Fisheries Protection

Questions (24)

Martin Ferris

Question:

24. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he will take to ensure the super trawler (details supplied) fully complied with all regulations during its time in Irish waters; and if he availed of the facility to put officers of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority on board to observe its activity in Irish waters. [13205/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The TAC and Quota Regulation EU No. 43/2014 sets out the quotas for each stock available to Member States. In addition to the fishing opportunities allocated in the Regulation, Lithuania may exchange quota with another Member State under the normal arrangements for exchanging quotas. All fishing vessels must also comply with all EU Regulations relating to the Common Fisheries policy, including reporting of catches and respecting technical measures such as mesh size.

Control of the fishing within Ireland’s Exclusive Fishery Zone is a matter for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, operational issues concerning sea fisheries control are a matter for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the Naval Service. The prosecution of fisheries infringements are carried out on behalf of the State by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is the responsibility of the Control Authorities to monitor and control the activities of fishing vessels which are operating within the Ireland’s Exclusive Fisheries Zone.

In recent years, fisheries control within the EU has been structured so as to deliver a level playing field across Member States. In October 2009, the EU adopted a new regime dealing with fisheries controls in the EU. Council Regulation 1224/2009 establishes a Community control system for delivering compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. Control and inspection is now focused where it is most effective through an approach based on systematic risk analysis. Inspection procedures are standardised and harmonised.

This Control Regulation complements the IUU fishing regulation Council Regulation 1005/2008 which establishes a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. These regulations were introduced to support a level playing field across the EU and to ensure that IUU fishing activity is effectively addressed.

I have full confidence that the SFPA and Naval Service will exercise appropriate and effective fisheries control procedures in accordance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy for all vessels operating within our Exclusive Fisheries Zone.

Coillte Teoranta Staff

Questions (25)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

25. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position regarding the pension deficit difficulties now facing Coillte; his plans to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13943/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Coillte Teoranta was established as a private commercial company under the Forestry Act, 1988. There are currently two Pension Funds in Coillte, namely, the Coillte No. 1 Fund which exists to finance superannuation benefits in respect of service of Coillte employees since vesting day, 1 January 1989, and the Coillte No. 2 Fund for Pre-Vesting Day Service, that is, pre 1 January 1989. Information on the types of pension schemes currently operated by Coillte and their respective deficits/surpluses are as stated in the Company’s Annual Report 2012, copies of which were laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas at the end of July 2013.

The defined benefit Coillte Teoranta No. 1 Fund Superannuation Scheme, which I understand has some 2,000 members, is currently the subject of legal action. I understand that the legal action, which is being heard in the Commercial Court, was adjourned last Thursday (20th March 2014) and that the matter has been listed for mention on 22 May 2014.

As the legal proceedings have not concluded, it is not appropriate for me to comment further on this matter at this stage. It should be noted that the Coillte Pension Fund in question is managed and under the control of Trustees appointed to manage the Fund.

Animal Welfare

Questions (26)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

26. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will outline the regulations in place for sulky racing due to the significant concerns regarding the welfare of the horses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13832/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Activities on the public road, including sulky racing are governed by the Road Traffic Acts and are enforced by the Garda Síochána. These Acts impose an obligation pursuant to these acts on persons engaged in this activity to drive their vehicles with due care for other road users and not to indulge in dangerous driving of the vehicles. Officials of my Department in conjunction with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport are examining the legal avenues available to regulate this activity more effectively. In addition to the transport legislation, there is scope for local authorities under the Control of Horses Act, 1996 to introduce bye-laws regulating activities involving horses in their respective functional areas.

While not all sulky racing involves a threat to animal welfare, under the recently commenced Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, a person involved in any activity relating to animals is obliged to take all necessary measures to protect the welfare of the animal under his or her control. Section 12 of the Act provides protection for animals used in pursuits such as sulky racing by making it illegal to do anything causing unnecessary suffering or endangering the health or welfare of the animal. It also makes it an offence to be reckless regarding the health and welfare of an animal and under this Act, penalties for animal welfare violations have been increased and there is provision to disqualify a person convicted of an offence from owning, or having interest in, animals in the future.

Severe Weather Events

Questions (27)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

27. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the assistance made available to farmers and fisherpersons to date who lost stock, land, fences, boats and gear during the recent storms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13078/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

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.

Single Payment Scheme Administration

Questions (28)

Martin Ferris

Question:

28. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to compensate those farmers who had leased their lands in 2013, but now find that since that is the reference year, that they are obliged to sell the entitlements attached to it due to Common Agricultural Policy reforms. [13206/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The 2014 scheme year is the last year in which the Single Payment Scheme will operate and all entitlements held under that scheme will expire on 31 December 2014. Any farmer who was entitled to receive a direct payment in 2013 (Single Payment, Grassland Sheep Scheme, Burren Life Scheme, Beef Data Scheme) is automatically eligible to receive an allocation of new entitlements under the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015.

Where lessors have leased out all of their entitlements for a period which includes the 2013 scheme year (or leased out a portion of their entitlements but did not draw down a direct payment in 2013) they will not have an automatic ‘allocation right’ and consequently would not have access to the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015. As a consequence, these 100% lessors will neither be eligible to establish entitlements in their own right, nor can they enter into a Private Contract Clause to transfer entitlements to the lessee.

The value of such leased entitlements will be lost to both lessor and lessee unless the entitlements in question are transferred permanently by sale or gift before 15 May 2014. My Department is writing to all persons impacted by this scenario to advise them of their options.

A fundamental principle of the Regulation that will govern the new Basic Payment Scheme is that direct payments should only issue to active farmers. This is a principle that was endorsed by all farming organisations and indeed by the Deputy in his submission regarding the application of direct payments in Ireland.

Of the 6,417 herd owners involved, forty-three percent involve leases of three or more years. Of those who entered into leases in the period 2012, 2013 and 2014, 56% entered into leases of three years or more. These figures indicate that very high percentages of these lessors entered into contracts which effectively excluded them from active farming for extensive periods and that they had, in effect, withdrawn from active farming.

It is estimated that 1,968 cases relate to leases between family members where it is presumed a transfer can be easily arranged. There are 335 cases which involve leases to a Company where in most cases the lessor is also the director of the Company.

In conclusion, the greater majority of cases relate to entitlements held by persons who are no longer active farmers or to family members or companies where transfers can be arranged without difficulty. All lessors have the option to sell their entitlements in 2014 at prices dictated by the market. The issue of compensation for such persons does not arise.

Fish Quotas

Questions (29)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

29. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will outline the agreement reached with the Faroe Islands in relation to the share-out of the north Atlantic mackerel quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13719/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

A three party agreement on the management of the mackerel stock in the North East Atlantic involving the EU, Norway and the Faroe Islands was agreed on the 12th of March in London following lengthy discussions over many months and indeed years. Iceland, despite being involved in all of the negotiations is not party to this agreement.

The key elements of the agreement are as follows:

- The Total Allowable catch has been set at 1.24m tonnes for 2014. In subsequent years, it shall be based on the levels advised by ICES.

- The agreement is for 5 years

- 12.6% of the TAC has been allocated to Faroes.

- A further 15.6% has been held as a Coastal State and Fishing Party reserve. This would cover a possible accession of Iceland to the agreement as well as the interests of Russia and Greenland.

I can’t support the final agreement because of the unacceptably high shares allocated to the Faroe Islands and the level set aside for a reserve. However, there are aspects to this agreement that I can welcome, such as that there is no access to EU waters for Iceland, access for Norway has been restricted, the relative shares of the EU & Norway have been respected with each paying proportionately to cover the new arrangements. In addition, the quota for the Irish fleet for 2014 has increased by over 60% to 105,000 tonnes.

I have always been supportive of a deal that would bring an end to the irresponsible and excessive fishing of the mackerel stock that we have seen over the past five years. This new five year agreement which, while far from ideal, does at least ensure that in line with the EU and Norway, the Faroese will be subject to fixed quotas set on the basis of ICES advice, which will protect against the previous dangerously high levels of fishing in which they participated.

However, I am disappointed with the fact that the final outcome gave the Faroe Islands a significantly increased 12.6% share of the stock. The 15.6% reserve is intended to cover Iceland, Greenland and Russia but as all these parties are operating outside a formal agreement, there can be no confidence that they will respect even this very generous allocation.

From an Irish perspective, I am disappointed with the high shares granted and set aside which appear to me to be a reward for irresponsible behaviour. I consistently argued at Council and throughout these negotiations that the levels being proposed for these parties were too high and it is on that basis that I cannot support the overall deal. However, the European Commission and the other EU Mackerel Member States, in particular the UK who are the largest mackerel quota holder in the EU, were willing to accept the granting of those levels of share to the Faroes and the share set aside in the reserve.

To conclude, I don’t like the shares which we have transferred. I was prepared to concede significant share to both Iceland and Faeroes in the interests of stability and sustainability but in my view there is no justification for the EU to have conceded as much as we now have. The share for Faroes is, unfortunately, now fixed. I will be working hard to ensure that in negotiations to come we will all have learnt lessons and that EU Member States work more effectively together to better protect the Union share of this vital resource.

Farm Inspections

Questions (30)

Denis Naughten

Question:

30. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he will take to ensure fairness and transparency in the on-farm inspection regime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13829/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department, in the context of delivering the Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme and other area related schemes, is required to carry out an annual round of inspections covering both the eligibility of the land declared to draw down payments and also cross compliance aspects, to ensure adherence with EU regulatory requirements in the areas of public, animal and plant health, environment and animal welfare and ensuring that the farm is maintained in good agricultural and environmental condition. The basis for these inspections is governed by EU legislation and there are certain minimum numbers and types of inspections that must be conducted each year. Details of these inspections and the regulations involved are published in the Terms and Conditions of the schemes which are sent to every applicant annually.

These inspections are a necessary requirement in order to draw down approximately €1.7 billion of EU funds annually and to avoid EU disallowances. The inspections are subject to repeated audits by the European Commission, the European Court of Auditors and the Comptroller and Auditor General’s Office and this ensures an independent verification that inspections are conducted in full compliance with the legal requirements. In abiding with the findings of these audits my Department ensures that these inspections are conducted in a fair and equitable manner and in full accordance with the legislative provisions. Inspecting officers are very experienced and are regularly trained to ensure that they carry out inspections in a professional manner. In implementing the inspection programme, my Department takes maximum possible account of the realities of farming.

Appropriate appeal mechanisms are in place to protect the interests of farmers if they have difficulties with the inspection findings or if they consider that the inspection has not been conducted in accordance with legislative requirements. Under this process a farmer may initially seek to have the inspection outcome reviewed internally by an officer more senior than the inspecting officer. Where the farmer remains dissatisfied, the decision can be appealed to the independent Agriculture Appeals Office and ultimately to the Office of the Ombudsman, which brings an entirely external and visibly independent dimension to the process.