Animal Welfare

Questions (31)

Maureen O'Sullivan


31. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider an outright ban on the inhumane practice commonly known as the digging out of foxes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13831/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, lawful hunting of an animal may take place unless the animal is released in an injured, mutilated or exhausted condition.

There is also provision under Section 25 of the Act for the Minister to establish a Code Of Practice to or adopt, in whole or in part, a code of practice established by another person, whether within the State or otherwise.

The Hunting Association Ireland and the Irish Working Terrier Federation have set out rules and procedures for the use of hunt terriers. It is intended that these rules and procedures will be examined in the context of Section 25 of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 with a view to adapting them as modern Codes of Practice under the Act.

Beef Industry

Questions (32)

Mattie McGrath


32. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to protect the interests of beef farmers in view of the deep concern felt in the sector relating to the manipulation of the buying of prime heifers and steers by the meat industry and factory industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13931/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors, the Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues. With regard to any suspected manipulation of the market I would ask the Deputy to bring forward any information or evidence he has in this regard to the Competition Authority of Ireland who have the power to investigate such matters.

My Department monitors prices paid for cattle in Ireland and it should be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average in 2013. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year. It should also be noted that with the exception of 2013 the prices paid in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for Irish cattle are comparable to 2012 and significantly in excess of prices paid from 2008-2011.Nevertheless it is clear that for some farmers with certain categories of animals, prices has softened significantly in the first quarter of 2014.

In this context I met with both farmer representatives and processors this month to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I called on the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, to work together to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.

The relationship between processors and farmers is an interdependent one. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of both sides working together to manage the type and volume of cattle being brought to market so that the supply chain does not undermine the viability of beef production systems for either winter finishers or suckler farmers. The current situation clearly underlines the need for industry operators to improve communication on market trends and signals throughout the supply chain and to address supply chain issues in such a context. An industry-led solution to the current uncertainty is essential to restoring confidence in the sector and I would encourage the various stakeholders to continue their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.

As a signal of this Government’s continued support for the beef sector I recently announced the operational details of an investment package worth up to €40m to beef farmers in 2014. Among the measures in this investment package are €23m for a Beef Genomics Scheme, €10m for the Beef Data Programme, €5m for the Beef Technology Adoption Programme and €2m in residual payments under the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. The Government’s investment is a strong vote of confidence in the suckler beef sector. It exemplifies the smart, green growth initiatives envisioned in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy and, coupled with additional support measures under the new Rural Development Programme, will underpin the development of a sustainable beef sector with long-term growth potential.

Agrifood Sector

Questions (33)

Thomas Pringle


33. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on any discussion that took place regarding opportunities that exist for the agrifood sector and the dairy industry during his visits to New Zealand and Australia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13220/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The primary purpose of my visit last week to Australia and New Zealand was to represent Ireland at cultural events organised around the St Patrick’s Day festival. Nevertheless, I had a number of business engagements in both Australia and New Zealand and I secured meetings with the Agriculture Ministers of both countries.

In Australia I had the opportunity to meet with Irish food companies operating in Australia and to engage with key business figures in the agri-food sector. I also had a useful discussion with the Australian Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce concerning the trade links between our two countries and the current developments in international trade relations, particularly in the agri-food sector. It may not be generally known that agri-food and related exports to Australia were valued at €86 million in 2014. Exports of thoroughbred horses comprise the bulk of these exports although we also have a small trade in dairy products, beverages and, since the market was reopened in March of last year, in pigmeat. Over the medium term pigmeat exports from Ireland to Australia are targeted to reach around 10,000 tonnes per year.

My time in New Zealand was quite limited but I did have the opportunity to meet the New Zealand Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy. Although trade between Ireland and New Zealand is minuscule in both directions, we share a lot of common ground in terms of our production systems, notably in the dairy sector, and on climate change. We had a good discussion on both of these issues. We also explored the possibility of cooperation and exchanges between Teagasc and its equivalent in New Zealand, including the possibility of provision of services and expertise in the areas of agricultural outreach, extension and advice.

I also had a very useful and constructive meeting with Fonterra, the New Zealand farmer-owned cooperative that is the world’s leading dairy exporter. We discussed the growing demand worldwide for protein-based products and the role that countries such as Ireland and New Zealand can play in producing dairy products in an environmentally sustainable way, to address the issue of food security without damaging the environment. We concluded that there is an opportunity for quality producers such as Ireland and New Zealand to benefit from this additional demand in a spirit of collaboration and cooperation that contributes positively to both economies while helping to address global food security challenges in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

Rural Development Programme

Questions (34)

Éamon Ó Cuív


34. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the total expenditure to date under each heading of the rural development programme 2007-14; the total allocation under each heading; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13077/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Rural Development Programme (RDP) for the period 2007-2013 was a key support in enhancing the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, achieving more sustainable management of natural resources and ensuring a more balanced development of rural areas.

The Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013 is broken down into 5 Axes. The first axis addresses Competitiveness in Agriculture and has spent a total of €336m up to the end of 2013 from a total allocation of €369m.

Axis 2 of the RDP addresses Environment and Land Management objectives. This axis includes measures such as REPS, AEOS, Less Favoured Areas etc. The spend on these measures totals €3,535m until the end of 2013 from a total allocation of €3,620m.

Axes 3 and 4 of the RDP fund measures in the Wider Rural Economy (LEADER measures). These axes are a matter for my colleague Minister Hogan. The spend of these measures totals €244m up to the end of 2013 from a total allocation of €342m.

Finally Axis 5 provides for technical assistance to the RDP. This axis has spent €1.8m up to the end of 2013 from a total of allocation of €4.3m.

Overall, there has been a spend of €4,117m on Rural Development Measures under this programming period, from a total allocation of €4,335m. Under the N+2 rule, Member States have until the end of 2015 to spend monies allocated under the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programme and spending all available funds will be of upmost importance for my Department.

The achievements made under the last programming period will be built upon for the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme. For the next period, Ireland has been allocated EU funding of €2.19 billion (€313m per annum over 7 years) for a new RDP. Design of the new programme is being progressed by my Department as a matter of priority.

Fishing Vessel Licences

Questions (35)

Thomas Pringle


35. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if in the event of a fishing licence being permanently revoked under the provisions of SI No. 3 of 2014, the tonnage and kilowatts will remain available to the Irish fishing fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13218/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

S.I. no. 3 of 2014 gives effect to the requirements of Article 92 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 and Title VII of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 404/2011 of 8 April 2011. In accordance with the EU Regulations, this instrument establishes a point system for the Licence Holder of a sea-fishing boat when a serious infringement of the Common Fisheries Policy by a vessel is detected within the Exclusive Fishery Limits of the State or for an Irish vessel, wherever it may be. The accumulation of points for persistent serious infringements of the Common Fisheries Policy will lead to the suspension of a sea fishing boat licence for a period from 2 months to one year. In extreme cases persistent serious fisheries infringements could lead to the permanent withdrawal of a licence.

The maximum capacity for Ireland’s fishing fleet is laid down by EU Regulation. This fleet reference level remains the same regardless of the loss of capacity arising from the application of penalty points regime to any individual license holder. In the event that a licence is permanently withdrawn the capacity in the form of gross tonnage (GT) and kilowatts (kW) is lost to its owner and reverts to the State.

Under Section 3(2) (b) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, as amended by section 99 of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, the Minister may give policy directives on sea-fishing boat licensing to the Licensing Authority. These policy directives “may provide for measures to control and regulate the capacity, structure, equipment, use and operation of sea-fishing boats for the purpose of protecting, conserving or allowing the sustainable exploitation of living marine aquatic species or the rational management of fisheries, in furtherance of national policy objectives and to comply with requirements of the common fisheries policy of the European Communities or other international obligations which are binding on the state.” In the event that any such relevant policy directive is under consideration, I will consult fully with stakeholders.

Common Agricultural Policy Reform

Questions (36)

Charlie McConalogue


36. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans under the Common Agricultural Policy reform proposals to assist and support young farmers who have been farming for more than five years to build viable farming enterprises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13942/14]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The definition of ‘young farmer’ under the new Direct Payments Regulation that will come into force in 2015 includes the criteria that such persons are aged 40 or less in their first year of application and that they have established their holding within five years of their first application under the Basic Payment Scheme. Persons who meet the definition of ‘young farmer’ under the new Direct Payment Regulation will be eligible both to apply to the National Reserve for an allocation of entitlements or a top-up on the value of existing entitlements and also to participate in the Young Farmers’ Scheme.

The essential purpose of the Young Farmers’ Scheme is to assist young farmers in the initial stages of establishing a farming enterprise in their own name and to encourage generational renewal. It is for this reason that the payment is restricted to those who are establishing or have established such a holding in the previous five years. In addition, the restricting of the payment to a maximum of five years will make it possible to support those young farmers who will come on-stream in the years subsequent to 2015.

Most farmers who have been farming for more than five years hold existing entitlements under the Single Payment Scheme. Where such farmers hold low value entitlements they will benefit significantly from the process of convergence that will apply under the Basic Payment Scheme. The purpose of the convergence model adopted by Ireland is to achieve a phased redistribution of payments between those who currently hold high value entitlements and those who hold low value entitlements. If such farmers have never held entitlements under the current Single Payment Scheme, but were actively farming in 2013, they will be allocated new entitlements under the Basic Payment Scheme in 2015 and will benefit from the convergence process.

In relation to Pillar 2, I have recently published a consultation document setting out proposed measure outlines for inclusion in the new Rural Development Programme, 2014-2020. These proposals have been the subject of a public consultation and include an increased aid intensity of 60% for young farmers under the proposed support for capital investment on farms, compared to a 40% support rate for all other farmers. A young farmer is defined in the Rural Development Regulation as “a person who is no more than 40 years of age at the moment of submitting the application, possesses adequate occupational skills and competence and is setting up for the first time in an agricultural holding as head of that holding.” However, in relation to the 60% rate of aid for capital investment, the Regulation does provide for the flexibility to include young farmers who have set up in the 5 years preceding the application for support.

It should be noted, however, that farmers under 40 who have set up in their holding more than five years ago will of course remain eligible to apply for the full range of measures in the new RDP.

Departmental Staff Expenses

Questions (37)

Clare Daly


37. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the protocol in relation to assistant principals and principal officers using their private cars and claiming unvouched expenses when official cars are available in his Department; if he has received any complaints regarding same; and the oversight that is in place to deal with same. [14843/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The occasional use of officers’ private vehicles for official purposes may be permitted in accordance with official travel policy guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in the following circumstances:

- no suitable public transport is available; or

- public transport is available only at equal or greater expense; or the use of public transport would result in severe inconvenience and/or inefficiency; and

- the use of the officer’s private vehicle has been specifically authorised in advance by the officer’s manager; and

- the vehicle is insured and the officer has signed an appropriate indemnity form.

There are no official cars available to assistant principals and principal officers, or their equivalents, at the Department’s headquarters in Ireland. Cars for official purposes are provided at certain Missions abroad, but from time to time officers abroad may have to use their private cars for official business in accordance with the guidelines cited above.

Officers using their private vehicles may be entitled to mileage rates set by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and, depending on the length and duration of the journey, they may claim other travel and subsistence expenses in accordance with relevant circulars issued by that Department. It should be noted that, in the case of an officer who uses his/her own vehicle where public transport could have been used without detriment to the public interest, the Department’s policy is that the maximum payable for mileage cannot exceed the cost of the available public transport option.

I am not aware of any complaints concerning the use of private vehicles by the Department’s staff.

Compliance with the relevant travel guidelines is subject to oversight by the Department’s Internal Audit and by the Comptroller and Auditor General.