kildare, so I know of his reputation and commitment to agriculture, particularly young farmers coming into the sector. He has always been proactive there. He is highly placed and liked in the sector, which is an important facet coming into any Ministry. I like the fact he has focused on farm safety as part of his responsibility and his Ministry.

What is a farm accident? It is worth stopping and thinking about that. A farm accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally. It typically results in damage; in many cases there is loss of life and injury. We have to look at it in that context. Too many accidents lead to blame games. I know family members who have been involved in serious farm accidents involving chainsaws, ploughs and stuff. We need to be conscious that no one sets out to have a farm accident. They happen unintentionally and result in great injury and distress to family and the community.

Given the complexities of farming today, the Minister of State and members will appreciate that a farmer effectively has to be an accountant, to be a safety officer, to be computer literate and to deal with piecemeal schemes like BEAM and knowledge transfer partnerships, etc. There are enormous pressures on farmers in terms of finance and delivering on their farms and making them successful. That feeds into a sense of anxiety and speed and a need to get things done. That is not to make an excuse but it is part of the context around some accidents that happen on farms. There are all different ages and groups. Recently we had a major incident in Cavan which I will not go into but it was traumatic for the family involved.

I will take up the question of the green certificate. I have spoken to people who have completed the green cert. I am shocked and, in some cases, I do not believe they have even been on a farm. That is a strange thing to say. We need to look at the training modules for green certs and at who is monitoring the modules. Are they up to scratch and up to standard? Are they what they say on the tin? Many people seek and need a green cert for various reasons but I think we should look at it again. I would like to see a greater emphasis on the green cert and on monitoring, training and practical learning on farms. That includes agricultural colleges but not everyone who does green certs is in an agricultural college or has that opportunity. That is the key message I would like to leave with the Minister of State.

I acknowledge the enormous of Embrace FARM, particularly Councillor Gabe Cronnelly from Galway, who has done enormous work and has been in touch with the Minister of State office in relation to that. Their work is important because where life is lost there is sadness. There are many things that go and they stay on the farm. They do not disappear. I acknowledge the enormous work and support they provide. I also acknowledge the enormous financial commitments in this budget for farm safety, which the Minister of State is responsible for. I wish him well and I wish Embrace well in challenging and always difficult times around accidents that no one sets out to have. I thank the Minister of State for coming and am sorry I have to leave.

I thank the Senator for his comments. He is right. The point that struck me from what he said was that no one expects a farm safety incident to happen to them. I tend to refer to incidents rather than accidents because they are unintentional but, many times when you engage with families after a tragic incident, they admit there was an element to it that was probably preventable, if an action had been taken. Not always, but sometimes that is the case and that regret is there afterwards. Members know the phrase about when you put on your boots in the morning, you never know who will take them off that night. I continuously implore farmers to be acutely aware of the risks on their farm and, when hazards are identified, to address them and not put those jobs on the long finger. No family who suffers a loss or serious injury to a loved one on a farm ever expected it to happen to them. The Senator's point on that is very valid.

His points in relation to pressure on farmers are also valid. There are many contributing pressures in the normal exercise of farming activity, for example at harvest time, with the weather, with income, to get the work done and so on. Often that leads to farmers working long hours under pressure and, in certain instances, mistakes or things that were not intended happen. We have to be mindful of those pressures, identify the risk in those areas and see where farmers can identify and mitigate those risks.

The Senator made a point about the green cert. It was a broader point, really, but I am aware, having attended Kildalton agricultural college as an active farmer 22 years ago, that I learned a lot about farm safety there, including the right way to apply a three-point linkage, safety measures around PTO shafts, agitating slurry and all the rest. I do not consider myself old but I am in my 40s and it is over 20 years since I was there. That is a challenge for us. For some farmers, it is a long time since we got farm safety training. That is why the training in the likes of TAMS is important. Every time an arm of the State or somebody like the advisers from On Feirm Ground has a connection and interaction with a farmer, we must not miss that opportunity to reinforce the points around farm safety and farmer mental health and well-being.

I welcome the Minister of State, Mr. Moloney and Mr. Leonard. I am delighted to get the opportunity to speak on a topic that is close to my heart and in which I have invested much time and done much work. I have a Farm Safety Agency Bill in the system in the Seanad. I thank the Minister of State for his engagement on that and I look forward to continuing our engagements on it. Who knows where it may go? The goalposts have moved and that is why I welcome that the Minister of State is in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for farm safety.

The Bill's inception was when I was elected in 2016 and appointed to the agriculture committee because I had a keen interest in farm safety. When we were asked for contributions towards the work programme, I suggested farm safety and was told we could not discuss it at that committee. It would need to be the committee for trade, enterprise and innovation because the HSA is under that Department. The wheel has gone round and I warmly welcome the fact the Minister of State has responsibility and a budget of €2 million. Hopefully, that will increase.

People have a habit of circling the wagons when change is proposed. I am complimentary of everyone involved in farm safety. I could not stress that enough then and again now. That includes people in both Departments and the HSA. There are people in the private sector the Minister of State is aware of, such as Alma Jordan in AgriKids. We have mentioned Embrace FARM who we meet later. I mention two gentlemen in particular, Peter Gohery and Vincent Nally. All the farm representative bodies on the farm safety partnership advisory committee are playing a major role. The Minister of State highlighted in his submission the documentation that goes out with the single farm payment applications. Then there is Teagasc, through the knowledge transfer schemes or whatever. However, every life and limb is equally important irrespective of whose it is, and people are still falling through the net. That is my big fear and worry. How can we get to those people?

Those who fall through the net can include those who are not members of a farmers' representative organisation and those who are not Teagasc clients, in addition to those who have not gone to agriculture college or obtained a green certificate. If we reach 99 out of 100, there could still be one in 100 who could have an accident. Will the Minister of State comment on that?

What communication, if any, has the Minister of State had with the private sector? I am thinking of insurance companies, in particular. Could there be a partnership with insurance companies on the promotion and advancement of farm safety?

The Minister of State is 90% of the way on awareness. I welcome the radio and television campaigns that were run last year and again this year.

On the Saturday before I was introducing the Bill in the Seanad, I was farming. I was doing a bit of tractor work and working with cattle. I do not know how it entered my head but I said I had better not get a black eye, scrape my hand or bruise a nail as it would not look good standing up in the Seanad on the following Tuesday to introduce a farm safety Bill. Because I was so aware and conscious of safety on the day, I saw so many pitfalls and so much potential for an accident. I was probably being over the top but it opened my eyes. It was all just about awareness. On any other day, I would have done what I had to do and gone home, but on the day in question I was being more careful and aware. It opened my eyes to so many little pitfalls and dangers associated with tasks we take for granted and of which we are not conscious in our daily work.

As Senator Boyhan said, farmers are working against the elements. In a bad year, there may be just one window of opportunity. Many safety concerns go out the window if there are only two days in which to get the silage made and it is expected to rain again at the end of the week. Farmers are dealing with animals, chemicals and heavy machinery. There are many dangers around the farm.

Most farms are family owned and there are children and elderly people on them. There is much more danger in the farm workplace than in any other conventional workplace. We have to be cognisant of that. Will the Minister of State comment on my couple of questions? I seriously worry about the people who are slipping through the cracks. There are two Departments involved in addition to so many other organisations, which are all doing a brilliant job, but there are those who are slipping through the net. How can we get to everybody through awareness-raising and training?

I acknowledge the Senator's passion for farm safety and the engagement I have had with him on his proposed Bill. I acknowledge the meetings we have had on farm safety. It is a topic very close to his heart.

There is no single action that can solve the problem. If it were easily solved, the unacceptably high rate of fatalities on Irish farms would have been addressed long before now. It is therefore a matter of a series of measures. I hope we never miss an opportunity where there is a connection to a farmer, whether it is through my Department, an agency or an individual, even individuals in private industry, such as vets or those who deliver the meal in the lorry. We must never miss the opportunity to engage with the farmer and highlight where there have been incidents.

The Senator said many people have done a lot of work. He mentioned Ms Alma Jordan, Mr. Peter Gohery and Mr. Vincent Nally. I have met them individually at various events. Ms Jordan, with AgriKids and AgriAware, ran a good pilot initiative in schools last year. It was a good example of what should be done. When I was a young lad many years ago, I pleaded with my uncle to allow me to get up on a load of bales when travelling along the road. Now, through educational programmes in schools, children are going to their fathers or uncles to call out unsafe farm practices. The day the Senator was very aware of the potential for an incident was the day he was considering farm safety more closely. If we can get children to think more about farm safety, just as they think more about the environment through the Green-Schools environmental programme in schools, it will empower them to raise the issue of safety at the kitchen table and around the farmyard. I have four young kids at home. They point to something dangerous in the yard and ask why it is not being fixed. Schools present a huge opportunity for us. We should never miss any opportunity. There is not one action that can resolve the problem but it is about making sure every interaction is meaningful and highlights the challenges.

One component of the approach is identifying the risks. When at a workplace every day, and it is where you live, you become blind to the hazards. The first step is to identify the hazards and the genuine risks associated with farm activity, including in the yard. The next step is to take action to make things safer. It is a question of figuring out what needs to be done in this regard, whether it is through investment or taking action. Awareness of the hazard is key.

On the Senator's points on the HSA, I work closely with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy English, who has responsibility for the authority. My officials work very closely with the officials in his Department. The reforms brought about under the chairmanship of Mr. Ciaran Roche and the work on upgrading structures have made the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee, FSPAC, a subcommittee of the HSA, very fit for purpose in the modern era. As part of the work in this regard, five working groups were set up. They cover behaviour, education and training; health and vulnerable persons; tractors and high-risk machinery; livestock handling; and buildings and working at height. Each subgroup has clear actions related to the five specific areas of risk and is tasked with identifying actions that need to be taken from a policy perspective to address associated challenges. There is a genuine focus on that. I am very proud that Dr. Robert Leonard from my Department is vice chairman of the FSPAC and that my Department is represented on each of the working groups. There is good cohesion between the two Departments. I am happier now regarding the gap the Senator talked about but there are always people to reach out to.

From a policy perspective, I do not believe there is an issue now but there is one regarding individuals. The Senator asked about how to reach everyone. The reform of the CAP is a great opportunity. I want to see farm safety at the heart of everything we do regarding CAP, wherever possible, and everywhere we have a role. Ultimately, we need farm safety to be the first thought every day. When we were working with Mr. Tom Arnold on drawing up the agrifood strategy for the period to 2030, I was determined to make farmer health and well-being a central part of it. Previously, we probably had documents that had referred to ramping up the value of production but that did not refer to the cost to the farmer.

That leads me to the Senator's point on private sector involvement. There is a lot we can do through leveraging, not just in respect of insurance companies, which obviously have skin in the game in working with us to reduce and prevent the number of farm safety incidents and make farming safer, but also in respect of co-operatives. Ultimately, the farmer's farm is his or her greatest asset. From a business perspective, the farmer is integral to a co-operative in that he or she delivers the produce the latter puts on sale. All of the relevant bodies have strong corporate responsibility, and we could work with them. That is where I see a role for the €2 million I have secured this time. It is not the only fund available – we also have funding under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, and other schemes – but there is now a dedicated fund. I envisage the €2 million being used solely to give to projects in the area of farm safety. I envisage having the ability to leverage it, working with the private sector, to deliver even more money where projects are good and worth supporting. It may be a matter of considering innovative ways of communicating because this is key all the time. Communications are always changing. Historically, we had newspaper, television and radio advertisements but we can look to other areas. That is something I am working on. The private sector could also play a role in that regard.

I welcome the Minister of State. According to, farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, with roughly 21 dying every year.

My background is in farming and I have been in and out of farms for over 40 years and I have seen the dangers involved during those years. There are approximately 2,500 serious injuries annually. I also agree with what the Minister of State said about many injuries and fatalities resulting from the pressure that farmers are under and the effects of long days, especially when cutting silage and in similar periods. Even on small farms, there are always jobs to be done and jobs waiting to be done. Farmers with low incomes, like suckler farmers, do all those jobs themselves. Their incomes do not allow them to hire people to do some of the work for them. While the extra €2 million is welcome, I also agree that it will not be enough. At least it can be spent, though, and I hope it will be spent wisely.

Turning to my questions, does the Minister of State think that low-income farms account for many instances of accidents and injuries? The Minister of State also said that the Health and Safety Authority has the day-to-day responsibility in this area. Does he perceive the Department playing a more involved role in the future? The witnesses from Embrace FARM, who will be in with us later, have highlighted the impact of fatalities and serious injuries on the families of the people involved in such accidents. The opening statement submitted by the group states that "Legislators need to put the farmers first, not just the product they are producing". Does the Minister of State believe that the way those operating in the agricultural industry are being treated, in respect of the demands handed down to them, is right? Does he think that enough attention has been paid to the pressure these farmers are under to comply with the various demands being made on them?

I thank Deputy Martin Browne for his contribution. I am a suckler farmer based in south Kildare, with a mixed enterprise involving tillage, and I am acutely aware of what the Deputy has outlined. On hoping that the €2 million will be enough, to be honest this is not all about money. Much of what is involved is a change of culture and ensuring that all of us in the farming set-up, including farmers' partners, their parents and their children, are aware of the roles we have to play in identifying hazards and unsafe practices. That is an important aspect.

Turning to whether low income on farms is a factor in this regard, there are many contributing elements in this area. When I look at what is being done in respect of sustainability and to incorporate farmers in that endeavour through Food Vision 2030, the health and well-being of farmers is a central part of that process. In addition, the food systems approach we are taking in Food Vision 2030 makes the sustainability of farmers' income as important as the sustainability of the environment and the rural communities in which they live. That is the trick, and the key aspect here. The crucial element of new market development is to ensure that we increase the value that farmers get for their products.

Farmers are sometimes perhaps taking on jobs that should be done by two people and doing them on their own. That is a challenge for us, especially when we look at the statistics regarding the age profile of the farmers in this area. None of these points are excuses, though. Where factors contribute to farm accidents and fatalities, we must try to identify and mitigate them. However, we also need farmers to recognise where there are potential hazards in the activities they are undertaking. I refer in particular to the need to recognise that if a job requires two people that it is then necessary to wait until another person is available to help, instead of farmers perhaps opting to take on such a task alone and thereby taking a real risk.

I thank the Minister of State for being here and for engaging with us. This is one of the unique areas where there is political unanimity and every success on the Minister of State's part will be one we will all celebrate because it will result in lives being saved. Therefore, we wish him well in his endeavours. I also welcome a dedicated budget line being allocated to farm safety for the first time. Has the Minister of State received commitments that this €2 million budget line will consist of entirely new funding and that it will not be replacing funds for other farm safety measures included in previous budget lines? Does the Minister of State have a sense of how much of that €2 million will be direct expenditure by the Department or how much will be allocated in grants to organisations?

I thank Deputy Carthy for his points and questions. I agree, and I acknowledge the cross-party consensus on farm safety. We all want to see success in this area and it is one of those issues where political differences remain outside the door because we are all in the same boat. We all know of families in our constituencies that have been impacted by farm safety incidents. I assure the Deputy that this allocation of €2 million is new funding. It is dedicated and ring-fenced, as I said previously. It is not the only money that we spend in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this area, but I was seeking a fund which would have some discretionary aspects to allow for the possibility, if we come across initiatives - I have seen examples during the last year - that are worthwhile and effective and that we would like to support, of being able to support the farming community to undertake such endeavours on a larger scale. This is the opportunity we have now with this funding.

Equally, people might come to us with more ideas for support if they are aware that such a fund exists for possible initiatives. We must of course have due oversight of how this money is spent and ensure that there are proper checks and balances because this is taxpayers' funding. It is new money, though, and how it can be spent is a blank canvas. I will add as well that when I talk about farm safety that I am also incorporating farmers' well-being and mental health. Those aspects are inextricably linked with farm safety. I feel strongly that these elements are also an important part of this initiative and I am open to hearing ideas in that regard, including from members of the committee if they see opportunities, ideas or initiatives that they feel should be supported. We can look at and analyse those possibilities to explore how the provision of funding might help to get them off the ground or to support existing small-scale endeavours in scaling up.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. He should perhaps talk to some of his colleagues in government about making representations on his behalf in respect of the national broadband plan. His Internet connection was fairly weak in parts, but I think I got most of it.

There seems to have been a considerable reduction in the number of farm safety inspections. Returning to the point made by Senator Paul Daly, there is a difficulty here in respect of the cross-over of Departments and their responsibilities. Those inspections have decreased year on year since 2018, by more than 10% in 2019 and by 50% in 2020, we might say understandably due to the impact of Covid-19. However, it appears that the number of inspections has again reduced this year compared to 2020. Is that something on which the Minister of State has engaged with the HSA?

I apologise for the poor connection. It is not 100% but we cannot blame it on the Irish national broadband plan. I am in Glasgow at the COP26 meeting and our Scottish broadband could do with being a little bit better. I was determined to participate in the committee today and when the invitation came in I asked the Chair if he could change the timing. I embraced that change so that I could contribute and play my role here as part of this discussion.

Regarding farm inspections, the impact of Covid-19 is still with us. It is not all about inspections, and picking up on the point made by Deputy Martin Browne earlier, the HSA is the statutory body with statutory responsibility for ensuring safety in the workplace. That includes all workplaces in the country. Regarding determining how that work is carried out, and in the same way that there is a cross-party consensus, there is also a cross-departmental consensus in this area. We all want to change the culture in respect of farm safety and for our farmers to be safer, but achieving that is not all about inspections. I say that because some people would argue that the stress of inspections themselves cause challenges. There is not one contributing factor alone, whether that is big or small farms. Various elements are involved.

That change of culture involves heightening awareness of how things can be done in a safer way. Much of that preventative work relates to promotion From my perspective in the Department, my role is to work closely with the HSA and every other Department, including the Department of Transport on road safety issues, and to be that voice, but also to be a promotional voice in terms of engaging with farmers, calling out some unsafe practices and pushing for changes in that culture.

The Minister of State alluded to a point I was going to make, which is that farm inspections can be a stressful experience in their own right. I note there has been movement in that regard in recent years with the development of a farmers' charter. Is the Minister of State satisfied in the first instance that the charter is being upheld by inspectors within his Department? Are there areas in which that can be strengthened to ensure the experience of farmers who are engaging with the Department is positive? Obviously, inspections take place for a reason, that is, to ensure that rules are being adhered to and best practices are in place, but all members have had experiences relayed to us of farmers who had what can only be described as negative experiences and interactions. They felt the purpose of the inspection was to catch them out rather than to ensure they were implementing best practice. Does the Minister of State see scope for improvement in that regard?

The charter is a valuable document in terms of the role it plays in recognising the importance of farmers as equal stakeholders in this process. My experience is that the charter is fully upheld. If there are incidents where farmers believe that has not been the case, I ask them to come forward and let us know. The charter was drawn up in consultation with the farming organisations and representative bodies, which is key. It is a collaborative document, rather than one drawn up and dictated by the Department. It is a working document that involved all the key stakeholders coming together. It is very much a living document. I am always open to consideration of further measures but I have not received feedback from farmers that it is not playing an important role.

The Minister of State referred several times to the importance of the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, funding stream in the context of farm improvements that can, in turn, improve farm safety. According to the strategic CAP plan announced last week, it appears that funding for TAMS under the next round of CAP will be reduced year on year for the next five years, when compared with the previous five years. Is the Minister of State concerned about that? Does he envisage new capital funding outside the TAMS process that could be available for schemes specifically relating to farm safety in the lifetime of the next CAP, or even separate to it?

As regards TAMS, there is a significant number of measures that have a farm safety element and are funded through TAMS. Obviously, farm safety will be an integral part of the new TAMS but it is not the only mechanism through which we can support farmers with investment. I refer to the accelerated capital allowance scheme. It is a proposal we got through in the Finance Act last year and has been live since 1 January 2021. There were several issues relating to the rules in the context of finance. I recently launched the application process of the scheme in the third quarter of this year, but farmers can backdate investments they have made in the 14 key areas, such as farm safety measures, to seek to recoup that money over two years rather than over eight years as is the case for the normal process. That accelerated capital allowance is another example of what we are providing for farmers. I hope that, in time, if farmers use it and there is a good take-up of it, that it can be increased. The total expenditure under the seven measures of TAMS, including transitional expenditure, has reached in excess of €312 million, with €47.7 million paid to date in 2021. I have a long list of TAMS safety equipment that is available to farmers. Farm safety will be definitely an integral part of the new TAMS.

I had not planned to ask this question, but one of the really interesting points in the written statement provided by Embrace FARM which will be read into the record later in the meeting relates to the issues in the aftermath of an accident, particularly if a male farmer dies and there is a young widow with a young family left behind. In its statement, Embrace FARM refers to some of the experiences of people in that position. That struck me because it is an angle that may not have been considered in detail. The statement refers to how people in such situations may have missed out on schemes or incurred penalties for not completing forms. I know this might be a new area, but it appears there might be scope for the Department to offer a support programme whereby an official of the Department would engage with such families to provide practical supports and, perhaps, step-by-step assistance with the various schemes that applied on the farm and how they can be rolled over, as well as possibly ensuring flexibility would be shown by the Department. Is the Minister of State open to considering that type of initiative and engaging with Embrace FARM and the committee to see if we can develop such a programme?

Embrace FARM has significant knowledge of the experience of farm families in the aftermath of fatal incidents, as well as of practical measures such as those highlighted by the Deputy. It has raised these issues previously with my Department and that actually brought about a change whereby we put in place a dedicated point of contact within the Department for such families to deal with. There is nothing much more upsetting for a family member, such as the wife of a deceased farmer, than to have to explain every time he or she phones the Department with a query regarding a farm payment, a herd number or something else that the person whose name is on the herd number is no longer with us as a result of a farm safety incident. My officials are always readily available. We use the likes of the ploughing championships and the roadshows where schemes are launched as examples of this. One of the proposals put forward by Embrace FARM and taken up by the Department is that one member of staff in the Department is assigned to a family in this situation. That staff member deals with every query from the family so that they do not have to tell the story again and again. These are practical measures that are really important, but I am open to any further suggestions. Obviously, my focus is predominantly on preventing incidents from happening, but we must be mindful that they continue to happen and, where they do, my Department wishes to be sensitive and to work with the grieving families in dealing with all the practicalities in the aftermath of such an incident. I think we are doing that better now than we did initially. In recent years, those changes have made a good difference. I am always open to considering new proposals into the future.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for coming before the committee. Every member of the committee, and everyone in the wider political community, commiserates with the families of those who have lost their lives on the farm. Sadly, too many have been lost. It is good to hear of the various initiatives the Minister of State outlined. I have a few questions and will throw out a few ideas to see what the Minister of State thinks of them. There was consideration of things like having hydraulic systems instead of power take-off shafts on slurry tankers and other ways of making things safer on farms. What new measures has the Department got in TAMS for farmers to prevent accidents?

Will I answer the individual questions?

I can give the Minister of State a few of them together and he might answer all of them together.

Whatever is easiest.

Any citizen in the country can get the vehicle registration tax, VRT, on a car if he or she is in the unfortunate position of being in an accident. There are other reasons too. Is there anything being considered on the agricultural side, whether it is special adaptation of a tractor, for example? Would it be possible to give VAT or some part of the funding back to help farmers if they basically need to get back farming. I welcome what the Minister of State said about the quad earlier.

Bar the grace of God I could be one of the people I will speak of next. Many times when a cow calves people take a risk that they should not. Will anything be formulated by the Minister of State or his Department for a competition of ideas for equipment to use in circumstances? I have a vision in my head of a pen where a cow would calve with a gate at either hand and it could split open on the bottom so a farmer could get to put iodine on a calf or whatever. Is the Department considering anything to incentivise people to formulate ideas in a competition? If it saved one life, it would be great.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. With the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, every investment in a farm has a farm safety element to it because we are upgrading facilities and the conditions in which farmers work. It is making farms much safer. We have not signed off the decision for the new TAMS yet. Measures are being reviewed and new options are being considered internally. That is for the new TAMS process.

The Deputy mentioned about trying to keep safe when trying to look after a calf and I am in the same boat. Such a process is covered with the likes of the replacement of slats, calving gates, barriers, dehorning crates and handling units for cattle and sheep, including head scoops. It also takes in the upgrading of existing sheds with blinds and roller doors because sometimes a dark corner in a shed is a risk as well. The Irish Farmers' Journal ran a competition to what the Deputy described and I am always open to ideas. Farmers have a lived experience and the type of knowledge that is very important for us. I have always been struck by that. I am always open to generating new ideas.

The Deputy mentioned an adaptation element for farmers and we do not talk so much, necessarily, about life-changing injuries. The headline-grabbing figures are fatalities because of their impactful nature but there are many farmers who suffered a life-changing injury. I was acutely aware of that when I drew up a list for accelerated capital allowances that we had approved. The capital allowance for farm safety and disability adaptation equipment relates to 14 measures and where farmers invest in them they can get 50% offset against tax over two years in an accelerated allowance. Some of the measures look to address hazardous activity through investment in equipment. An example might be an anti-backing gate where a cow going into a crush cannot get back, which is a very important preventive measure. Another example would be hydraulic linkage arms for tractors and jacking systems and a lifter for big bags of a half a tonne or more, with or without the integral bag-cutting system. There are also allowances for chemical storage cabinets and other preventive measures.

Half of the measures in that accelerated capital allowance are adaptive measures. They include the quick hitch mechanism for rear and front three-point linkage to enable the hitching of implements without having to descend from a tractor. We have farmers who have, unfortunately, lost limbs because of a farm safety incident. For income and mental health reasons, when these farmers recover from their injuries they need to go back to work but it can be prohibitively expensive to adapt machinery and tractors in some of those ways. I was very conscious of that in formulating the accelerated capital allowance. Modified controls can enable full hand operation of a full vehicle when somebody has lost a foot or a leg. There could be a wheelchair docking system or the provision of a lift, hoist or an integrated ramp to the farm vehicle, including modified entry where required, and wheelchair restraints. These are all really important additional steps that can provide easier access in farm vehicles.

I encourage everybody on the committee to be familiar with the accelerated capital allowance and let constituents know about it. When farmers apply for these measures, it strengthens my case next year to make a list of 14 measures even longer. We should ensure it is fully subscribed because there is €5 million per year set aside for this. We all need to work together to make farmers aware of the supports that exist for them in that regard.

I thank the Minister of State for being with us today. Many of the other committee members have covered the questions I would have asked but that is fine. I respect what the Minister of State has said about farmers needing to understand that when there is a two-person job, they should wait and try to get somebody to help. It is not easy for many farmers, who may be under fierce pressure. We are calendar farming now and, unfortunately, this puts farmers into a corner and they must work at certain times, with the weather and a deadline on their back. Much of the time they can be on their own. They might suffer rural isolation as well, leading to many difficulties. There was mention of seven fatalities and that is seven too many. I respect that figure. Farmers are under much pressure too.

Senator Boylan mentioned the green certificate earlier. I was speaking to the father of a young man doing his green certificate who told me about the pressure being put on young people today. Perhaps it is an area the Minister of State might look into. He said there is a bit of funding under health and well-being provisions. Any of us who did a farming course know that people have to work as well, up to 35 hours per week. The gentleman I spoke to said his son was milking approximately 170 cows for a farmer and getting €122 per week. He is getting €3.48 per hour washing yards, spreading slurry, milking in the morning and evening. That young fellow must buy tyres and diesel for the car. He must live as well. It is a lot of pressure for young person and we can only imagine it. I would appreciate if that could be looked at.

If there is funding available, perhaps young farmers trying to start in life and get trained would not be asked to work for €3.48 per hour. These are decent and hard-working young lads and they deserve a little more respect. It is a failing of the systems in our country. If we pressurise them at that point in life, how will we improve their lot as time goes on? The Minister of State might look into it at some stage, although he has the very important brief of farm safety. We all know that and we are all on the one side on this matter. I thank the Minister of State.

The Deputy is referencing the work experience element of the green cert.

Yes, it is the work experience element. Young people are under immense pressure for €3.48 per hour, or that is what it works out at for this gentleman. It is the same in many cases, milking 170 cows morning and evening, as well as all the work that goes with it, including slurry spreading. He works so many weeks at 35 hours per week. That brings savage pressure on young fellows. It is unfair.

Absolutely. The idea of work experience is the young farmer gains that knowledge. I know I did when I did my green cert over 20 years ago. It is about working on a different host farm and people learn more on another farm than they might at home working for parents, etc. It is a very valuable part of the green cert. I would not want to see a position where somebody takes advantage of a young farmer when it comes to the number of hours he or she is expected to work. Work experience has a role to play and it is valuable. There must be safeguards around the process. The Deputy might give me the details of the specific case and I can look into it. Farmers must be approved as well to take on those positions and with that comes a responsibility to ensure all the jobs being done have a learning element.

There is very much a learning element to it. One can also talk about the type of work one is asking them to do. There must be a learning element to all the work that has been done there.

Outside of that, I would say to young farmers that in our support for young farmers and to encourage the transition, there are challenges, especially with farm safety and the older age of our farmers. There are so many farmers over the age of 65 and into their 70s farming and this is highlighted in the figures for farm fatalities where so many of incidents involved those who are in their 70s. It is very important to encourage intergenerational change, whether it is through partnership or through intergenerational change. We have made changes in recent years around long-term leasing and the 60% TAMS grant to encourage that generational change. These are all measures to support young farmers and to encourage them not only to take over the enterprise but also to invest and make farms safer and more efficient in how they do that as well.

I believe I may be the last contributor on this issue. Will the Minister of State elaborate on how CAP reform is going to play a part in farm safety and whether he believes that the new CAP talks and the new funding will play a vital role in ensuring that farm safety will be part of that? Will the Minister of State also elaborate on the well-being of farmers and how they actually operate? Unfortunately, a lot of farmers work by themselves. It is a very lonely occupation in so many ways. They must deal with succession planning and financial planning also. Will the Minister of State speak on the well-being of farmers on the farm? I spoke with a farmer during the week and he told me that he would meet the artificial insemination, AI, man and the bulk tank truck driver and these would be his interactions during the week. There is an issue around how farmers can communicate, can meet and can be involved in the system. Their mental well-being in particular may be an issue that we must focus on. Will the Minister of State comment on those two issues?

As I said earlier, farmers' mental health and well-being is integrally linked to farm safety. As far as I am concerned they are the same and one cannot look at them in isolation. I definitely share the concerns. Farmers work in isolation anyway. It is the nature of the job and it then makes it harder when the pressure is on. We are all aware of the impact that Covid has had on farmers. Across all sectors of society it has affected people who live alone or in more isolation but I have particular concern for farmers who work alone and live alone and particularly during the Covid restrictions. Their social outlet was to go to mart and maybe go for a pint at the weekend or to go to a sporting match or maybe to a religious service at the weekend. All of those four things were taken away during the lockdown. The pressures of farming and the ongoing work of farming did not go away. The release valve of talking to other neighbours and to share their experiences and to realise that they were not the only ones who are feeling the pressure, was taken away from them little bit. I am acutely aware that. This is why the On Feirm Ground project is so important. The farm adviser is very trusted. They are in the yard and they have that opportunity to lean over the gate and have that chat with the farmer at the end, and to identify if a farmer is in distress. The adviser is also in a position to be able to signpost supports where he or she thinks they are needed. I spoke about the innovation partnership models we have introduced. A number of the approved European Innovation Projects, EIPs, will address issues the committee has raised such as farm succession and health and well-being. These include the An Meitheal Feirme Project and Eco-T, which is a collaborative response to farmer mental health and suicide. The mid-Leinster farming and well-being project will carry that out. The farm family continuing professional development working group has also secured funding under the EIP. It is very striking that of the successful applications coming through the EIP model, many of them incorporated the farmer mental health and well-being piece as an integral part of addressing other safety hazards on the farm. They are inextricably linked, as the committee has also highlighted.

On behalf of the committee, I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and his officials for joining us to discuss this very important topic of farm safety.

I propose to suspend the meeting shortly to prepare for the next session. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 6.44 p.m. and resumed at 6.46 p.m.

For the second session of today's meeting, we are joined by representatives of Embrace FARM. I welcome Ms Norma Rohan, co-founder and general manager, Mr. Brian Rohan, co-founder and chairperson, and Ms Catherine Collins, development manager. The witnesses are all very welcome to the meeting.

The witnesses will be given ten minutes to make their opening statement, before we go into questions and answers. Before we begin, I have an important notice on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter in these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I now call on Ms Rohan to make her opening statement.

Ms Norma Rohan

Good evening everyone. I thank the committee for inviting us to be here this evening.

This evening's topic for discussion in the committee is farm safety and I will begin by telling members about how and why Embrace FARM was founded, and this involves telling our story.

I am from west Limerick. I come from a large family of eight children and grew up in a small house with my siblings, parents and my father's brother and sister. It was a typical Irish extended farm family. Ten years ago, I met and married a pedigree Holstein dairy farmer. As farms do not move, I now find myself living in lovely Laois. As newlyweds we were in our own little happy bubble, we were renovating the old farmhouse and I found myself pregnant with our first child very quickly. We were happy out on our journey and welcoming the start of our own little family. Our daughter, Julie was born, and life could not have been any better at that stage. We were navigating our way through having a newborn child, but all was good. I arrived home from hospital on a Sunday, it was Father's Day and Brian’s birthday. Two days later, that happy little bubble was shattered into smithereens on our family farm. Brian’s dad Liam, a champion ploughman and community activist, was involved in an accident on our farm. He was rushed to hospital and placed on life support. Those machines were switched off three days later. That began our journey into trauma and grief.

For me personally, to have no control over that journey was something I found very difficult because my everyday life was now consumed by my husband's grief and his family's grief. Brian wanted to be strong, to be the fixer in the family and to take on his father’s role, but he was obviously hurting and in shock. He blamed himself for what had happened on our farm, as he was not with his father at the time of the accident. "If only..." and "Why didn’t I..." and "Why didn't he..." were a common theme and a common conversation in those days. We coasted along, keeping our heads above water emotionally, trying to deal with something neither of us had ever been through before.

It was a true test in the early days of our marriage.

Our neighbours and extended family were the best to help, particularly as they are in all farming communities. They milked our cows and did bits around the farm, but eventually they had to go back to their own lives. Approximately 18 months later, we started to look for outside support that was specific to farming, but there was none to be found. After many conversations, we decided to set up our own charity, Embrace FARM, which provides a support network to those affected by farm accidents and supports both the bereaved families and survivors of farm accidents.

The HSA can provide statistics on how many people die each year on our farms and give the breakdown on the cause of death. Embrace FARM talks about the people behind those statistics. We put a person to each one of those numbers and speak about the true toll of the devastation caused. These farmers are more than just a number; they each leave a legacy behind them, none more so than to their families.

I would like to tell the committee about some of the people we encounter in Embrace FARM. We meet women, at all stages of their lives, widowed and left behind to pick up the pieces, both emotionally and practically. They face legal and financial difficulties. There may be no will in place and they may not have access to the farm business bank account. They face succession issues. What does a young widow do with the farm? Older widows may have an adult child to take over, but a younger widow with young children faces the dilemma of what to do: whether to farm it, lease it or sell it. Should she hold onto it for her children? Will they want to farm it in ten or 15 years' time? There are so many questions to answer, but her husband is no longer there to help her figure it out.

On the issue of farm enterprise regulations or schemes, some widows are very familiar with the workings of daily farm life, but others are not. How do they begin to navigate the myriad of paperwork in respect of meeting deadlines for schemes, regulations to be adhered to and decisions to be made? One lady told us of how she used to see what the neighbour was at. For example, if she saw that he was spreading slurry on a particular day, she knew she needed to get that done. Another lady told us how she was fined by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for missing a deadline on a scheme that she did not even know she had to apply for. Today, we were contacted by a widow who is looking for prayers and good wishes because she is facing a farm inspection.

These women are faced with their children's grief. A mother's primary concern will be for her children and how they are coping. The trauma a child goes through in witnessing their father or sibling being killed on the family farm is something that requires specialised help to get through. In some instances, there is further family breakdown. There are opinions on what a widow should do with the farm. Her parents in-law will not be happy with her decisions and grandchildren face a further loss of contact with their grandparents because families fall out. We have seen instances of injunctions being taken out against parents-in-law. Thankfully, that is rare, but it does happen.

We encounter parents who have lost their children in traumatic circumstances. Not always, but usually, it is the dad who is operating the machinery when such accidents happen. I doubt that any of the members here today can even contemplate what the farmer goes through every day following such an incident. One dad told us of presenting at the emergency department with chest pains. After many tests had come back clear, it was obvious to all that the dad had a broken heart following the loss of his son. The guilt and sense of responsibility that these dads have are no match for any amount of judgment they may face. It is their life sentence.

We encounter adults who mourn the death of their father, the loss of their mentor and the person they worked with each day. They try to take on their father's role within the family. Sometimes it is welcomed by the other family members, and other times it is not. Even if it is welcomed, it brings an added pressure. Even if there is a will in place, there may be division in the family, as some may not be happy with the contents. All of this is stress and pressure that is added to a person's grief, while they continue to farm, meet deadlines and rush against the weather.

We encounter men, and sometimes women, who have to adapt to living each day with a life-altering disability following an accident. They need the strength to battle through the health system to have their voices heard. Many are farmers who have lost a limb or sometimes, two limbs. There is very little in the way of helping the farmer to adapt to the situation they find themselves in to be able to continue to farm. Prostheses need to be changed regularly and there is a very outdated system in respect of how often a farmer can do that through the public health system. The prosthetic is needed to enable the farmer to live as normal a life as possible and to carry on working their farm to the best of their ability. When that is not in place, frequently, the farmer has to give up the enterprise they are involved in, often since childhood. Addiction, depression and suicide ideation are common among survivors of farm accidents. Living with daily pain does take its toll. Can you imagine what phantom pain must feel like, when your brain thinks the limb is there when its not? Farmers believe themselves to be custodians of the land, who pass it from one generation to the next. For them to not be generation that can hand it on better than they got it, takes it toll on them. A farmer who survives a life-altering farm accident feels obligated to put on a brave face, just because they survived. The trauma of the accident, immediate recovery and rehabilitation not only affects the survivor, but also their spouse, children and extended family. Everyone has to adapt to a new way of living.

Embrace FARM supports all of these people who unexpectedly find themselves on a journey of loss and trauma. To help the well-being of our farm families, Embrace FARM has built a community of support in response to their needs. Embrace FARM creates a space for people to connect and share their story with people who truly understand the devastating impact a farm tragedy has. We currently support about 300 farm families in our peer-to-peer support network.

Embrace FARM has recently been successful in being awarded European innovation partnership, EIP, funding to enable us to put in place a structure of one-on-one support for farm families impacted by tragedies on our farms. This will expand our services to include other types of sudden trauma, like suspected suicide on farms, and will enable us to support more farm families. This funding is for one year and will enable us to get the work off the ground. We extend our thanks to Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and the officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for this initiative.

As a point of note, I would like to mention that Embrace FARM is a registered charity in full compliance. For the second time we have been shortlisted for the Good Governance Awards in the charity sector. We pride ourselves in the correct running of our charity to the best of our knowledge. Our annual remembrance service has been adopted by the group in Northern Ireland, which hosted its first service of remembrance on the 24 October. The Farming Community Network in the UK will host its first service of remembrance on 7 November. Up until now, Ireland was the only country to formally acknowledge the death of farmers in a national remembrance service. It has done so since 2014. Approximately 600 people attended the service this year, and during Covid times, in the region of 45,000 viewed it online. The service is also broadcast on RTÉ.

While Embrace FARM's focus is on picking up the pieces after tragedy happens on our farms rather than on farm safety preventative measures, we can talk about the impact of farm tragedies on our farms. All of the health and safety experts that we have spoken with over the years tell us there is no one silver bullet to fix farm safety. In recent years, I have noticed how the fixes are all shifting onto the behaviour of farmers. I am no health and safety expert, but I feel this is a bit unfair. While the farmers must take responsibility for their actions on the farm, they are not the entire agriculture sector, but one part of it. There are people in these Houses and in Brussels who make legislation, officials in the Departments who enact that legislation and wider groups of processors,organisations, private companies and media outlets, among many others, who are also involved in the agriculture sector. Their behaviour and our behaviour need to change.

If there is to be a cultural change in agriculture around the behaviours of farmers when it comes to farm safety, then that behaviour needs to change in the entire sector. Legislators must put the farmer first, not just the product they are producing. Without the farmer, there is no product.

We are all able to sit here today because a farmer has provided food to sustain us. Officials and processors, when doing their inspections, need to look further than just the farm gate and the operation of the enterprise. What about the farmer's well-being? The media need to stop printing images that condone unsafe practices. These are just a few things.

All of us in the agriculture sector need to change our behaviour, not just farmers. The farmer is just one person. We, the agriculture sector, need to help farmers, not just shift the blame of farm safety to them without looking at ourselves as well. Farmers are a resilient people and want to do their best for their land and animals. I know in my home, as it is in many farmhouses, the animal and the human are treated as being as important as each other. Even today, farmers face having changing regulations and climate action demands forced upon them. Farmers want to do their best, with the help of others in the sector, but they do not want to be the only ones making sacrifices and changes.

I ask members to take a minute to remember a farmer in their localities. I have no doubt each member will be able to recall someone who has lost his or her life tragically on a farm, whether through a farm accident, suicide or even a sudden medical event. I would like members to think about that person and now the person's family who are left behind to pick up the pieces. What happened to that farm family and the farm? Sometimes bad things happen after a sudden and traumatic death on a farm. These are usually driven by grief and trauma that is not being dealt with. It can take many forms, including anger, resentment, isolation, depression, substance abuse, family breakdown and suicide. It does not always end like this, of course, but for some farm families it does, and this is where Embrace FARM would like to help our farm families before things get very bad.

With me today are Mr. Brian Rohan, a dairy farmer from County Laois who is also co-founder and chairperson of our board of directors, and Ms Catherine Collins, our development manager. I thank members for their time. We welcome any questions they may have.

On behalf of the committee, I thank Ms Rohan. It was as heart-rending an opening statement as I have ever heard in this committee room. Unfortunately, we have all walked into sitting rooms and living rooms after a tragic accident on a farm. Ms Rohan's portrayal of the devastation that it causes is all too accurate. We have also seen incidents where farmers have been badly hurt or injured and the devastation that it causes, as well as the significant financial hardship it can put on the family farm structure. Farms usually only have one breadwinner. If an accident happens, there are many different complications and permutations. I compliment the witnesses on the group that they have set up and for the help which is given to the families concerned. Having somebody to talk to can be very important.

I genuinely compliment the witnesses on their opening statement. It was comprehensive and genuine. Unfortunately, we all know too many horror stories. I had a farm accident when I was a young man. Thankfully, I have recovered reasonably well from it. I cannot say that I have not lived a full life. At the time, it put substantial financial pressure on our household. I was 22 years old when it happened and my father was sick at the time, in the first stages of a long, painful illness. That created significant pressure and worry for my parents. I was in and out of hospital for three years. Thankfully, I got back on my feet, and was one of the lucky ones, since I did not experience a real long-term impact. Many people's lives have been devastated. I compliment the witnesses on their opening statement and the work they are doing for families that so badly need somewhere to turn.

I concur with every word the Chairman has just said. I thank Ms Rohan for that opening statement. I read it earlier today. It was a rare moment where my breath caught. Ms Rohan's delivery was even more forceful. Her message has been heard loud and clear. I was especially struck when she invited us all to remember people who have lost their lives. All of us who are engaged on an ongoing basis with the agriculture sector could probably think of multiple people. I express my condolences to the family of Tommy Feeney from my constituency, who was killed recently. I did not know him but I know his death has had a substantial impact on his wife, their two young girls and the wider community. I was talking to farmers dozens of miles away who were struck by just how quickly these things can happen.

There is a particular challenge for us because, as has been said, people who are often derisorily described as part-time farmers are usually full-time farmers with another full-time job. That means, especially at this time of the year, that they are engaged in the most dangerous industry in the country, often in the dark, either early in the morning or late at night. That creates significant challenges because, as Senator Daly said, it involves dealing with big, potentially dangerous animals, chemicals and powerful machinery weighing several tonnes, while working alone, which would not be permitted in any other sector, yet tens of thousands of people are doing it.

We need to take heed of Ms Rohan's final message that this cannot be left to people who have another full-time job because they cannot derive a sustainable income from their land. As part of their role on the farm, as well as being the person who is dealing with the machinery and animals, a farmer is also expected to be an accountant, a bookkeeper, solicitor and legal expert and an expert on EU regulations and domestic legislation, as well as holding together a family, which can be stressful in the modern era. Farmers cannot be held solely responsible for adopting and implementing a farm safety policy. There need to be additional supports.

We previously discussed with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, how the Government and Department clearly have a role that they need to take up. There also has to be a role for the others along the market chain who are making money off an individual's work. There is a role for processors, retailers, factories, supermarkets and all of us in society to recognise that we have a challenge.

I do not know if the witnesses heard our interaction with the Minister of State. My specific question is about the issue of succession and the challenge it presents. We asked whether the Department could do more to provide supports to families in that situation. Ms Rohan's statement referred to a young wife who may not be from a farming background and is left with the burden of the farm and the challenges of knowing when the deadline for a scheme is. We suggested that the Department establish a section to support families and take them step by step through all the processes. The Minister of State indicated that a point person had been appointed. I gather from the witnesses' statement that this is not sufficient. I welcome any thoughts about how that could be improved.

Many good organisations support bereaved families.

I commend our guests on turning their family tragedy into a positive piece of action that has benefited hundreds of other families. What needs to be done to support families who are in that position on farms and in terms of the wider supports that could be provided?

I apologise that I have to attend another meeting at 7.30 p.m., but I look forward to listening to the witnesses' responses until then.

Ms Norma Rohan

There is an inheritance unit in the Department that people can contact and get that type of one-on-one, walk-through assistance. However, when it comes to women who are not familiar with the daily working of the farm, they do not know how it works with the Department. They do not know one scheme from another. As they are in grief and shock and are traumatised, some can tend to be distrustful of their circle and are not sure where to turn or to whom to turn. While the Department may have that one person, what the person is talking about makes no sense to the women, so it is not as straightforward as them just ringing up and getting an answer. Brian might wish to speak on that. He has quite a few stories about many of these women.

Mr. Brian Rohan

I will refer back to my own story. Dad died in 2012 and the single farm payment was introduced in that year, but in the following year we had to transfer the farm into my name and so forth. My adviser applied for the basic payment that time in joint names because Dad and I were in joint partnership. It was applied for in the names of Liam Rohan, deceased, and Brian Rohan. About a month later, a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine official called out to me and said it was time I put the herd number in my name. He asked me to sign the paperwork with him and I signed it. In June of that year, another official from the Department rang me and said I had applied for the basic payment scheme in a partnership with one person who is deceased. I said that was what my adviser did. Then he said that a month later I changed the name into my own name. I said that a departmental official came out and told me I needed to sign the paper. I said that I tend to do what I am told by departmental officials so as not to get in trouble. He said I should not have done that. I asked how would I know and asked him what the problem was. He said: "It means I have more paperwork to do". I said I was sorry that my father being killed in a farm accident caused him more paperwork.

That led to an ongoing battle. The official was to send out forms but they did not arrive. There were forms to be signed. He said that if I just had the cop on to fill up an ERAD 2 form, put the details on it and send it back, he would look after it and that would have been done. However, he was fairly ignorant about it. I had to make a call to a friend of mine in the Department and he said I needed to talk to a certain man. I rang him and he told me he would bring the form home with him that night and give it to me to fill it up. He rang me the next day to tell me it was resolved. I am used to dealing with the Department and perhaps meeting somebody who is not as efficient as somebody else. I thought about a widow who knows nothing about farming getting that type of answer from a guy on the telephone. She is bad enough as she is with her grief without having to deal with that type of hardship.

When it came to basic payment time the following October, I was seeking my 70% like everybody else. It did not come. We had to change bank accounts. Every week that I rang I was told I was cleared for payment, but when Tuesday came there was no payment. The following Tuesday there was no payment and I rang again. I have a fair amount of patience, but it was beginning to run out. Eventually, on the Saturday before Christmas that year I finally got my payment. I was told to ring Cavan because the Department did not have my bank details, but I had rung the Department a month previously and was told it had the bank details. Eventually, I got my 70% on the Saturday before Christmas. The disadvantaged area payment had not come in and I had to start the process again in January. It was February in the following year before I got my payment. I felt I had enough to do to run the farm from day to day and to deal with everything else without having to chase up what is my money.

You were well able to do it, whereas others might not be.

Mr. Brian Rohan

That is the thing.

I mean that you had the wherewithal to do it.

Mr. Brian Rohan

I was looking at it from the widow's point of view, who was not able to do it.

As regards inspections, in December about four years ago I had a Bord Bia audit on a Monday, which was planned. In fairness, he was trying to come for about a month, so we picked that Monday. He arrived and the job was done and dusted in about two hours. It was to make sure that the food I am producing is quality assured. On the Tuesday, I had an unannounced health and safety inspection. The guy arrived and I told him I had no objection to the inspection but asked if there was any chance it could be done on the following day. The cattle were out and we were stripping the silage pit for the first time. I told him we were trying to get the cattle in, that I wanted to get the pit stripped and get them in. I asked him if he could come back the following day or the next day. "No", he said, "it has to be done today and will only take an hour". We downed tools and two and a half hours later he was in and out and then gone. We had to leave the cattle out for another day. We got them in on the following day and at 2.15 p.m., when we were having a cup of tea after dinner, the telephone rang. It was an official from the Department to tell me that he was there for a full cross-compliance inspection. He had been there two years previously for another full cross-compliance inspection. I passed both times, by the way. Messing with him, I told him politely to eff off, but I went down the yard and met him. We started it at 2.30 p.m. and he was there until 6.30 p.m. He was back the next day from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. That was four days of my week gone. I just had to drop tools.

That type of pressure should not be put on any farmer. It was a very busy time of the year. We had to do it and we have no choice but to do it. I spoke to somebody in the HSA. We are friendly with one of the senior inspectors and he sits on our board. I told him I had the inspection and asked if, after a fatal farm accident, there was not a signpost put up that there has been a fatal accident on the farm. He said, "I am surprised you had it, but I am not surprised you passed it". That is how he put it. He knows me and he knows the farm. The boardroom for Embrace FARM was our kitchen table until the Covid pandemic. Now, like everybody else, we are on Zoom.

Those types of pressures, added to perhaps taking bad prices, being hit with bad weather and the like can really get to farmers. The departmental official who was doing the inspection told me that he often calls to farmers and said that he would know by them when they open their doors that they are not in a good place mentally. However, he said that inspectors are told to go in unannounced and carry out the inspection. In one particular case, he said, "I walked away from him and told him I would call back another day", and he went away. The farmer was on his mind. The farmer was lucky he had that inspector because I met another unhelpful inspector at another time and I would not like him calling into anybody who was in a bad mental state because he would not do any good for him.

I wish to be associated with what was said by the Chairman and Deputy Carthy. Mr. Rohan said he has patience. By God, he had some patience putting up with that type of carry-on and when there is pure stupidity like that. I congratulate Embrace FARM and say "Well done" for the services being provided. As Ms Rohan said in her statement, behind every one of those accidents there is a family, not a number. I lost my nephew to a silly farm accident a long time ago. It is not a number, but someone who has left behind a father, mother or family. I am in awe of the services the organisation is providing for families. I can imagine that in my situation, and everybody else here is in the same boat, if these types of services had been available it would have made a massive difference to families over the years.

The opening statement said that legislators need to put the farmers first, not just the product they are producing. To be honest, in my time on this committee it appears that with the requirements and regulations that are imposed on farmers, both domestically and by the European Union, alongside the need to be profitable or to break even, at least, our farmers' well-being is being pretty much overlooked. What can we do? Do the witnesses have suggestions for what we can do, as legislators, to address this? In particular, when regulations are passed for farmers and new demands are made, for example, in the case of slurry and soiled water storage, should the regulations be accompanied either by a health and safety message or assistance for farmers? On the same theme, there is new machinery coming on line all the time and demands are being made of farmers when it comes to the machinery they should use. Is training in the correct use of that machinery ever an issue? Could more be done either by the Department or the manufacturers? I would like to hear the witnesses' opinion on that.

On the mental health aspect, I recently read a report in the Irish Farmers Journal on mental health and how the ripple effect of changes to the agricultural policy and the restructuring of farming have an impact on the mental health of farmers.

Is this something our guests have seen or become aware of? Is attention being paid to it, given the changes the farming community faces? Do our guests have any suggestions about how to address that need?

Ms Norma Rohan

None of us appearing before the committee is a health and safety expert on how something should be done. Nevertheless, legislation and regulations have their part to play and they are there for a reason. When legislators are producing legislation, focusing on the product is only one aspect. Farmers' well-being has to be side by side with that, not at the bottom of the pile. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, has committed that in the new Food Vision 2030 policy, the farmer will be up there, although I am not sure about that. Similarly, the Health and Safety Authority and its officials want farmers to be safe. They do not want them injuring themselves or dying.

Even so, when these people are front-facing with farmers, there is a way to deal with and interact with people. It might be a suggestion for the Department to have a psychotherapist or psychologist on its payroll to help with training of officials and so on. There are no official figures from the CSO on farmer suicide in Ireland that we can get our hands on. Apparently, our country is too small and it is too easy to identify people. Based on the figures from the UK, however, we estimate approximately one farmer per week takes his or her own life. That is an estimate but-----

Does Ms Rohan mean the figures are not being recorded?

Ms Norma Rohan

They are not recorded as farmer suicide. The CSO argues the country is too small and the people can be identified. The estimate nonetheless is that one farmer takes his or her own life every week. Ms Collins might wish to comment on legislation, regulations and mental health.

Ms Catherine Collins

We should address the mental, physical and emotional health of farmers in the legislation and stand in their shoes. We should imagine them producing the product productively and economically for the country and ask who that affects throughout the supply chain. That needs to be examined as a whole rather than just in respect of the individual farmer.

Mental health campaigns happen specifically in the summertime, at the height of the farming season. Peter Hynes has started the new Ag Mental Health Week in Cork, which will focus on the autumn. There is also the time of year from January to May when it is considered as well. The Department should get behind that a little more, flag it and offer more supports, and have more discussion of mental health. That is the problem. People do not want to talk about it and the stigma is still there, especially in rural Ireland. From our perspective, we have found that suicide ideation goes hand in hand with grief and loss. There are mothers who just do not want to continue and who exist just because of their children. There are farmers who have had limbs amputated and have had the same circumstances leading to the addiction issues Ms Rohan mentioned earlier.

Retraining and redirection could be better examined. I can think of one person who has tried several roads he would like to go down but, because he is in his 60s, he is coming up against so many issues and he cannot continue farming. In theory, he should be able to continue farming for at least another five years, until the statutory retirement age. Small matters such as that could be adjusted and made more accessible to help with people's mental health and well-being. That is part of the process of recovery, especially for the survivor of a farm accident.

Mr. Brian Rohan

I applied for a TAMS grant and had to complete a half-day training course. The Health and Safety Authority has indicated that, in many cases, the farmer's wife is sent to complete the course and tick that box because the farmer is too busy to spend the half day doing the training, although I completed the half-day training myself because I wanted to see what goes on at these training courses. The Health and Safety Authority has trained people in State bodies to conduct these training courses but what I witnessed that day was horrendous. We were shown a picture of a tractor that had been overturned, with blood on the yard, and the man asked what we thought of it. He said an 80-year-old man with a tractor had lifted the loader too high, gone down a rough lane, turned over and was killed. We were told also about a farmer who had brought his five-year-old son onto the yard and asked whether it would be okay for him to be left loose on the yard while the father was feeding the cattle.

I lost my own dad. Thankfully for me, he did not die at home and got to the hospital, but there are many families where the father was driving a tractor that drove over his son, or where a son was with the father who was attacked by a cow. There has to be a better way to do this training than by showing these pictures. Survivors or people who have lost somebody and gone through an accident can deliver the training much better than some of these training professionals. We have to think of the people who have been affected. No questions were asked about whether anybody in attendance had lost anybody in a farm accident or had suffered a farm accident. It was just a matter of doing the two or three hours' training that day and some of the stuff was horrendous.

No thought is being put into what training is being provided and that needs to change.

I welcome our guests and sympathise with Mr. Rohan on his loss. Their opening statement was fantastic and set a tone for the debate, which is one we need to have more often. I acknowledge their presence and welcome them.

I made a couple of notes while they were speaking. I asked myself what would happen if I died tomorrow morning. How would my wife, Catherine, survive? I was thinking about how the bank account and the co-operative are both in my name and asking how that would work. Is my will up to date? I was thinking of issues all the way down to the coroner's court and the Teagasc adviser. There are so many to address in regard to how a farmer's family would survive if he or she was no longer at home. A great deal of communication is required. My discussion group and others need to be involved in order that we can prepare for what, unfortunately, could happen, although we hope it will not. That will be an issue for us a society and an industry.

Mr. Rohan spoke about training courses and I have a great story about them. A colleague of mine in a different industry ran a health and safety training course and was trying to get about 15 lads through it. They were not engaging, so the man in charge of the course began talking about children, what would happen if they were choking and what way the men would cut their sausages. The 15 of them perked up straight away and everyone started listening. When an issue affects people or they think it is logical, they will engage straight away. This is about engaging and trying to ensure we get out the message that we should not rush, even though that is something we all do.

The issue of how a family will survive after an accident is very important. We all know somebody, perhaps in our townland or parish, who has, unfortunately, lost a limb. I have a neighbour in the townland next to me who lost a limb when he was 12 years of age from a PTO shaft. We have all lost neighbours over recent years and we all know exactly who has been lost and how. How we deal with that as a society is the big issue. That debate and trying to get that information out there is the most important matter.

I have spoken previously about young drivers of quads and similar issues that need to be raised. Is it appropriate that a 16-year-old might drive a charter that can do 60 km/h and carry 25 tonnes behind it? There is demand for these girls and boys in summertime but there needs to be a debate in society as to when we should say "stop". That will be a difficult debate because we are working harder to provide for our families but, unfortunately, we are putting ourselves at risk. The debate on when to say "stop" will be the most important one.

Our guests' services are very important, both for society and for those who are left behind. They concern a big issue and I compliment them on those services. A farm fatality is shocking but, in many ways, a farm accident is just as bad.

It means that people might not have the ability to take full control of the farm in the same way as they did previously. I have a personal friend who is in that scenario. As a farmer with a young family, dealing with that, mentally in particular, is a trauma not alone for him but the entire family and, probably, the entire community as well. There are so many moving parts to this. The most important part is the participation of services like Embrace FARM. It gives a focus so that people can talk about it, get involved and acknowledge that there is a problem. We need to start scenario planning for the "What if?" That is what I am taking away from this debate. We need to start that scenario planning because, God forbid, there are an awful lot of things that would need to be tied up if that is not done. I compliment the witnesses on their work. What do they think we, as a committee, can do? Where do we need to go?

Several years ago, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee did a report on farm safety and raising awareness around farm safety. Senator Paul Daly and I, as members of that committee, were very involved in that work. Do we need to do more? What are the issues about which we need to raise awareness? Where do the witnesses think this debate is going to go? In terms of the mental health issue, as it gets darker earlier in the evening, people have too much time to think. That is a big issue that we need to start talking about. Peter Hynes was mentioned, whom I know personally. He is a very good advocate on this issue. I often say to him that he does his best to drive me mad about date nights. He continuously does so every Saturday night. He is out to show us all up. We have to have time for ourselves and our families as well. It is not just all about work. I thank the witnesses for being here. This has been one of the most important discussions we have had as a committee. I acknowledge the wonderful contributions of the organisation.

Ms Norma Rohan

I thank the Senator. Following on from his remarks with regard to Mr. Hynes, kindness, acknowledgement and talking are important things. Farming is a male dominated sector. They say men do not talk, but I reckon farmers do a lot of chatting. As I said earlier, I am not a health and safety expert. In terms of a cultural change around behaviours, there is no point in expecting one part of the sector to do that on its own while everybody else goes about their own business. It has to start in every part of the sector. The legislators need to make the farmer as important as the product that is being produced. There is no product without the farmer.

Senator Lombard spoke about mental health, isolation and so on. The farmer is all of the time having to fight for his or her spot or place. We need a lot more joined up thinking in every area rather than just a focus on the product. We need to focus on the farmer as well, and his or her family. It has been said many times that agriculture is the backbone of this country. We need to place the value on the farmer and the family and to respect all of them for what they have done and the legacy that they leave behind. As I said, we are all here today because farmers produce food for us to eat. We need to come together and support the farmers to do the work they need to do, without constantly imposing more regulations and legislation on them. I accept that the latter have to happen, but there is a way to do them. You cannot just go in and make demands. You need to talk to people and treat them with respect and kindness. That will go a long way towards bringing a cultural change. That is my humble opinion.

Ms Catherine Collins

If I may, I would like to step in at this point. We could have a broader corporate social responsibility. In other words, everybody across the sector would pledge towards the safety, security and responsibility of the sector. This goes hand-in-hand with what is happening with the climate change responsibility which we all have to adapt to and take on at the moment. We need an industry-wide message that every aspect of the supply chain for the agriculture sector has to buy into, from the processors to the farm workers and right up to top, inclusive of everybody who is in this room this evening. That might be one way of addressing it, to begin with.

Mr. Brian Rohan

On that point, rather than looking for the cheapest bag of carrots or the cheapest litre of milk, we need consumers to be prepared to pay a little bit more for the product they are buying and to give more thought to the extra, say, 10 cent per litre they pay going directly to the farmer as opposed to the shareholders in the co-operative and so on. On the question of what would happen if we were not operational in the morning, we initially set up Embrace FARM to facilitate a remembrance service on the last Sunday of June, which was to be held annually. That was it. We had a great PR person behind us. He got us into the newspapers and on radio and television interviews. I am not a person who likes public speaking, and never have done, even when I was at school. My father, Lord have mercy on him, was into public speaking, but I am not. However, I just had to step up and do it. We were receiving emails at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. from widows telling us their life stories. As stated, in one particular email, which was two or three pages long, a widow set out her life story to us as strangers. Her partner of many years was killed. They had two children. The bank accounts were immediately frozen. She had a good job, but the farm needed to be looked after. In fairness, her partner's brothers came on board and supported her 100%. They also engaged with the co-operative and got it the co-op name changed into her name so that when the corn was cut she would get the money from the corn to give her some sort of income. It took six years for her to get her bank account opened. Her partner was a contractor and so there was money owed, but she does not think she got half that money. The genuine customers paid up for bailing or cutting corn and so on, but an awful lot more walked away. She then had to hire two solicitors, one to represent her and the other to represent her two children. One third of the farm was required to be held in trust for the two children until they reached 18 years of age and she got the remaining two thirds, but she did not know if her son would be interested in farming. At the moment, he wants to be a contractor like his father was. He is currently 21 years of age and he is starting into the contracting game.

Again, for the past few years it has been all about developing farms and pushing on as the production of milk quotas is gone. If you walk into the bank and get approval for €500,000 loan you must take out life cover on that loan, which you cancel the following week. I have said previously at meetings that if you borrow €500,000 you are responsible for it and if you are not here next week the family is responsible for it, but if a person has life insurance the loan is taken care of. It is one less worry for the family at a time when they are grieving. That might be something that requires to be changed by the banking sector. In other words, if a farmer borrows, be it €100,000 or €500,000, life cover must be put in place and cannot be cancelled.

I welcome Norma, Brian and Catherine. Like other speakers, in preparation for meetings I read through the submissions in order that I could prepare questions for the witnesses. However, following on from the submission given today, the questions I had intended to ask have been already answered. It was one of the best and most moving submissions I have ever heard at this committee.

By way of history, in 1983 I ploughed my first all-Ireland in Waterford in the under 21 section. I was a young lad, mad to get out the traps. At the time, John Summers, John Treacy, Martin Kehoe, Willie Ryan and Liam Rohan were the lads we aspired to be. I might as well be honest; I never made it. I cannot see it happening when it did not happen before now. I think it was in 1986 Liam Rohan won the all-Ireland outright. He won a few stubbles, but having done two together he won outright. He represented Ireland at world championships on four occasions. In terms of what the witnesses have done, at the time of his death or before it, representing Ireland was probably the legacy, but I can guarantee them today that if he could come back, they would be the legacy. Embrace FARM is the legacy. It would out trump him having represented Ireland. The work Embrace FARM is doing is fantastic. He could not but be proud. That in itself has to be a solace for them, which solace they are now providing for other families. I cannot compliment them enough. It must mean so much to families to have available to them a service that was not available to the witnesses. As mentioned in the submission, when they sought help it was not there but rather than walk away frustrated they set about fixing that for other people. That is to be highly commended.

I have some short questions based on a couple of things Ms Rohan has said. With regard to the European Innovation Partnerships, EIP, funding for one year, what happens next year? Without going into detail, are there are many other families who are prepared to row in with Embrace FARM? When something happens to you, people always say it is great to talk to somebody who has been there before. Ms Rohan has been there and is talking to all of those families. Are many others prepared to row in, talk to people and help? Are there many who are willing to club in with Embrace FARM to make it bigger?

Ms Rohan has said she is not a safety expert. There is a big issue, which Senator Lombard has mentioned. When I was young, I started driving a grey Ferguson before moving on to a Massey Ferguson 135 and Massey Ferguson 165. I had a bit of experience before I got into what you would call a half-decent tractor. Now young lads are stepping up. Something has to be done about it, to be honest. It will not be popular with the 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds who are looking for licences and who think they will be drawing silage next year but something has to be done there. You have to have a bit of experience before you are put up on a massive machine. I do not know how to handle that but, as Senator Lombard has said, it is something we definitely need to look into.

Earlier, in our meeting with the Minister of State, we mentioned the difficulties some families have had with the Department after a death, accident or tragedy, which the witnesses highlighted in their submission. I have no doubt he will pursue that matter. The Minister of State was a bit taken aback when some sections of the Embrace FARM submission were quoted. I have no doubt but that he will pursue the matter and I will certainly be pursuing him to do so. It is heart-wrenching. My own uncle died just a couple of months ago. It was recorded as a farm accident but it was a heart condition. He was dead before he crashed the tractor. I see what is going on in the family and the grief they feel. They are trying to sort things out. He was a bachelor. My mother and his other sister and brothers are looking for things in the house but do not know where anything is. I know exactly what it is like because I have lived it. Everybody has, as the Chairman said earlier. You do not need an unhelpful Department official or a letter saying you are not getting paid because you missed a deadline, which was a week after the family tragedy, on top of that. There has to be a little bit of leeway within the Department. We will be pursuing that with the Minister.

On behalf of everybody, I again thank the witnesses. They have done a lot for many people. It is a pleasure to have them here today.

Ms Norma Rohan

The case in which that particular widow was fined by the Department happened a couple of years ago. It was addressed at the time, when Deputy Coveney was the Minister in charge. The examples I gave in my opening statement illustrate the issues we have encountered with families.

With regard to 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds, as a mother, I will ask who wants to see a 16-year-old up on a tractor with a big piece of machinery attached to the back of it? I do not believe anyone thinks that is right. God love the 16-year-old or 17-year-old. I am sure that is where he or she wants to be but there should be adequate precautions and regulations in that area. Again, it is up to the Department and legislators to address that. These are the Houses that make that kind of legislation.

With regard to the EIPs, the €300,000 we are about to receive is for one year. However, I believe that the Minister would say that there will be further road for a number of those projects at the end of those 12 months. I am not too sure what that means at this point. We are putting a little bit of that €300,000 in funding aside to look at the sustainability of the project to ensure we can fund it for year 2 and year 3. It provides one-on-one support for farm families and mentors and helps them through a process of grieving and some practical issues. There is a fine line as to how much advice we can give when mentoring widows and others as to how to deal with the issues they are facing. We want to look at that. We currently provide peer-to-peer support. Before Covid, we held residential weekends. We hope to get back to them in the springtime. We bring a number of families together. These groups may comprise a number of widows or a number of farm families where children have lost their dad or a sibling. While Embrace FARM facilitates these meetings of people and families and while a trained psychotherapist is also involved, those families help each other and tell each other their stories. They become their own support network. Since the start of the Covid pandemic, most of our stuff has gone online. We are doing as best as we can online but there is nothing like meeting in person. We have very active WhatsApp groups involving survivors of farm accidents. We also have a widows' group.

I thank Ms Rohan, Mr. Rohan and Ms Collins. There is no family who has not come near a tragedy in their lives. As the witnesses were talking earlier, I remembered what happened to my own brother-in-law a long time ago. He had five young kids and another on the way. Unfortunately, he fell off a load of straw. A few things touched me. Senator Paul Daly brought up a problem with bank accounts and everything being frozen. Is there any way a charter or guidebook could be developed? I listened to Mr. Rohan speaking about nearly everyone calling everyone, one day after another. Could this committee or the Department help Embrace FARM with a charter which would result in a red flag in the event of a tragedy, meaning that there would be no inspection for a year and that all the different people who would give you a headache would not come around while you are in distress and while things are tender?

I remember setting up a turf cutters and contractors group. There were three or four of us. There was a lot of pressure on those three or four people. How are the three witnesses coping? Do they have support they need to answer every phone call and email and to organise the weekends Ms Rohan talked about and the psychotherapists or psychologists? What is the structure? Is there a great burden on a few, as is the case for many different organisations and groups? If there is not, that is great, but if there is, how do the witnesses envisage that issue being resolved? No more than with anything people do, you would crack up if there is too much pressure on you constantly over a long time.

With regard to funding, Ms Rohan seems to think there might be more funding streams available next year. Will she come back to the committee if there is a problem in that regard, because I am sure everyone here will be willing to help?

Ms Norma Rohan

With regard to developing a charter or guidelines, working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, we welcome working with anyone to make any farm family's life easier in the aftermath. Our current structure is that we have a voluntary board of directors, of which Brian is the chair. There are ten directors including people who have been affected personally and people from the agriculture industry who know how to run a business. The team that works for Embrace FARM comprises Ms Collins and me. I work part-time for 20 hours a week while Ms Collins works 25 hours a week. That is it. With the new funding of €300,000 we are getting from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, we will be employing one person full time and another person part time. Again, that funding is only for 12 months. I am living on a prayer that there will be a few bob to be got after those 12 months. I welcome the Deputy's invitation to come back to the committee in 12 months for help in getting a few bob more. We would gladly take it.

The Deputy mentioned the burden. There is a great burden on charities to operate with good governance. When Brian and I first started out, another charity was falling apart due to mismanagement and embezzlement of funds.

As husband and wife we were determined from day 1 we would do the governance right, and we pride ourselves on that. However, as any charity will tell you, there is a huge burden on charities to comply with that regulation. It is the law and we must comply with it. We do that but it is cumbersome. The team is myself and Ms Collins. Between the two of us we are one full-time person.

Deputy Fitzmaurice hit on something there on which I want to come in. When does the funding for Embrace FARM start?

Ms Norma Rohan

I can check. We signed the official contract on 23 October so it is for 12 months.

I see. I suggest the committee write to the Minister to see if we can get a long-term pledge that kind of funding would roll over for more than one year. I appreciate €300,000 is grand for one year but I imagine from all the work our guests have detailed to us, that it will go very quickly.

Ms Catherine Collins

Just to clarify, the funding is to run the programme. The programme is to expand into different types of sudden death and traumas on farms. We still have to run our regular services as we are currently doing. That runs separately from the programme.

I imagine that for the long term, our guests want to know now that projects can continue beyond 23 October next year. I suggest it would be appropriate that the committee write to processors, the IFA and all those bodies. The kind of work being done by Embrace FARM is priceless. The sum involved is a pittance when you consider the anguish and distress families go through, and €300,000 was mentioned. Not just the Minister and the Department but farming organisations should really get on board and support our guests as well. I do not know if is appropriate for the committee to get involved.

At our next private meeting we will put together a letter to send to the Minister on regularising the funding for Embrace. It is, as I said at the start, a charity doing invaluable work. It is about more than the fatalities. Where someone is injured, the problems may not be as bad but there can be huge financial issues for a family when someone gets badly hurt. At our next private meeting we will put together a note to go to the Minister.

Ms Norma Rohan

May I add Chairman, the way we have been operating for the past number of years with residential weekends, the residential service and Ms Collins and myself, that operation costs about €150,000 per year. That is providing a residential bereavement weekend once a year for each cohort. The new programme costs €300,000. We would welcome any support we can get.

As a committee, when we meet next we will discuss putting a formal request to the Minister to get Embrace onto a formal footing going forward. You all took on this work on a voluntary basis. Unfortunately, it was born out of tragedy you had in your own families on your own farms. We will try to get this formalised and get it on a formal footing.

What Deputy Martin Browne said about going to the industry and processors would be up to our guests themselves as an organisation. The work our guests do is invaluable. Again, I sincerely thank them for coming in this evening. Often we have confrontation in this room where witnesses are getting cross-examined. That definitely was not the case this evening. I thank our guests for taking the time to come in. If we can be of any help to Embrace going forward, just communicate with us. As I said, we will sit down at our next meeting and discuss how we can open up negotiations between our guests and the Department to get their funding onto a formal footing. I most certainly cannot see any member of the committee objecting to that because our guests have seen the sentiment is unanimous around the room. No-one can help but admire the work our guests have done. Unfortunately, it spawned out of tragedy but it is to be commended to the highest degree. As I said, if there are any issues with which our guests want help they should feel free to contact the committee and we will do our best. I give them a commitment we will contact the Minister as an Oireachtas committee to see how we can formalise funding for the organisation.

Ms Catherine Collins

If I may raise one point, if there was some way we could work with the Department on the issues raised this evening, be it through families with sudden bereavements and issues like that, that is something we could develop within our services as well. Obviously, the Department and the officials there have their own protocols and legislation. They cannot always cross over the line informally to help families. If that is something we as a charity within the sector can help with through a discussion with the Department, it is something we can discuss going forward.

We will get the initial discussions going with the Department. On the model Embrace has, our guests are far more knowledgeable than anyone else about what is needed out there. I do not think the Department or we as a committee are going to prescribe to our guests. They know exactly what is needed and how to go about it.

I am aware circumstances demanded differently but it is unfortunate we did not meet Embrace before we met the Minister of State today. I know it could not be helped.

We can open up the discussions. It might be better we do it formally and that we have a structure of what we want to ask together.

Mr. Brian Rohan

On behalf of Embrace FARM, I thank the committee for the invitation to give a presentation this evening. I thank members for their good comments. We were up here in the Seanad a few years ago. I think Senator Paul Daly was there. I am not sure if Senator Lombard was there. Senator Conway proposed a discussion on farm safety. I do not think much has happened with that proposal since. I would like to think that moving forward now are getting serious. We did think when Covid hit that farm accidents and fatalities would rise with children at home from school and perhaps daddy trying to home-school and farm and mammy on the front line and not there. Thankfully however, numbers have dropped but one is one too many. We need to look at that going forward. Again, on behalf of Embrace FARM, I thank the committee for the invitation.

I thank Mr. Rohan.

The joint committee adjourned at 7.58 p.m. until Wednesday, 10 November at 5.30 p.m.