I welcome the Minister of State.
Nursing Homes Support Scheme
I thank the Minister of State for making time available to deal with this matter which relates to nursing homes. It is a difficulty that has been experienced for quite some time and which applies very much to nursing homes outside Dublin. The moneys which they are entitled to collect under the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, may be far lower than the cost of providing care for elderly people. When the NTPF set out the amount to be paid, no appeals process was put in place where there was a genuine reason for an increased amount to be paid. The figures were set in stone by the NTPF and no other opportunity is available. It is in this context I raise the matter to see whether a very simple appeals process could be put in place to deal with it. Obviously, I do not want it to open up a situation where everyone could appeal. Certain circumstances would have to be set out for the reasons for an appeal and as to why it was felt the figure fixed by the NTPF was unfair and and unreasonable within which to provide a service.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The legislation underpinning the nursing home support scheme requires each private nursing home to negotiate and agree a price for long-term residential care services with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF should it wish to be an approved nursing home for the proposed scheme. The NTPF has statutory independence in the performance of its functions and negotiates with each nursing home on an individual basis. The Department of Health has no role in such individual negotiations.
The NTPF examines the records and accounts of nursing homes as part of the process, with the objective of setting a fair price which delivers value for money to the individual and the State. In negotiating with nursing homes the NTPF has regard to costs reasonably and prudently incurred by the nursing home, evidence of value for money, prices previously charged, the local market price, budgetary constraints and the obligation on the State to use available resources in the most beneficial, effective and efficient manner to improve, promote and protect the health and welfare of the public.
When the nursing home support scheme commenced in 2009, a commitment was made that it would be reviewed after three years. In advance of the review which was subject to an extensive and structured public consultation process, submissions were sought from groups or bodies which wished to make a contribution. Nursing Homes Ireland made a submission in this regard in which it sought, inter alia, an appeals system for nursing home providers, about which the Senator asked. The report on the review which I am sure the Senator has seen was published in 2015 and a number of issues have been identified from more detailed consideration, including a review of pricing mechanisms by the NTPF, with a view to ensuring value for money and economy with the lowest possible administrative costs and burdens for clients and the State; increasing the transparency of the pricing mechanisms in order that existing and potential investors could make as informed a decision as possible; and ensuring adequate residential capacity for those residents with a more complex need.
The pricing review will also include consideration of the appeals mechanism. It is not deemed feasible to address the situation in isolation and it must be considered as part of the totality of the pricing system review which will be completed as soon as possible. The NTPF has alluded to a timeframe of the end of the year, to which I will hold it. In that context, we must be careful about placing too much reliance on an appeals mechanism. The Senator has pointed out that this might not be open to everyone but, in establishing an appeals system, it could become a default option for operators which could displace the main pricing mechanism. It is important to develop a robust system that everyone would understand and deliver fairer outcomes consistently. If we can achieve this, an appeals system would be much less important. If we can get the pricing mechanism right and address some of the issues the Senator and others have raised with me, there would be no need for an appeals mechanism. If new mechanisms are put in place after the review is finalised at the end of the year and we are still seeing the same problems, we can address that issue afterwards. If we allow the review to be finalised, we will see what comes of it. If the Senator wishes to revert to me subsequently, we can deal with the matter then.
I thank the Minister of State. Will the review definitely be completed by the end of the year?
The NTPF has stated its hope to have it finished by the end of the year. I will ask it to do so.
I thank the Minister of State.
I thank the Minister of State and the Senator for their brevity.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this issue and the Minister of State for attending to address the many concerns about the proposed comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, between Canada and the European Union. The CETA will apply to an unprecedented number of public contracts, including at local level, which will have implications for the policy space in those contracts or services. The European regulatory council will have a mandate to privilege the least burdensome option in respect of regulation which has the potential to undermine present and future regulations over, for example, environment, employment and employment issues. This concern has been highlighted by ICTU, environmental lobby groups, Trócaire and many health organisations. The CETA was negotiated prior to Brexit and the removal of the United Kingdom's large market from the European Union could see Canadian beef exports redirected into other countries like ours, which would have a serious economic impact. However, my focus is on the Constitution. Will the Minister of State assure the House that, when he or another member of the Government attends the Council of Ministers meeting in October, the Government will not sign up to the provisional application of the CETA and will instead uphold Article 29.5.2o of the Constitution which reads: "The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann"?
Let us be clear that the CETA will involve a charge on public funds. It would bring into effect for the first time in Ireland investor-state dispute settlement courts which could allow corporations to sue the State for the potential loss, not only of present profits but of future ones. In other countries where such courts already operate, many of the settlements sought have run into billions in national currency. The ultimate blank cheque, it could speedily deplete the Government's proposed rainy day fund.
In response to parliamentary questions the Minister has stated such trade agreements are not part of domestic law, which is why separate adjudication arrangements are required. However, any law applied within the State must be tested for compatibility with our laws and to ensure they are not repugnant to the Constitution. Has the Minister spoken to the Attorney General about this? Is the Minister comfortable with a situation where Irish companies would work under Irish domestic law, while international companies would have recourse to a new and different mechanism which would be a particular advantage for them?
The current position held by the European Commission in this regard is somewhat contradictory. In recognition of the political situation, it has agreed to treat the CETA as a mixed agreement that requires the approval of the European Parliament and national parliaments. At the same time, it wants signing and provisional application to go ahead in advance of the securing of political approval from the various parliaments. It has reserved the legal opinion that the European Commission has exclusive competence and stated it will wait to see the outcome of a case being taken in respect of the EU-Singapore deal.
In the circumstances I have outlined, would it not be prudent for other member states and the Irish Government to wait to see the results of that court case which are due next year before any provisional application is signed? This has been recommended by many legal experts, including those from ClientEarth. Given that a court case on the constitutionality of the CETA was recently launched in Germany and in the light of the widespread and growing calls for a case on the overall compatibility of investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms with EU law to be taken to the European Court of Justice, is it not inappropriate to move ahead when so many cases are pending?
This is not a case of trade as usual. The European Commission has marked this as a milestone. It has been suggested that as the most ambitious trade agreement ever, this marks the beginning of a new generation of such agreements. If we are in a new and experimental space, in which we are trying out a new generation of trade agreements, does it not behove us to test them fully against our legal and parliamentary systems? What signal does it send to the EU population, at a time of growing and dangerous disillusionment with the rule of law and politics, if states and EU bodies choose to bypass the legal and parliamentary processes to short-circuit matters in respect of this particular trade agreement?
I thank the Senator and welcome her contribution. We should have had a debate on these agreements in recent years.
The EU-Canada comprehensive economic and trade agreement, CETA, is a new-generation agreement that will remove over 99% of tariffs between the European Union and Canada. The CETA will significantly improve business opportunities for Irish companies in Canada. With the CETA, Irish companies will receive the best treatment that Canada has ever offered to any trading partner, thereby levelling the playing field on the Canadian market for Irish and other EU companies. By opening markets, the CETA should support growth and jobs and bring further benefits for consumers. It has the potential to keep prices down and to provide consumers with greater choice.
The main benefits of the agreement for Ireland include the opening up of public procurement markets in the Canadian provinces. This will give Irish firms increased access to Canadian public sector purchasing. Ireland will also gain unlimited tariff-free access for most of its important food exports. Of course, we are all conscious of the importance of food exports from Ireland, particularly to Canada. In addition, Ireland successfully campaigned for a low beef import quota from Canada to the European Union, thereby safeguarding our important EU market in this area. Irish firms will also benefit from the recognition of product standards and certification, thereby saving on double-testing on both sides of the Atlantic. This is of particular benefit to smaller companies for which it can be prohibitive to pay twice for the same test. These are some of the benefits of the trade deal with Canada which will provide new market opportunities for Irish firms in many sectors.
In May this year the Council had an exchange of views on the CETA and the process towards signature and provisional application of the CETA. The European Commission and the member states highlighted the high quality of the agreement that had been reached with Canada and expressed a desire to work towards the signature of the agreement at the EU-Canada summit in October. The Commission published its proposals for signature, conclusion and provisional application on 5 July last and they are available on the Commission's register of documents. On 13 May last, at the most recent meeting of the EU Council of Trade Ministers, the Minister, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, made clear that our approach based on our current assessment of the provisions of the CETA was that we viewed the CETA as a mixed agreement in terms of EU and member state competency. In view of the position taken by Ireland and other member states, the Commission has now decided to submit the CETA to the Council for decision as a mixed agreement. This means that each member state will be required to ratify the agreement under its own procedures. The Oireachtas will be part of the final decision on ratification.
It will now be a matter for the Council and the European Parliament to decide on the signature, conclusion and the provisional application of the CETA.
Provisional application is provided for in the EU free trade agreements. This means that those areas where the European Union has full competence may be applied immediately once the agreement comes into force. It is an important mechanism that allow companies and consumers to benefit from a trade agreement at an early stage. Provisional application of the CETA would be without prejudice to national ratification by member states. The provisional application of free trade agreements is standard practice. What is at issue is what should be within the scope of such application. Discussion on this matter continues in the Council. We have argued that only those areas directly within exclusive Commission competence should be covered by the provisional application. As noted, the Commission has already accepted that the CETA is a mixed agreement.
It is in Ireland's interest to see strong progress towards the implementation of the CETA as it will provide opportunities for Irish firms to diversify their export markets further. Total export and import trade between Ireland and Canada is worth €2.5 billion, which is based on 2014 trade results. That is a great deal of trade between the two countries and there are great opportunities to grow it further when the CETA is implemented.
I ask the Senator to be brief. There are eight minutes allocated to discuss each matter and we have taken ten minutes on this one already. I have been asked me why I do not select more Commencement matters, but it is not possible because Members do not stay within the time they are allotted.
I stuck to my time earlier.
I will be flexible but within reason.
Will the Minister of State address the concern that it is not at the discretion of Ireland to end provisional application if we find it to be incompatible with the Constitution because a qualified majority would be required to end provisional application? Will he also inform the House of the position taken by Ireland's permanent representatives who attended a meeting last Friday to indicate which areas we regard as specific competence of the European Commission and which areas are part of a mixed agreement? What position was taken by Ireland at the negotiations on that last Friday? Moreover, we have trade worth €2.5 billion with Canada; therefore, we already have a very healthy trading relationship. We also have a healthy trading relationship with the United States. This is not a matter of speaking against trade but of examining a new instrument and ensuring it is fully scrutinised. Will the Minister of State also address the rationale for not waiting until the legal concerns at issue have been addressed?
We cannot be complacent about trade. We face many challenges in exporting. There are also the international challenges with Brexit which the Senator mentioned. Negotiating trade agreements takes a long time, they do not happen overnight. We see what is happening with the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, TTIP.
I will reiterate what is important. I do not have information on what happened at the meeting last Friday, but I am sure we can arrange to get it to the Senator. It is important to make the point that this agreement, when implemented, will open huge opportunities. The Senator made it clear that we have great trade, but we must grow it further. Consider all the Irish people in Canada. There are close relations between the east coast of Canada and Ireland and Canada wishes to do more business with Europe. We should be in a position to avail of that opportunity. It is also important that, if the agreement comes into force, we can tender for public contracts in Canada which we could not do previously. That offers huge opportunities for Irish companies that wish to work overseas.
We must focus on the swift ratification of the CETA. I hope we can sign the agreement before the end of autumn. It will be a positive light for Ireland in the coming months. There are huge opportunities. The European Union and Canada share many common goals and objectives and each party brings with it high environmental and labour standards. The agreement that has been negotiated will strengthen corporate social responsibility, which is also important. A growing market share in other markets is even more important for Ireland than it is for other countries, particularly since the UK referendum, and I look forward to the Dáil giving approval to ratify the agreement.
Perhaps the jobs, enterprise and innovation committee might discuss the CETA as part of its autumn programme. It is important that the Senator raise the issue in order that the committee might take on that role. It is important to discuss issues in the House, particularly trade agreements. I am not sure that was done in the past, but a debate on trade agreements could form part of the committee's work schedule in the autumn.
I look forward to the Dáil giving approval to ratify the agreement once the EU institutions have completed their procedures.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan. As it is the first time he has been in the Chamber since I was appointed Cathaoirleach, I wish him well in his brief and hope he will have a long tenure.
I join in welcoming the Minister of State and congratulate him on his appointment. I thank him for coming to answer my question and the Cathaoirleach for selecting my Commencement matter which ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline the safeguards and mechanisms in place to ensure good governance policies and procedures are adopted within national sports organisations funded by the Irish Sports Council. As it turns out, my question is timely, given the news today about Russia and the International Olympic Committee. I am not asking a question about that matter, nor is it about drugs or doping in sport. In fact, it is of a more general nature and was prompted more by the ongoing disclosures about Console and charity regulations. Also, I have met certain individuals who, based on their own experiences, are seriously concerned about the governance of a particular sport in Ireland, namely, tennis. They have raised a number of issues with me. However, in listening to them I felt the issues being raised might be of general concern in terms of sports body governance.
I acknowledge the many thousands of people across Ireland who work in a voluntary capacity and do immense work in sports organisations. At a very low level, I am involved with the FAI in the local schoolgirl soccer league; therefore, I know the work and commitment that goes into volunteering. I do not mean to question people's commitment or the huge goodwill shown by them. There are, however, three issues that are relevant in referring to national sports organisations funded by the Irish Sports Council. Will the Minister of State outline the mechanisms in place to ensure good governance in such organisations? There is accountability for funding. Clearly, different amounts are provided for different sports bodies by the council. Is there a general mechanism in place to ensure accountability? I understand some funding is channelled through another organisation.
In terms of general governance and the rules sports bodies adopt in selecting, for example, competitors to take part in national or regional competitions, does the Irish Sports Council have any role or mechanism in place to ensure transparent and fair procedures are followed?
The most serious issue is that of child protection. Does the Irish Sports Council have a role in ensuring child protection procedures are observed? In the term of the last Government significant legislation dealing with vetting, child protection and the disclosure of abuse was passed. In this regard, how are national procedures implemented? How does the Irish Sport Council ensure national procedures are implemented at local level? Everyone will be aware of the huge scandal in the sport of swimming. We need to ensure the child protection mechanisms now in place are robust, watertight and being observed by the different sports bodies funded by the Irish Sports Council.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his kind words of welcome. I also thank Senator Ivana Bacik for her words of congratulations and raising this issue.
As Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, I have been anxious since my appointment to engage with all State agencies and regulatory authorities, including Sport Ireland. The leadership provided by Mr. Kieran Mulvey and Mr. John Treacy is something that has struck me as being very professional. They certainly have a good grasp of what they want to achieve in Sport Ireland. I thank them for the work they have done up to now and also acknowledge the work of the board.
It is vital, as the Senator said, that the highest standards of governance are adhered to across all levels of Irish sport to ensure accountability, fairness and transparency across organisational activities and support the integrity of sport. The implementation of good governance practices in sport has improved significantly in recent years. Sport Ireland and its predecessor, the Irish Sports Council, have played a key role in this improvement. Sport Ireland continues to work closely with the national governing bodies of sport to provide supports and services, with a focus on improving governance within sports bodies. They include support for strategic planning, internal audit and financial management. There is an established procedure in place for Sport Ireland to provide support for any particular governing body that encounters difficulties.
Since my appointment as Minister of State, I have met a significant number of the national governing bodies of sport to get a handle on the stage they are at in the cycle of development, their priorities, the challenges they are facing and where they see themselves going. All of the national governing bodies of sport are keen to see the conclusion of the development of the national sport policy. One of my priorities as Minister of State with responsibility for sport in the coming months is the development of a national sports policy. The policy is on my desk and I am reviewing the draft which will go out for public consultation and be discussed by the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport.
In terms of governance, the national sports policy will aim to define consolidated governance principles to underpin the future of Irish sport. I think that is what the Senator alluded to and I agree with her, particularly on what happened in swimming which was a wake-up call. Certainly, the recent revelations in the charities sector are another wake-up call. Sport Ireland has an important role in governance issues for the national governing bodies of sport and ensuring taxpayer's money is used in the most effective way and properly accounted for. However, as the Senator alluded to - we all agree with her - governance and accountability are about more than just financial accountability.
It is important that national governing bodies of sport which are independent entities have some space in decision-making within their own organisations. That covers the Senator's point about the selection of competitors. There has been a great deal of interest recently in the selection of competitors for the Rio Olympic Games, but neither the Department nor Sport Ireland has a role in the selection of individuals. Once the selection criteria are signed off on by the national governing bodies of sport at the outset, they are communicated to Sport Ireland and difficulties invariably arise. In the case of every Olympic Games and international meet one will have issues. I was asked recently if I would intervene in an issue to do with the Olympic Games and I had to tell the person in question that I could not do so because the next thing I would have to do was pick the Limerick under-21 team. It is not the role of politicians or Sport Ireland to engage in the running of national governing bodies of sport. However, I agree with the Senator that it is our role to ensure the national governing bodies of sport are accountable financially and in every other way.
The national governing bodies of sport are central to Irish sport and the achievement of sports policy objectives in terms of participation, performance and excellence. It is important to recognise that not one size fits all. National governing bodies of sport can range from small organisations run by a number of volunteers, to which the Senator alluded, to large-scale organisations run by full-time administrators. However, whatever the size of the organisation, sports organisations in receipt of public funds should have appropriate governance structures in place. That brings me back to the point the Senator raised about Console. We have major charity organisations that run a very good ship and by the same token we have small charities that do the same. We have seen organisations at both ends of the spectrum that were in dire need of an intervention at a much earlier stage but which did not happen.
The new national sports policy framework will seek to set out governance procedures for Irish sport, including the roles of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Sport Ireland, the national governing bodies of sport and all sports bodies in receipt of public money. The policy will consider options to uphold the highest standards of governance in sport. Sport Ireland is continually working to ensure good governance policies and procedures within organisations which are obliged to comply with requirements in that regard. Let me give an example of what is required. Any organisation which applyies for funding from Sport Ireland must submit satisfactory projected budgets and operational plans. All national governing bodies of sport are required to provide a mid-year update for Sport Ireland in order to receive their full grant. Sport Ireland is subject to the scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General and can also be examined by the Committee of Public Accounts. In addition, any national governing body of sport in receipt of funding from Sport Ireland may be subject to an audit by Sport Ireland's auditors.
Sport Ireland will continue to support those organisations that are delivering best returns for public investment. It provides a range of supports and services for national governing bodies of sport in ensuring good governance, including board training provision, assistance in marketing and branding, volunteer support and assistance in organisational capacity building. I have seen this at first hand with particular national governing bodies of sport where there are capacity issues.
I encourage Senators and all Deputies to go and see the National Sports Campus, if they have the opportunity. Some of them may already have seen it. It is second to none. It is more than just a sports campus. It regularly provides a set of soft skills for NGBs and this capacity building is important to ensure what the Senator referred to, namely, good governance.
I agree with the Senator on the need to have safeguards and mechanisms in place to ensure good governance policies and procedures. I am satisfied that Sport Ireland is working hard to make sure the improvements in this area continue. I fully expect that, when completed, the national sports policy will lead to further enhancements in good governance. If there is a specific issue regarding governance, whoever the Senator is referring to can contact my Department. If there is an issue or a concern, whether founded or unfounded, regarding an NGB that is in receipt of taxpayers' money, we have a duty to examine it, if we have learned anything from all the stuff that has gone on during recent years. If the Senator wants to bring a particular issue to my attention, I will have the Department and Sport Ireland examine it.
That was a comprehensive response. We are running out of time.
I thank the Minister of State for his very comprehensive response, particularly his last few words when he invited me to make contact with him about any specific issue. I agree with him about the selection of competitors. It is about fair procedures. Clearly, the Department cannot and should not be involved in it. When is the national sports policy likely to be completed? The Minister of State said it would be out for consultation with stakeholders and I am delighted it is at such an advanced stage. Is there a timeline?
I hope to have it finished as soon as possible in the early autumn and to roll it out then. I have made some minor amendments to it and it has gone back to the Department. The Department of Health has a health promotion aspect, as does the Department of Education and Skills in terms of physical activity. I have made some minor changes regarding access for people with disabilities. I want to have the maximum amount of consultation, given that it is a framework within which I hope the development of sport will be able to continue as the economy continues to grow. As the Senator said, it is not all about money. Good governance is about ensuring people are treated with respect and are protected. This includes competitors, those working in the environment and those who are seeking to enjoy it. There is a range of issues, including broadcasting and media rights, which I have included in it.
Inland Fisheries Ireland
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in his brief.
I raise the issue of the proposed closure of trout production operations in Ireland. There are two such facilities, one in Roscrea and the other in Mullingar. There is no other licensed supplier of fresh brown trout, capable of supplying all the angling fish clubs throughout Ireland. Recent figures produced by the Economic and Social Research Institute estimated that trout angling is worth approximately €800 million to the economy and that the recreational angling sector is responsible for anything up to 10,000 jobs. In my area, Cavan-Monaghan, it is a major aspect of tourism. Many bed and breakfasts are built on it and there is a vitally important cross-Border aspect.
Given the figures and the return to the economy, it is difficult to understand why such a decision would be made. If the decision goes ahead, jobs will be lost and the €800 million we get from the facility will be lost. I have never known an issue to raise the temperature among the angling community as much as this. It is as bitter and potentially divisive as the rod licence issue a number of years ago. There are more than 100,000 anglers, located in every county of Ireland, and they all speak with one voice on the issue.
A consultation process is under way and the closing date for submissions is 9 August. Given that it is alleged that the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland has already made the decision to close the facility, one could legitimately ask why there is a consultation process.
Perhaps the Minister of Statemight comment on that issue.
I plead with the Minister of State to ensure this decision does not proceed. I ask him to use his good offices to meet a deputation from the angling community. I assure him anglers are honest and upright in their efforts to ensure a solution is found to the problem and the facility will not be allowed to close. A meeting will be held in Mullingar tonight. If the Minister of State were to give a commitment to meet a deputation of anglers, an outcome could be found that would satisfy all parties.
I am speaking on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, who, unfortunately, is unable to attend. I assure the Senator, however, that I will bring the issue he has raised to his attention. I will also ask him to contact the Senator directly to arrange a meeting with him at the earliest possible opportunity.
Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, is the agency responsible for the protection, management and conservation of the inland fisheries and sea angling resources. It was formed on 1 July 2010 following the amalgamation of the Central Fisheries Board and seven regional fisheries boards into a single agency. The State has more than 74,000 km of rivers and streams and 128,000 ha of lakes, all of which fall under the jurisdiction of Inland Fisheries Ireland which is also responsible for sea angling out to a 12 mile limit.
Inland Fisheries Ireland has a long history of providing rainbow and brown trout to support the fish stocking requirements of angling stakeholders. Its main fish production unit is located at its fish farm near Roscrea, with a supporting facility which mainly supports the maintenance of brood stock located at Cullion in Mullingar. It also has a small operation at Lough Allua. The proposal for the rationalisation of its fish farm operations is a day-to-day operational matter for the board of IFI. However, IFI advises that, from a structural perspective, the fish farming operation is based on physical structures and facilities designed and built in the 1950s. Since that time, meeting the increasing demands of operational and regulatory requirements from facilities that are dated has become more complex and challenging.
I am advised by the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland that it is IFI's intention to exit fish farming operations in the coming years at current locations, while maintaining one aquaculture facility at Cong, County Mayo which will be used for research and conservation stocking. This site has been identified as having the most potential owing to the quantity and quality of its water supply, which is an important consideration in fish production. Ultimately, the IFI hatchery at Cong is expected to be upgraded to a facility capable of housing modern hatchery and research operations.
Inland Fisheries Ireland also announced that it was always intended that the phase-out plan would include consultation with the affected stakeholders, to whom the Senator referred. The former Minister of State wrote to the chairperson of Inland Fisheries Ireland noting that it was IFI's intention to consult those affected prior to any action being taken and that a report on the consultation would be made to the Department. The Minister of State recently met the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland to reinforce the requirement that a full report be made to the Department. IFI has written to the affected stakeholders advising that the farms are operating as normal in 2016 and that a consultation process will take place to develop the cessation plan.
It is important to clarify that the decisions of the board were not prescriptive as regards a timeline or particular option as to how IFI would exit commercial production. Inland Fisheries Ireland has reported to the Department that existing facilities are dated and in need of significant capital investment. In addition, the regulatory climate in which IFI operates has become increasingly complex in terms of fish husbandry, with all of its associated disease, aquaculture and discharge requirements but also in terms of other environmental legislation under which Inland Fisheries Ireland operates such as the water framework and habitats directives.
Inland Fisheries Ireland has emphasised that the board decided to strategically exit from the production of rainbow and brown trout on a number of grounds. IFI fish farms have operated at a significant loss in the past five years and while the agency has made significant efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency in aquaculture operations, it has not been able to bridge the gap between costs and revenue. The IFI board has been required, therefore, to focus its resources on core functions across all divisional areas.
Inland Fisheries Ireland commissioned an expert review of its production capabilities, operational processes, facility design and technologies, as well as operational costs, in an effort to identify challenges and constraints in production processes and to propose practicable solutions to enhance productivity and performance.
The review identified some major challenges, including those relating to environmental risks, the physical fish farm infrastructure and the current system for farm management. The fish farm near Roscrea has an issue with the level of water supply available. The current fish farm operations are subsidised by wider IFI resources because the price of fish for sale does not reflect the real cost of production. On balance, and having given due consideration to these factors, the board decided to exit freshwater aquaculture operations and has instructed the executive of IFI to develop a plan to facilitate exiting this business while making efforts to ensure continuity of supply and trout for stocking for anglers.
All permanent IFI aquaculture staff at facilities at Roscrea, Cullion and Lough Allua will retain their employment within IFI and every effort will be made to ensure smooth redeployment to other areas of the organisation. The board has already confirmed that no jobs will be lost and that all staff have roles within the organisation. IFI has confirmed that it wishes to inconvenience stakeholders as little as possible and that it firmly believes it will be possible to implement the decision with minimal or no disruption to stakeholders.
Given these considerations, IFI has announced the commencement of a public consultation process with stakeholders and individuals affected by the decision to exit freshwater trout production, with a particular focus on the potential impact of the decision and possible measures that could mitigate this impact. As the Senator said, the submission period is open until 5 p.m. on 19 August and submissions may be made online.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I have a couple of issues to raise. I have spoken about the benefit to the economy each year to the tune of €800 million and the fact that so many jobs depend on the sector. It seems strange - I am no expert in this matter - that a decision would be made by IFI to close a facility and that it would seek submissions after the event. I understand the report mentioned by the Minister of State was produced by a Canadian firm. It made a number of recommendations, none of which included the closure of any facility. The decision seems strange in that regard. At a time when one can see the benefit to the economy and the jobs for which the sector is responsible, IFI should be given more funding rather than having its funding cut. What figures are we talking about in this regard?
I plead with the Minister of State to postpone this decision, as did his predecessor, the current Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and overseas development aid, Deputy Joe McHugh. I ask that a meeting be organised for the delegation from the angling community to address this issue and find a solution for all concerned.
The Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, is not a line Minister. He has committed to asking the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, to contact the Senator directly. Perhaps that might be done today, if possible, in order to make progress on the matter.
I appreciate the Senator's concerns. I come from a part of the country where angling is very important. I will bring the issues he has raised to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, and ask him to contact the Senator directly today.