Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Questions (31)

Michael P. Kitt


31. Deputy Michael P. Kitt asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of meetings he has had with the Irish Timber Council in relation to the proposed sale of the forest crop of Coillte; the result of these discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21492/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I have not been in a position to accede to a request from the Irish Timber Council to meet with them personally in relation to the proposed sale of the harvesting rights of Coillte, mainly due to commitments related to the Irish Presidency. I have received a copy of the report by EPS Consulting for the Irish Timber Council, on “The impacts on the sawmill sector arising from the proposed sale of Coillte’s harvesting rights – February 2013 ” which details the Council’s concerns about the proposed sale. I appreciate the significant role Coillte plays in the provision of timber to sawmills and the importance of the sawmilling sector, having visited a number of wood processing facilities in recent years.

The Coillte State Assets Steering Group, on which my Department is represented, met with representatives of the Irish Timber Council in March to hear and discuss their concerns regarding the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights. I am regularly briefed by my officials about their ongoing work in relation to the analysis of the proposed sale and the issues identified in that context. NewERA, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department as representatives of the Steering Group, are also considering the report for the Irish Timber Council, mentioned previously, as part of their analysis. The outcome of the overall analysis, which is ongoing, will be considered by the Government upon its conclusion.

Parking Charges

Questions (32, 36)

Thomas P. Broughan


32. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of his proposals to impose paid parking charges on Howth Harbour, County Dublin; if he will release any analysis of the impact of his proposals on the vital marine leisure tourism industry in Howth, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21403/13]

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Finian McGrath


36. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will make it a priority to support jobs in Howth Harbour, County Dublin, by rejecting the proposed pay and parking initiative. [19016/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 36 together.

The House has been aware that I have been considering introducing a charge for parking facilities within Howth Fishery Harbour Centre for some time,

- to assist in operating Howth Fishery Harbour Centre on a financially-sound basis,

- to provide a source of revenue for further investment in Fishery Harbour Centre facilities,

- as part of an overall traffic management plan, and

- in order to maximise the return on this significant State asset.

Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is first and foremost a working fishery harbour, one of 6 operated by the State, each of whose primary purpose is to provide facilities and services for the fishing industry and fisheries-related activities. Funding for operating, management and development costs in the fishery harbours is ringfenced in the Fishery Harbour Centres Fund, which is the only source of revenue available for that purpose. Capital investment in the Fishery Harbour Centres in recent years has underpinned both fisheries activities and their expanding use for leisure and marine tourism and other maritime enterprises. The House will appreciate that, in the current economic climate, the State must be fully committed to maximising the return on that investment. Moreover, my Department is required to ensure that the Fishery Harbour Centres are run on a financially-sound basis. The 500+ parking spaces within the boundaries of the Harbour would assist in balancing the books, and in providing funding for re-investment that would not otherwise be available.

A wide range of groups use the parking facilities of Howth Fishery Harbour – harbour business customers, yacht club members, sport fishermen, Dart users, tourists, walkers and many others. This combination of uses and the range of users of the Harbour brings its own inherent dangers and safety must be a paramount consideration. There have been a number of occasions - indeed as recently as last Saturday week when the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival coincided with the seasonal re-launch of leisure craft - where the volume of cars in the Harbour and the resultant pressure on parking has led to a situation where emergency access has been seriously compromised. The Harbour authorities have in the past received specific complaints from elements of the emergency services in that regard - fortunately no serious incident has arisen yet.

There was widespread public consultation when pay parking at Howth Fishery Harbour Centre was originally examined in detail in 2007 in conjunction with Fingal County Council. All of the various views that were expressed and submissions that were made then are still available and I am well aware of and acknowledge their concerns. I have been getting new correspondence on this matter from a wide range of harbour users. More recently, my officials have consulted with officials of Fingal Council, and with An Garda Síochána about this and other related matters, and my Department’s engineers have met some of the Harbour’s business tenants individually about new traffic management and road markings etc. My officials also attended the Harbour Users Forum in February where pay parking was on the agenda and heard the views of the harbour users at first hand.

I am reviewing all aspects of the matter at present. I can assure the House that the views of the various harbour users, the potential earnings, the possible impact on the harbour businesses and recreational users, the impact on the local economy and local jobs, and the impact on overall traffic management within the Fishery Harbour, are all matters that I will take into account in coming to a decision. I can also assure the House and all of the Harbour users in Howth that I am committed to continuing investment in and development of Howth for the future.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme Applications

Questions (33)

Seán Fleming


33. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the new agri-environment options scheme programme will commence; when farmers will be informed if their applications have been successful; the number of applications received; the number of these that were valid; the number to be admitted to AEOS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21469/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Despite the challenging budgetary constraints facing my Department, last year I allocated €20 million annually to fund the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) and on foot of this I announced the re-opening of the scheme. I decided on a maximum payment of €4,000 per annum for individual applicants which, on the basis of previous experience in implementing the scheme, indicated that approximately 6,000 new participants could be accepted into the scheme.

The Agri-environment Options Scheme (AEOS III) will build on the success of the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and both AEOS 1 and 2 in delivering an annual payment to farmers in return for farming to high environmental standards. The closing date for receipt of AEOS III applications was Friday December 7 and 9,689 applications have been received by my Department. The initial processing of the applications has been completed and acknowledgement letters have issued to all applicants. The detailed actions listed in each application are currently being recorded and the approval of applicants will be determined by the following priority selection criteria:

- applicants within a targeted area of the Boora region of Co. Offaly who select Wild Bird Cover Option B (Grey Partridge) will get first access,

- Applicants with eligible Natura land will get access next,

- Applicants with at least 0.5 hectares of Utilisable Agricultural Non-Natura Commonage land rank next,

- Farm Partnerships,

- Previous Participation in REPS,

- Farm Size (Favouring smaller holding) based on the utilisable agricultural area,

- Location of farms in Less Favoured Areas.

This process is well advanced and will be completed shortly. During this data entry process it has been noted that a number of applications either do not contain all the necessary information or the information submitted contains errors. Because the number of applications exceed the number that can be accepted into the scheme, it is absolutely essential that decisions are made on accurate data. For that reason, my Department has taken time to contact the applicants where queries arise to obtain the required information in order for the application to be appropriately assessed. My intention is to complete the selection process shortly and to notify all applicants of the outcome and of the commencement dates under the scheme in the case of successful applicants.

Based on the initial processing of applications approximately 4,500 applications have been submitted under the Commonage/Natura option. In the event that these applications fulfil all eligibility requirements of the scheme, these applicants will gain priority access to the scheme. I also now expect that a further 1,500 farmers without designated land will be admitted to the scheme. Applicants should note that they should not undertake any actions listed in their application until approved for participation in the scheme as actions undertaken or expense incurred prior to formal approval will not be eligible for reimbursement.

Sugar Quotas Abolition

Questions (34)

Barry Cowen


34. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will be supporting, as President of the Council of Ministers, the abolition of sugar quotas by 2015; the current position in relation to this proposal; the attitude of the Commission and the EU Parliament to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21467/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The future of sugar quotas is one of the issues currently under consideration in the negotiations on reform of the CAP. The proposal of the EU Commission is that these quotas should be abolished with effect from 30 September 2015. In discussions at the EU Council of Ministers, differing views emerged on the Commission proposal with some Member States in favour of retention of quotas until 2020 and beyond and others supporting abolition. As President of the Council, I proposed a compromise at the March meeting of Agriculture Ministers for abolition of sugar quotas from 30 September 2017. This compromise was accepted as part of the General Approach of the Council on CAP reform. The position taken by the European Parliament is that the quota system should be extended to 30 September 2020, with provision made for reallocation of quota to those Member States who had relinquished their entire quotas in 2006. This issue will now be the subject of further negotiations between the three EU institutions in the trilogues process.

Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 32.

Questions (35)

Seamus Kirk


35. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the up-to date position in relation to the proposed sale of the forest crop of Coillte Teoranta; the studies that have been carried out to date in relation to this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21491/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Further to the Government’s decision that a concession for the harvesting rights to Coillte’s forests be considered for sale, NewERA, Coillte, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and my Department have worked to examine the financial and other implications of a potential transaction. Substantial work has been undertaken on the identification of the forestry assets involved, the determination of their value and the consideration of a number of issues associated with the proposed sale of the harvesting rights. These include, inter alia , the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land, environmental and social impacts and consequential implications for the company.

As part of the process, a number of detailed financial, technical and other specialist reports were prepared for Coillte, by external specialist consultancy bodies, in full consultation with the Board of Coillte and its executive management. Drafts of the reports from all of the bodies were received at the end of November 2012. The consideration of those reports is ongoing.

I am aware that studies have also been undertaken on behalf of other interested parties groups namely, one by Peter Bacon and Associates, for IMPACT, the outcome of which was the report “Assessment of the Consequences of the proposed Sale of Coillte’s Timber Harvesting Rights – 10 January 2013” and another by EPS Consulting, for the Irish Timber Council, on “The impacts on the sawmill sector arising from the proposed sale of Coillte’s harvesting rights ”. Both of these reports provide useful background and insight into the concerns of the Coillte Unions and the Irish Timber Council respectively, and are being considered as part of the analysis. This whole process is a very complex one and, while the consideration process is at an advanced stage, no decision has been taken, as yet. The outcome of the overall analysis will be considered by the Government upon its completion.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 32.

Common Fisheries Policy Negotiations

Questions (37)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


37. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made to date in the negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21479/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the official collaborative management mechanism for fisheries policy in the European Union. First put in place in 1983, it has been subject to reviews every 10 years, and is currently undergoing a reform process the important elements of which are expected to be concluded during the Irish Presidency.

The CFP reform proposal essentially involves three separate pieces of legislation, a basic policy regulation, a regulation on the Common Organisation of the Market (CMO) both of which are supported and underpinned by a separate financial instrument, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). Achieving agreement on a reformed CFP is a priority for the Irish Presidency and currently Council have a General Approach on the Basic Regulation & the CMO and a partial general approach on the EMFF. The European Parliament has a 1st reading position on the Basic Regulation and the CMO. At February’s EU Fisheries Council, I was successful in brokering a political agreement on the outstanding issues from June 2012 including for the introduction of an EU wide discards ban.

February’s decision in reaching a common Council approach on all aspects of a reformed basic policy regulation is important in that it allowed the Irish Presidency, on behalf of the Council, to engage directly with the European Parliament and Commission with a view to reaching overall political agreement on the reformed Common Fisheries Policy during the Irish Presidency. However, it is worth noting that what was agreed in February is the Councils approach, the European Parliament has also published its’ position which differs in many respects. Some of the differences are minor and progress has been made on the non-contentious aspects. However there are significant differences of emphasis and a more demanding approach expressed by the Parliament on some key issues such as the discards ban and achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield. Achieving a political agreement between the Council and Parliament on these issues is proving to be a major challenge.

Turning to the process from here, Ireland in its role of Presidency of the Council was given a clear negotiating mandate by Council for discussions with the European Parliament. A first round of informal trilogues with Parliament (and European Commission) has taken place on the Common organisation of the market and a draft negotiation mandate has been prepared for a second round. The Permanent Representative Committee (COREPER) adopted a mandate to open negotiations on 13 March 2013. Since then the three institutions have had 5 informal trilogue meetings and further meetings are planned as necessary.

The "Agriculture and Fisheries" Council of 22 April 2013 held an orientation debate on the four key political areas of divergence, namely Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), landing obligation, regionalisation and capacity management. This debate had been preceded by an informal meeting of the Directors-General for fisheries in Cork on 15 to 17 April, dedicated to the same topics where EU Member States committed themselves to working towards an agreement by end June. The Presidency has now prepared a revised version of the initial mandate, based on the emerging positions resulting from the complex trilogue process. This will now form the basis for further discussion within Council, with a view to obtaining a mandate to conclude the negotiations in the coming weeks and achieving an agreed reform package under the Irish Presidency.

COREPER met on the 2 May to discuss the current text and are due to meet again this week to consider a further revised text. It is then hoped to put the revised text to the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 13-14 May to seek political support and a new mandate for further discussions with the Parliament. We are now in a very sensitive stage of this reform process. The Presidency and Ministers have made it clear that they want an agreement to be concluded by the end of May. Assuming that the revised text receives their support, only weeks remain for a final agreement to be concluded with the European Parliament. I believe that the text for the reform which we are now proposing provides the basis to broker that final agreement with Parliament.