I will just take the first points that have been made by Senator Connor. He points out that there was a decline in cattle numbers of 5 per cent last year and that the milk quota restriction meant there was a reduction in milk output last year. That is a fact. I think Senator Connor is close enough to rural life to know that, if there was a decline in cattle numbers of 5 per cent last year, the cause of that was not last year but previous years. You do not suddenly press a button and produce a three year old bullock for slaughter in a factory. It is what you do in 1985 that gives you the cattle population of 1988 and the consequences of what you did not do in 1985 is what we may be witnessing in 1987 and 1988. I am glad to tell Senator Connor — and I think he would want to know this as well, and the figures will also indicate it — that that trend is well and truly changing. We would want to recognise this fact. Slaughterings of cows and heifers this year are down by 20 per cent over last year. That in itself could be argued either way beyond the reassuring fact, which Senators may not want to consider, that artificial inseminations are up almost 15 per cent this year over last year. These are facts. What does that represent? As I have said many times, Government policy, and not just that of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, is directed to ensuring the improvement of the economic environment in which farmers operate by bringing down interest rates, by reducing cost inputs and by bringing down inflation. All of this has meant that farmers, being prudent managers, are now retaining their cows and not sending them to slaughter. They are now inseminating them where previously they were slaughtering them.
The facts are there. It has to be acknowledged, and the farmers know that conditions have improved considerably. I regret if there are some who would prefer to conceal those facts, but those are the realities. There is no point in anyone here trying to give the impression that an industry is in decline which is making a remarkable recovery and is attacking the markets in a way that will ensure that we will see consistently buoyant prices. That is the commitment of this Government in everything we do in all our range of our actions, either in dairying or in beef. Farmers know that Irish agriculture, in the broadest sense of agriculture, is now in a buoyant situation, will continue that way and that no amount of talk is going to put it into depression.
The second point is this. If there are milk quota restrictions, of course they apply all round; and, as I said before, that is a consequence of decisions that were taken before we came into Government. I am not going to make any boast that we could have done a better job. They were European decisions and we inherited the decisions. It is fair to say that in inheriting them we have managed the consequences much better than had been done previously. We are ensuring that we do not lose one gallon of milk. This is being done through the whole milk restructuring programmes we have introduced and through new leasing programmes in milk which have not been done anywhere else. The product supply in Ireland in the dairy sector is much better than tht available anywhere else in Europe, and this is one of the advantages we have to use. The Dutch and the Germans are coming over here to launch joint ventures with us because they know that we have the product they do not have. In the face of those facts — the buoyant prices and the market attack we are pursuing vigorously — please do not tell us that we are looking at an agricultural industry in decline, because we are not.
I come back now to the point that has been made by Senator Ferris on the committee issue, which is the one we are dealing with. Senator Ferris's amendment says "shall" not "may". I am to give a direction to do something which, as Senator Ferris sees it, represents the wishes of the Oireachtas. This is not as I see it, as it happens, nor the farming associations — that you "shall" establish committees. You do not even tell them in that ministerial direction what kind of committees they shall establish. You are just telling them: "It does not matter; you shall establish committees". I am not prepared to tell any Authority, or the Government are not, and I represent here the wishes of the Government. I am not prepared to tell any Authority: "You shall establish committees for whatever purpose or wherever, possibly or probably based on counties". I cannot do that. Let me give you some examples why I cannot.
We are talking about a new rural development in all its forms. Everything that is included in this is very different from what has been done before. The county committees did not deal with private forestry, but they can now. They did not deal with agri-tourism, but they can now. They could not deal with a whole range of things in terms of rural development — it could be rural infrastructures, small industries, craft industries — but they can now. All of these things are open to those committees that will be established by what will be a representative, enlightened Authority. I am not prepared to tell them: "You shall establish committees" and the Government are not prepared to issue them with an edict of that kind. That is not the way we deal with things. We do not say: "You shall establish committees" and then: "Whatever the committee's function will be is another day's work; we are telling you to establish them anyway". That does not make sense.
What I have said — and it is a matter of bona fides — is that we have given them the power here. Let me say openly and honestly that I would expect the new Authority would require at least six months to reflect on the kind of local or county or whatever representative input they want, dealing with various types of activities, be it agriculture in a conventional sense or other matters across the range of agriculture — beef, dairy, cereals and so on, alternative land usage, things we never even contemplated when these committees were set up years ago. The Government want to display that much trust in Teagasc. I do not think that by implication you can denigrate it on the basis that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will nominate people. It is not our intention to put people into a body that is of such importance for the future just for the sake of somehow suppressing development in Irish agriculture. We do not have that death wish for ourselves or for Irish agriculture. We do not intend to do that, and the facts will prove it.
That is as far as I can go. Believe me, I am not resisting this for the sake of doing so, far from it. I think the arguments speak for themselves. As I have already indicated, I will convey on my own behalf and that of the Government our views to Teagasc that they should as soon as is feasible consider an appropriate form of committee both in terms of its constitution and in terms of its activities. It may vary from place to place. The structures are different in different parts of Irish agriculture, and we all know that. In 1988 let us start using the instruments of 1988. I can only say that I wish the Dutch gentlemen that I have been speaking to were in to listen to this debate. We want to go out and beat those fellows — not compete with them, beat them — but we are not going to do it by harping back to old ways and old instruments.