Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Questions (109)

Cathal Berry

Question:

109. Deputy Cathal Berry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the establishment of the proposed national food ombudsman; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24366/20]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I congratulate the Minister on his recent appointment. I thank him for coming to the House to answer questions. A national foods ombudsman is proposed in the programme for Government. Will the Minister update the House on the process? Will he give a timeline for establishing that office?

I thank Deputy Berry and congratulate him on his election. I have not had the opportunity to wish him well. I know he has a strong interest in agriculture.

 The programme for Government includes a commitment to:

Ensure fairness, equity, and transparency in the food chain by establishing a new authority called the National Food Ombudsman (NFO) to enforce the Unfair Trading Practices Directive. This new authority will enforce EU wide rules on prohibited unfair trading practices in the food supply chain and will have powers to enforce this Directive, penalising those who breach regulations. The NFO will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland.

Directive (EU) No. 2019/633, the unfair trading practices directive, must be transposed into Irish law by 1 May 2021.  This can be done by way of a statutory instrument but any measures that extend beyond the minimum harmonisation requirements of the unfair trading practices directive will require primary legislation. For this reason, I propose to adopt a two-step approach to this commitment.  First, my officials are drafting a proposal for a statutory instrument to directly transpose the unfair trading practices directive as it stands. Second, the legal requirements for the establishment of a new office of a food ombudsman are also being considered, including the requirement for primary legislation to give that office additional powers going beyond those in the unfair trading practices directive.

It is reassuring to hear that an implementation plan is in place. From my perspective, I emphasise the need for the food ombudsman to be an independent office with the statutory powers to enforce the directive as outlined. We have seen in recent months that we have to protect primary producers and small suppliers so that large retailers and conglomerates do not abuse their dominant position in the market. From my perspective, the independence of that office is crucial. If there is anything I can do with the Minister's office, I will engage constructively to expedite that process as well as I can.

I thank Deputy Berry. I look forward to working with him and with his ideas about how we can make sure that the new food ombudsman is as effective as possible in achieving its objective. I will engage comprehensively with farmer representative organisations too because I know they have been advocating for this new office for a significant period. We will look at how we can make sure the office is independent and has the remit to ensure it can carry out the role of bringing transparency and confidence to the system. We want to rebuild that relationship and, in particular, the primacy of the primary producers to make sure they get the best crack of the whip possible to deliver an income and return for them and their work, which should be properly reflected in the price they get in the international markets where 90% of our produce goes, as well as domestically.