Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Questions (36)

Barry Cowen

Question:

36. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a decision will be made in relation to the proposal to sell the forest crop of Coillte; the reason for the delay in making the decision despite his previous undertaking to Dáil Éireann on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29345/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Further to the Government 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 examined the financial and other implications of developing the potential of Coillte’s forest assets. This examination included 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 included, inter alia , the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land and potential impacts, both environmental and social.

The overall analysis on the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights was finalised recently, the outcome of which was then considered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and myself. I am bringing a Memorandum with recommendations to Government today for consideration.

Farmers Indebtedness

Questions (37)

John McGuinness

Question:

37. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has commissioned a study into the indebtedness of farmers; if he has the results of this study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29347/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I, along with my officials, am in regular contact with farm bodies, various national banks and the Banking Federation concerning credit and indebtedness matter relating to farmers. I am acutely aware due to recent weather events that some farmers may be having short-term difficulties in managing their borrowings and in my recent engagements with the banks I requested that they take a flexible approach towards extending credit to their farmer customers arising from the weather related difficulties. The banks have responded to my call for understanding and flexibility and indeed have issued advertisements in national media telling farmers that they are willing to provide short-term facilities to deal with the feed issues.

In terms of the medium term trends of indebtedness in agriculture, Central Bank data indicates that the total stock of farm borrowing has been largely stable since the end of 2011, having fallen by €1 billion from its peak of €5.2 billion in early 2009 to its current level of approximately €4.2 billion. While this recent reduction and subsequent stabilisation of indebtedness is positive, I feel it is also important to highlight that financial indebtedness can also be alleviated by improved productivity, enhanced skills and higher prices. In that context, the implementation of Food Harvest 2020 has a major role to play in improving overall competitiveness at farm and industry level as well in maximising the potential contribution of this indigenous sector to economic recovery.

I will continue to meet with relevant parties, including the Irish Banking Federation, on a regular basis to impress upon the lenders the importance of being proactive and flexible with the farming sector in addressing credit-related matters, including levels of indebtedness.

State Bodies Code of Conduct

Questions (38)

Micheál Martin

Question:

38. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has any concerns in relation to corporate governance and other issues in relation to the Irish Greyhound Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29341/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Bord na gCon is a commercial state body, established in 1958, under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, chiefly to control greyhound racing and to improve and develop the greyhound industry. The Board has wide powers to regulate all aspects of greyhound racing.

The Board of Bord na gCon, comprising of seven members - a Chairman and six ordinary members, is responsible for leading and directing the activities of the organisation. Bord na gCon is required to act in accordance with it’s statutory obligations, the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies and any other directives issued by Government or by my Department. Each year the Chairman of Bord na gCon provides me with a comprehensive report covering a range of governance issues in accordance with the requirements set out in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies. Bord na gCon is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General, it also has an Internal Auditor and an Internal Audit Committee. Officials from my Department meet with Bord na gCon bi-annually to consider issues of mutual interest, including corporate governance.

Live Exports

Questions (39)

Seán Fleming

Question:

39. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he is taking to ensure that there are an adequate number of designated boats cleared to his Departments specifications to service the growing and expanding live trade to Libya; when he expects to be able to announce some positive results from this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29354/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The requirements for approval of dedicated vessels for the carriage of cattle by sea are contained in the Diseases of Animals (Carriage of Cattle by Sea) Orders, 1996 and 1998.

At present two ships have been approved for the carriage of cattle while a third ship will be inspected shortly. Further enquiries have been made in relation to a further five ships. These are at different stages of the approval process.

I attach considerable importance to the live export trade and my Department will continue to process applications for approval of ships in a timely manner.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Questions (40)

Pat Deering

Question:

40. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide a progress report on the Common Agricultural Policy negotiations since the Council of Ministers meeting of 18 March 2013. [29212/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Since the Council of Agriculture Ministers agreed the general approach of the Council on 19 March last, negotiations have moved to the final phase with so-called trilogue discussions between the three EU institutions. We have therefore moved from a narrower focus on the finalisation of a Council position to the point where the Council position is itself just one of three different perspectives being brought to the table.

Typically, this represents the final phase of negotiations in areas where the European Parliament has a co-decision role. Indeed, this is the first time that the Parliament has had such a role in relation to a CAP reform package. As President of the Council, Ireland is representing Member States in these negotiations with the Parliament and the Commission.

I am happy to report that progress has been very good so far. The trilogues have been held in a very positive, constructive atmosphere. All of the institutions have responded to the Presidency’s call for a collaborative endeavour, and for a spirit of compromise to inform the process. Good progress has been made on a substantial number of technical issues and we are now in the “end-game” where we are considering the important and politically sensitive points.

I said from the start of the Irish Presidency that the final target for political agreement was the end of June. It is clear that the European Parliament and the Commission are committed to achieving this objective. The Member States have also demonstrated their commitment, and as President of the Council of Ministers, I intend to do all I can to ensure that the deadline is met.

I need to be clear however that the timeline for political agreement by end June is extremely tight and ambitious. It can only be achieved with a fair wind and an exceptional effort by all three institutions.

Coillte Teoranta Harvesting Rights Sale

Questions (41)

Joan Collins

Question:

41. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide an update on the planned sale of State assets, including the harvesting rights to Coillte; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26633/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Further to the Government 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 examined the financial and other implications of developing the potential of Coillte’s forest assets. This examination included 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 included, inter alia , the possible impact on the timber industry, public access to recreational land and potential impacts, both environmental and social.

The overall analysis on the proposed sale of Coillte harvesting rights was finalised recently, the outcome of which was then considered by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and myself. I am bringing a Memorandum with recommendations to Government today for consideration.

Bovine Disease Controls

Questions (42)

Mick Wallace

Question:

42. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his policy on TB allows for culled badgers to be stored or disposed of; the information that is gathered from these badgers regarding the disease before killing them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29382/13]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Bovine Tuberculosis eradication programme implemented by my Department contains a comprehensive wildlife strategy in order to limit the spread of TB from badgers to cattle. Under this strategy, capturing is undertaken only in areas where an epidemiological investigation carried out by the Department’s Veterinary Inspectorate has found that badgers are the likely source of infection and capturing takes place under licence issued by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Despite considerable research in both Ireland and the U.K., no test on live badgers has proven efficacious in reliably detecting TB infected badgers and thus it is not possible to determine whether a badger is infected with TB prior to culling.

The culling programme is undertaken by trained Farm Relief Service contractors as humanely as possible and is monitored and supervised by staff from my Department. The Farm Relief Service staff label and identify the badger carcasses but no further information is gathered at this point. Samples for culture are harvested from a selection (50%) of badgers annually with a view to establishing the general level of infection in culled badgers. The badger carcases are disposed of by rendering.

There has been a very significant improvement in the Bovine TB situation in Ireland since the introduction of an enhanced badger removal programme in the early part of the last decade. Cattle herd incidence has fallen from 7.5% in 2000 to 4.1% in 2012. The number of TB reactors has declined from 40,000 to 18,500 during the same period. This is the lowest recorded since the commencement of the TB eradication programme in the 1950s. While it is difficult to quantify the precise impact of badger culling on the incidence of TB in Ireland, my Department believes that much of the improvement in the TB situation in cattle is in fact due to the badger removal programme. It is noteworthy that a recent peer-reviewed study, Bovine tuberculosis trends in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, 1995–2010 (Abernethy et al., 2013), published in the Veterinary Record, found that, during the period studied, the animal incidence of TB increased by 380% in England, by 190% in Wales and by 74% in Northern Ireland. On the other hand, the animal incidence in Ireland fell by 32% in the same period.

The low incidence of TB over the past 4 years in particular is encouraging and indicates that the incidence has moved permanently to a new low level. The incidence of TB in 2013 is running at about 10% below the levels recorded in 2012. The badger culling programme has brought about a situation where, for the first time since the programme was introduced in the 1950’s, eradication is now a practicable proposition.