I recognise the difficulties and the hardship that have been experienced by both the farming and fishing communities as a result of the recent severe weather conditions.
In response to this particularly bad spell of weather my Department put in place a number of supports to assist farmers who were adversely affected. For farmers who had concerns over animal welfare or were unable to feed their animals my Department provided an Animal Welfare Helpline, which is still in operation (Lo Call 1850 – 211990), which farmers could contact to seek help. In addition, my Department kept in contact with farm organisations through the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, whose members on the ground were well placed to assess the situation.
I also requested that Teagasc provide practical advice to all farmers on steps which could be taken to deal with their particular problems. I know that some farmers were particularly concerned that slurry tanks were almost full and ground conditions not suitable for spreading and Teagasc advisers were on hand to provide advice on how to address such situations.
I welcome the recent improvement in the weather which should lead to an improvement in ground conditions. On drier ground, this will allow some field work to be carried out and provide opportunities to reduce pressure on slurry storage tanks and to apply some early fertiliser.
Farmers still need to be careful to budget their remaining fodder stocks. I know that fodder reserves remain available within the country but it is critical that stocks are well managed and stretched as much as possible.
On 12 February, I announced a temporary, one-off scheme of assistance to lobster and shrimp pot fishermen for the replacement of lobster and shrimp pots lost or destroyed in the recent extreme storm events. The Scheme is focussed on smaller inshore fishermen and will be limited to vessels under 15 metres and will be administered by BIM. I set aside a maximum budget within my Department for this scheme of €1.5 million.
Last week I announced details of a €23m package for the repair of public owned piers, harbours and slipways damaged during the winter storms and for investment in the ongoing development of Ireland’s public harbour network.
Of the €23m, €8.5m is earmarked for 115 storm damaged piers and harbours to assist eleven Local Authorities and my Department to repair storm damaged infrastructure. This figure is further broken down as €7m for 111 projects to repair storm damaged harbours, piers and slipways owned by Local Authority and €1.5m for remediation work at four non-Fishery Harbour Centres owned by my Department including €1.3m for North Harbour, Cape Clear.
In addition, a further €14.63m of funding is being provided for harbour development in 2014 and this represents a significant increase on the level of funding provided in 2013. €11.63m of this is allocated towards safety, maintenance and new development works at six Fishery Harbour Centres at Howth, Dunmore East, Castletownbere, Dingle, Ros a Mhíl and Killybegs, in addition to infrastructural improvement works at “bull nose” pier, North Harbour, Cape Clear. This works also includes €4m for dredging works at Dunmore East. €3m is being allocated for Local Authority Harbour Development and Marine Leisure programmes. My Department is contacting the relevant Local Authorities in relation to applications under this element of the Programme.
This is an indication of the Government’s commitment to developing our fishery harbours for the benefit of our fishing industry, seafood processing sector, other ancillary marine industries, tenants and the wider community. It is part of an ongoing and long term strategy to develop and improve the facilities at our Fishery Harbour Centres and other public harbours around our coast. This package will help to ensure that this important infrastructure is fit for purpose in the modern era and will bring significant added value to local communities and much welcome jobs and economic activity.