Teagasc Activities

Questions (681)

Matt Carthy

Question:

681. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce measures to support agricultural and veterinary students to secure placements on farms during the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2311/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department has no direct role in placing students on farms. Teagasc has over 1,000 active host farms that provide in-situ practical learning periods (placement) for Teagasc learners. I am advised that Teagasc is intending to maintain its student farm placements in line with planned schedules. Teagasc will issue both hosts and students with best practice guidance in relation to COVID.

Forestry Sector

Questions (682, 690, 705)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

682. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding the forestry sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2320/21]

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Carol Nolan

Question:

690. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the measures being taken to address the challenges facing the forestry sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2358/21]

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Holly Cairns

Question:

705. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the significant backlog of forest licensing approvals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2668/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 682, 690 and 705 together.

I fully recognise the impact the current forestry licensing delays are having on the sector at the moment. It is my immediate priority to resolve the issues which have led to this backlog and to issue licences in the volume needed for this important sector to continue to contribute to our rural economy and to help achieve our environmental goals.

You will be aware of the delays caused by changes to the licensing system which means that a significant number of cases now need ecological input in order to comply with environmental requirements. We are tackling these delays by means of a systematic project plan. We have invested heavily in resources including the recruitment of additional ecologists, forestry inspectorate and administrative staff, with extra resources to be added in 2021. This has already resulted in an increase in the number of licences issued, and the last quarter of 2020 saw the highest number of licences issued last year. This positive trend has continued into January.

The total number of licences which issued in 2020 was 2,593. Over 4,300ha of new afforestation and 129km of forest roads were licensed. The total volume of felling licences issued for 2020 was just over 5 million cubic metres, of which almost 2m cubic metres representing 40% of annual output issued in the last quarter of the year. This positive trend is continuing this month, with 177 licences issued in the first two weeks of January, which includes timber volume of nearly 450,000 m3. The aim is to sustain and build substantially on that output and ensure the consistent high level of output that the sector needs.

We have also implemented changes to the functioning of the Forestry Appeals Committee and acted quickly to propose and implement the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act. I have significantly resourced the FAC and four appeals committees are now set up and hearing appeals. This is an increase from one Committee that was previously in existence. This is reforming how the FAC does its business and will result in a more fit-for-purpose, environmentally sensitive and sustainable forestry licensing process, which serves appellants and applicants alike, and will mean that land-owners receive more timely decisions on their licences.

Of course, my Department also processes other support schemes including support for Ash Dieback. The national response to Ash Dieback has moved away from eradication of the disease in light of experience and scientific evidence that such an approach is no longer feasible. Previous reconstitutions scheme for ash dieback have cost in the region of €7m. A new Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) has been launched and focuses on ash plantation management. This approach categorises plantations into three groups based on the plantation age and tree size. Different support options are available, depending on the category into which the ash plantation may fall.

To date, 195 applications for the scheme have been received and approvals are being issued as applications are assessed and authorised.

My Department is actively supporting a number of research projects into the control and management of Ash Dieback disease, in particular projects with a key long-term focus of developing an ash tree breeding programme to identify trees that show strong tolerance to the disease and the genetic basis for tolerance.

I would like to re-iterate my commitment to supporting the forest sector and to building on the recent progress so that a continual improvement in delivery is achieved.

Inshore Fisheries

Questions (683)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

683. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will agree to increased monitoring of inshore fisheries as an interim measure and until the State's appeal is heard in the High Court in June 2021; if he will provide extra funding and resources for such monitoring; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2329/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As the Deputy will be aware, in December 2018, following a public consultation process in which over 900 submissions were received, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine announced that vessels over 18m would be excluded from trawling in inshore waters inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from 1st January 2020. A transition period of three years for vessels over 18m targeting sprat was allowed to enable adjustment for these vessels, as the sprat fishery is concentrated inside the six nautical mile zone. A Policy Directive was issued by the Minister to give effect to these changes.

A Judicial Review was taken by two applicant fishermen to the High Court challenging the validity of the Policy. On 6th October 2020, the Judge held, in summary, that the High Court’s final order should be, among other matters, a declaration that Policy Directive 1 of 2019 was made in breach of fair procedures and is void and/or of no legal effect. The breach of fair procedures as referenced above related to a failure with obligations to consult with the applicants in accordance with, and to the extent required by, the consultation process and in particular by failing to consult with them once a preferred option had been identified.

The High Court’s ruling has been appealed by the State to the Court of Appeal and a stay was sought on the orders granted therein. A stay on the orders was refused by the High Court on 10th December. At the Court of Appeal hearing regarding directions on 11th December, a hearing date of the 22nd and 23rd June 2021 was assigned to the case. Counsel sought a priority date and was advised that the June date was effectively a priority date given the current backlog before the Court. However, the case is on a waiting list and the State will be advised if an earlier date becomes available. Counsel have been instructed to draft the necessary legal papers to seek a stay on the High Court orders before the Court of Appeal.

As this matter is sub judice, I am not in a position to comment until the matter can be resolved before the Courts.

I should also advise the Deputy that the monitoring and control of fishing vessels within Ireland’s Exclusive Fisheries Zone are matters for the Irish control authorities. Under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006, all operational issues of this nature concerning sea fisheries control are, as a matter of law, exclusively for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) and the Naval Service. As Minister I am precluded from getting involved in operational matters including in relation to law enforcement. I have accordingly referred the Deputy’s question to SFPA for attention and direct reply.

The monitoring and control by the control authorities of fishing vessels within Ireland's Exclusive Fisheries Zone will be managed from within existing funding allocations as published in the Revised Estimates for 2021.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Questions (684)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

684. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the opening date for the REPS II scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2342/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Programme for Government commits to rewarding farmers for adapting to more sustainable methods of farming. The Programme commits to the development of a new user friendly, agri-environment scheme capable of delivering broad environmental and biodiversity benefits that will align financial supports with climate objectives. The Programme also commits to the implementation of a results-based pilot project to operate in the transition period between the end of the current CAP and the commencement of the new CAP.

The aim of this pilot project is to identify a suitable agri-environment results based scoring system and trial this system at a national level with a view to identifying upscaling potential for possible inclusion in the next national agri-environment scheme.

The details of this pilot project including the application process and payment rates are currently being considered by my Department. I expect the project to be open for applications by the second quarter of 2021.

Dairy Sector

Questions (685)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

685. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to improve the viability of male calves from the dairy herd in locally based production systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2343/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department has developed and participated in a number of initiatives to improve the viability of male calves from the dairy herd.

The Calf Stakeholder Forum brings together key stakeholders in industry, with a strategic vision for a socially sustainable national dairy industry. It aligns with the overarching policy objective to develop a more integrated strategy for the livestock sector with closer alignment of the dairy and beef sectors. This includes development of enhanced strategies for dairy and dairy beef rearing as complementary to suckler enterprises.

With the development of the ICBF’s Dairy Beef Index, genetic trends for beef traits have improved greatly for beef sires, reassuring farmers that these beef-dairy calves have better beef potential.

The Integrated Dairy Beef Programme with ICOS marts also continues to deliver valuable insights on how to build a more sustainable and integrated beef-from-dairy model. Genotyping and genetics are key aspects of this programme.

In addition, the Calf Investment Scheme, which has now been integrated into TAMS, provides grant aid to farmers to help them buy new equipment for the rearing of dairy bred calves.

I am very cognisant of the importance of all calves born on dairy farms, and most especially, in ensuring that the highest animal welfare standards continue to be practised on Irish livestock farms.

Beef Industry

Questions (686)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

686. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he plans to review the 30-month rule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2344/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

There is no rule limiting the upper age of cattle for beef production. However, meat processors do make in-spec bonus payments in respect of cattle which meet certain market specifications demanded by retail customers. The 30-month age limit is one of these criteria.

Such specifications are entirely a commercial matter, and are not conditions imposed by my Department.

It should be noted, however, that certain third countries impose a 30-month age limit in respect of beef imports and this will be specified in the veterinary health certificate which will accompany beef exports to those countries.

In September 2019, as part of the beef sector agreement consensus was reached between stakeholders on a range of issue, including two which related to the bonuses for age limits and in-spec bonus criteria:

- the introduction of a new bonus of 8c/kg for steers and heifers aged between 30 to 36 months, which meet all non-age related existing in-spec criteria, and which up to then had not received any bonus;

- an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in relation to the four in-spec bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector. This report is at an advanced draft stage.

The details of this agreement and relevant documents relating to the work of the Taskforce are publicly available on my Department’s website.

https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/1a060-beef-taskforce/.

Food Industry

Question No. 690 answered with Question No. 682.

Questions (687, 688, 689)

Carol Nolan

Question:

687. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address concerns that the Irish food service industry was not consulted as part of the process leading to the publication of a report (details supplied) on the current in-spec bonus criteria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2355/21]

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Carol Nolan

Question:

688. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason transfer pricing does not appear to have been factored into a report (details supplied) on the value of the beef carcass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2356/21]

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Carol Nolan

Question:

689. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the remuneration being provided to a company (details supplied) for transparency studies on the Irish beef industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2357/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 687 to 689, inclusive, together.

As part of the September 2019 beef sector agreement, three distinct consultancy studies, all of which relate broadly to market transparency, were commissioned as follows:

- a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the sector. This report is finalised and published on my Department's website.

- an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in relation to the four in-spec bonus criteria currently in operation; This report is at an advanced draft stage and was presented to the Beef Taskforce for comment in December.

- an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal, including the fifth quarter, along the supply chain. A working draft of this report is expected to be made available to the Taskforce for comment soon.

The purpose of the third report is to detail price points along the supply chain. Transfer pricing as an internal accounting practice is not relevant to this exercise, and thus not required under the terms of reference for the study. It is noted that all members of the Beef TaskForce had the opportunity to comment on, and agree, the Terms of Reference.

In relation to the cost of the Transparency Studies, the standard procurement process was used to select a suitable consultancy firm to carry out the three studies.

The full cost of the three reports is €96,700.

In relation to the consultation process carried out as part of the studies, all relevant supply chain actors including food service were consulted as part of the engagement.

Question No. 690 answered with Question No. 682.

Beef Industry

Questions (691)

Carol Nolan

Question:

691. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the engagement he and his Department have had with farmer representative organisations following the decision to issue herd test history statements and reports to all cattle herd owners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2359/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I reconvened the bovine TB (bTB) Stakeholder Forum on 1st October 2020. At this meeting, the draft bTB Eradication strategy was discussed including the issue of herd test history statements and reports.

As a result of that meeting, subsequent bilaterals and a second meeting of the Forum on 8th December 2020, a new bTB eradication strategy has been agreed and will be published shortly.

Beef Industry

Questions (692)

Carol Nolan

Question:

692. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if it is policy to expand market opportunities and increase competition for the beef sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2361/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Gaining access to new markets and opening new trading opportunities for Irish exports while simultaneously strengthening established export markets has been and remains integral to my Department’s strategic approach to the development of the agri-food sector, including the beef sector.

Between 2016 and 2019, Irish agri-exports to third country markets (those outside of the EU and the UK) increased by nearly €700 million to a value of €4.3 billion. In that same period, the value of Irish meat exports to third country markets grew by nearly 50% to a value of €575 million.

The growth of exports to third countries is aligned with my Department’s market diversification efforts which have been considerably increased since the Brexit vote in 2016. Agreement has been secured for the export of beef to several new third country markets, including: China, Ukraine, Qatar, and Kuwait. Furthermore, during this period, enhanced market access for Irish beef has been agreed with countries including the US, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Ministerial-led trade missions are an important feature of the development and diversification strategy for the agri-food sector. As announced recently, our trade mission agenda for 2021 is planned to include the following priority markets:

- In Asia - China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam

- In North America – the United States of America and Mexico

- key European destinations such as Italy and the UK

- and an exploration of markets in West Africa.

The format of each mission will be adapted to suit the prevailing Covid conditions but I am hopeful that it will include in-person trade missions.

Our enhanced focus on developing new market opportunities is a key part of my Department’s response to the twin challenges of the economic impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. It is, of course, the role of industry to build on those opportunities to enhance the competitiveness of Irish beef exports on a range of markets.

Fur Farming

Questions (693)

Holly Cairns

Question:

693. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of mink farms in Ireland; the schedule for culling; the entity that will carry out the culling; the means by which culling will be supervised; the way in which the carcases will be disposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2378/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department continues to engage with the farm operators in order to manage the next steps in this process.

From a public health risk management perspective, my Department has conducted testing on mink on all three farms, with negative results to date and the HSE are also monitoring the health of the workers on these farms.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (694)

Holly Cairns

Question:

694. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2394/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The allocation of the COVID 19 vaccine is a matter for the Department of Health and further information is available on their website: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/.

The rollout of the COVID 19 vaccination programme is the responsibility of the HSE.

I understand that my officials have requested that appropriate consideration would be given to prioritising the availability of the vaccine to key workers in high-risk settings.

Brexit Issues

Questions (695, 696)

Joe McHugh

Question:

695. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide details of the changes in fisheries policy and its impact on Irish fishermen as a result of the Brexit deal; the communication there has been to ensure fishermen are kept up to date on these new policies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2416/21]

View answer

Joe McHugh

Question:

696. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the timeframe for the implementation of changes to fishing policy and its impact on Irish fishermen as a result of the Brexit deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2419/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 695 and 696 together.

The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement will, unfortunately, have an impact on our fishing industry. However, this impact would have been far greater had the Barnier Task Force agreed to UK demands or had we been in a no-deal scenario which would have seen all EU vessels barred from UK waters and subsequent displacement into Ireland's fishing zone.

Last week, I published a Preliminary Analysis of Transfers of Quota Shares on the gov.ie website which details quota transfers for Ireland across the different stocks. This compares the quota shares allocated to Ireland in 2020 and the corresponding new quota shares for 2021-2016. The Deputy will see from this document that reductions in the Annexes to the Agreement are graduated over the 5.5 year period of reciprocal access, but the largest part of the reduction, 60%, is between 2020 and 2021.

The timeframe for changes to fishing policy as a result of Brexit is multi-faceted. In respect of quota transfers from Ireland/EU, these will be phased in between the 1st of March 2021 and July 2026. However, some other changes for Irish fishing vessels have come into effect from 1st January 2021, such as changes in requirements to access UK fishing waters and requirements for vessels to make certain regulatory submissions when landing into UK ports.

Other changes such as health requirements for exporting fish consignments from Ireland to the UK will come into effect from 1st April 2021, and the requirement for entry of such fish consignment exports into the UK through a Border Control Post will come into effect from 1st July 2021. Details of any changes of an operational and technical nature have been posted on the SFPA website.