I welcome the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. She is a Member of this House, but she is also a Minister of State, which is relatively unusual. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 24, to delete “This Act” and substitute “Subject to subsection (3), this Act".
Amendment No. 1 facilitates amendment No. 2, which proposes the insertion of a substantial new subsection into the Act. The subsection proposed in amendment No. 2 is a longer amendment than I would usually submit. That is because there is a significant and real concern about the way these issues have been addressed and the fact that these provisions which change the Forestry Act were introduced by ministerial amendment on Committee Stage of the Bill in the Dáil. They were not there, for example, when issues of pre-legislative scrutiny were being considered and they have not undergone the same kind of process. We have a Bill tackling the very important issue of fur farming among others, which I know colleagues in the Chamber are going to speak to, and then we had a very substantial shift in forestry added in, which gives extraordinary discretionary powers to the Minister.
It is important that we make it clear that we cannot simply choose to pull the Forestry Act and its applications from a number of areas. One of the very first areas that was debated in the other House was the forestry licensing issue. A former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this Oireachtas acknowledged that Ireland was performing incredibly poorly and had been pulled up by Europe for failing to apply proper screening and failing to deliver proper procedures in our approach to forestry licensing. That was the core cause of why we had appeals. It was because we were not doing things right. That was two years ago. What the Minister of State should be bringing through to us is examples of how we are improving forestry licensing, screening and environmental assessment, and how we are thinking about things better, not more and more attempts to get out of it and to not have to do it. If in the past two years we had put the same energy as a State into significantly improving environmental assessment, appropriate assessment and screening and doing the groundwork, we would not have yet another measure which says "Can we just skip this bit?". We cannot skip it. There are European laws. If the Minister of State wants to bring in measures allowing for exemptions from the system that we have, she must make sure she does everything that those systems do.
This is a very roundabout attempt to take a shortcut that is going to delay progress in forestry. For example, it would not be appropriate to commend section 9, which deals with the exemptions for forestry, unless there had been, as is set out in the amendment, a report on all of the areas where there are sensitivities and unlicensed planting could not be permitted. Those are areas sensitive for reasons of biodiversity and landscape. We know that Ireland is lagging behind in its designation of special areas of conservation and natural heritage. That is not to say that forestry planting might not happen in those areas, but it must be done in an enlightened and proper way. There are areas that are sensitive for archaeological and additional reasons. These are all factors that need to be properly considered. The Oireachtas must have this on the table, agreed and clear, before we can agree to the Minister's suggestion of removing the safeguards that currently exist.
The completion of assessments that are required is fundamental, as is public consultation on the draft regulations. I will go into a couple of them in more detail. This is going to be a very substantive amendment because it is trying to repair the multiple gaps in what is currently proposed. It also specifies that there would be a report on what the system would be in terms of providing visibility and tracking of which areas might be exempted and ensuring compliance with the directives on the access to information and the Aarhus Convention on public participation in decision-making. I am not trying to add these in; they already exist, I am pointing out that the Minister cannot simply remove them or bypass them. The systems are already there and if the proper resources were put into them, they could be operating and could deliver.
In later amendments I outline that I am very happy for the Minister to have additional incentives and grants for native trees, but what we cannot do is try to move out of the system. I will go through a couple of the pieces that have been here, such as the fact that there is an attempt to remove some of the measures in terms of consent. We know that the European legislation is very clear that we cannot bypass the consent legislation for afforestation. For a plan, we need to have screening for projects. In the case of each project, we must ask whether it needs an environmental impact assessment or an appropriate assessment. That mechanism needs to be there, and it is not currently in the Bill.
Regardless of its size, a forest is subject to the European obligation for screening and proper consent processes still apply to it. The climate argument is being invoked. I believe we need to have more afforestation in terms of climate action, but even the Climate Change Advisory Council is extremely clear in its technical document that it must be "the right tree in the right place".
That is a phrase the Minister of State has used and yet what is proposed here is a kind of a blanket space that says here are some trees and as long as the space is a certain size-----
I do not know about that.
That is what it says. Unless it is a certain size, there are certain trees that can be planted, and, just to be clear, there is also the description of a "native tree area". That is still a forest under the EU definition of "forest". The Forestry Act is also very clear that a threshold of anything under 0.5 ha can still be a forest. The EU forestry strategy is clear that is a forest. We will come to some of the amendments in respect of size later in more detail. However, half an acre of trees in the wrong place, which is environmentally sensitive or that creates problems, even if they are trees we support and want, can create issues and be in breach of these screening mechanisms. I will come to later amendments in which I will suggest where the Minister of State could remove some parts of section 22 but the parts on screening just cannot be removed.
I will also note section 1(2)(d) which refers to the "system established to provide visibility and [the] tracking of the exempted areas ... to ensure compliance with the ... Access to Information, Public Participation ... and Access to Justice ...". The public have two important rights under EU law, that is, environmental information and consultation. At the moment, this legislation removes certain kinds of planting from those mechanisms with simply a promise that there may be ministerial regulations that may address them. It does not address those issues, however. People are entitled to know exactly what is being planted and where. That environmental information can be really important in terms of rivers, archaeology, heritage and species. It is also important even for a nearby organic farmer in terms of what the impacts might be because plants relate to each other.
It is important that people have access to a consultation and, again, by taking this approach to move some of these area outside the normal forestry licencing plan, the Minister of State is cutting across people's rights under the Aarhus Convention in terms of consultation on these decisions and these kinds of planting. That is again a very serious concern.
I want to go a little wider than that and I say this because I really want to see it. I wish the past two years had been used not to evade but to improve. If we try to take shortcuts, it will take us longer. That is what we have seen again and again. We saw it with forestry when attempting to take shortcuts on forestry licencing created the dynamic whereby many appeals had to be taken and many were won because the right things were not applied originally.
Similarly, a former Minister sat in the Minister of State's place with a heritage brief in one of the first and longest debates we ever had in these Houses during the previous Seanad, which was on the heritage Bill. That Bill, again, wanted to speed up and make it easier to do certain kinds of cutting and try to widen the period of time. By doing that and doing it wrong, we were left with something that did not work and that could not be applied.
When the Minister of State is speaking to colleagues or when Ireland is trying to, for example, get recognition for the carbon sequestration of our forestry, plant these native trees we all want to get planted and have them included and ensure that people get credits and funding for them, and, again, I specifically support the idea of grants and supports in this area, they are going to find that because there is not proper environmental legislation, tracking or licencing, it will be very hard to have a proper measurement that will stand up in terms of people being able to access European supports, funds and, down the line, carbon credits in that respect.
The point we made on hedgerows was that they moved away from where people had to contact local councils and notify them that X, Y or Z was happening. If, for example, a hedge was being grubbed or removed, permission would have to have been sought. When it was left to a discretionary measure, however, it meant that when Ireland said we have X, Y or Z number of hedgerows, it could not stand over it because it was not being monitored in the same way. There is no tracking of it. We are creating a hostage to fortune in that regard for those who want to have this as an area in the future. We will come to this but I will point out that one of the caveats here is that for some of the measures, there is not a protection against this being commercial. There is not a protection against this being, for example, for crops. I will come to that in a later amendment but those are serious concerns.
I mentioned hedgerows. This is one of the really important parts of this amendment and why I hope that if the Minister of State will not accept it, she will table her own amendment to make sure all of this is in legislation and not in statutory regulations that may come later.
I refer to the issues of biodiversity. What we do not want and what is not protected against in these proposals is a situation where we have biodiverse scrub, hedgerows and plants already there, which are, in fact, sequestering carbon. We know some of the most damaging points in carbon emissions release are at the points where, for example, there is mass grubbing, clearing of land or clear-felling. We do not want a situation whereby we are effectively having emissions created in order that people can access grants to plant native trees and because we do not have the proper biodiversity measures in that regard, we are again creating a jeopardy and Ireland will not be able to guarantee that is not what has happened. That is not what we want to happen or what will happen. In fact, in many cases, planting can be done in a way that combines other planting and other biodiversity that is there. We should aim for a biodiverse, ecologically rich forestry, which people then get rewarded for planting, supporting and caring for but, again, the measures are not there in respect of biodiversity protection and ensuring that an inadvertent consequence or perverse incentive is not created.
This is a very lengthy amendment because I am trying to insert four provisions in the Bill that are not in it but need to be for it to be fit for purpose. I hope the Minister of State might accept this amendment and make it so that these measures would take place before section 9 would be commenced. However, I will also ask her to place these measures in the Bill itself. If she is proceeding in this area, we need primary legislation. We cannot have slippage from where Ireland already has a very poor reputation and credibility that will go against us at European level in terms of the implementation of environmental criteria. We cannot be seen to be slipping further away from that.
I want to speak to amendment No. 9. In this House a few hours ago, several Members were present when we debated the forestry industry, including the Minister of State. It was a really important debate. We spoke about the report that was published 12 months ago, which was debated again today, and that outlined the 12 recommendations required for the industry to move forward. The Minister of State gave a very comprehensive response regarding those issues.
For those of us who have read the report and know the absolute chaos the industry has gone through over the past three years, in particular, the afforestation part was the crying shame. Because of what happened and because of unbelievable objections and confidence being sucked out of the industry, the afforestation programme fell to less than 30%. That is a blight on all our houses, in some ways.
We are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 and 2 at the moment.
That is a key factor in what this real proposal is about. It is about trying to make sure we have the opportunity at farm level to ensure that we can actually plant trees. That is a really important thing. The Minister of State has pointed out her own reasons for this amendment but that opportunity being given to the farming community is something we should support. Do we really want to go through assessments for 0.1 ha? We spend more money on consultants and making sure we are doing the right thing, and nobody will do anything. That is the real issue.
We will have no benefit from this. This gives the ability to every farmer in this country to plant trees to a minor degree, on a small proportion of land,, which is less than 1 ha. The area is from 0.1 ha to 1 ha. We are trying to promote this. When you talk to co-operative movements, mart movements or farming organisations, what do they say? They talk about trying to get more trees and more hedgerows planted.
Technically, if I were to plant 200 trees tomorrow morning along my ditch, I would be breaking the law. I would be wrong. I would be technically in breach of the law because I did not get an environmental impact assessment and because I would not have gone through all of the necessary work. For me to plant those 200 trees, it could cost me €3,000 or €4,000 in fees. Is that appropriate? Is that what we want the farming community to do? Is that where we need to go? We need to promote this so that the majority of farmers can come forward and plant trees on a proportion of their land to a minor degree. It is not a big ask, but it will change so much if we can get people involved. Section 9 is a real step forward. It is about setting an ambition for the Government of which we are all a part. More important, we will not get tied up in doing assessments for an area that is 0.1 ha. Realistically, will we put our farming community through that? They are already disillusioned in so many ways with the conversation in this House. If they heard this argument here this afternoon, I am sure they would be a lot more than disillusioned.
I remind Members that 32 amendments have been tabled. This is Committee Stage, so it is not the time for Second Stage debate, not that I am not suggesting anyone did make any. However, we are dealing with amendments Nos. 1 and 2 at the moment. I will allow people speak to various sections along the way. Did Senator Gavan want to come in on amendments Nos. 1 and 2?
I put on the record Sinn Féin’s support for both amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
Does Senator Daly wish to make a contribution?
I welcome the Bill. While the amendments may be well intentioned, I do not think it is fair to portray farmers as recklessly starting to plant trees on the areas mentioned within the amendments. There are other ways of policing this through, for instance, area aid payments or schemes that will probably be forthcoming based on the passing of this Bill. That will police this. A person will lose the payment if he or she plants on a sensitive area, a protected area or in an area that is not environmentally friendly for trees.
As Senator Lombard has quite rightly said, since the commencement of this Dáil and Seanad, we have been discussing forestry and the problems and issues with licensing. This is a way of alleviating some of the issues for smaller plantations, agroforestry and riparian forestry. Farmers, landowners, planners and those who work with farmers in almost every move they make in the current day and every decision they make on their farm are not and will not be reckless enough to breach anything mentioned in these amendments without putting us back to square one again and to the bureaucracy of licensing for small areas of plantation.
It is important to say this is enabling legislation. Not one tree will be planted under this legislation until the scheme is in place. That is important to know. Any trees planted outside of the scheme, if the area is more than 0.1 ha, will be subject to the regulations and the legislation under the current forestry Act.
To speak to Senator Higgins’s points, which I understand and take on board because many of them are valid, I can assure her that, for the past year and a half since I have taken office, I have not been going out of my way to take shortcuts. I have engaged like no other Minister of State in this role with environmental and community groups, and I continue to engage with them because I am wholly aware of the difficulties forestry has come through and where we need to get to with it.
On the amendments, amendment No. 2 essentially proposes to introduce a series of reports and assessments that would detail those areas where planting would not permitted, assessments of the protection of the environment, details of public consultation, and details of a system used to provide visibility in tracking of the areas to be planted for the purposes of public participation.
I would like to outline to the Senators how the design of any initiatives to utilise these measures will ensure compliance with all environmental law, such as the environmental impact assessment, EIA, the EU habitats directive and the EU water framework directive. In advance of the development of a scheme, the Department will be undertaking a strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment. The strategic environmental assessment, SEA, directive includes statutory requirements for the public to be able to participate in the process at specific stages to ensure there is transparency in the decision-making throughout the SEA process. The consultation process will engage with statutory authorities, outside bodies and the public. Following the completion of the SEA and subject to its findings, the Department will design a scheme and associated qualifying criteria. This may result in the introduction of additional measures, for example, with regard to the level of forest cover adjacent to domestic dwellings, including other environmental features.
I assure the Senators that a process to develop this scheme will be undertaken in a transparent manner and all reports will be available online as part of the strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment processes. For these reasons, I am not accepting these amendments.
With respect to the Minister of State, the fact is a scheme will come after the legislation, whereas we should be looking at that before we pass the legislation. We talk about enabling legislation, but to enable us to trust the legislation, we need to know exactly what we are signing off on.
While I do not doubt the Minister of State’s personal interest in native forestry, the fact is the enabling legislation we create means we will enable any Minister of State in this area into the future. This is why it is significant in general when we are being asked to move issues out of primary legislation into potential future schemes or measures. Again, I note this particular amendment specifically introduces a time clause that suggests, for example, things would not be commencing until certain things have been done. The Minister of State might want to consider tabling her own amendment that would make it clear no parts of section 9 would commence until certain measures have been done and, as I will come to in some of my later amendments, certain schemes and measures have been done and, indeed, agreed by the House.
However, there is a wider issue and I am concerned. The Minister of State mentioned the SEA of the scheme, but we need to be clear, and again I made this point, that simply screening for a plan or a scheme and doing that strategic process does not substitute for the fact that screening is still needed, although it may be a different screening mechanism, and maybe a faster one. I wish we had poured resources into screening in the past year and a half because I believe we would be in a different place had we done so. However, we still need to screen projects and that has been really clear. There cannot be an exemption for screening projects. In fact, Ireland has already been found at issue in the European courts by attempting to apply a sized-based threshold in terms of saying we do not need to have a screening requirement or environmental impact assessment. That was case C-66/06 in 2008.
I am not trying to delay things. I am just trying to ensure they actually happen and this is done right. We again made these points on the heritage Bill, that if things are done right, you do not end up tied up at length in the processes. This is around moving through things and supporting them. The Minister of State has mentioned the idea of an SEA on the scheme, but we need to be clear, and I would like the Minister of State to illustrate she understands, that an SEA on the scheme will not be a substitute for screening for appropriate assessment and environmental impact assessment on projects. That is why we need to know what the mechanism will be for these things.
I am concerned the Minister of State is moving everything to the scheme. I would like to know if she is considering, for example, tabling amendments on Report Stage to address some of the four issues I have highlighted here, some of which could be addressed in the Bill and, for example, inserted as a condition, without which there would not be the commencement of section 9.
Would we not have a system guaranteed in terms of providing visibility and tracking? Is that not something we want to make sure is in place before section 9 might be commenced in terms of compliance with the Aarhaus Convention and the environmental information directives? These are in fact sensible measures and if we are not using them, as in the forestry licensing scheme as matters stand, which I think is a mistake, but any parallel scheme we might create needs to have these same building blocks in there. We cannot sign off legislation that we do not know is compatible with EU law. Simply saying we will deal with it later does not deal with it, because if we remove the instruments we have in terms of the forestry licensing mechanism as the tool by which Ireland delivers its obligation under EU law, without having the other things or another system in place and already known, or attached to this Bill or put in primary legislation, then we are creating a lacuna. The Minister of State may have the good intent of filling but it is a lacuna nonetheless and another Minister may, for example, decide to have a very different kind of scheme that he or she may put in place.
We will bring the Minister back in but first I would like to welcome one of our colleagues in the Visitors Gallery who is accompanied by a transition year student. It is nice to see visitors back in the Gallery. Rachel Trimble from Roscommon is here with our esteemed colleague, Senator Murphy, who are both very welcome to the Visitors Gallery. I hope they enjoy their day and their evening here with us in the Houses of the Oireachtas. I now call the Minister of State, Senator Hackett.
In terms of tracking, currently all areas are mapped and visible as forestry parcels are planted and that will continue under any such scheme we introduce. As the Senator is aware EU law trumps domestic law and we have engaged with the legal advice not only in my Department but in the Office of the Attorney General, who feels that it is acceptable to conduct the scheme, and make the scheme subject to SEAs and AAs.
The points the Senator has raised are valid and will be included in the scheme. To include a list of the suggestions in the primary legislation is not appropriate. We could be returning to it over and back for years to come, adding in other things and taking out others so the best place for them is in the regulations associated with any scheme. As I said at the start, not one tree will be planted under this legislation until the scheme is in place because any trees that are planted without the presence of the scheme will be subject to the current forestry laws and legislation.
I would point out that the issue is precisely the fact that things might get taken out. I do not think we want to see anything taken out through a scheme, we want to see the measures that are necessary and that are basic in the law. It is precisely because of that idea of the Minister of State going back and forth taking things out. One can add extra provisions or protections through statutory instruments and others but in terms of the idea of removing any of the protections that we currently have, I would want that to be something that would come back before the Oireachtas and not something that might happen at a future Minister's discretion. That is exactly an example of why we need to do this.
I will again point out that Ireland has a poor track record, unfortunately. The Government, and the former Government, have a poor track record in terms of our interpretation of EU environmental law. That is why we have lost cases and been pulled up again and again. In trying to ensure that we get it right I am trying to save us from having a case where again we are found at fault in four years' time. We do not want and I do not want to put it on people that things have to go through courts and appeals processes. If we get things right at the beginning we save ourselves in that regard.
For the benefit of Members and perhaps of people watching, this Bill has four main components, three of which are the statutory provision on fur and skin farming and related procedure on related penalties, procedures for the payment of compensation, procedures for the disposal of fur-producing animals and finally a scheme for the planting of native tree species on a small scale without requiring a full forestry licence. They are all very important parts and we have 32 minutes to hopefully dispose of and deal with in one way or another over the course of the debate. Of course we can adjourn. What would the Senator like to do with amendment No. 1?
Just before I do that I will point out to the Minister of State that I could have added in a number of factors to amendments Nos. 1 and 2. I did not put in everything. There are many things I could have put in. I really have put into this amendment the minimum that should be required and I will reserve the right, on Report Stage, to put in the other factors that I think we should be addressing before the Bill commences. What I tried to do was to have this slimmed down to the four basics that we need to get right. In that regard, and this is my final intersection on this amendment, I would like to indicate and ask the Minister of State if it is her intention to bring her own amendments in regard to any of those four building blocks that I have highlighted to ensure that they are represented in the primary legislation? I am trying to be reasonable in this regard.
I thank Senator Higgins. I hear that.
No, we are still satisfied regarding the suggestions in this amendment and in a later amendment of Senator Higgins in which there is a rather exhaustive, and absolutely justifiable, list, but they all belong in the regulations and not in the primary legislation.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Hoey, Annie.
- Wall, Mark.
- Ahearn, Garret.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Blaney, Niall.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Malcolm.
- Carrigy, Micheál.
- Casey, Pat.
- Cassells, Shane.
- Conway, Martin.
- Crowe, Ollie.
- Cummins, John.
- Currie, Emer.
- Daly, Paul.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Dolan, Aisling.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fitzpatrick, Mary.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Hackett, Pippa.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McGahon, John.
- McGreehan, Erin.
- O'Loughlin, Fiona.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- O'Reilly, Pauline.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Seery Kearney, Mary.
- Ward, Barry.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
“(3) Section 9 shall not be commenced until the Minister has laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas:
(a) a report on areas where there are sensitivities where unlicensed planting would not be permitted, including on—
(i) area sensitive for biodiversity,
(ii) areas sensitive for landscape reasons,
(iii) areas sensitive for archaeological reasons, and
(iv) areas sensitive for such other additional reasons which the Minister considers would make such unlicensed planting inappropriate,
(b) the completion of assessments required under both Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 June 2001 on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, and Article 6(3) of Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora,
(c) a report on the conduct of a public consultation on the draft regulations made under section 22A, inserted by section 9,
(d) a report on the system established to provide visibility and tracking of the exempted areas to be planted and to ensure compliance with the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, the Aarhus Convention in respect of information provision, public participation and access to justice obligations and rights.”.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Hoey, Annie.
- Keogan, Sharon.
- Wall, Mark.
- Ahearn, Garret.
- Ardagh, Catherine.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Malcolm.
- Carrigy, Micheál.
- Casey, Pat.
- Conway, Martin.
- Crowe, Ollie.
- Cummins, John.
- Currie, Emer.
- Daly, Paul.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Dolan, Aisling.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fitzpatrick, Mary.
- Gallagher, Robbie.
- Garvey, Róisín.
- Hackett, Pippa.
- Horkan, Gerry.
- Kyne, Seán.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McGahon, John.
- McGreehan, Erin.
- O'Loughlin, Fiona.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- O'Reilly, Pauline.
- O'Sullivan, Ned.
- Seery Kearney, Mary.
- Ward, Barry.
Amendment No. 3 has been ruled out of order.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will make a couple of brief points related to the section and the amendments that were ruled out of order. We are disappointed, especially given that miscellaneous provisions were added to the Bill. We are a little puzzled why amendment No. 3 was ruled out of order. My colleague, Senator Boylan-----
The Senator can speak to the section but not to the amendments that were ruled out of order.
That is fine. On the section, we are disappointed that the opportunity was not taken to address lacunae in the laws relating to the issue of dogs and safety, in addition to the ability of the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to home dogs, which is something we always support.
This Bill was initially to deal with fur farming. We believed section 4 was the ideal place to address the issue of compensation for workers in the industry. It seems particularly disappointing a limitation is now being put on that. That should not be the case. When it comes to debates such as this, why are workers so often forgotten about? We had the opportunity to do more in this Bill. The fact the Government has chosen not to is a significant missed opportunity for those workers who are losing their jobs and will get nothing but statutory redundancy. I urge the Minister of State to consider the points we are making and to revisit this topic on Report Stage.
I find myself in the very unusual position of agreeing with Senator Gavan, even though we both know our ideologies are very different. I am a former Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. This is a Government Bill and I very much support and welcome it, but I find myself recently being at odds with the Government over what is absent from the Bill. What we are attempting to offer people whose jobs we are taking away is an absolute disgrace. I totally understand, agree and concur that nobody should be fur farming any more, but those businesses need to be compensated. There is an arrangement in the legislation to do so but I believe, and we all know, that the timeframe of the past five years that will be stipulated in the regulations is a period where those businesses have not done particularly well. That will reduce the compensation to those people and restrict their ability to reinvent themselves.
What absolutely jars, however, is the fact that the State, which is doing these people out of their jobs, is offering them a miserable two weeks' redundancy per week for the years they have served the State in a business we have decided we longer require. To be also fair, and I will speak to amendment No. 6 in section 7, it is fundamental that we invoke a special fund within the SOLAS organisations to make sure we retrain and reskill those people.
Amendment No. 6 has been ruled out of order. I ask the Senator to speak to the section.
The section in itself is entirely based on recompensing the people whose businesses we are closing, but I am far more worried about the 35 or 36 people who are losing their jobs because the State is intervening. We have a responsibility to make sure those people are compensated for the jobs we are closing down. We also have an absolute obligation to make sure we reskill and retrain them, and put them back into a workplace market that is crying out for new skills.
I am genuinely asking the Minister of State to reconsider. I not only contacted my Whip today but my party leader, who happens to be the current Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, to ask him to beg the Minister of State to reconsider having these amendments withdrawn, especially amendment No. 6 to section 7, in addition to reflecting and recommitting to return to the House on Report Stage to ensure we give the 34 workers who are losing their jobs better than statutory redundancy and that we give them a fund to retrain, reskill and point them towards new jobs in the industry.
Like the Leader, I am very much in agreement with our colleagues on the left.
Come on board.
It is a rare occasion in many ways. We discussed this issue during pre-legislative scrutiny at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. One of the recommendations was that this should be looked at. The committee met representatives from farms, industry and the Department. We thought officials from the Department had listened to us. This was one of the issues raised in the committee's published pre-legislative scrutiny report. It is a very significant issue. More than 30 people will lose their jobs because of a Government decision to change its approach. That is life, that is society and that is what happens, but we have to protect those people. We have to protect their livelihoods. We have to step in to make sure we have a just society with a just fund. We often hear about just transition. Where is the just transition for these workers? Two weeks statutory redundancy is not a just transition. That is a real issue.
This is very unusual legislation. I will possibly be corrected by the House, but I do not think we have ever before legislated to abolish an industry in the agriculture sector. This is exactly what we are doing. We are abolishing an industry in the agriculture sector, which is very unusual. As a result, we should step in to make sure those people who have been working in that industry for decades are protected. I do not think we have done that. In fact, we have not. That is very unfortunate for us.
We know the goals of the legislation, but we have to make sure we protect people along that road. There are families looking at this debate who want to know what the Government will do when it comes to the just transition they will go through. These families are not in the most populated parts of the world. I do not speak ill of Kerry, Laois or Donegal, but these are rural locations where jobs do not come in a multiple scenario as they do in urban areas.
We have to protect these people. I do not believe this Bill does anything to protect them. It does not mention them in any appropriate way. We need to rethink how we will protect these people because they deserve that the State protects them along the way. The families who own the farms also need that support. I put it to the Minister of State that she should consider a suitable amendment. The terminology of just transition is something we spoke about in another sphere, but we have forgotten it when it comes to these people.
I welcome the Minister of State. I will speak to the section and about my serious concerns regarding this industry. It is very important. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We invited representatives of the three fur farms to come before the committee. They laid their stall out and made a very good argument. I was personally a little hard on them, which some of them confirmed today. One thing I was not too hard about was the issue of animal welfare. I welcome the end of mink farming for a whole range of reasons. I also accept it is Government policy. The coalition parties signed off on the scrapping of this industry as part of the programme for Government. The manner in which it was to be scrapped was not signed off by members of the Government, to be fair to them. The Leader is right. I acknowledge she has significant experience of the issue of industrial relations and so on.
To move on slightly, I went to Buswells Hotel this afternoon to meet the people who own these farms. People were crying, devastated and broken. One of them is in the Minister of State's constituency in Stradbally. At the end of the day, what these people are doing is legal. It is a legitimate, legal business. It is an enterprise. The Minister of State and I might not like it, but it is a legitimate, law-abiding business that is fully compliant with legislation.
I thank the Fianna Fáil councillor, Norma Moriarty, who has been actively and regularly in touch with my office in the past week or two. She lives in Waterville and represents the people there. She is clearly a strong advocate of one of these farms. I acknowledge that.
I am somewhat surprised that while some members of the Government have made their views known, there are no Government amendments. That is a pity. The Government has a right to put down amendments, argue and make the case for them. We all accept that the battle around mink farms is over. The proprietors of these enterprises recognise it is over. The Minister of State recognises it is over. All of us in these Houses recognise it is over and the right thing to do is to ban fur farming. What is wrong is how we are treating these people. I was told by the people concerned there are 4,800 mink in one facility, 4,000 in another and 2,500 in a third. There are approximately 50 workers in these facilities. We need to upskill those workers and identify the issues. This section relates to the worker issue. I want workers to go on, retrain and reskill. I hope and would like to think that the entrepreneurs who own these farms will use their compensation as seed capital to develop other industries in rural communities because that is important. That is their choice. We live in a democracy. Those people have invested heavily. There are issues around the demolition of these places, which must be built into any compensation package. There are planning issues and constraints involved. There are also environmental considerations. Many of these buildings may have asbestos in them. There are implications in that regard which we must take into consideration. If they were to be demolished as agricultural animal husbandry buildings, they may not get permission in these particular locations and sites so that must be built into the compensation package. I think that is reasonable and fair.
When I met the people concerned, along with many of my colleagues from the House, I found them devastated, as anyone would be. If I was a poultry operator in the midlands and the Government decided for some reason to close my business, I would expect compensation, as would anyone else. The important thing is that these are legal and viable businesses. The Government is going to issue a decree to close them down. If that is Government policy, it is Government policy. I also believe they should be closed down but I do not believe in the way the people concerned are being treated. There has been a suggestion that it is all going to be done via some regulations. This is the Oireachtas. We are dealing with primary legislation at this particular point and I am not comfortable with divesting the Seanad of a certain amount of control and power that will determine the compensation package these people get.
I am concerned. We must support and stand in solidarity not only with the owners of these facilities but also with the workers. Four or five weeks is simply not enough. They need opportunities. Many of them have been in this business for a long time. Many of them work part time and do not have full-time work. There are a whole range of issues we must look at.
We are at somewhat of a disadvantage here today, as are the proprietors of these businesses, because we have no sight of a Grant Thornton report. We believe in openness and transparency in a democracy and I call on the Minister of State, even at this late stage, to publish the Grant Thornton report, which I am reliably told cost over €100,000 of taxpayers' money to commission. We need to see the recommendations of that report. We need to share that report and the rationale with the people involved. The real problem here is the communication of this Government message - how it is being communicated or not communicated. We must set out the logic and rationale and support the people.
The Green Party made this a real issue in terms of policy, and rightly so. This was a particular element of its programme for Government. No one gets everything they want in government. It is all about compromise and I respect and acknowledge that. The Green Party drove this agenda on this occasion. I ask the Minister of State to stand in solidarity with these workers. As I said, I spoke to workers from the Minister of State's constituency today. There is no bias. They are just devastated because of what is going to happen to their income, the people they trained up and their stock. Their valuable stock cannot be sold outside the State. Under this legislation, that stock must be destroyed humanely, and rightly and properly so. They cannot get any value from these well-bred and well-stocked animals that are very successful. Those who know a little about mink farming understand there is constant rotation of mink so those proprietors have very healthy stock. They have been responsible owners who have complied with the law. I ask the Minister of State to publish the Grant Thornton report and make it available to us, as legislators. We are entitled to see it. The State has paid for that report. It is not the property of any one individual in the Department. There should be an executive summary, if not the whole report, given to the owners. Let us stand in solidarity with fewer than 50 workers. Let us give them a decent package and recognise that the State is closing down this viable business for them.
I will not go on too long because I agree with what has already been said. It is nice that we are all on the same side. Government Senators are welcome on this side of the House any time if they want to join us and agree about things.
This is the second time today I have risen to talk about workers' rights. My thoughts on the industry are no secret. It is a nasty and disgusting industry, and good riddance to it, quite frankly. I will say the two weeks' statutory redundancy is a pittance. We on this side of the House have often railed against two weeks' statutory redundancy in other sectors so we must do the same in this case. It is a real pity that this section has been watered down from what it could have been, particularly with regard to the workers. What the State is offering them as compensation, if you will, for losing their jobs is not enough.
This Bill is about fur farming but there was initially a bit of stuff about forestry tacked onto it. It seems a little wild that an amendment about animal welfare was subsequently ruled out of order in a Bill that includes "animal health and welfare" in its title. It is a pity that amendment was ruled out of order, given it seems it should fit in with the Bill.
I lend my voice to the assertion that this is a unique and unprecedented situation. The State is closing down and making illegal an area of farming. We only have three farms in the country, all of which are rurally based. I met the people involved. One individual said that if his employees are not compensated properly and sufficiently and do not stay in that area, it will mean the loss of the teacher in the local school. That is how much of an impact this is going to have on rural areas.
I sat across the table from three people who have invested their lives and enormous amounts of money into these businesses. They accept their businesses are going to be made illegal. They accept that. I do not know if I would, if I were in their shoes. They told us they have invested millions since 2012, in particular, with guidance, instructions, blessings and encouragement from the Department to keep everything in tip-top shape from an animal welfare point of view. They now accept this decision that will put them out of business. We must treat them fairly and compensate them in full. There should be no cloak and dagger or secrecy involved.
I agree entirely that if the Department can afford to pay €100,000 to Grant Thornton for a report on where this should go, it should at least share it with the three people involved. They need to see that report. Why can the report not be shared with the three people whose lives are being changed by these Government demands? They are aware the Government has that report and it must be shared with them. I plead with the Minister of State to share that report. As the Leader has said, I plead with the Minister of State to come back on Report Stage with amendments to make sure the employees of those three farms and the farmers themselves are treated fairly. Those farmers will have to start new businesses and will not do that without seed capital. They have invested a lot of money in bringing their farms up to scratch. It is unbelievable. There were tears at that meeting today. It was emotional from my side of the table. The people involved are accepting their plight but they must be treated fairly. As I said on Second Stage, there are three farmers and three businesses involved. The Government can sit the three of them around the table. It is not as if we are dealing with a stakeholder forum or representative body. I plead with the Minister of State. We must treat these people fairly and properly.
I will be brief because I want to speak to some of the same issues, but I will speak them under section 7 because that is where a lot of the detail about the transition is. We have to do more to make it just.
I refer to this section because it is around the animal welfare component. I would note that this the Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. A Bill on animal welfare does not come through very often in the Oireachtas. The Minister of State knows how it is to get things on the legislative schedule. Therefore, I would urge her to consider the points on animal welfare that Senators Boylan, Gavan and others have put forward and to consider bringing forward her own amendment in respect of this. If it is a miscellaneous Act and relates to animal welfare, then it is an opportunity to address this kind of outlying issue in terms of commercial public farming and so forth. It is just a chance to address that. I ask the Minister of State to consider if she can do that because it is a chance. I will speak to the other issue when it comes to section 7.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this section. I also welcome the Minister of State to the House. I would like to say that whatever the Minister of State does here, she will be setting a precedent for whatever may come in the future. Therefore, she has to tread very carefully. She should listen very carefully to the very serious questions and issues that have been raised by many Senators.
There are two aspects to this: first, the redundancy level that is being paid to the people who are employed and what their futures will be; and second, what the farm owners will do and the compensation that will be paid to them. It is only right that those workers who are there and have made those businesses successful would be properly treated and looked after. I agree with other speakers that the two-week statutory redundancy should be increased substantially for those people. I have had many businesses over many years and the hardest thing of all is to close a business. Everybody comes at you – creditors, bankers, tax people, redundancy, you name it. Then you have to consider your future – what will you do afterwards?
I take it that there are only three farmers involved in this. They have to pay the statutory redundancy. I will only deal with the statutory redundancy here. We have a former Minister here in the House with us. If they cannot afford to pay the statutory redundancy, it will be taken out of their assets. If their assets do not cover the statutory redundancy, a charge will be put on their home. That is the reality of people having to paying statutory redundancy and not being able to afford to pay it. This is completely wrong. I am bringing forward a Private Members’ Bill to safeguard the family home. It should be taken out of the equation completely. In this case, the Department should pay all of the redundancy. The Department is causing this to be closed down. As Senator Boyhan has said, whether we like it or do not like it or whether we are for it or against it, that is not the question. The Department has taken action. It is closing down a business in this case.
A business can last for five or ten years or even 100 years. In some cases, one can have quite a number of staff for quite a long period of time. Someday there could be a crash, there could be a pandemic such as we have had or, as in this case, the Department could come in with a heavy hand, close the business down and require the owner to pay the statutory redundancy. In relation to statutory redundancy, how does somebody who sets up a business put away two weeks per employee every year for that day? It is impossible to do. If one does put two weeks away, one is taxed on it. One has to pay the taxes as well as put aside the two weeks. Therefore, it is not a simple science. I think the Minister of State should listen to the very many legitimate questions that have been raised here and come back in her own time on Report Stage. There is no doubt the House will support her, but all reasonable steps have to be taken for all sides in this case.
Briefly, there have been a number of issues covered in relation to section 4. I want to thank the Senators for proposing this. I know we are not talking to the amendments, but I am generally supportive of the policy objectives of the Senators here. The policy point is important. My Department is already working on a proposal that is very much in keeping with the amendment which the Senators have proposed but is not before us. I expect it to reach the Oireachtas in the coming months. I hope that the Senators can accept this commitment on that point.
On the subsequent section 7-----
We are not on section 7 at the moment.
Do I have to wait until we get there, even though people spoke to this section?
They did not speak to section 7.
I thought they spoke on the environmental impact assessment, EIA.
They should not have.
Will I stop there?
It is up to the Minister of State. I just wanted to let her know.
That is fine. Will I wait until we get to the section in question? I already spoke about the question of redundancies.
It is up to the Minister of State if she would like to respond, but just not to section 7.
I will briefly respond on any EIAs required where demolition is carried out. Certainly, if an EIA is required, that is provided for in the legislation in terms of the compensation. My understanding is that will be covered.
On the calculation of the compensation, calculation of the recent profits of a business is normally used as a means of placing a value on such a company. Ordinarily, the average of only three years of recent profitability is taken into consideration, but we decided that, in this case, five years should be considered. The farm businesses have argued that it should be extended to ten years. However, the ten-year proposal is significantly out of line with the independent advice available to my Department, which advises a period of five years. The Grant Thornton report will be made available shortly. I do not have any more detail than that. Certainly, the farmers' proposal is based on a profitability cycle. The farm businesses say that a ten-year cycle exists in the fur farming business. However, my Department has not been presented with evidence of this ten-year cycle. I am not convinced that anyone purchasing or valuing a business, including a fur farming business, would be prepared to factor in a largely historical profitability statistic.
It is important to note that the compensation payable to farmers is not solely dependent on the earnings calculation. Where the profitability calculation shows a low level of profitability, or even a loss-making situation, there is to be a fallback position on which to value the business. That is the net book value of the company’s trading assets, and this makes up the compensation payable in the circumstances. I am not in agreeing with the profitability calculation based on a ten-year average. It is important to highlight that nobody is disputing the current legitimacy and legality of the business. There is an acceptance among the fur farmers that their businesses are being made redundant.
On workers, I take on board the concerns regarding the two-week statutory redundancy. The Department is still considering that point. I am advised by the Department of Social Protection that it has committed to putting together a plan or programme for the affected employees in advance of the prohibition. The plan for each individual will deal with unemployment, jobseeker's benefits, education and training options and opportunities for such. It will also explore what jobs might be available in their areas. A case officer will be assigned locally to be a focal point for the employees in their respective regions. Regarding training and upskilling needs, Department of Social Protection officials interface with education providers, including local education and training boards and Teagasc. Some such services and supports are already available.
I thank Senators for their comments.
I am waiting to speak on a particular section, but there was an overlap, so it is fine. I would like to make a few brief points. Like other Senators, I have been contacted by the owners and I met with them for over an hour. As the Senators alluded to, it was fairly distressing and emotional.
I would like to add a bit of fairness and a bit of context.
Regardless of what views people on these farms may hold, it would seem, given the step being taken, that it is essential the farmers involved are treated fairly and respectfully by the Department. I am disappointed, having been contacted by some, that this has not been the experience so far.
As has been outlined at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine of 15 July 2021, a number of issues have been addressed. We have discussed them here. As the Minister of State alluded to regarding staff redundancy, it seems beyond belief that this could be happening. The statutory two weeks is unacceptable. There are 40 staff. To put it into context, from speaking to people and public representatives in the Kingdom today, for example, if the local primary school had not had one extra it would have lost a primary school teacher. If the people in that local electoral area will not be living in that area, it is important to point out the consequences of the loss of employment. We can all speak of reskilling, staff redundancy and the need to upskill, but surely it is vital and a priority in this House that we treat all citizens in this country equally. Certainly, that is not the case here. Across the midlands, the Minister of State will be familiar with this in respect of just transition. We are treating it on one level and seem to be treating people on another. That is not acceptable.
Where are we on the demolition costs of farms and their viability going forward? It is galling that the Minister of State speaks to family and family members today. As Senator Paul Daly alluded to, she paid €100,000 in public funds, whatever the accounts of the company are, to do the report. I am thankful that they will receive it shortly but, as was pointed out, it is more than nine months since 15 July 2021. Could the Minister of State put a timeframe on "shortly"?
From what I see, there must be dialogue. There must be consultation between the three farmers and their representatives and the Department but that is not happening. In fairness, there has been personal investment of millions of euro and they are being treated shabbily.
In the interests of fairness from my knowledge of it and from trying to learn about it in the past 48 hours, as I was not familiar with it, we need to realise a couple of things. The five-year calculation, even though the Minister of State referenced it, needs to be upped to ten years because that gives a more realistic figure. Rather than the past five years, ten years gives a better average. It is more reflective of what it should be.
Senator Doherty and other Senators raised the statutory redundancy. That is totally unacceptable. I refer to the education, the training and the upskilling. What is vital, from speaking to the three families today, is that going forward there will be significant issues relating to asbestos, demolition and the cost of demolition. What I am concerned about and what most Members in this House will be concerned about is the 40 jobs and the impact that will have on the community. It must be raised and it must be rectified.
I ask the Minister of State to confirm, because I am not sure if I heard her correctly, that she intends to come back with an amendment relating to the statutory redundancy but that she does not intend to bring it to the Seanad. She intends to bring it to the Dáil in a couple of months. Is that what she said?
No, I did not say that. I said that the Department is still considering the statutory redundancy piece.
The other issue I was bringing back to the Oireachtas relates to section 4. It was the amendment proposed by the Sinn Féin Senators regarding the dogs. The Department is working on a proposal very much in keeping with the proposed amendment and that will come before the Oireachtas.
I am glad I clarified that. Can I confirm that the Department is considering tabling its own amendment with regard to statutory redundancy and the Minister of State will bring it back, either on Committee Stage the next time we resume or on Report Stage before the completion of this legislation in the Seanad?
I cannot confirm the specifics of that but the Department is still considering the redundancy issue.
I acknowledge the statement of the Minister of State.
With regard to the workers' rights, I mentioned the work that has been done locally. The lack of a task force for these three areas has been discussed. Just transition is an important term. We need to make sure we act on it on the ground. These are three rural areas where 50 jobs will be affected. Having options from the community welfare officer will not secure appropriate jobs in that location. How that will be addressed will take a real body of work. A task force will be required in all three locations to make sure the families that have been affected by a Government decision have the right to live in these communities and not move on to where there is a suitable job location, which probably would be in an urban area and have an impact on housing issues all the way through.
The Minister of State mentioned five years regarding the ten years taken into consideration for compensation. In many ways, it is an unusual statement. In considering the five-year timeline, people will say that we should have looked at ten years. That was the cycle. Property prices are being taken on the basis of a seven-year dip in the market. Could the Minister of State confirm that the five years she picked were the five lowest years between 2016 and 2020 and exclude 2020 and 2021 which, potentially, are the two year with the highest prices? If we were to pick the five years, we need to have an appropriate five years picked that would incorporate 2021 and 2020. Realistically, a balanced approach should be taken.
The fear that the families that I have been talking to today have is that when this legislation is passed, the Department will play hardball and the big Department will sit on three small family farms and decide their fate. That is a question of trust. With the report not published, that trust is a significant issue. If the report was published before we sit again, it would give some confidence to these family farms that will be no more in a few months.
The ability then to have a mediator between the Department and these families and to have an appropriate arrangement put in place is something that we might have to talk about. If big Government is to dictate to the three farms, they have no hope because big Government will always win. How can we balance that in favour of those concerned? Is it time to propose some kind of mediation process between the Department and these farmers so that there can be an appropriate outcome that would benefit everyone?
National policy has changed. I mentioned earlier that this is unusual legislation. We are banning a farming activity. This is probably a template for something that could happen down the line. It is about building trust in the communities and in the organisations to make sure that everyone can benefit from a Government policy that we are all in favour of, including making sure that those families can survive.
I thank the Minister of State for indicating that she would be agreeable to publish the Grant Thornton report. It would be helpful in our role as legislators. Ultimately, we want the best outcome for this legislation for everybody. It is contained in the programme for Government, so we are halfway there and now it is a question of the compensation package and supporting these rural communities in Donegal, Laois and Kerry. There is rightly a heavy emphasis on sustainable rural communities. While they are small businesses, they were bigger businesses and have already had to scale back because they knew this was coming down the track. I hope the Minister of State will be able to make the Grant Thornton report available to us before the next stage of our deliberations on the legislation. I ask her to confirm to the House if she can make that happen.
If the Minister of State wants to pick five years, my understanding is that the best years for these people was between 2011 and 2016. Surely she should look at the best years. In the past two years, especially with the Covid pandemic, we have had many setbacks in all businesses, including coffee shops, pubs and agricultural machinery contracting businesses. These are particularly interesting years. If it is to be five years, let us have some flexibility and let us go for the maximum and the best. I do not want to keep repeating myself. They are business owners, entrepreneurs and risk-takers. We support people who take risks and people who are building community businesses and enterprises. I think ending mink farming was the right decision and I think the people involved also understand that.
I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, as are many of my colleagues present. We have not seen the Grant Thornton report. If anything, we were somewhat remiss in not demanding it, but I am doing so today. After my engagement with these people today, I recognise the importance of seeing the Grant Thornton report. I thank the Minister of State for indicating that she will make it available. It would be helpful for everyone to understand when it will be made available. It would be fair and would be in line with transparency in the way we do our business.
We are debating over and back. We will not complete Committee Stage tonight and it will need to be resumed on another date. We will then have Report Stage. The three people we are discussing do not even have a date. Can we give them an indication? Once this legislation passes, the current practice of fur farming will become illegal. Once the legislation passes, they will be performing an illegal act and only when the legislation passes will the negotiations for compensation for the employers and the people in question commence. What leverage will they have then? While I do not want to sound off my rocker, if we heard of something like this happening in another country, Senators would be queueing up to discuss it on the Order of Business.
We need to look at how we are presenting this legislation. We need to build in a mechanism for those people to ease out of their business when they know what the compensation is. I would not like to be negotiating for compensation for myself or my staff while performing an illegal act. I would not have a leg to stand on; I would have no leverage. It would not be accepted in other countries and certainly we would not accept it happening in other countries. That is a vital part of our deliberations.
We need to give these people some certainty as to when this will happen. They are looking at this debate wondering if it will go through Committee Stage now or will it be back in again next week. They want to know when they will be out of business. How can they plan and how can they perform the legal act that they are performing at the moment correctly through correct husbandry etc. if they do not know if the hammer will come down next week, in three weeks or in a month? When the hammer comes down, they still have no idea of what the compensation will be. That vital matter also needs to be addressed either on the next day we take Committee Stage or on Report Stage. We cannot just make their activities illegal and then start the negotiations.
I am sure the Minister of State is struck at the unanimity across the Chamber on the issue of compensation. I am not filled with confidence when she says that the Department is still looking at the issue of compensation because that does not tell us very much. I have a direct question for her. Does she think two weeks per year of service is adequate redundancy for these workers? I am pretty clear that no one else does. It would be good to get a response on that. If she acknowledges that it is not adequate, as everybody else across the Chamber has, what steps will she undertake to address that situation?
When I was a trade union official, unfortunately part of my job was to negotiate redundancy packages. It was very common to negotiate packages of six weeks per year of service. The best deal we got was about nine weeks per year of service. My point is this is not an abnormal issue. People negotiate redundancy, recognising the service of the workers and respecting them. If the State will not respect these workers and the place in which they find themselves, it is a shocking indictment of us all. I ask the Minister of State to answer the question directly. Does she accept that the statutory redundancy of two weeks per year of service is not adequate compensation for these workers?
I ask her to outline what is possible on Report Stage. A number of things are possible. Having a better redundancy package is possible; it is a question of political choice. We should provide a proper fund for upskilling. I understand the response the Minister of State read out. I know from previous experience of significant closures that sometimes a fund needs to be provided. I expect these workers will have a hell of a job finding different work because they have been working in such a specialised field. These are reasonable requests. I cannot believe that the Minister of State would be out of step with everybody else here. In fact, I am pretty sure she, personally, is not out of step. She also has the responsibility and the power to change it. I would really appreciate if she could address those issues because it is right thing to do.
I had held back, but I want to offer something in the crucial debate we are having. We will end up debating these points again when we discuss section 7. The question about just transition is important. Senator Lombard put it well when he talked about the idea of the template. I believe there are two layers to just transition. One is that it is a transition towards justice, towards something better. Ending fur farming is a good thing. Just as the big changes we will need to make in the area of climate are to something that is better, we also need to do it in a way that is just and fair. I want to highlight those two parts to it.
There are many things we will need to stop doing and need to do differently. It will not be business as usual in many areas for many reasons - for climate reasons but also because of how the world is radically changing in many ways. Because we cannot do things in the same way and because business as usual may be dangerous, we need to have just transition, which needs to be fair and fast. When we talk about just transition, the idea seems to be to delay moving on it for ages, when in fact we need to move on things and change them fast. We need to put good systems in place which deliver fairness which, as Senator Lombard said, can be used as a template for other sectors and other industries. This is a chance to look to those principles and get it right.
There is much discussion about the mechanisms of compensation for the businesses. In implementing just transition anywhere, we need to give as much focus to the workers as we do to business owners.
The lacuna is that there has not been the same focus on the workers. I was glad the Minister of State mentioned certain case workers and other schemes and it would be useful for all of us in the House to have information about that between this debate ending today and resuming again. I remember discussing that issue with Senator Doherty when she was in her former role and we said we could not wait for sectors to end. We should not wait until they are in the Intreo office as individuals. We should offer collective supports like the SOLAS scheme, as suggested by Senator Gavan, when groups of workers are involved. We need particular measures that are targeted to support those workers and we must get in there with those schemes ahead of the closure of businesses so that we are not waiting until people are just individuals on jobseeker's payments. Rather we must recognise them when they are a collective group of people who are important to their communities and deliver solutions that will work for them.
The other part of just transition we need to look to is to make sure we deal with things like inadvertent consequences. Demolition was mentioned and it is important that we do not create a perverse incentive to encourage demolition, for example, when we know the embodied energy from that is so great. We must look to the winding down of businesses and sectors and part of that is thinking, not just from the compensatory point of view but also from the environmental point of view, about how we would do that in a responsible way. For example, we should not just compensate people for demolition but if they repurpose they should also be getting funding to support that repurposing because we know that fits our environmental goals. At the moment there is only an option of potential compensation for demolition even though everybody has highlighted the problems with it, rather than compensation for repurposing for example. It is about repurposing, finding a new purpose and finding new opportunities for workers, businesses and industries. It has been a thoughtful discussion and this is a chance for us to get the template on just transition right. I hope we might even have a situation where the Minister of State would bring proposals back on Committee Stage.
The statutory redundancy period of two weeks is not enough. It needs to be more like six weeks. We need to bring in the kind of thing workers should and do negotiate so that they genuinely have the base they need to start in new areas of employment and work in their areas and communities. I imagine and hope that Members across the House will bring proposals on how we can improve section 7. I hope the Minister of State will do so as well and we might have an opportunity to tease these things out in the time ahead.
As we are still dealing with section 4, I want to respond to the point the Minister of State made. I welcome the fact that she mentioned that she plans to bring in dog-related amendments in further legislation. When does she plan to do that and what legislation will they be part of?
I will respond to that point first. The proposal is not to bring legislation but the Department is working on a proposal that is in keeping with the proposed amendment suggested by Senator Gavan and his colleagues. I expect that to reach the Oireachtas in the coming months. That is the information I have but I will delve into it and find more details out because it is something I am interested in.
Senator Higgins put it well when she said it has been a thoughtful discussion on this issue. These issues might not have had the opportunity to share the limelight because the focus has been on shutting it down for years and thought did not go into what happens at the end as much as we would have liked it to. We are at that stage now. Ireland is not the first country to impose a prohibition on fur farming. It has been done in a number of European countries and we have looked to how those countries have dealt with those situations and how they have looked at compensation packages and so forth. I disagree with Senator Lombard and it is not fair to say that my Department is sitting on three farm families. There has been engagement and if that needs to be improved, further engagement will take place. We conducted the independent review and that was at an expense to the taxpayers in this country so we are taking the issue seriously. Across the House it is clear that two weeks of redundancy is not sufficient. I agree with that and I will bring it back to my Department to see what can be done on that. It is clear from across the House that there has not been a satisfactory response on that.
I refer to whether it will be five years or ten years. Ordinarily it is worth saying that usually only an average of three years would be looked at so five years is better than three. I accept that it is not as good as ten years but the Department has not been presented with evidence of this ten-year cycle that has been the foundation for this desire for a ten-year period of time. If that were to be forthcoming maybe the Department could reconsider it.
On demolition versus repurposing, perhaps it depends on the type of building involved. However, if there is potential to repurpose rather than demolish and there is potential to start something new using the existing building, I do not see why we could not look into that. I hope I have addressed all the comments.
On the basis that the Minister of State has agreed with some of the suggestions that have been made tonight and given that we will finish in a few minutes anyway, it would be better if we did not let section 4 stand part of the Bill. That would give the Minister of State and Members the opportunity to put amendments down to section 4 when we resume on Committee Stage either next week or the week after.
What is the Leader proposing? Unless there is a request I cannot adjourn early.
I propose that we adjourn early or that somebody talks for the next five minutes until we get to 7.30 p.m.
Is the Leader proposing that we adjourn now?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow morning at 10.30 a.m.