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Thursday, 22 Jun 2017

Written Answers Nos. 34-53

Agrifood Sector

Questions (34)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

34. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans for the agri sector ahead of Brexit and particularly in view of the UK election result; his views on whether the outcome of the UK election will change Brexit negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28159/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I fully recognise the potential difficulties that may arise in the agri-food and fisheries sectors from the Brexit vote.  These sectors are of critical importance to our economy given their regional spread and the fact that they underpin the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular.  I am determined to safeguard the interests of these vital sectors.

My Department and its agencies have conducted various analyses of the likely impact of Brexit on the agri-food sector. These analyses range from initial and ongoing internal departmental assessments to published work by Teagasc and Bord Bia. This is an ongoing process, and will continue through extensive consultation with stakeholders via the Department's Stakeholder Consultative Committee and through the All-Island Civic Dialogue process, in respect of which I have already hosted five agri-food and fisheries sectoral dialogues.

While the main impact to date of the Brexit vote has been the effect of sterling volatility on those businesses that have a significant trading relationship with the UK, the medium to long term threats include the possible introduction of tariffs on trade between the EU and UK, potential divergences in regulations and standards between the EU and UK post-Brexit, and the implications of border controls and certification requirements. Difficult challenges also arise in relation to potentially restricted access to fishing grounds and resources.

In response to the challenges posed, I have undertaken a number of important steps within my own Department, which include the establishment of a dedicated Brexit Unit and a Brexit Response Committee to prepare for, monitor and respond to developments as required. As referred to earlier, I have also created a Stakeholder Consultative Committee, which is complemented by frequent contact with representative organisations and companies on an ongoing basis, and operates in parallel to the separate consultation structures under the All-Island Civic Dialogue. 

Last October, as part of Budget 2017, I announced a range of measures aimed at alleviating exchange rate volatility pressures. These included the ‘Agri Cashflow Support' loan fund of €150 million, enhanced taxation measures, and the allocation of additional funding to Bord Bia in order to ensure that it is in a position to provide Brexit-related supports to affected companies, including its new Brexit Barometer.  I also provided for increased funding under the Rural Development Programme and Seafood Development Programme.

I have also held a series of bilateral meetings with my EU counterparts which are aimed at building alliances to ensure that agri-food and fisheries issues are at the top of the EU negotiation agenda.  I have been getting a sense of the importance of Brexit for other Member States, and of the degree to which they could support Ireland’s efforts to have these issues specifically and adequately taken account of in the negotiations.

In all of these engagements I am making clear our demand for continued unfettered access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures, as well as keeping the UK market viable for Irish producers by minimising the risk from UK trade agreements with third countries. In relation to fisheries, Ireland wants to maintain current access to fishing grounds in the UK zone in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and north of Donegal, and to protect our quota share for joint fish stocks

I wish to assure the House that the Government remains very focused on supporting the agri-food industry through the challenges ahead. I will continue to consult with the industry as the negotiations develop, and press Ireland's case for continued free access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures. 

In relation to the recent UK election, I think it is too early to make any definitive judgement on what impact the result may have on the UK’s approach to Brexit. We have to work on the basis of the information available to us at any point in time, including that coming from the UK Government itself. We have prepared extensively and those preparations are ongoing, and I think we will be ready to respond as appropriate to developments as the negotiation process unfolds. 

GLAS Data

Questions (35)

Robert Troy

Question:

35. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of GLAS payments for 2016 which remain outstanding in counties Longford and Westmeath. [27964/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

GLAS provides valuable support to farmers to deliver environmental benefits and public goods which will enhance Ireland's sustainability credentials into the future. Support is provided to Irish farmers aimed at enhancing biodiversity, water quality and the mitigation of the future impacts of climate change while allowing Irish farmers to improve their agricultural practices.

The GLAS scheme is the latest agri-environment scheme available to farmers. It forms part of Ireland’s Rural Development Plan 2014-2020.  To date in excess of 50,000 farmers have had applications approved into the Scheme under three different tranches over a fourteen month period.  The approval of these farmers into the Scheme has been achieved a year ahead of the original target set when the Scheme was launched.

Almost 97% of cases in both counties have been paid and currently the applications of 26 farmers in Longford and 30 farmers in Westmeath continue to be processed with payment issuing as cases are cleared. The Department has contacted the applicants where further information to support their application is needed and we are awaiting a reply to allow the payment processing to be finalised. The Department is continuing to review outstanding cases on an on-going basis and as they are cleared they are processed for payment.

Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme

Questions (36)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

36. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the timeframe to introduce a crisis aid fund to tillage farmers that had their crop destroyed due to severe weather in 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28154/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I hosted a Tillage Stakeholders Forum on the 16 February, following on from the first one in October 2016, which on both occasions consisted of representatives from all sides of this Sector. Addressing the most recent Forum, I took the opportunity to highlight that one of my priorities has been to address the impact of the change in the sterling exchange rate and lower commodity prices in some sectors, which have caused cash flow difficulties for farmers.

Therefore I was pleased to facilitate the “Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme”and last month I welcomed the release of preliminary information from the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) regarding its uptake. The Scheme, which was developed by my Department in co-operation with SBCI, makes €150 million available to farmers at interest rates of 2.95%. Distributed and administered through AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, the Scheme provides farmers with a low cost, flexible source of working capital and allows them to pay down more expensive forms of short-term debt, ensuring the ongoing financial sustainability of viable farming enterprises. The SBCI reported that €60.2m has been drawn down by farmers to the end of April. The average loan size is €32,000, with more than half the loans being advanced for terms of four years or more. SBCI report that some 8% of the loans to date have been drawn down by the tillage sector which is in line with borrowing levels for the sector as a proportion of total agricultural borrowings. The banks advise that all of the remaining €150m is committed and is in the process of being drawn down. I am pleased at the very positive reaction by farmers to the Scheme, which has proved that significant demand exists for low cost flexible finance. I have met with the Chief Executives of the participating banks to discuss this and other access to finance issues relating to the agri-food sector. I have asked the banks to respond positively to the demand that has been demonstrated by reducing interest rates and providing more flexible terms for cash flow loans in the future. Implementation of this Scheme is subject to the provisions of Commission Regulation (EU) No 1408/2013 (de minimis aid in the agricultural production sector). Support provided under the de minimis regulation complies with State Aid rules in the agriculture sector and does not require prior approval by the EU Commission.

Under this regulation, I introduced the Tillage Investment Scheme under TAMS II which opened for online applications on the 8 March 2017. The specific areas of investment include Minimum Disturbance Tillage Equipment, Sprayers, Rain Water Harvesting, Grain Storage and Grain dryers. This Tillage Scheme is the latest of the Targeted Modernisation Schemes (TAMS II) to be launched under the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. The Scheme is co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

All applications must be made on-line, either by the farmer or by an adviser authorised to act on his or her behalf.  The closing date for applications under the first tranche of the new scheme is Friday 30 June 2017.  A further Tranche will open immediately on the 1 July with a closing date of the 6 October 2017.

As an additional support to cash flow on farms, including Tillage farms, up to €1.186billion has been paid out under the Basic Payment Scheme to 124,112 farmers with payments ongoing. Payments of €202.34million have also been made to 94,552 applicants under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. 

I can also confirm that a wide ranging discussion took place among all the stakeholders who attended the February meeting of the Tillage Forum, including on the issue of crop losses as a result of the poor harvest conditions of last autumn. My officials have since then had some additional meetings with stakeholders and I will consider further the outcome of those deliberations. 

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (37)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

37. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has reviewed his Department's information technology payments systems in view of the problems faced by persons submitting applications and drawing down payments for GLAS, the KTG scheme, TAMS and so on. [28153/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

In the context of the Rural Development Programme 2015 - 2020 the Department has delivered over twenty new schemes that were supported by IT capability in the last two years.  In the first two years of the current RDP programme my Department has already implemented substantially more RDP schemes than were implemented over the entire ten year lifetime of the previous RDP programme.   To date Ireland has drawn down funding at a rate that is 2.4 times higher than the EU average. This rate of delivery and draw-down would not have been possible without the availability of high quality complex IT software systems to support the business units in operating these schemes. Since 2014 my Department has adopted a policy of implementing fully digital end-to-end support for all but the smallest of schemes.

My Department has an excellent record in the delivery of high quality ICT systems.  In that respect my Department is ahead of the rest of our European partners and is also highly regarded across the Civil and Public Service.  We have been consistently among the first to make payments in the EU.

You will be aware from previous discussions in relation to the GLAS scheme that a number of issues delayed payments including:

- declaration by the applicants of an incompatible parcel usage for  the GLAS action chosen

- changes in parcel boundaries on which a GLAS action is chosen including splitting or merging of parcels

- an applicant is no longer claiming  the parcel on BPS 2016

- incomplete documentation such as incorrect information on Low-Emission Slurry declaration

- incomplete interim commonage management plans

- incompatible data and parcel history on Department databases

Separately a number of issues arose in relation to the GLAS IT system with additional functionality being required to deal with non standard cases. As advised previously I regret the difficulties that this may have caused to a number of farmers.  In direct response to the Deputy’s query I am happy to advise that the IT aspect of the delivery of these schemes has been reviewed and a revised team structure has been put in place. This matter will continue to be monitored.  All but a very small amount of outstanding work has been addressed and plans are in place to address this over the coming period.  The delivery of payments in 2017 is on-going with GLAS I and II advance payments almost complete.  GLAS + Advance Payments in respect of 2016 have issued to the majority of eligible applicants in recent days. In addition, the GLAS I and GLAS II balancing payments are scheduled to issue in the coming weeks subject to the receipt of the applicant's Nutrient Management Plan.

TAMS IT functionality is also available to pay the vast bulk of applicants. A relatively small number of TAMS II applications are subject to penalty and it is expected that payments for the majority of these cases will be issued over the coming weeks.

In relation to the Knowledge Transfer (KT) schemes the Deputy will be aware that I have recently extended the KT deadline to 31st July, which will allow facilitators and vets further time to finalise actions for KT group participants. A recent difficulty with the operation of the new systems provided by my Department for KT Farm Improvement Plans and Animal Health Measures identified has been addressed. I anticipate that payments in this scheme will be made as scheduled for the autumn of this year.

Beef Data and Genomics Programme

Questions (38)

Martin Kenny

Question:

38. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the total sum of money retained from farmers in the beef data genomics scheme in 2016 and to date in 2017; the reason for the retention of these moneys; and the measures taken by his Department to ensure that farmers are fully informed as to the reason the retentions are taking place and the way to avoid them in future. [27961/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP) is approved under article 28 of Regulation 1305/2013 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. As with all area based rural development schemes the Regulations require that the scheme is of between five and seven years duration. The BDGP I runs for six years from 2015 to 2020.

Almost 30,000 applications to participate in the Programme were received and approximately 23,700 farmers continue to participate.

Payments amounting to almost €51m issued during 2016 to participants in the BDGP of which €14.6m was in respect of 2015 scheme year and €36.3m in respect of the 2016 scheme year. Approximately €8.7m was paid in respect of training courses and to approved advisors for the completion of carbon navigators for applicants. To date, €41.9m has been paid to 22,578 scheme participants in respect of the 2016 scheme year.

The objectives of BDGP are

- To lower the intensity of GHG emissions by improving the quality and efficiency of the national beef herd.

- To improve the genetic merits of the national beef herd through the collection of data and genotypes of selected animals which will allow for the application of genomic selection in the beef herd.

Applicants were fully informed of their obligations under the Programme through various measures (Terms and Conditions, Helpsheets, Nationwide information meetings, Letters, Texts, Tweets) since the inception of the Programme, and all applicants have completed a comprehensive four hour training course. This course was given by approved advisors and included clear explanation of all the conditions and responsibilities of each applicant under the Programme.

The Department continues to communicate frequently with applicants regarding their responsibilities under the Programme.

Reductions amounting to €0.58m have been applied to the €41.9m already paid under the BDGP in respect of 2016. These are cases where the applicant has been found to be non-compliant with the terms and conditions of the scheme. The application of penalties is in line with the terms and conditions of the scheme.

Forestry Management

Questions (39)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

39. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to increase forest cover across the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27972/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Planting targets for the next four years are set out under the Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020. The programme which represents almost €0.5 billion in State funding, aims to establish almost 44,000 hectares of new forests during this period. In 2015 and 2016 the total area planted was 12,793 hectares which is slightly higher than the target set. Future planting targets along with the afforestation scheme as a whole are currently being examined as part of the midterm review of the programme. The national target is to increase total forest cover to 18% by 2050.

My Department actively promotes afforestation as a land use that can work in support of the existing agricultural activity. For example it is an option for farmers who wish to diversify their income stream or increase profitability while maintaining their agricultural output.  Forestry does not necessarily mean a reduction in agricultural output nor does it mean converting the entire farm to forestry. Instead where land is underutilised, it signals a more efficient use of land bringing the entire farm closer to its productive potential. Most importantly this approach introduces a stable and additional income into the farm. This new income stream can be used to develop the farm business as part of the overall plan for the farm. It also of course has multiplier effects for the rural economy and currently supports over 12,000 jobs across the sector.

The current forestry programme introduced changes to the afforestation scheme aimed at increasing planting levels. These changes included the creation of a single premium rate for farmers and non farmers to encourage non farmers to plant. New forest schemes such as agroforestry and forestry for fibre were introduced to allow farmers to plant trees while continuing to have animals graze the land that they had planted. Forestry for fibre also allows farmers to plant trees with much shorter rotations than traditional forestry. Both these schemes are being examined as part of the midterm review where options are being considered to improve their performance.

Dairy Sector

Questions (40)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

40. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address the ongoing price volatility in the dairy sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27970/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Whilst dairy markets are currently broadly stable, the Deputy will be aware that between mid 2014 and the end of 2016 dairy markets experienced significant difficulties. This was due to a combination of factors including increased global supply, the effects of the Russian ban on the import of EU agri-food products and reduced global demand, notably for dairy products in China.

During that phase of volatility, the EU Commission, both prompted and supported by Ireland, among other Member States, responded to these difficulties through the deployment of support measures. Among the main elements of these packages have been the extension and broadening of more ‘traditional’ support measures such as intervention and aids to private storage, as well as more flexible, targeted, direct aid allocated to Member States to spend in accordance with their national circumstances.

Ireland welcomed and used many of the options provided in the various packages. These include the private storage of cheese, the buying of skimmed milk powder (SMP) into intervention, the payment of direct aid of €26.4 million to dairy producers. Also the advance payment of annual direct payments to all farmers was a welcome provision of cash flow for farmers at a difficult time. In addition, a Milk Production Reduction Scheme, allowed almost  44,000 farmers across the EU (circa 4,000 from Ireland) agreed voluntarily to reduce their milk production, represented significant market stabilising efforts.

Global supply and demand dynamics evolved more favourably as 2016 progressed with a better  market environment emerging as a consequence. In spite of these signals of market recovery, the situation remains uncertain in particular product sectors, such as SMP. The long-term fundamentals of the global dairy market are strong. However it is necessary to be cognisant of the on-going challenge of price volatility, which will continue to be a feature of international markets. In this context  dairy processors have a significant role to play, with instruments such as fixed price and margin contracts a useful addition to the suite of measures that can be deployed to mitigate the impact of price volatility.  

I will continue to work with industry, with other member states and with the EU Institutions to consider how we can refine and improve mechanisms to help farmers to cope with downward price cycles when they arise. In general the outlook for the sector must remain cautiously optimistic, with the resolve to engage in measures to mitigate volatility should it re-emerge.

Fisheries Protection

Questions (41)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

41. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address concerns that the fisheries industry is in a state of crisis; the measures he is taking to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27971/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I do not accept that the Irish fishing industry is in a state of crisis. That said, the potential of Brexit to impact negatively on our industry is a matter of very serious concern.

At this stage it is impossible to say with certainty what effect Brexit will have on the Irish fishing industry. We don't yet know what changes the UK Government may seek to the current arrangements. I am, however, clear that our objective is to maintain our current access to fishing grounds in UK waters in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and north of Donegal and, to protect Ireland’s current quota shares. 

I am, and will remain, in close contact with fisheries stakeholders as the issues develop and work with them and my fellow fisheries Ministers in the EU to ensure that we are all fully prepared for what are likely to be extremely complex negotiations.  

As part of this work, my Department is holding a further Brexit discussion with stakeholders at the National Seafood Conference in Galway at the end of this month. This will include presentations from the Chairs of the North Western Waters Advisory Council and the North Sea Advisory Council respectively. These Councils represent industry and NGO stakeholders from all of the EU Member States with fishing interests in the UK zone.  Representatives from the Irish fishing industry will also participate.  

My aim, in the context of Brexit is to ensure that fisheries remain high on the agenda in the negotiations and that we obtain the best possible outcome for our industry. I would like to assure the Deputy that I will be unequivocal in opposing any dilution of our existing EU quota shares and any limitations on our existing rights of access.  

In terms of the current state of Irish fisheries, it should be noted that the total value of our quotas for 2017 is a 6% increase on those of 2016. In particular, Ireland obtained increases by volume of 14% and 9% respectively for our two most important fisheries, namely mackerel and prawns.

Afforestation Programme

Questions (42)

Brendan Smith

Question:

42. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to change the premium payments for afforestation to ensure that full time farmers receive a higher rate payment than persons that are not dependent on farming for an income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28151/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Under the current Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020 a single premium rate for farmers and non-farmers was introduced as part of my Department’s redesigned afforestation scheme. This means that all applicants, apart from public bodies, are eligible for the same annual premium payment. Up to this point European Council Regulation 1698/2005 on support for rural development had set a higher rate for farmers than for non-farmers. This distinction did not appear in the replacement to this regulation which exists under the current Common Agriculture Policy.

The single premium rate does not diminish in any way the financial benefits that farmers can enjoy if they decide to plant trees. In fact a recent Teagasc study showed that on marginal land switching from some cattle systems to forestry can yield a net gain as high as €228 per hectare for each year of the forest rotation.   The net return from changing from a sheep system to forestry is largely similar. This analysis is based on current afforestation grant and premium rates and on Farm Family Income reported in Teagasc’s 2015 National Farm Survey.

The introduction of the single premium rate was designed to make the afforestation scheme more accessible to landowners who were not farming the land themselves; this would include sons and daughters of farmers or other relatives who might have inherited land but who have careers outside of farming. This approach also includes institutional investors such as pension funds, although in these cases having to purchase land first makes forestry a less attractive investment. My Department continues to view the single premium approach as an important strategy in increasing forest cover in Ireland. Our aim in this regard is to achieve forest cover of 18% by 2050. Consequently there are no plans to revert back to an afforestation scheme which offers higher premiums to farmers than to non-farmers and our focus now is working to achieve the targets set out in the Forestry Programme up to 2020.

Agrifood Sector

Questions (43)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

43. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has spoken to his Northern Irish counterpart regarding the negative impact of a hard border on the agrifood sector in particular. [28824/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I and my officials began engaging with our UK counterparts, including in Northern Ireland, shortly after the Referendum result was announced in June 2016. The Secretary General of my Department met with his UK counterpart in London last September and then met with the Permanent Secretary of Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in October. 

Prior to the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly in January 2017, I met with Michelle McIlveen (DUP), the then Northern Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, on a number of occasions to discuss the implications of Brexit for the agri-food sector. These included more formal engagements in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council, such as those in Armagh last October and at the Plenary meeting in November, as well as ongoing informal contacts.

Officials from my Department continue to engage with their counterparts in DAERA at which discussions are taking place across a number of work streams such as trade, border controls, movement of live animals, plant and animal health (including disease control). The purpose of these engagements is to facilitate a common understanding, for both Departments, of the practical difficulties that stakeholders will face on the ground as Brexit becomes a reality, and allow consideration of mitigating options.

It should also be noted that I have hosted four All Island Sectoral dialogues since last December covering different agriculture enterprises, at which major stakeholders in the Northern Ireland agri food sector attended.

In all of these engagements we discussed the severe implications that a return to a hard border will have on community life in the area, on cross border agri trade and on security; and all agreed that the necessary steps should be taken to avoid such a scenario developing.

I look forward to meeting the new Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland as soon as possible after the Assembly is restored.

Basic Payment Scheme Payments

Questions (44)

Martin Kenny

Question:

44. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that although there was a commitment to put a ceiling on direct CAP payments of €150,000 and a commitment to lower that ceiling to €100,000, a small group of farmers were in receipt of payments of over €200,000 in 2016; and the way in which this happened in view of his commitment. [27959/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The €150,000 limit on basic payments is enshrined in Regulation 1307/2013, which establishes the current rules for direct payments to farmers under support schemes within the framework of the CAP.  The lowering of this limit would require a legislative change in Council, something that has not been envisaged as part of the Commission's ongoing simplification programme.

Since the 16th October 2015, the maximum amount payable to any one applicant under the Basic Payment Scheme (excluding the Greening Payment) is capped at €150,000 per annum.  Ireland actively supported the concept of a maximum level during the CAP negotiations.  Under the new Direct Payments Regulation, it was open to Member States to reduce payments over €150,000 by between 5% and 100%.  Ireland opted for the highest possible reduction, thus effectively capping BPS payments at €150,000.

I am committed to further lowering the basic payment ceiling to €100,000, in line with the programme for Government, and I will be seeking to address this matter in the context of the future reform of the CAP.  The Commission has yet to table proposals on the future CAP post-2020, and I will table the matter at the appropriate point as the discussions on the future policy evolve.

As regards payments in excess of €200,000, a small number of farmers (12), received total payments over this amount in 2016.  The total payment comprises of the Basic Payment, capped at €150,000, and top up payments from Greening and if applicable the Young Farmer and Protein Aid Schemes.  I can confirm that no farmer received payment in excess of €150,000 under the Basic Payment Scheme since this cap was introduced in 2015. 

Veterinary Inspection Service Administration

Questions (45)

Bobby Aylward

Question:

45. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will guarantee the future of the regional veterinary laboratory in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28161/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM) Laboratories are an integral part of the Department, providing critical scientific evidence and expertise (in animal health, food safety and plant sciences) which allows the Department to function effectively as a regulator, to deal with new and emerging risks and to rapidly respond to disease outbreaks and food safety incidents. The laboratories also provide valued services and advisory support to the farming community, the food industry and wider society.

The ambitious targets of the Agri-food industry for growth and development over the next decade, as set out in Food Wise 2025, must be underpinned by robust systems which protect and enhance our reputation as a producer of safe and wholesome food and one of the ways in which we must respond to this challenge is by developing a long-term strategy for the laboratories - building on existing capability and expertise in animal health, food safety and plant sciences, and ensuring we achieve both operational and scientific excellence.

This was the primary reason for tasking a Working Group led by Prof. Alan Reilly to undertake a comprehensive review of the Department’s Laboratories. This review has considered both the central laboratory complex at Backweston and the eight regional laboratories located at Athlone, Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Sligo.  The Group has presented a report to the Department, which makes recommendations on:

- Oversight and co-ordination of the laboratories activities

- Re-organisation of Divisions and support functions within the Central Laboratory complex

- Options for the future development of the Regional Laboratories – with a view to improving disease investigative and surveillance capability but with the over-riding imperative of maintaining and enhancing services to farmers and

- Human resources management within the laboratories - with a focus on grading structures, career development opportunities and workforce planning

To date no decision has been taken in respect of the options proposed for the Regional Veterinary Laboratories (RVLs). My Department has recently completed an initial consultative process with all relevant stakeholders on the Working Group report (including on the options for RVLs). A cost-benefit analysis of the various options proposed will be undertaken shortly. Any decision I make on the RVLs, including Kilkenny, will be informed by the consultative process and the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis.

Fishing Licences

Questions (46)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

46. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 435 of 28 March, 2017, when a decision will be made regarding fishing fleet capacity in view of the fact that the period of public consultation closed for submissions on 28 February 2017; the reason for the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29123/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As the Deputy may be aware, under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, the functions of sea-fishing boat licensing were transferred from the Minister to the Licensing Authority for Sea-fishing Boats, which operates on an independent basis subject to criteria set out in that Act and Ministerial Policy Directives.

As Minister I have responsibility for policy in relation to sea-fishing boat licensing under Section 3(3) of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, as amended by Section 99 of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. In this context, and as referred to above, Section 3 of the Act makes provision for Ministerial Policy Directives to issue to the independent Licensing Authority for Sea-fishing Boats. I am, however, precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to individual cases, or a group of cases, with which the Licensing Authority is or may be concerned under Section 3(5) of the 2003 Act.

I received proposals from a Producer Organisation (PO) which, in summary, relate to the possibility of reducing the requirement to provide 100% replacement capacity with the relevant track record to 80% (the balance being sourced from capacity without track record). I undertook a public consultation process on these proposals and made a consultation paper available which set out the background to fleet policy and carried out an analysis of the current situation. The consultation paper examined the implications of the proposals made by the Producer Organisation and also put forward alternative options. As the Deputy notes, this consultation ended on 28 February 2017.

26 submissions were received in this regard and they are currently being examined.  As the Deputy will appreciate, any change in licensing policy must be carefully considered and the potential impacts on the industry as a whole must be fully examined.  I will carefully consider, following any further analysis needed, the case for amendment(s) to current licensing policy taking into account the submissions received. I will have my conclusions published on the Department's website, as early as possible.

Fish Quotas

Questions (47)

Martin Kenny

Question:

47. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way he plans to distribute the extra mackerel quota which has been allocated. [29245/17]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am taking it that the Deputy is referring to the request I received from the Irish South and West Fish Producer Organisation to allocate the increase over 2016 of Ireland’s mackerel quota for 2017 entirely to the Polyvalent Segment on a 1 year pilot basis in exchange for the recipient vessels forgoing demersal fishing in order to gauge the impact on the demersal vessels.  

This matter has generated a lot of discussion in the industry and I have received many representations on the matter. Having carefully considered the matter, I decided that, without prejudice, there is a case for a review of the policy on allocations between the RSW Pelagic segment and the polyvalent segment of the fleet, taking account of request by the IS&WFO. In that regard, I decided that I am restricting consideration to the increased quota for Ireland in 2017 over that in 2016. 

It is important to note that I have not made any decision at this time to change the allocations between the segments in respect of this part of the quota. All relevant issues will be carefully evaluated and subject to a full consultation with stakeholders before I decide if any amendment to the policy is justified for the proper and effective management of the mackerel fishery.

The public consultation process concluded on 28th February 2017 and 353 submissions were received. All submissions are currently being evaluated. 

To support transparency in this process, all views received on the Consultation Document are now publicly available on my Department’s website with the exception of a very small number of submissions where my Department acceded to the expressed wish of those who submitted them not to be made public for various reasons. Following the closure of the formal consultation process, any meeting that may be held with stakeholders will be open to all interested stakeholders that have engaged in the public consultation.

Horse Racing Ireland Funding

Questions (48)

Clare Daly

Question:

48. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will review the funding allocation to an organisation (details supplied) in view of the concerns regarding work practices in the industry it oversees including the fact that stable staff in the industry do not fall within the classification of agricultural workers despite being treated as such. [27962/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Horse Racing Ireland is a commercial state body responsible for the overall administration, promotion and development of the horse racing industry.

Horse Racing Ireland receives financial support from the State through the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, under Section 12 of the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, 2001.The level of financial support provided to Horse Racing Ireland is approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. In accordance with the 2001 Act, 80% and 20% of the monies paid into the Fund each year are distributed between Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon respectively.

State funding provided from the Fund is pivotal to the survival and continued development of the horse and greyhound racing industries. The Irish bloodstock breeding and racing industry is of major national importance in terms of employment - especially in rural areas; exports and tourism. Approximately 14,000 people are employed in the thoroughbred industry in Ireland, mostly in rural areas and it attracts significant inward investment to the country.

The classification of workers is a matter ultimately for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation but I understand that the general corpus of employment legislation including the Terms of Employment (Information) Acts, the Payment of Wages Act, the Protection of  Young Persons (Employment) Act and the Unfair Dismissals Acts, applies to the horse racing industry.

I believe also that the Organisation of Working Time (General Exemptions) Regulations 1998 (SI No. 21 of 1988) exempt certain activities, including agricultural activities, from the application of minimum rest periods (Section 11, Section 12, Section 13 and Section 16 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997) but horse racing activities are not specifically exempted under these Regulations.

Inspectors of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) have regard, on a case by case basis, to exemptions when determining compliance with employment rights entitlements. Where breaches of the relevant regulations occur, this may be taken up with the Workplace Relations Commission.  

Where breaches of employment law by individual employers is alleged, such matters may be reported to the Workplace Relations Commission.

Greyhound Industry

Questions (49)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

49. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to protect greyhounds that are being exported; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27968/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Trade within the EU of dogs, including greyhounds, is governed by EU law. 

According to EU law, if dogs are exported to another EU country from Ireland, they must be accompanied by an EU pet passport, be microchipped, and have a valid rabies vaccination, which effectively ensures they are at least 15 weeks old at the date of export. 

Also under EU law, the premises exporting dogs must be registered with my Department.  Before travel, dogs must undergo a clinical examination by an authorised veterinarian, who must verify that the animals show no obvious signs of disease and are fit to be transported.  Dogs must also have a health certificate issued by a Department veterinarian.  These procedures ensure that only healthy dogs, over the age of 15 weeks, are allowed to be exported.  Exporters must comply with EU law on the protection of animals during transport.

The Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) has stated that it does not support the export of greyhounds to destinations which do not conform with the standards in the Animal Health and Welfare Act, the Welfare of Greyhounds Act or the IGB Code of Practice and standards. I fully endorse this view. 

Officials of my Department have  met with the Irish Greyhound Board and with the welfare members of the International Greyhound Forum, which includes the Dogs Trust and  the ISPCA, to consider issues surrounding the export of greyhounds. The Forum continues to take an active interest on the issue. 

I am aware that the Deputy has introduced a Private Members Bill on the subject of the export of greyhounds.  My Department’s officials are currently examining this Bill.

Horse Racing Ireland

Questions (50)

Clare Daly

Question:

50. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to review and revise the thoroughbred foal levy regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27963/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is a commercial state body established under the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act, 2001, and is responsible for the overall administration, promotion and development of the horse racing industry.

The current Foal Levy scheme, which was introduced in 2000 on a statutory basis, applies to all thoroughbred foals registered in Ireland. The Foal Levy is currently calculated with reference to SI 735 of 2011, which is the governing legislation.

HRI's Foal Levy Committee reviews the rates, bands and structures of the levy on an annual basis and has  also considered potential alternative methodologies to calculate the levy due. They have concluded that the current banded/tiered approach represents the most equitable and appropriate way of securing the vital funds needed for the breeding sector. I understand that the majority of foals registered fall into the two lower bands of €35 and €50, and that there is a very high compliance rate of circa 98.3%

Direct Payment Scheme

Questions (51)

Robert Troy

Question:

51. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider reducing the current CAP ceiling from €150,000 to €60,000; and his views on whether the current system is unfair and inequitable in view of the fact that certain persons are in receipt of large six figure sums while younger persons struggle to get on to the scheme. [27965/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The cap of €150,000 on basic payments is set down in the Direct Payments Regulation, 1307/2013.  This regulation establishes the current rules for direct payments to farmers under support schemes within the framework of the CAP.  The lowering of the limit below this amount would require a legislative change in Council, something that has not been envisaged by the Commission as part of their ongoing simplification programme.

Ireland had already imposed the lowest payment CAP permissible in the EU Regulations to limit payments to Irish farmers to a maximum of €150,000.  Furthermore, the EU Regulation does not permit Member States to use the product of capping of Basic Payment Scheme payments for the purposes of replenishing or increasing payments to other farmers under the Pillar 1 schemes. Funding derived from capping is transferred to Pillar 2.

In respect of fairness and equity, under Pillar I,   farmers who hold entitlements that have an Initial Unit Value that is below 90% of the Basic Payment Scheme national average see the value of their entitlements increase gradually over the five years of the scheme and by 2019, all entitlements for all farmers in Ireland will be at least 60% of the National Average value.

I am however committed to lowering the basic payment ceiling to €100,000, in line with the programme for Government.  I will be seeking to address this matter in the context of the future reform of the CAP.  Proposals from the Commission in this regard are not expected until early 2018 and I will be tabling the matter at the appropriate point as discussions on the future policy evolves.

Brexit Issues

Questions (52)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

52. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to safeguard the interests of the agrifood and fishing sectors ahead of the UK’s move to leave the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28152/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I fully recognise the potential difficulties that may arise in the agri-food and fisheries sectors from the UK Brexit vote. These sectors are of critical importance to our economy given their regional spread and the fact that they underpin the socio-economic development of rural areas in particular. I am determined to safeguard the interests of these vital sectors.

While the main impact to date of the Brexit vote has been the effect of sterling volatility on businesses that have a significant trading relationship with the UK, the medium to long term threats include the possible introduction of tariffs on trade between the EU and UK, potential divergences in regulations and standards between the EU and UK post-Brexit, and the implications of border controls and certification requirements. Difficult challenges also arise in relation to potentially restricted access to fishing grounds and resources. Ultimately the objective is to avoid these outcomes.

With a view to identifying common ground and building alliances for the negotiations ahead, I have held a series of bilateral meetings with EU counterparts. I also wish to ensure that agri-food and fisheries issues are at the top of the trade and economic agenda for the negotiation. My Department and I are also in regular contact with UK counterparts, both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I have also had meetings with major UK retailers to assure them of the continued commitment of Irish suppliers to the UK market.

In all of these engagements I am making clear Ireland's demand for continued unfettered access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures, as well as keeping the UK market viable for Irish producers by minimising the risk from UK trade agreements with third countries. In relation to fisheries, Ireland wants to maintain current access to fishing grounds in the UK zone in the Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and north of Donegal, and to protect our quota share for joint fish stocks

In the meantime my Department and its agencies have conducted various analyses of the likely impact of Brexit on the agri-food sector. This is an ongoing process, and will continue, including through extensive consultation with stakeholders via the Department's Stakeholder Consultative Committee and through the All-Island Civic Dialogue process, in respect of which I have already hosted five agri-food and fisheries sectoral dialogues.

Within my own Department, I have established a dedicated Brexit Co-ordination Unit and a Brexit Response Committee, to prepare for, monitor and respond to developments as required. These activites span almost all of my Department's administrative and control activities. As referred to earlier, I have also created a Stakeholder Consultative Committee, which is complemented by frequent contact with representative organisations and companies on an ongoing basis, and operates in parallel to the separate consultation structures under the All-Island Civic Dialogue.

Last October, as part of Budget 2017, I announced measures aimed at alleviating the exchange rate volatility pressures, which include the introduction of the ‘Agri Cashflow Support' loan fund of €150 million; enhanced taxation measures and the allocation of €2m additional funding to Bord Bia, in order to ensure that it is in a position to provide Brexit-related supports to affected companies, including through its new Brexit Barometer. I have also asked Bord Bia to conduct a market profiling exercise to provide a tool to assist exporters in identifying market priorities and to assist policy makers in prioritising market access objectives. I also provided for increased funding under the Rural Development Programme and Seafood Development Programme.

I wish to assure the House that the Government remains very focused on supporting the agri-food industry through the challenges ahead. I will continue to consult with the industry as the negotiations develop, and press Ireland's case for continued free access to the UK market, without tariffs and with minimal additional customs and administrative procedures.

Direct Payment Scheme

Questions (53)

Martin Kenny

Question:

53. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the objective of his Department in performing a new round of land eligibility inspections with stricter criteria which may result in hill farmers receiving reduced direct payments; the details of the new criteria; and the implications of each. [27958/17]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The EU regulations governing the various area-based Direct Payment Schemes and Rural Development measures require my Department to carry out on-the-spot inspections annually to ensure compliance with the eligibility requirements, including land eligibility, of the various schemes. In the case of land eligibility inspections, the requirement is for 5% of beneficiaries to be inspected and such inspections involve examination of all land types declared by an applicant, including “hill land”. There has been no change to the inspection requirement as prescribed in the relevant EU legislation.

In 2015 my Department published the "A Guide to Land Eligibility" booklet, which issued to all farmers, detailing all of the requirements that applicants must comply with to ensure that their land is and remains eligible for payment. 

The land declared by an applicant under the various EU funded area-based schemes must be eligible agricultural land and must also have an agricultural activity carried out on the land.

The governing EU regulations set out a range of actions to define agricultural activity and maintaining it in a state suitable for grazing and cultivation. In Ireland we chose from the legal framework to go with a characteristics-based approach.  Therefore an applicant is free to choose the method which best suits their farming operation to ensure that the land is suitable for grazing or cultivation. Furthermore we also exercised the option to deem what is known as "Permanent Grassland Established Local Practices" (PGELP) land eligible and hence the definition of permanent pasture that is implemented in Ireland allows for the wide variety of grazing ground that exists in the State.

The main guiding principles for determining land as eligible include:The land is agricultural;

- The land is not abandoned;

- Ineligible features, e.g. buildings, areas of water bodies, scrub, rock, have been excluded from the area declared;

- There must be evidence that the applicant is maintaining the agricultural area.

With specific regard to Natura land, the “Guide to Land Eligibility” booklet details the provision set out in EU regulations where land that was eligible in the past and has now become ineligible, due to compliance with the requirements of the birds and habitats directives, can be considered for payment subject to specific criteria being met.  However this provision can only apply where the farmer is still farming the land and the land is fundamentally an agricultural area.

There has been no change to the criteria being used to establish land eligibility since the publication of the 2015 Guide to Land Eligibility.

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