Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Questions (34)

Brian Stanley


34. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps that have been taken by his Department since 15 October 2019 to get the beef task force up and running. [49407/19]

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Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

The beef task force has not met since there were difficulties on 15 October. I think it would have been better if that meeting had taken place. What steps have been taken by the Minister in the six weeks since 15 October to try to convene the talks at the task force? During the protests that took place over the late summer period, one of the key demands was that talks should take place. It is important for this to happen as quickly as possible.

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural meeting of the beef task force, which was scheduled for 14 October, was prevented from proceeding. Since then, the independent chair of the task force and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been continuing to engage proactively with members of the task force with a view to making progress with the implementation of the provisions of the agreement. The Department and its agencies are continuing to make progress with the commitments they signed up to under the agreement. The full text of the agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made on the action points to date, is available on my Department's website. An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September agreement. It has been confirmed to my Department that this bonus system is now in place. The initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain include the commissioning of an independent review of market and customer requirements, an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain and a summary of competition law issues relevant to the Irish beef sector. The Department has issued the request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December. This will enable the award of the tender before the end of 2019.

With regard to market transparency initiatives, the Department has published an expert report on the mechanical carcass classification review, introduced an appeals system for manual grading and initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December. Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components: a cattle price index; a beef market price index, including retail and wholesale; and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website. Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment system grid. The Department is engaging proactively with several potential beef producer organisations that have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been fully recognised by the Department in recent months. I established the beef market task force to provide the leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. As I have said previously, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the task force goes ahead. I hope all parties will agree to come together around the table at the earliest possible date to make progress with this important work.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He has outlined some of the work that is being done. The problem is that the task force itself is not meeting. The various stakeholders are not around the table. I want to say two things to the Minister this morning. First, the case of the two farmers against whom there are injunctions is causing a great deal of ill feeling across the farming community. I would like to ask the Minister a question that I have put to him in this House previously. As far as I can recall, he indicated that he had spoken to Mr. Goodman, or to C&D Foods, about these injunctions. I take it from the Minister's reaction that this is not the case. I thought he indicated in this Chamber previously that such a conversation had taken place. I ask the Minister to speak to C&D Foods about these injunctions. I recognise that it is a legal matter. They sought the injunctions and they got them. It would be helpful if the injunctions were lifted. I also want the Minister to correct the Dáil record and what he said here yesterday in relation to death threats against departmental officials and Meat Industry Ireland.

Not departmental officials.

That needs to be lifted because as far as I am aware, there is no record from the gardaí or anyone else that this actually happened. I ask Fianna Fáil to join us in calling for the injunctions to be lifted. We need to create a bit of a positive mood in this regard. The beef price index has been established and has been welcomed by Mr. Pat McCormack of the ICMSA on the basis that it clearly shows "that the markets where we sell our beef are moving in a positive direction and at a momentum that demonstrably justifies an improvement in our beef price". This is a step in the right direction, given that the UK market takes half of our beef produce.

I ask the Minister to address those two matters to get people back around the table.

I share the wish of the House and all of its Members, clearly expressed today and previously, that the beef market task force would convene at the earliest possible date. I have outlined the endeavours of my Department and the independent chairperson to progress matters that were agreed, even in the absence of the task force meeting in plenary session. That has been facilitated by bilateral engagement with all of the stakeholders to progress the issues I alluded to earlier. As I stated yesterday, I wish we had the environment where that task force could reconvene tomorrow. We have been unsparing in our efforts, at all levels, to have this matter dealt with and to create the environment where that can happen. Many issues are making that difficult and the injunctions are a significant impediment. I reiterate that I wish those injunctions were dealt with and that we would create the environment that would help to bring a resolution of this situation.

Time is running down for this question.

I would like to deal with the matter of the Dáil record. I attended a meeting, in the presence of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, with representatives from Meat Industry Ireland, MII, where the issue regarding threats directed at management in C&D Foods was raised directly with us. The nature of those threats is as I outlined in the Dáil yesterday. The details of those against whom those threats were made were given to my Department and that information was conveyed to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan. He spoke to the individual concerned and confirmed those were the facts of the case. I state clearly that I have never made the connection or allegation that it is, in any way, those who protested or were injuncted who were involved. Those threats are, however, a further complication. We are trying to move to a situation where we get all of the parties around the table. There are problems, and those are well known, concerning what happened and we are trying to find a solution.

I accept the-----

I had to cut Deputy Cahill off during his second supplementary question. I ask Deputy Stanley to take no more than 30 seconds.

We always get a supplementary question.

There is a time limit on each question of six and a half minutes.

I accept the progress made. I ask the Minister, however, to contact C&D Foods about having those injunctions lifted to try to improve the atmosphere. The Minister has acknowledged that there is a bad atmosphere at the moment and that needs to improve in order that we can get people back around the table talking. We want to see that happen. It is important, therefore, that the task force meets in plenary session and that issue is dealt with. I hope Fianna Fáil, and everybody in the House, will support the lifting of the injunctions. I hope as well that the Minster will pick up the phone today and talk to C&D Foods about this issue. It would be really helpful.