Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agrifood sector, while also ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018, live exports of cattle increased by over 30% to 246,000 compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March, which is a 35% increase on the same period in 2018. However, I am cognisant of the challenges within the live export trade, particularly the issue of capacity in lairages in France.
My officials are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters with regard to the need for co-operative management among themselves to ensure that the lairage capacity at Cherbourg is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg or engaging with the owners of existing facilities to explore the potential for additional capacity. Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities regarding this matter. In September 2018, officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month, Bord Bia met local lairage operators, while departmental officials held a meeting with the IFA and French embassy representatives. I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian and last week I discussed the matter further with my French agriculture counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments. Following this engagement, I am happy to report that in recent weeks the French authorities have approved an increase of the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. This will provide additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, this provides increased capacity of some 1,200 animals per week. The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of our exporters with regard to this issue.