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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jun 1998

Vol. 155 No. 21

Agriculture Industry: Motion.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Government for its failure to honour its pre-election promises to provide funding for the following:—

(a) A new Control of Farmyard Pollution Scheme;

(b) A Dairy Hygiene Scheme;

(c) Introduction of a new Farm Installation Grant Scheme for Young Farmers;

(d) To reopen the live cattle trade to Egypt and Libya.

Furthermore, Seanad Éireann condemns the Government for its failure:—

(a) to introduce an efficient farmer-friendly Animal Traceability Scheme;

(b) to introduce a comprehensive Quality Assurance Scheme at farm level which is not excessively costly to farmers;

(c) to reorganise the Area Aid Unit;

(d) to guarantee farmers that the results of the 30 Day Blood Tests be made available inside a 10 day period; and

(e) to use its influence to provide for a live cattle shipping service to the Continent.

I am glad the Minister is here given that a similar debate is taking place in the other House. I hope the debate will be constructive and of interest to the agricultural community. My reasons for tabling the motion are many and varied but, above all, on the anniversary of the formation of the Government, it is important to look at the promises it made and how many were brought to fruition.

Over the past number of weeks I examined those promises and listed the different aspects of the Government's proposals which were not implemented. During the general election campaign the agricultural community swayed in which way it cast its vote on election day. The proposals contained in the Fianna Fáil manifesto and, indeed, the Programme for Government held out new hope for many farmers. They fell for, and believed, some of the proposals would be implemented and because of that hope many voted in favour of the current Administration. I was shocked when I looked at the Programme for Government and compared it to what had been done. That is why I tabled this motion. The Government's most disastrous and dismal failure was not to reopen the live cattle trade to Egypt and Libya.

During a previous debate on agriculture, we, on this side of the House, welcomed the introduction of the 30 day blood test, but the disastrous way in which that scheme has been operated has caused major hardship over the past few months. During one week, people were in contact with politicians daily to get back results of their 30 day blood tests.

The Government promised to restore the control of farmyard pollution scheme which in its words is important "to ensure the sustainability of agriculture". It is disgraceful that 12 months after the formation of this Government, and despite all the commitments given during the election, this scheme has not been reintroduced. Pollution of the environment is a serious problem in rural Ireland. Every summer we read reports in newspapers about many streams and rivers which have been polluted. It is virtually impossible for any medium or small farmer to put in place control measures which would be environmentally friendly without Government aid. It is a huge cost to many farmers, something which they cannot afford given the current prices in the industry. The success and drawing down of the previous scheme signalled its importance. The number of people who want to get involved in this scheme and REPS is growing daily. Both schemes go hand in hand and REPS is having a major effect on our farms. It is important the Minister makes an effort and tries to shake up the Cabinet to get it to respond by putting money into the reintroduction of the scheme.

The same could apply to the dairy hygiene scheme. Throughout the country, particularly in the dairying regions in the south, more people are leaving the industry simply because the new guidelines and regulations being imposed by the Department through those involved in the processing industry are driving them out of existence. This is having a devastating effect on rural Ireland because small dairy farmers are the backbone of the economy and many rural parishes, villages and small towns. It is a disgrace that a sector of the agricultural community like the small dairy farmers has been let down. We have neglected them, particularly by our failure to grant aid dairies to bring them up to EU standard. Will the Minister do something for those people who have no other income and who see no other hope in agriculture except on the family farm to which we are so committed and of which we are so proud?

The failure of the Government to reintroduce installation aid for young farmers is the biggest disappointment of the Programme for Government. The programme states:

Fianna Fáil is committed to the continuation of this scheme which is very important not only to the young farmers but to the general profile of agriculture. We will seek as a matter of urgency to review the extension clause in the present scheme.

It is difficult to make a more unequivocal commitment, yet it has brazenly been set aside by the Government. The Minister is an honourable politician. I cannot believe he or his party are walking away from such a clear promise to young farmers. I call on him to reverse his decision immediately and to honour the clear undertaking given by his party during the general election.

The subsidy of £5,600 to be paid to trained young farmers is an effective and cheap way for the Government to bring people into agriculture. It compares favourably with the approximately £12,000 it costs to create a job in industry. This is an economic and good long-term scheme because it increases the age profile of young people working on the land. We need more young people working on farms.

The failure to reopen the live cattle trade to Egypt is the Government's most damning inaction. The Minister recently visited Cairo. What does Egypt propose? The various farming organisations are aware of the huge commitment which the Minister gave as Opposition spokesman on Agriculture, Food and Forestry prior to the last general election. We were told of it everywhere we canvassed during the election campaign. When we canvassed voters in Tipperary town we were told that Joe Walsh and Bertie Ahern would get the cattle exported. Not a beast has moved. Never has the Government made such a poor attempt to honour one of its commitments.

I second the motion. I compliment my colleague, Senator Tom Hayes, for the comprehensive way in which he opened this debate. He broadly outlined the major problems in agriculture and the total lack of response by the Minister and the Government to the crisis. The BSE crisis was the watershed in the industry and has had major reverberations throughout the industry. I look back with satisfaction to the urgency the Minister's predecessor applied to the problem. By contrast, the Minister's response has been totally inadequate. He should be ashamed that the gap between his promise and his achievement is so wide.

The farm installation grant scheme for young farmers was introduced in 1987 and was moderately successful until 1990. Approximately 5,700 young farmers benefited from it until its abolition on 7 August 1997. There was a major and badly needed reform of the scheme in 1994 when the land worked unit requirement of not more than one and not less than 1.5 was removed. That had a dramatic effect on the number of young farmers who could then become eligible to enter the scheme. While by 1994 only approximately 200 farmers had benefited from the scheme because of its rather confined application, 746 young trained farmers benefited in 1995. There was a dramatic increase in 1996 when 1,167 benefited and up to 7 August 1997, 661 new applicants had been received by the Department. The figures would have settled down at between 1,100 and 1,200 per annum.

However, the scheme was abolished when the money ran out in 1994 because major cutbacks had to be made to spending under the EU Structural Funds when it became clear we would get less than £6 billion rather than the £8 billion some thought. The major areas to suffer in agriculture were the control of farmyard pollution scheme, the farm installation grant scheme for young farmers and the dairy hygiene scheme. This means the farm installation grant scheme for young farmers failed, like others, because of inadequate funding.

The incorporation of young farmers to the industry is so fundamental to its success it is unforgivable that the Government, after the promise it made, should maintain the policy of not putting funding into the scheme. The total cost of the scheme in 1997 was approximately £6.4 million, with approximately £4.9 million provided by the EU. Some 75 per cent was provided under the EU Structural Funds while the rest was paid out of Exchequer funding.

Given the promises made by the Government, the minimum we could have expected from its budget was £6 million approximately that would be needed to maintain the scheme at its 1997 level. To maintain it until the end of 1999 when the new Structural Funds will be agreed, would have cost a further £6 million approximately. According to Agenda 2000, the EU would be willing to allow the upper limit for spending on the scheme to be set at approximately 25,000 ECUs per individual entry. While it would not all be spent in Ireland, this is a huge increase in its ceiling. What are the Minister's proposals for the régime after 2000? What is his response to what appear to be very generous figures in terms of the Santer proposals?

The importance of these matter cannot be over-emphasised. The Central Statistics Office recently provided much information on the age profile in Irish agriculture. For example, in 1994, 21.6 per cent of farmers in Ireland were under 35 years of age. That figure declined to 20.9 per cent in 1995 and by 1996, the last year for which CSO figures are available, it had reduced to 18 per cent. The number of young farmers under the age of 35 will be probably 15 per cent or less of the total by the end of 1998. The number of people in agriculture during those critical productive years of their lives is declining because there are no incentives.

In 1994 the number of farmers over the age of 65 was 32 per cent of the total nationally. By the end of 1996 that number had increased to 33.1 per cent. These figures eloquently make the argument that the Government should invest in the farm retirement scheme, which should be complemented by an installation scheme for young trained farmers. The trends continue to move in the wrong direction.

Agriculture will become less shored up by subsidies and income supports in the future and it will have to compete in the world market against such countries as New Zealand and Australia. The age profile of farmers in those countries, which will be our major competitors, is the opposite of the profile in Ireland. An increasing number of young people are entering agriculture in New Zealand which is approximately the same size as Ireland and is a major exporter of food. There are no supports whatsoever in New Zealand; it must survive in the marketplace. This also applies to Australia.

A similar position obtains in other European countries but the comparisons are not as relevant because of the lack of dependence on agriculture on the part of most of our European partners. Agricultural economies have been closed and countries consume almost everything they produce.

There is a need for investment in this area. Ireland should not wait for the EU to come to its assistance. Despite the booming economy, it costs the Government approximately £12,000 to create a job outside the agriculture sector and an investment of half that amount was required, three-quarters of which was paid by the EU. When the money ran out, the Government did not put anything in its place. The figures from the Central Statistics Office are damning in view of the importance of agriculture to the economy on which the Minister pronounces frequently. I ask the Minister to take note of the views expressed in the debate. These points are not being made for political reasons, rather in the national interest. Members who live in rural Ireland and who must try to survive politically and otherwise see what is happening around them.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following-"Seanad Éireann commends the Government for the effective way it has promoted the agriculture sector since coming into office and in particular its efforts in the following areas:—

(a) The Control of Farmyard Pollution Scheme;

(b) The Dairy Hygiene Scheme;

(c) The introduction of a new Farm Installation Grant Scheme for Young Farmers;

(d) The re-opening of the live cattle trade to Egypt and Libya.

Furthermore, Seanad Éireann commends the Government for its work on:

(a) the introduction of an efficient farmer-friendly Animal Traceability Scheme;

(b) the introduction of a comprehensive Quality Assurance Scheme at farm level which is not excessively costly to farmers;

(c) the reorganisation of the Area Aid Unit;

(d) the guaranteeing to farmers that the results of the 30 Day Blood Tests be made available inside a 10 day period; and

(e) the provision of a live cattle shipping service to the Continent."

I commend the Minister on his efforts since he came into office. In spite of the comments of the Opposition Members, the farming community is pleased with the way he is administering the agriculture brief.

Under the current operational programme for agriculture, rural development and forestry, £100 million was made available for the control of farmyard pollution scheme in 1994. Due to the high level of demand relative to the funding provided, the acceptance of new applications was suspended on 27 April 1995. In the context of the mid-term review of the Structural Funds, in which the European Commission was involved, additional funding of £20 million was made available for the scheme in July 1997. In spite of Senator Connor's comments, a further £9.5 million was allocated from Exchequer funds in the 1997 Supplementary Estimates. This considerable extra funding has helped meet existing commitments.

In addition, the capital allowance for necessary pollution control works was increased from £20,000 to £30,000 in this year's Finance Bill. Farmers have invested almost £1 billion in improved pollution control on their farms in recent years and they deserve a great deal of credit.

That is no good to small farmers.

As a farmer I appreciate that investment.

Last July an additional £8.5 million was made available for the dairy hygiene scheme in the mid-term review. This was an acknowledgement of the critical importance of the scheme to small farmers. It also fulfilled existing commitments. The funding for both schemes is continually monitored and will be considered in the event of additional funding becoming available as a result of the decommitment of projects under the Community Support Framework. The Government will ensure that the control of farmyard pollution scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme are given priority in the distribution of funds.

——Funds for installation aid ran out because of the strong uptake of the scheme. However, I am pleased to note that a new revised scheme, targeted at small farmers, will be introduced. This will be 100 per cent financed by the Exchequer. In spite of the Opposition's comments, the Exchequer is providing funds for these important schemes. The terms of the new scheme, on which the farming organisations have been consulted, are currently being finalised. They will be then submitted to the Department of Finance for approval. In addition, the approval of the EU Commission will be required before the measure can come into operation. In stressing the importance of this scheme to young farmers, I congratulate the Minister on the progress he has made in drawing up a new installation aid package.

Regarding the live cattle trade, it is imperative that every effort is made to ensure the maximum possible number of markets are open to Irish beef and cattle this autumn. Already this year the UK, French and Dutch markets have been the focus of the Minister's attention. Recently a delegation led by the Minister for Agriculture and Food returned from a successful visit to Egypt and the Lebanon. These visits are undertaken to underscore Ireland's presence in those markets.

In 1997 Egypt imported 80,000 tonnes of Irish beef, which was equivalent to 250,000 cattle and worth in excess of £150 million. The Opposition criticised the Minister for not ensuring the resumption of live exports to Egypt. However, prior to the election, the previous Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry deliberately misled the Dáil when he said, regarding the Russian ban on beef because of BSE in certain counties, that a gun had been put to his head in the VIP lounge in Dublin Airport. However, at that time the former Minister was holding a clinic in Wexford.

The former Minister was speaking figuratively.

There was an agreement in principle. That argument arose previously and the position was explained to the Senator. He should not go down that avenue again.

Senator Kiely without interruption.

I remind the Senators that the former Minister, Deputy Yates, prior to the election also announced that the ban on live cattle exports to Egypt had been lifted and they would resume the next day. The Deputy misled farmers on that occasion because they thought everything was rosy. The Opposition is now criticising the Minister because live cattle exports to Egypt have not resumed. However, 45,000 live cattle were exported this year, 11,000 of which went to the Lebanon. This was due to the great efforts of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh. The Lebanon has emerged as a new market for Irish cattle. In this context the Department and the Minister are in regular contact with various bodies which represent people who have an interest in developing the live trade.

This weekend the Irish Ambassador to Italy, Mr. Joseph Small, and Mr. David Behan of the Department of Agriculture and Food will travel to Tripoli for further discussions with the Libyan authorities on live cattle exports. The importance of this trade to Irish farmers cannot be underestimated. The Department is involved on an ongoing basis in the development of this trade by maintaining existing outlets, seeking to ensure the resumption of supply to traditional markets and encouraging the opening of new ones. On the specific issue of the transport of live animals to the continent, the Department has made available £1 million in State aid to assist the establishment of a ferry service between Cork and Cherbourg to facilitate animal exports to continental European markets. This service was of great value during the critical winter months.

The reorganisation of the area aid unit is now complete and it now comprises five sections, each dealing with a number of counties. I welcome this change and compliment the Minister on it.

On a point of information, they do not even answer the telephone in the unit.

Acting Chairman

Senator Hayes, you will be able to reply at the end of the debate.

Senator Kiely did not interrupt anyone on the other side.

As requested by the area aid unit, a large number of farmers have been in contact with them in recent days to clear up outstanding problems with their applications. Nonetheless there is still a considerable number from whom replies have not been received. The unit asks these farmers and others who have received lower than expected payments to consult them if the payment statement indicates that an area aid penalty has been applied. The delay in receiving brucellosis information was mentioned — that was a result of the backlog of blood samples in the Cork area. This time last year, farming was in a depressed state.

It is a lot worse now. The Senator should not deceive the House.

The price of beef a year ago was only 75 pence per pound; it is now 90 pence per pound and rising. The price of milk was much less than £1 per gallon last year whereas this May it is £1.05 per gallon. The price of lamb has also risen and the ewe premium has increased by £7 per head, from £12.42 to £19.41. The Senators should ask the previous Minister about the poor payments he made.

Farming is in a worse state than hurling in Limerick.

I congratulate the Minister on the improved conditions and the increased payments he has made to farmers.

I am glad of the opportunity to address Seanad Éireann. I like to make occasional, brief revisits to this House as a former Member and I hope I will not trouble anyone with a more permanent stay.

I am also pleased to respond to this motion. It is important that agriculture, our primary industry, is debated and discussed in both Houses, so I express my appreciation to Senators for putting this motion before the House. I reject in the strongest possible terms the Opposition's suggestions about the specific issues raised. It has chosen to ignore the progress that has been made on a broad range of measures since this Government came to office. We are totally committed to the advancement of agriculture and have a clear programme for the development of a sector which is still vital to the overall national economy. While numbers in the sector may have declined with the trend in all industrialised countries, agriculture is still three times more significant to Ireland than in the EU generally. The role of the agri-food sector, for example, continues to be of vital importance in the Irish economy. It accounts for an estimated 14.2 per cent of GDP, 13.4 per cent of employment and 13.2 per cent of exports.

The farm family remains the cornerstone of Irish agriculture and as well as its economic importance, the wellbeing of agriculture is important for the fabric of rural society and rural development. Some important changes have taken place, including a greater dependence on direct payments and a growing trend towards part-time farming. The most recent household budget survey carried out by Teagasc shows that almost half of total farm household income now derives from non-farming activity and 47 per cent of income is made up of direct payments.

Before moving on to deal with the areas down for debate under this motion it is important to set in context the level of support provided for agriculture. The total expenditure of my Department in 1997 in support of this industry exceeded £2 billion. All this was spent on supporting farmers and the agri-food sector — £941 million was spent on direct payments to farmers——

The Minister should give credit to the EU.

—— £783 million on market supports, £196 million on farm investment grants and disease controls and about 6 per cent was spent on administration.

Could the Minister break that down into EU and Exchequer funding? It is a little misleading in that form.

Acting Chairman

The Minister without interruption.

The Senators do not want to listen to him.

The contribution of direct payments to aggregate farm income has been rising steadily in recent years, from 12 per cent in 1989 to 47 per cent last year.

The Minister is not fooling us.

Seventy five per cent of that came from the EU.

It is difficult for Opposition Senators to hear good news but they will have to listen to it whether they like it or not because this is the factual position — Irish farmers received direct payments of almost £1 billion.

Acting Chairman

Senator Doyle, this is not a dialogue. When the Minister has concluded, you can speak and then Senator McGowan.

The Minister is making misleading statements.

I hope there will be a reasonable degree of decorum and courtesy, such as the Government side showed when Senator Hayes and Senator Connor spoke. The Department is committed to expeditious payment in all instances and this is a key element of the customer service action plan I launched last month. Under the plan, delivery targets are established for the payment of EU and national direct payments to farmers including headage, premia, grants and compensation packages. In relation to EU funded schemes these targets provide for the most expeditious payment service of any member state in the EU and are considerably shorter than the eligible period allowed under the relevant regulations. We pay well ahead of deadlines and almost 90 per cent of payments are made by target date in respect of all relevant schemes. Most cases where the payment target is not met relate to instances where the applicant is either ineligible or further information is required to determine entitlement. As recently as today in discussion with the area aid unit, I heard that 600 applications for a recent scheme were unsigned. That creates problems because the form has to be sent back for signature and resubmitted.

The Minister should now tell us about the inaccurate information the Department sent out.

These schemes are subject to control measures such as national audit by the Committee of Public Accounts and EU audit. When there is such a scale of payment we have a responsibility to ensure the applications and payments are correct.

On 24 April revised arrangements were introduced for the operation of the area aid unit. This involved the division of the unit's work into five sections on a county basis. To enable the staff in the unit to clear up a backlog of 19,700 cases, it was necessary to close the office to the public for a month. Having cleared the backlog, the office reopened in the last week of May.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the large number of farmers who have responded to the unit's request for further material, in particular maps in support of applications. I also urge any remaining farmers who have not responded or any farmers who have received lower than expected payments to contact the unit immediately if the payment statement indicates that an area aid penalty has been applied. There has been a degree of chaos in that office over the past few years. I was surprised that there was a backlog of in excess of 20,000 payments when I entered office last year. That backlog has now been cleared making it easier for the Department to deal with applications for 1998. I thank the staff in the local livestock offices and in Teagasc who have helped complete the applications. I am confident that the area aid unit, starting its work without an overhang, will be able to ensure that we do not encounter area aid payment delays in the coming year.

The control of farmyard pollution scheme is important because pollution can be a scar on the countryside. We pride ourselves on having a green, clean island. It is important to encourage farmers to ensure that they have the best possible farm practices, the tidiest farmyards and that there should be no spillage of silage or slurry effluent into streams or on to roadways. The high standard at the farmyard should continue through the process to the customer.

This scheme was introduced in 1994. One hundred million pounds was made available to encourage farmers to introduce the most up to date methods and best levels of housing and slurry disposal. Too much of the money, however, was spent in the early years of the 1994-9 programme and the scheme was suspended in April 1995. I was not in office when this happened.

The Minister's predecessor negotiated the scheme for a five year period.

The Senator should listen and take his medicine.

On a point of order, the Minister made the misleading statement that in 1995——

Acting Chairman

That is not a point of order. The Senator has spoken already. He can tell his point to Senator Avril Doyle who is the next member of his party to speak.

I would like the Standing Orders to be consulted about this.

It seems that the truth hurts on the Opposition Benches.

We are not getting the truth.

Acting Chairman

Senator Connor, let us hear what the Minister has to say.

He is misleading the House.

It is nice that there is a response.

The Minister introduced a five year scheme and it lasted five months because of his incompetence.

Acting Chairman

Senator Doyle can explain that.

An extra £32 million was allocated under the scheme since last June bringing the total to £148 million whereas the original allocation was £100 million. In the Finance Bill, 1998, farmers were allowed a £30,000 write-off for eligible expenditure under this scheme.

I now turn to the dairy hygiene scheme. This scheme was suspended in October 1996. Again, I was not in office at that time. I am disappointed to see that there is no reaction to that fact. I made additional funds available for this scheme during the year and there is a grant commitment of £36.7 million for it. In line with the Action Programme for the Millennium, I regard on-farm investment as essential. It is a high priority and in that context I am examining funding possibilities for more focused schemes in both farm pollution and dairy hygiene. Even in a more focused forum these schemes require hundreds of millions of pounds in funding.

I now turn to the scheme of installation Aid for young farmers which has been very successful in assisting young farmers to embark on their careers. Since its inception almost 6,478 farmers have availed of the scheme and £22 million has been paid out under it. Toward the end of 1996 my predecessor indicated he was going to suspend this scheme but, because of the election in 1997, no decision was made.

That was because the previous Minster could count.

Adequate money, however, was not made available for it so there was no option but to temporarily suspend the scheme when I came into office.

That was the £1 billion——

The Opposition do not want to listen to the Minister.

I was pleased to make an additional £3.5 million available following the last budget to allow applicants to the scheme to be paid. I have since reached agreement with the Minister for Finance to introduce a new scheme this year. The scheme of installation aid for young farmers was about to be closed as insufficient money was made available for it.

That was the Minister's doing.

There was a backlog of applicants and I was glad to get Government approval of £63 million in a supplementary budget to mop up the mess which was left for me when I arrived in office. I have faced up to my responsibilities in these areas.

I now want to turn to the live cattle trade, in particular the markets in Egypt and Libya. I have devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to reopening these markets. I visited Cairo on two occasions and on both those occasions I met the Egyptian Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Walley, and the Minster for Supply. As late as last week I discussed the issue with both Ministers. My ministerial colleagues have visited the country; the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, visited the country to show solidarity after the Luxor bombing and to ensure the best possible contacts between both countries.

They are still not importing any cattle.

Until 1997, 28,000 tonnes of beef was exported to Egypt. In the past year that figure rose to 80,000 tonnes. This is the largest and most important beef market outside the European Union.

That is not a figure for live cattle. The Minster should not mislead us again, that is the beef trade which always existed.

Acting Chairman

Senator Connor, I have a list of Fine Gael speakers who will not be able to contribute unless the interruptions come to an end.

The Minister deserves protection from the Chair.

Acting Chairman

The Minister is getting that protection.

We deserve protection from this information. The Chair should protect us from being misled.

There is constant interruption. The Opposition does not want to listen.

Acting Chairman

The Senator himself is interrupting constantly. I hope I am offering the Minister sufficient protection.

Certainly. I expect no less from a Cork person.

I reiterate that every possible effort is being made at all levels to reopen the markets. I pay tribute to Ambassador Hugh Swift who did a great job, not only looking after cultural, diplomatic and political matters but spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with trade matters — beef and cattle in particular. He is leaving Egypt for Pretoria and I wish him well in his new assignment. Bord Bia also has a good officer in Egypt, Mr. James O'Donnell, who operates out of the Embassy. He is doing a very efficient and effective job.

We have satisfied the Libyans in every possible way in relation to live cattle. They have no problem with our cattle, the problem is political. They are more interested in furthering their international status than they are in the quality of their live cattle imports. Contacts are continuing with Ambassador Small in Rome who has also spent a tremendous amount of time and effort on this. Libya is not an easy country to make contact with; he has to go overland through Tunisia. I hope progress will be made in that regard.

We have opened up a number of areas for live cattle on continental Europe and in the Lebanon. Last winter cattle were exported to the European Union and the UK and in the first five months of this year 55,000 head of live cattle have been exported from Ireland. Not one live animal had left our ports this time last year.

That was the Minister's fault as he was the only one who spoke against live exports.

One does not do that from a high stool but by meeting the people who are important to meet.

On a point of order,——

Acting Chairman

The Senator will be able to reply at the end of the debate.

Access of our livestock exports to the Continent is vital. There is a difficulty in the ferry service from the island of Ireland. I recognise the importance of an island economy and of having a ferry service. I pay tribute to the Government for providing £1 million for the MV Purbeck last October because we did not have a ferry service when I came into office. That provided a tremendous boost to the cattle trade during the winter. Unfortunately, that has now ceased but I am pleased that Irish Ferries has been approved to take trucks on its ferry service. An air service is also operational. There were seven flights to the Netherlands in the past couple of weeks with further flights every day this week. That is extremely important.

I am glad Senator Quinn is in the House because I called to his supermarket some time ago and I was impressed by the meat counter. Not alone was the meat impressive and of superb quality but I was able to see where it was produced because the name, address and telephone number of the farmer who supplied it was provided. I recall that it was produced by a Donegal farmer so I am sure it was of excellent quality. That meant I could go back to the source if there was any complaint. That is what the owners and management of better and more sophisticated supermarkets are demanding not alone in Ireland but in the EU. We must have traceability and quality systems.

The Minister cannot expect to do that in the budget.

Is the Minister not entitled to the courtesy of the House?

Acting Chairman

It does not help if the Senator interrupts.

I am glad an Irish supermarket is leading the way in the area of quality because that is the only thing which will make a difference. Irish food products will get a return from the most remunerative markets if there is consistent high quality supply.

I was pleased that in the budget last year I was able to get £6.5 million for the provision of a full traceability and quality assurance scheme. That means all cattle will be tagged at birth and each animal will have its own identity. It will then be possible to trace every movement of that animal from farm to farm, farm to mart, mart to factory and on to the supermarket shelf. That is a huge task because there are 150,000 farmers in the country, 7.4 million cattle and ten million movements every year. I am satisfied that the maximum use of modern technology and electronic systems of tracing animals will ensure the scheme will be in place by the end of this year.

Animal disease is another important area. We had brucellosis difficulties over the past year or 18 months. A new more comprehensive scheme was put in place with the unanimous support of the farmers and the farming organisations. That brought about some degree of hardship to farmers and everyone in the trade but it was necessary to attain the highest possible animal health status if we wanted the highest possible return for our products. Additional blood testing was introduced and the 30 day pre-movement test and a revamped scheme were put in place.

The introduction of additional blood testing put enormous pressure on our blood testing laboratories. There was an increase of one million samples over the past seven or eight weeks. The laboratories in Cork and Sligo dealt with the brunt of this additional sampling and this caused delays. However, the staff coped well. New staff were employed which caused teething troubles but I am glad the decks have been cleared and there is now a fast turnaround.

There were also difficulties outside the laboratories. An Post, for example, did not crown itself in glory. It was supposed to have sorted the samples so that they were in the laboratories at 8 a.m. However, it was often midday before they arrived and sometimes it took ten days or more to deliver them. We have a new contract arrangement with An Post where it not only sorts the samples but ensures they are in the laboratories at 8 a.m. so that staff can start work as soon as they arrive. I pay tribute to the staff who were lambasted in recent weeks. There were delays and hardship was caused but the staff did not take holidays during the week of fine weather and they worked late at night and over the bank holiday weekend to clear the backlog. All credit is due to them. I do not expect any more difficulties or problems.

When all these developments are taken into account, individually and collectively, this House cannot but accept that the Government and I have fulfilled our central role of providing the necessary leadership, policy direction, regulatory framework and operational support to ensure that the farm and food industries maximise their potential and contribute fully to the development of the economy.

Since coming into office and in addition to the steps outlined above, I have taken significant action on a general level to underpin the farm and food industries and to lay the foundations for future growth. Farmers and the economy have benefited. In the past year agri-food exports exceeded £4 billion and this was an all-time record. For a relatively small economy that is a tremendous level of exports from our indigenous and primary industry. With the low level of imports, it makes a huge contribution to the economy. It is driven by our indigenous co-operatives. Two of the star performers are prepared consumer foods, with Green Isle in Portumna and Naas and Goodfellas which have approximately 80 to 85 per cent of the Irish market, and food ingredients, which is mainly driven by the Kerry Group. It is the largest food ingredients company in the world. Great credit is due to the leadership shown by the senior management of these companies.

I am committed to ensuring that Ireland's vital national interests are fully reflected in the hugely important negotiations on the Agenda 2000 proposals which are currently being conducted in Brussels. I will have the full weight of the Taoiseach and the Government behind me in these negotiations which will continue for the remainder of this year. The terms of the Opposition's rather confused motion is out of touch with reality.

I thank the Minister for his kind words about my company. I remind the House that Deputy Walsh is the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The reason I am speaking on this motion is that I think it does not recognise that the Minister is the Minister for Food. I am concerned at an attitude concentrated in the second part of the motion, which states:

. Furthermore, Seanad Éireann condemns the Government for its failure:—

(a) to introduce an efficient farmer-friendly Animal Traceability Scheme;

(b) to introduce a comprehensive Quality Assurance Scheme at farm level which is not excessively costly to farmers; .

The motion has got it wrong. It does not mention food or customers. It states that the scheme should be farmer-friendly. It is essential that this country has a traceability scheme even if it is not farmer-friendly. It is essential that there is a quality assurance scheme even if it is costly to farmers. We have no chance of succeeding in world markets if we take the attitude of the motion, which ignores the customer and food and concentrates on the supplier. We, as a nation, must change our attitude if we are to succeed in that area.

The tone of the motion expects the Government, not the agricultural community, to solve the problem, and that is a serious concern. There is little doubt that the cause of problems in the past was that we expected somebody else to do it. One does not want to take responsibility, so one calls on somebody else. When there is a Government to call upon, the view is that it is wonderful because one does not have to worry about it.

Therefore, I am critical of the motion. I can understand the sense of the motion and how well intended Senators are tonight. I could not get a copy of the Minister's speech because it was not anticipated that there would be so many Senators present and there were not enough copies issued yet. I am not complaining about that. I compliment the Members of the House for attending and congratulate those who tabled a motion which has attracted such attention that it is so well attended.

On the question of responsibility, we are calling on the Government to do everything. We are calling on the Government rather than asking the farming community to take the responsibility and take the monkey off its own back. This attitude is what has got us into problems in the past and it will continue to get us into problems in the future.

For instance, I do not know how long the TB eradication scheme has existed but I think I heard about it 40 years ago. Over that period continued efforts have been made to try to solve that problem and it has not been solved. The Minister mentioned the continuing problem of brucellosis in the past year. These issues must be grasped by those involved in the farming community rather than asking somebody else to do something about it.

I am not quite old enough to remember World War II, but I remember my father talking about Lord Haw Haw, the Galway man who was hanged by the British after the war, who used to jeer and tease the British night after night in his broadcasts from Berlin. He teased the British about the enemy within, who were those spies acting for Germany in Britain, and the British had a policy to avoid the enemy within.

I believe the farmers have enemies within. The farming community in Ireland is not doing anything, as far as I can see, to get rid of the enemies within. These are the members of their own community who are cheating, breaking the law and doing untold damage to our ability as a nation to export food. These are the people who are using illegal substances, damaging the reputation of Ireland and giving our competitors selling to European supermarkets the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that in Ireland there are cases of BSE, clenbuterol is used and people have been breaking the law with angeldust, etc. Just because it does not hit the headlines one must not think that the attention of our customers in Europe will not be drawn to it because our competitors are drawing their attention to it. I sit around the table in different parts of Europe and meet supermarket buyers from other parts of Europe. I know that they are up to date on what is happening in Ireland because the attention is being drawn by our competitors. In this case, unless we as a nation decide we will do something about this ourselves, I do not think the Government can do it on its own. The farming community in particular must tell those involved that it knows they are cheating and that it knows the damage they are doing. It must tell them that it will not allow them to do it anymore. If there is a danger of being accused of snitching on our colleagues, then let us snitch on our colleagues. There is too much at stake. Therefore, we must find some way of getting the farming community to accept responsibility, a way of having them say "We can do it ourselves. It is in our own hands".

Recently I asked a Japanese visitor how he succeeded so well. He thought over it for a while and then answered with a useful phrase. He said: "Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you cannot, you are right". It is a good message, because if you are going into a football match and thinking you have no chance of winning, then you will not win. If you go into it thinking you can win, you will win. We as a nation and the farming community in particular have not said that we can conquer this ourselves. The farming community has said that it is asking the Government to do something for it. The Minister told the House tonight that there have been grants of almost £1 billion and that £2 billion in total has been spent. We have not solved this problem because we are asking somebody else to do so. Let us as a nation take this responsibility. Let us not call on somebody else to solve it for us. When we make that determined effort we have some chance of solving this problem.

I formally second the amendment to the motion.

Senator Quinn outlined my attitude to the negative approach of the Fine Gael Party motion. There are difficulties in agriculture at present and they need to be addressed, but a motion such as this one will not help in any way. We need a positive and not a negative attitude to deal with the problems which confront us.

It is interesting that in the past couple of days the Leader of the Fine Gael Party, in a fairly interesting paper, gave his views on where agriculture may be going in the future. I would not agree with everything he said, but at least in broad terms he was looking at things positively and I wish his colleagues would do likewise.

He had to take a lead.

Acting Chairman

Senator Burke, there will not be time.

I want to address one major issue in the motion, that is, installation aid and aid to young farmers in general. There are problems at present in trying to encourage people to see a future for themselves in agriculture. The figures with regard to the numbers of people taking up places in agricultural colleges are worrying, but we must look at the situation to try to understand the problem. At present young farmers do not see a great future for themselves in agriculture when compared to the opportunities which exist in the rest of the economy. I would question whether we should be thinking in terms of installation aid. What is really important is what we can do for young farmers. It is far more important that we try to address the existing problems in agriculture. An interested young person is confined to a great extent in what he or she can do because of existing quotas and restrictions on production. Conventional agriculture is a closed shop and unless they can get their hands on a quota, they cannot get involved. Therefore, we need to look at alternatives.

To do this we need to focus on research. Like the Minister, I have a research background. There have been many indications in the past few years of the benefits that can accrue from research. These are not being highlighted in the way they should. Senator Quinn is, I am sure, aware that one of the benefits of research and its dissemination to farm level has been the development of producer groups and group discussion meetings headed by Teagasc. These bring together people who are genuinely interested, particularly in the dairy industry where we are using our natural comparative advantage to produce high quality grass. In two years the top dairy producers have maintained or increased yields while reducing their input of grain and concentrates by as much as 30 per cent. This sort of activity shows young people the value of research and its dissemination to farmers.

Teagasc recently introduced a voluntary early retirement scheme for staff. Unfortunately, it has resulted in research officers only being replaced on a one in three basis. I would like to see far more young people involved in research because it is a young person's game. They have fire in their bellies. They will do the work and agriculture will benefit from it.

There is tremendous potential for the development of seed potato production. This area has been neglected for many years. For many years seed potato production has been concentrated in Donegal. There are historical reasons for this, principally concerned with the problem of viral diseases. These problems no longer exist. We need to rationalise our seed potato production and to have bigger growers on lower land. The main seed potato market, the Mediterranean region, has been declining even though we are producing the varieties which are in demand. We must ask why and what we can do to prevent further decline. There is no quota on seed potato production. There is a demand in the Mediterranean area for approximately 800,000 tonnes of seed potatoes per annum. We get our seed potatoes on to the market in time for planting in January and February. There is a bigger market for November planting but in order for this country to get into that market we need to make some changes. We must focus more attention on the production of seed in traditional tillage areas. If we do, we can hit the markets earlier and increase our exports. We must offer these opportunities to young farmers and producers. Certain structures in the Department of Agriculture and Food must be reviewed in relation to seed potato production. For example, a seed potato crop cannot be certified unless the producer requests that the crop be certified before it is lifted. That is nonsense.

There are great opportunities in agriculture for young people but we must give them the back-up of proper research and the dissemination of its results and focus on areas that have not been regarded as traditional.

I commend Senator Gibbons on the points he made about research and seed potato production. I fully support his views.

I have some difficulty with the points made by Senator Quinn. He refers to the need to encourage farmers to help themselves instead of looking for other people to resolve their problems. He also referred to the area of the food industry. The Department is the Department of Agriculture and Food. I have been saying for some time that the Minister cannot serve two customers. There is a conflict of interests. I am sure Senator Quinn, if he thinks about the matter, will agree with me. The best interests of the food industry cannot be served by the Minister for Agriculture. If he is doing his job right by the farmers he cannot be doing the job in the way consumers of the food industry would like. As a result he is falling between all stools and is not impacting on agricultural policy as we would like.

I support what my colleagues said about young farmers' installation aid, not because we should be increasing the dependency culture which has been fostered so well over the past decade or two. However, a Minister who announces and introduces a scheme for five years but only provides the funds for five months deserves to be chided. When the Minister introduced the scheme he said it would last for five years and after five months the rug was pulled from under it. Then, to buy as many votes as possible from the agricultural community in the last general election, he promised to restore it. We are waiting for the Minister to deliver on that promise. That is why we are critical of the Minister.

The Minister referred to the amount of paper involved in farming today. I appeal to the Minister to rationalise the bureaucratic form-filling machine which has been created through our involvement with the Common Agricultural Policy. On my own family's farm we are involved in ten or 11 schemes. There are about 30 or 40 EU sponsored schemes, all with different closing dates, application dates, references, mapping systems and criteria. Farmers have been confused to such an extent that mistakes are being made. Farmers are then penalised for genuine mistakes when the bureaucracy goes wrong. Of course, those who deliberately try to defraud the system must be caught, but there are hundreds of decent farmers who miss deadlines because one comes on top of another and none comes together. The Minister has buried the system under paper. We have office workers, not farmers. Older farmers in particular are frustrated by the volume of paper work that has evolved in recent times.

I keep hearing about the improvements in the Department with regard to brucellosis testing. I have been writing to the Department in relation to this issue for some time. Could the Minister allow 30 days from when the results of the blood test are returned to the farmer until the animal is sold? That is not a great relaxation of the present system but it would put an end to quibbling about whether there was a seven, a 14 or a 21 day turnaround in the blood sample. The enormous pressure being put on laboratory workers would also be eased. So long as the farmer has 30 days in which to sell the cattle once he gets the result of the blood test we would be meeting all the criteria. We need the blood test because there has been an increase in brucellosis in recent years but a farmer could be allowed 30 days to get his stock sold after he gets the result of the blood test.

The Leader of my party made an extensive statement on agriculture at the weekend and I suggest the Minister might look at it if he has not had an opportunity to do so. It is in the nature of the job for Ministers to be involved in fire brigade action. The Minister is shoring up the crises as they arise, so to speak. Has he had any time for rational strategic thought on agricultural policy, particularly with regard to the situation post-Agenda 2000 and the next WTO round? We should focus on those matters. The debate should concentrate on the medium-term and long-term prospects for farming. All parties in the House can play the political card when it suits them, but we do not have debates on long-term strategic policy for agriculture. It is a frustration for me. We do farmers no service unless we consider the longer term.

We cannot continue to act in a fire brigade manner, as the Minister has done since taking office. I must criticise him for that. He may have to act in such a fashion because that is all he has time for given that so much fire brigade action is needed. However, he and the Department must be criticised for the lack of medium-term and long-term planning.

I have great problems with the changes in EU agriculture policy, especially the issue of concentrating production in areas of comparative natural advantage. We joined the EEC in 1973 primarily because of the benefits it offered for agricultural exports and the farming and food industries. The reform of the CAP took away or curtailed greatly most of the benefits with quotas, production controls and price reductions and with direct payments to compensate for the reductions in production. Agenda 2000 and the next WTO round will lead to a major liberalisation of agricultural trade. Irish farmers will be put on a level with Japanese and New Zealand farmers. I worry that we are not prepared and that we are being dishonest with the farming community by not pointing out the inevitability of developments.

However, if we can survive the next few years and reach the point of open market prices, those farmers who survive will have a good future ahead of them, although their numbers will be nothing like the present. There will be a demand for what they produce, not only the basic food commodities but also the niche markets.

The Minister has been a disappointment. I expected more from him in terms of strategic planning and serious thought and investment in the future of agriculture. He has acted as a fireman for the past year. Basic issues, such as the scale of form filling required and the turnaround time in the brucellosis tests, have not been attended to by the Department. He cannot have responsibility for food and agriculture at the same time — indeed, his is failing on both counts because he is falling between two stools. If he has responsibility for agriculture he should look after the farmers and responsibility for food should be transferred to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his address. I am disappointed to hear Senator Avril Doyle criticise the Minister as she did, especially in light of the experiences of her County Wexford colleague who was the previous Minister. The Senator should withdraw her remarks about the Minister because he is doing a good job.

He is a big boy now and is well able to take it. I recall some of what he said about Deputy Yates when he was Minister.

The agriculture industry is important to the economy. Most rural towns and villages are dependent on it for their survival. As the economy continues to grow and the Government continues to provide such excellent leadership it is unfortunate that farmers are not experiencing the boom in the rest of the economy, especially in the beef sector where margins remain tight despite improvements in the spring. The continuing flight from the land and rural areas and the lack of young people who take up farming as a career should be of concern to all. These events will have a negative effect on farming in the future because farmers will be older and will find it more difficult to face the challenges of a changing industry.

I congratulate the Government and the ministerial team at the Department for the job they are doing for Irish farmers. We wish prices would improve more quickly but were it not for the Government's actions since taking office we would be in a far more difficult position. This time last year steer beef was 79p per pound at the factory; thankfully, it is now 92p per pound. Had it not been for the intervention of the Government and the Minister in the past year in reopening the live cattle export trade and if the 55,000 cattle exported had not been exported, we would not have experienced the increase in the price of beef. Live exports increase competition which is positive for the farming community.

In rebuilding the beef markets we must ensure consumer confidence in the product. The Government's work on animal traceability and the quality assurance scheme is a major step in assuring customers of the quality of Irish beef. The establishment of the Food Safety Authority as a statutory agency will ensure food safety, hygiene and the promotion of good practice through all stages of food production, distribution and sale.

I welcome a number of measures the Minister has taken which are of great assistance to farmers, including the recent announcement with regard to the increase in the overall value of the REP scheme to £205 million per year from 2000. The Minister is to be complimented for his swift action to speed up blood test results. It will be welcomed by farmers who are testing heifers for sale. It was unacceptable that they had to wait 21 days for a result; that must not happen again. The Minister announced the satisfactory conclusion reached on the blood testing issue and I compliment him and the Department on it. It was important to resolve the issue. Undoubtedly the major agricultural challenge to this Government is CAP reform. I am confident the Minister and his colleagues will ensure our national interests are protected in these negotiations.

The small number of young people taking up farming as a career is a major concern. The young farmers' insulation aid scheme was of great assistance to young people entering farming as it helped to create pollution control facilities or much needed farm buildings. I welcome the Minister's commitment to this scheme. In my area of Cavan and Monaghan the uptake of the pollution control and dairy hygiene schemes was very good, but much work remains to be done. Reintroducing these schemes would create many jobs as the economic activity that accompanies those schemes is of great benefit to the whole area.

I compliment the Minister on his efforts to reopen the live trade to Egypt, Libya and wherever he can sell our cattle. I wish him well and urge all political and farm leaders to unite behind him in his efforts to secure a bright future for the agricultural sector in these challenging times.

I wish to share my time with Senator Coghlan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I understand where Senator Quinn is coming from. He is in the food and grocery business. There are many agencies in the food sector, such as Forbairt and the IDA, which are doing a good job. However, the Minister must take huge responsibility for the entire agricultural industry. He plays a big role in the lives of small farmers, as the majority of those farmers depend on cheques in the post.

While Senator Quinn would not be familiar with the complexities of some aspects of farming, the Minister should be aware of them. The majority of 30 day blood test cases I have encountered recently have taken up to 29 days to resolve. This allows the farmer one day to sell his stock and is most unfair. I urge the Minister to take whatever immediate steps are necessary to rectify this.

Regarding the REP scheme, if a farmer is unlucky enough to be inspected, there is a four month delay in payment as a result. This is an unfair burden and the Minister should examine it. The Minister mentioned the area aid scheme. To enable Department staff to clear a backlog of 19,700 cases, it was necessary for the Minister to close the offices. Much of that backlog arose due to mistakes made by the Department, and the Department should take the blame where it is due. Not all of the backlog was due to mistakes made by farmers.

When the Minister took office in 1992 he said the control of farmyard pollution scheme would last five years. It only lasted for five months; and the Minister should have budgeted, as other Departments did in introducing multi-annual budgets, in order to cover all applicants over a five year period. He could have used a combination of Exchequer funding and European grant aid to make allowances.

The dairy hygiene scheme should also have been funded from the Exchequer where shortfalls occurred. As Senator Doyle said, the Government has a lot of ground to make up. Farmers are worried and the Minister has much to do to restore their confidence in him. He should consider the problems I have raised and rectify them as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the Minister because, by common consent, he is a decent fellow. However, by equally common consent he and the Government have been totally ineffective and have not honoured the pre-election promises to fund the matters referred to in this motion.

The Minister must be proactive in co-ordinating the necessary efforts to obtain a shipping service for the live trade. There is a huge crisis as a result of the failure to reopen the live cattle export market. What happened to the Government's commitment to farmers when in Opposition that it would reopen and expand live export markets such as Egypt and Libya? We were promised a high powered offensive, but it did not happen. The Government's efforts have been ineffective, and beef producers have been left to the mercies of the factories. Farmers in other EU countries are getting much better prices. Live exports are much needed and it is the only way farmers will get better prices from factories.

Kerry has approximately 60,000 suckler cows and within two months 30,000 to 40,000 weanlings will be available, but the farmer-producers will be without proper outlets. The Department's advice about the importance of the environment rings very hollow when the Minister has done nothing about the farmyard pollution scheme. The Government made a pre-election promise to restart and expand the farmyard pollution and dairy hygiene schemes and also promised to continue installation aid for young farmers. Apart from funding existing applications, why has this scheme been abandoned? No long term commitment has been made in that regard. There have been huge delays in all categories of payments to farmers, and under the charter of rights farmers are entitled to payment on time. Many farmers awaiting payment have had to make arrangements with banks for extra borrowings on which interest had to be paid, though the delays were the responsibility of the Department. Will the Minister give a firm commitment that payment schedules will be met in 1998?

There is a drift out of milk production which will accelerate if the Minister continues to do nothing about the dairy hygiene scheme. It is extremely urgent as farmers must comply with regulations on parlour hygiene by 1 January 1999. The Minister must fight the draconian Santer proposals; failure in this regard would cause devastation in rural Ireland.

The lack of proposals in the sheep sector is a major omission, as sheep are vital to Irish agriculture. We have 47,000 sheep farmers and the income generated by them in disadvantaged areas is critical. If the Agenda 2000 proposals are carried, consumption of sheep meat would be significantly affected by the 30 per cent reduction in beef price support that is being sought. Sheep farmers are going through a very difficult time and must be protected. The small hill sheep farmer has a severe income problem because the payment of ewe premia and sheep headage account for almost 100 per cent of his net income. These farmers have no alternative to sheep farming.

The Senator must conclude as his time is up.

I could say much more but I respect your ruling. You are always very kind to me on the Order of Business and I will not impose on you now.

I am glad to see you back in the Chair, a Chathaoirligh. Someone should apologise to the acting chairman, Senator Henry, for the misbehaviour which took place earlier this afternoon.

The Senator was one of the culprits.

The Senator's time is limited and he should address himself to the motion.

I welcome the Minister and compliment him on the success he is making of his portfolio.

There is a Minister of State in this Government with responsibility for food — Deputy Ned O'Keeffe. That office was discontinued by the last Government. On the day of the general election, 6 June 1997, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry announced in Wexford that he had succeeded in opening the live cattle trade to Libya and the Middle East. However, that did not materialise. The present Minister does not try to practice the art of bilocation, unlike the former Minister.

I support the amendment. The control of farmyard pollution scheme was suspended by the last Government on 27 April 1995. We look forward to the Minister reintroducing it in a form which will benefit agriculture and the environment.

It must have only reached Cork South West.

Senator Callanan, without interruption. The Senator's time is limited.

The control of farmyard pollution scheme is very important for the protection of the environment as well as ensuring high standards on our farms. I look forward to the Minister's reintroduction of the scheme which he announced.

The dairy hygiene scheme was suspended by the previous Government on 4 October 1996. When Fine Gael tabled the motion it should have realised its Government suspended or did away with these schemes. When that scheme was suspended 7,900 applications were on hand. Up to the end of May 1998 some 7,500 applications had been fully processed and approvals had issued in respect of 6,800 applications, representing a grant commitment of £40.5 million. By the end of 1997 a total of £22.9 million had been paid, with some 3,640 applicants. In the mid-term review of the Structural Funds the Minister had an additional £8.5 million made available, which brought the overall indicative allocation to the scheme up to £37.5 million. In addition, a further £2.7 million in national Exchequer funding was made available in the 1997 Supplementary Estimate. I congratulate the Minister on that.

In regard to the new farm installation grant scheme for young farmers, I must congratulate a Minister in this House for the second time today. I congratulated the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, this morning and I am now congratulating the Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh. I want to specifically congratulate the Minister on the changes he has brought about in the farm retirement scheme. That change, which he has almost finished negotiating——

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, brought in one of those for councillors.

Senator Callanan, without interruption.

The change, which does away with the additionality and the need to give up employment to satisfy the income qualification, is much more beneficial to young farmers. When the negotiations are completed they will not have to spend money on purchasing or leasing additional land or give up their employment. The changes being made in the retirement scheme should be contrasted with young farmers receiving a grant of £5,600. The changes in the retirement scheme are much more beneficial. The removal of the need to purchase land is worth at least £40,000 and the retention of employment is worth £15,000 or £20,000 if one has a reasonable job. The benefit of that is self evident.

The Opposition forgot about the farm retirement scheme, which has been in operation for a number of years. The maximum amount available under that scheme is £9,700, which was set a number of years ago. Will the Minister consider updating that maximum amount substantially? I urge him to take that on board.

We congratulate the Minister on his efforts to reopen the live cattle trade to Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. He has succeeded in getting live exports of 55,000 cattle this year, while, as he said himself, not one beast was exported last year.

Everyone accepts what the Minister is doing in relation to animal traceability, which is extremely important to the industry. I hope he will look kindly on a suggestion in that regard. At the moment beef cattle are being offered through the factories on a flat pay basis. Grading is not taking place in our plants. Senator Quinn referred to quality but we cannot have quality without grading. The flat price for our cattle is not a satisfactory way of ensuring we have quality bred, quality fed and quality produced cattle for the consumer. Farmers would appreciate the linking the payment of premia with the quality of the animal.

The Minister has made great progress in regard to area aid, on which I congratulate him. If the Opposition were to speak honestly they would recognise that.

Perhaps Senator Callanan meant to be chivalrous to Senator Henry but she is well able to look after herself when she is in the Chair.

Does the Senator wish to share her time?

No. In 1981 220,655 people left the land and 152,909 left in 1998. There has been no reference to that reality. I spent time yesterday on the mid west regional submission. The most contentious issue when discussing the submission was not the urban problems one finds in cities such as Limerick which have blackspot areas of unemployment; instead, the debate which caused most angst and concern was among councillors representing farmers in Counties Tipperary, Clare and Limerick, which are major areas in dairying and agriculture generally. They were quite alarmed by the impact of farming problems on the rural environment and the decline in the number of young people taking up farming. They were also concerned about people over 45 years of age who had to abandon farming and who did not have the skills to make themselves employable in other areas.

I will confine my comments to two areas, namely, the control of farmyard pollution scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme. However, that does not mean that the other issues to which the motion refers are not equally worthy of debate. I noted a number of discrepancies in terms of the figures I received from farming organisations and those put forward by the Minister. I presume the 18,000 farmers who were suspended in 1995 have been reinstated. One of the organisations to which I referred supplied me with a figure of £25 million in respect of the control of farmyard pollution scheme but I estimate the Minister made available £32 million in this regard. The ICMSA informs me that the grants paid out by the last day of January 1998 amounted to £20.3 million whereas the Minister stated that £40.5 million was paid out. Perhaps this is because the Minister's estimate represents a cumulative total from January to June but I am not sure about that.

The Minister stated that he is currently examining funding possibilities for more focused schemes in respect of farm pollution and dairy hygiene. What does the term "focused" mean? Why have we waited until now to focus on the problems in these areas? I do not like words such as "focused" because they have little value. The Minister also stated that even where they are focused these schemes require significant levels of funding. I would have expected that such schemes would always be focused.

I understand that 20,000 farmers would like to become involved in the control of farmyard pollution schemes. In County Limerick alone, 2,000 farmers want to be included in these schemes. What will these people who have been left bereft because of lack of funding do now? I hope the Minister will request Exchequer funding if it is not possible to obtain EU funding in this regard.

The figures given to me by the farming organisations show that between 10,000 and 15,000 farmers would like to be involved in the dairy hygiene schemes which are essential to enable them to remain on the land. If their premises are not registered by 1999, a doomsday scenario awaits them. Hygiene affects the entire food chain and ancillary areas such as value added products and quality milk and dairy products. If stringent controls are not implemented, farmers will be put out of business. It is time the issue of hygiene was addressed.

I was provided with other statistics — I admit I am relying on the opinion of experts but I presume their findings are correct because they have been published — in respect of farm building specialists. In that context, we are not discussing the loss of jobs in farming alone. The Irish Concrete Society estimates that 6,000 jobs have been affected by a decline in farm related construction spending. Teagasc estimates there has been a decline of £60 million in farm related construction spending but the ICMSA estimates there will be an £80 million decline in 1998, which is equivalent to a loss of 1,500 jobs. If these figures are correct, not only will people involved in farming be affected but those providing ancillary services in rural areas where farmers tend to employ local construction firms that specialise in farm construction will also suffer.

Specific figures from the public capital programme show that spending in this area will increase by 19 per cent in 1998 to £4.324 billion whereas public capital expenditure on food will decrease by 21 per cent. The Minister must take that into account in addition to the fact that total public and private spending on agriculture will decrease by 30 per cent. He must realise that these are sizeable percentages.

I will now deal with part-time farming, an area about which I have strong views, which seems to represent the way forward. To a degree, that is good for young farmers who want to work in a city such as Limerick where job opportunities are offered in the computer industry by Dell and AST. However, I shudder to think what will happen in Counties Roscommon and Leitrim where there is no alternative employment for farmers living in remote areas.

With regard to the early retirement scheme for farmers, the only hope for small farmers with incomes of £5,000 is to obtain another job which will net them a further £5,000. Will the Minister consider increasing the provision in this regard to between £15,000 to £20,000? I accept that a limit may have been placed on this money in the past at a time when business interests took control of farms, but there is a need to review the situation.

I am surprised, in light of the partnership in Government, that Senator Gibbons waited until now to suggest to the Minister that action be taken in respect of seed potatoes. That issue has been discussed at length over the past four to five years and we should not have had to wait for Senator Gibbons to progress it.

Before calling on Senator Tom Hayes to conclude I propose to allow Senator McGowan to make a brief contribution.

Without interruption.

It will not make any difference if the Senator interrupts me. I welcome the opportunity Members and the Minister have been given to discuss this matter. The Minister outlined the important contribution he has made to agriculture. If he was as bad as Members of the Opposition would have us believe and if they were as good as they would like us to believe, they would be in Government.

The Senator has got it wrong.

The Minister assumed responsibility for agriculture when it was on its knees, when travelling salesmen were selling angel dust and when we had the reputation in Europe and elsewhere of being untouchable. That was thanks to the efforts of the previous Administration. The Minister has taken agriculture by the scruff of the neck and reinstated many schemes cancelled by his predecessor. Members of the Opposition should cop themselves on.

Where was the Senator when this happened?

On the Government benches, a place where the Senator has seldom spent time.

I thank Senators for their contributions. This is the first debate which has riled people and it led to Senator McGowan's over-the-top contribution.

Four to five main issues were addressed. Before dealing with them I must reply to inquiries why this motion was put down. It was put down because of widespread concerns in the farming community that the Government's promises have not been honoured 12 months after the general election. My party took a unanimous decision to put down the motion for that reason and no other.

What about the £941 million?

I will now deal with the main issues raised. Many Members referred to the area aid payments. In my opinion, regardless of what the Minister said, events in the past number of months and the level of payments received by farmers are an utter disgrace. To state that the area aid unit could not be contacted by telephone is the most disgraceful message to issue from Agriculture House in many years. Politicians, not to mention farmers, could not contact the unit; that was disgraceful. The Minster cannot say the situation has improved.

The payments since Christmas were worse than during the previous 12 months. In 1994 the Minister announced the control of farmyard pollution and dairy hygiene schemes which were to last five years. Those schemes lasted five months as he announced schemes for which there was no money. There is huge concern, particularly among dairy farmers who have to upgrade their dairy units under EU regulations. They do not have the money and cannot afford to update their milking parlours and this is an utter disgrace. A few months ago the Government did not want the European money it was getting for Luas. At that stage the Government should have made a proper presentation highlighting the importance of agriculture to this country and that money should have been channelled into agriculture.

There was much debate earlier about the live cattle trade and in particular over the past 12 months. No live cattle have been exported to Egypt or Libya since the Government came to power. A commitment had been sought and received by Deputy Yates to open the live cattle trade. It was genuine and backed up by Department officials. Since the Government came to power no animal has left for those countries. In a few months we will reach the October cattle glut and prices will reduce by £100 per head. With regard to the export of cattle to the European market, agents are trawling the country wishing to pay £65 per cwt. Cattle are making £55 per cwt in marts but they are willing to pay more if only there was a proper transportation system in place. Export trade has been an unmitigated disaster and that is where the Government has totally fallen down.

Amendment put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 15.

  • Bonner, Enda.
  • Callanan, Peter.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Chambers, Frank.
  • Cox, Margaret.
  • Gibbons, Jim.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kett, Tony.
  • Kiely, Daniel.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Mick.
  • Lydon, Don.
  • Leonard, Ann.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • McGowan, Patrick.
  • Mooney, Paschal
  • Moylan, Pat
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.


  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Caffrey, Ernie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Henry, Mary.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • McDonagh, Jarlath.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Ridge, Thére se.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh; Níl, Senators Burke and Ridge.
Amendment declared carried.
Question, "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.