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Thursday, 4 Nov 2021

Written Answers Nos. 377-391

Question No. 377 answered with Question No. 343.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Questions (378)

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

378. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Health the reason a person (details supplied) has been advised that they will be waiting 12 months for a biopsy at University Hospital Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53941/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

Health Promotion

Questions (379)

Ruairí Ó Murchú

Question:

379. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Health if he has plans to follow the recent decision by a body (details supplied) to invite e-cigarette manufacturers to submit their products for regulatory approval in order that they may be prescribed by general practitioners for those who wish to quit smoking; if not, the reason; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53954/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Health)

In 2017 the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) delivered a health technology assessment (HTA) of the clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical smoking cessation products and services.

In relation to e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation, HIQA advised as follows: ''Although the currently available results for e-cigarettes are promising, there is insufficient evidence at present to reliably demonstrate their effectiveness as an aid to smoking cessation. It would be appropriate to await the results of ongoing trials before deciding whether e-cigarettes should be recommended for those for whom varenicline is not suitable.''

In relation to the safety of e-cigarettes, the HIQA assessment concluded that this remains an evolving area of research; while potentially safer than smoking, evidence on long-term safety has yet to be established.

In October 2020, the Health Research Board delivered the findings of an evidence review on electronic cigarettes. The review focused on the evidence available on three topics; the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation, electronic cigarette use as a gateway to subsequent smoking in adolescents, and on the health harms and benefits of electronic cigarettes.

With the provision that these products are still relatively new and that further study is needed, the review found that:

- Electronic cigarettes are as effective, but no more effective than, other nicotine replacement therapies for smoking cessation, at least for an observed period of six months

- Use of electronic cigarettes is associated with an increased likelihood of smoking in adolescents

- Electronic cigarettes are not harmless but may represent a reduction in harm relative to smoking.

The findings of the Health Research Board on the use of electronic cigarettes by adolescents underscores the importance of the proposed Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill. This General Scheme for a Bill contains measures aimed at the regulation of nicotine inhaling products, such as prohibiting the sale of these products to those under the age of 18, as well as the creation of an annual licensing system for those wishing to offer these products for retail sale.

Clinical guidelines on smoking cessation are also currently in the process of being finalised. These guidelines will set out evidence-based statements on best practices to help people stop smoking and will assist healthcare professionals and service users make decisions together about care.

I note the recent decision by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the UK to publish updated guidance on licensing of e-cigarettes as a medicinal product. I will continue to monitor research on the safety profile and health impacts of these products and their effectiveness for smoking cessation.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (380)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

380. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he continues to engage with all stakeholders with a view to maximising measures such as afforestation in the context of carbon sequestration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53895/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a process known as sequestration plays a significant role in meeting our climate change objectives.

My Department provide a range of incentives to encourage land owners to carry out activities that increase carbon storage in soils and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Engagement with all stakeholders is a key aspect of delivering on our commitments to reduce emissions in all areas of our economy. Teagasc, funded by my Department, engage with farmers on a range of measures targeted at reducing emissions from land based activities.

The most significant land use activity that sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is delivered by the afforestation scheme.

My Department established Project Woodland earlier this year to tackle a range of issues in forestry and in response to the recommendations highlighted in the Mackinnon report. This report was commissioned to review processes and procedures on licensing.

Its implementation was a key action in the Programme for Government. Project Woodland is a stakeholder platform that provides opportunities for all to engage and communicate on matters relating to forestry. Project woodland involves four different workstreams working concurrently.

The first one is concentrating on the backlog in licensing, the second on developing a new forest strategy, the third on devising a fit for purpose organisational structure, and the fourth on streamlining the licensing process for the future.

Each workstream, chaired independently, is being supported by a working group made up of stakeholders drawn from my Forestry Policy Group.

Reducing the backlog in licensing and improving processes is essential to increase the uptake in afforestation from its current low levels.

Stakeholder consultation within Project Woodland across all workstreams is taking place and will create the conditions to encourage more landowners to consider planting their lands with trees.

Agriculture Schemes

Questions (381)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

381. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of a BPS payment for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53750/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The processing of the above named person's BPS application is completed and payment has issued to his bank account.

Forestry Sector

Questions (382)

Carol Nolan

Question:

382. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a felling licence will be processed for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53753/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The application for a tree felling licence to which the Deputy refers is currently awaiting assessment by an ecologist. An updated Harvest Plan has been received, which will be reviewed by the ecologist. I would expect a decision to issue in the next two to three months, which factors in a mandatory 30-day public consultation period.

Farm Inspections

Questions (383)

Carol Nolan

Question:

383. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider revising the inspection regime operated by his Department to ensure that a cap will be put in place with respect to the number of times that a farmer can be randomly inspected over a certain period of time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53755/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The EU Regulations governing the Direct Payment and Rural Development Schemes require my Department to carry out inspections annually to ensure compliance with Cross Compliance requirements as laid down in EU legislation and the standards for Good Agricultural and Environment Condition (GAEC).

The EU regulations prescribe that the selection of cases for inspection is undertaken by means of a risk analysis process, with cases being selected on a risk and random basis. In addition, the Department is required to review the results of previous year’s inspection to determine appropriate risks, which must include the criteria of previous penalties and non-compliances.

The process for selecting cases for inspection has been subject to EU audit on numerous occasions over many years to confirm compliance with the requirements of the EU regulations. Any amendments to the selection process would require a change in the EU regulations.

Agriculture Industry

Questions (384)

Denis Naughten

Question:

384. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the tonnage of quality assured beef produced in Ireland in 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021; the corresponding figure for non-quality assured beef; the breakdown of tonnage that attracts each quality assured bonus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53772/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

My Department publish data annually on the numbers of cattle slaughtered at both Department approved Slaughter Plants and at Local Authority approved abattoirs, see table below for cattle slaughtered for 2019, and 2020. Preliminary data for Department approved Slaughter Plants for 2021 to date (up to week ending 24/10/21) show that in the region of 1,339,000 head have been slaughtered.

Cattle Slaughtering- '000 heads

2019

2020

1,852

1,882

My Department does not categorise cattle slaughtering by quality assured or non-quality assured, or track whether a bonus is paid in this commercial transaction between the farmer and the slaughter plant. However, Bord Bia have confirmed that the vast majority of all beef processed in Ireland comes from Quality Assured farms.

Horticulture Sector

Questions (385)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

385. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address the crisis facing the Irish horticulture sector owing to the effective ban on indigenous peat harvesting; if he will seek the immediate publication of the report of the working group on the use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53791/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am very well aware of the concerns in relation to the licensing of peat extraction which are generating challenges (volume and price) for the horticulture sector. As the Deputy knows my Department has no involvement in the regulation of peat extraction.

Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Malcolm Noonan T.D., established a working group, which includes a representative from my Department, to address the key issues raised in a Report on the Review of the use of Peat Moss in the Horticultural Industry. A final report from this working group has recently been submitted to Minister Noonan. The consideration of and timing of the publication of the report rests with Minister Noonan and his Department.

Separately, my Department is actively looking at alternatives to peat and has funded two research projects to date. Furthermore, the Department’s Research Call for 2021 included a call for further research on alternatives to peat based growing media for horticultural production.

Given the Department’s areas of responsibility and recognising the importance of the horticulture sector to the economy, my Department continues to provide sustained and significant support to the sector through the Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Horticulture Sector.

Additionally, fruit and vegetable growers who are members of recognised Producer Organisations (POs) can access EU funding up to 50% of the eligible costs of approved Operational Programmes through the EU’s PO scheme.

Forestry Sector

Questions (386)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

386. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to assist farmers and other small forestry operators to achieve the highest independent certification of the sustainability of their forest product (details supplied) in order to promote the sustainability and the marketability of Irish forest products; if he will consider introducing grant assistance to encourage this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53801/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Forest certification is a voluntary process used by forestry owners to reassure consumers that the wood and wood products they buy comes from sustainably managed forests. The two main recognised standards are FSC and PEFC.

In order to help forest owners to certify their forests, my Department funded a pilot Certification Scheme which was completed successfully in 2018.

Two groups were funded under this pilot Certification Scheme and both received certification at the time.

A wide range of standard templates and information was developed by the grant funded pilot which is available to download from the publicly accessible web page at the following link: www.groupcertification.ie/resources

My Department has also approved funding to PEFC Ireland to part-fund the establishment of a working group comprised of industry stakeholders, in order to review the PEFC Irish Forest Certification Standard and the PEFC Ireland Scheme for sustainable Forest Management.

In addition, COFORD, via my Department has commissioned a study on private forest certification in Ireland which is currently in the process of being carried out. The study involves engagement with stakeholders. This study will be made available once published later this year.

All these initiatives carried out by my Department recognise the importance of forest certification and complement other licensing requirements which demonstrate sustainable forest management. It is important to note that all stakeholders have a role to play in developing a workable model for certification in Ireland.

The soon-to-be published report from the COFORD Wood Mobilisation Working Group on certification, mentioned earlier, will make recommendations that will help achieve this objective.

While certification is a voluntary matter, I encourage all private forest owners to get actively involved in the certification process.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Question No. 388 answered with Question No. 387.

Questions (387, 388)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

387. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of the cross-Border Project Ireland 2040 infrastructure projects and the funding allocated for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53838/21]

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Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

388. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details of his Department’s current cross-Border initiatives, goods and or services committed to and the funding allocated to each for 2021, 2022 and 2023, in tabular form. [53856/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 387 and 388 together.

There is significant mutually beneficial co-operation across the island of Ireland in respect of the agri-food sector and my Department is directly involved in ongoing and frequent North-South engagement on a range of issues.

This involves on-going contact between my Department and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and interested parties in the food, agriculture and fishing sectors in both jurisdictions.

Work is also undertaken in the context of advancing our priorities on the agreed areas of co-operation under the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC).

The NSMC meets in the agriculture sector to consider decisions on common policies and approaches under the mandated areas of Common Agriculture Policy issues, Animal and Plant Health policy, and Rural Development. There are also important ongoing North-South interactions on EU research funding and farm safety.

North-South co-operation in the area of agriculture has helped deliver policy objectives of joint interest in the areas of animal and plant health, animal welfare and food safety.

The All-Island Animal Health and Welfare Strategy facilitates cooperation across a range of areas including veterinary medicines, cross-border laboratory collaboration, efforts to combat animal diseases, and the exchange of data to facilitate the movement of bovine animals.

In relation to plant health, a steering group oversees cooperation on areas of mutual interest across plant health and pesticides including implementing agreed strategies and providing technical development support to eradicate and control plant diseases, such as the All Ireland Chalara Control Strategy.

My Department is not involved in any cross-border Project Ireland 2040 infrastructure projects.

Question No. 388 answered with Question No. 387.

Forestry Sector

Questions (389)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

389. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 229 of 14 October 2021, if dead or dying trees require a tree felling licence; if dead or dying or rotting trees are not exempted trees and a farmer that fells an ash plantation without a felling licence will be subjected to the full legal rigours and implications of section 19 of the Forestry Act 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53875/21]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As I mentioned in Parliamentary Question No. 229 of 14th October, 2021, to fell a tree or trees without a valid tree felling licence, unless exempted, is an offence under the Forestry Act.

I also provided common scenarios whereby trees can be felled without the need to submit a tree felling licence application. To be clear, if the felling of dead, dying or rotting trees within an Ash Plantation are part of an application for the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme for Ash Dieback, no application for a felling licence is required as these trees are dealt with within this Scheme and as such are exempted under s. 19(1)(c) of the Forestry Act, 2014.

In circumstances where no application is made under the Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme for Ash Dieback, an applicant felling ash trees within a plantation must apply for a felling licence; if in such circumstances a licence is not applied for the regulatory provisions for non-compliance can apply, as provided for under Section 26 and Section 27 of the Forestry Act 2014.

Forestry Sector

Questions (390)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

390. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of ecologists involved in processing the nine afforestation licences issued for week four of the October 2021 dashboard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53877/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Forestry licensing is a key priority for the Department. Afforestation is a key part of our plans and priorities for a number of areas including of course climate change and development of the rural economy. We are making significant progress on licensing output this year and are averaging 118 licences each week for the last 10 weeks. We expect to deliver 4,000 new licences this year.

Afforestation remains the one area where there has not been the licensing increase that we would like to see. This is now our main priority. We have a team of Forestry Inspectors, Ecologists, Archaeologists and administrative staff who are involved in licensing. We have 10 ecologists dedicated to afforestation licences now. Obviously licences vary in size, environmental impact and there is no one size fits all to their assessment.

As part of Project Woodland we are examining all options. This includes an end to end review of our systems and processes that is currently being carried out and a regulatory review is also about to start. This review will include an examination of experiences in other countries in licensing forestry activities and how they comply with EU legislation without experiencing the same issues that we have experienced in Ireland. And from this what lessons we can bring into our licensing systems.

While these initiatives are being developed, the Department continues to pursue continual improvement of our systems to help speed up the processing of licence applications.

Veterinary Services

Questions (391)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

391. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress towards enabling a person (details supplied) to obtain employment, temporary or permanent which might be beneficial towards their eligibility to practice whole-time in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53886/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The Veterinary Council of Ireland is the independent statutory body charged with regulating the veterinary professions, pursuant to the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 as amended. This includes management of the Register of Veterinary Practitioners and Veterinary Nurses in Ireland.

The Veterinary Council, as the regulatory body to the veterinary professions, acting in the public interest, cannot assist any person in obtaining employment, temporary or permanent.

The Veterinary Council oversees processes to enable persons suitably qualified and competent to access the register of Veterinary Practitioners and Veterinary Nurses in Ireland. To practise veterinary medicine or veterinary nursing in Ireland, an individual must be registered with the Veterinary Council.

The process for any persons qualified as veterinary practitioner, from a programme of education not accredited by the Veterinary Council or outside of the European Union, not eligible for automatic recognition under the EU Directive 2005/36, includes an assessment of their qualification pursuant to section 44 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005. This assessment allows the Veterinary Council to be satisfied that the standard that applies to the programme of education and training undertaken by any applicant, examinations passes and qualifications obtained is not of a standard that is lower than the standard of such programmes, accredited by the Veterinary Council. The Veterinary Council may also require any person to whom subsection 2 of section 44 of the Veterinary Practice Act 2005 (qualified outside of the EU) to sit and pass an examination set by or on behalf of the Veterinary Council.

This examination is held annually in two parts by the School of Veterinary Medicine in University College Dublin on behalf of the Veterinary Council. The first part of this examination convened in October 2021, involved a multi-choice questionnaire. The second part of this examination will be convened in Spring 2022, which will involve an objective structured clinical examination.

Any individual who successfully passes the first part of the examination will be invited to attend the second part of the examination. Any individual who successfully passes the first and second part of the examination is eligible to join the Register of Veterinary Practitioners, subject to VCI registration requirements.

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