Before Question Time I was referring to this levy and I was making the point that because farmers have a few good years the present Minister and his colleagues are endeavouring to really clean them out. That is what they seem to be doing with this series of levies. I was unprepared for the Minister's contribution but I found it amusing. He said I wanted the levy deferred and that the Minister had the summer to consider it and that I wanted the Minister to consider the discruption that the 1 per cent levy would cause in County Cork in relation to disease eradication. That is not what I said. Does the Minister think we are fools? What relationship has the levy got to disease eradication? It has none whatsoever. If the Minister were from Grafton Street or somewhere like that I would forgive him but if a farmer like the Minister says that there is a direct relationship between the levy and disease eradication he must think we have all gone mad. I have yet to hear such a crazy assertion by a Minister in this House, that disruption would be caused by the failure to eliminate the disease. We are aware of the disruption that would be caused by such a failure and we are behind the Minister in his efforts to eradicate the disease. Nobody wants to eliminate diseases more than the farmers but for the Minister coolly to say that the levy is directly tied to the elimination of diseases is crazy.
Bovine Diseases (Levies) Bill, 1979: Second Stage (Resumed).
How can one run a scheme without money?
As we did.
Where did the Government get the money last year?
Will we take it from the general taxpayers?
The Deputy should be allowed to continue.
It was the Minister who interrupted.
The Chair finds it hard to understand, if the levy does not have anything to do with disease eradication, why every contribution so far has been about disease eradication. If the Deputy wishes to continue on that line the Chair will rule him out of order.
There is no other relationship between collecting levies for anything and disease eradication. We should proceed with disease eradication with as much haste as possible in summer and winter without let-up. Levy collecting has nothing to do with such schemes. It is the Minister's job to get the money from his colleagues but we all know that they are not sympathetic to the needs of the farming community. It is amazing that the Minister's rural colleagues are not rushing in to support him in his desire to introduce this levy. Where are they? One of the Minister's colleagues told me that because the farmers had a few good years the Minister wants to hammer them. Is that the attitude of the Minister to the farming community? I take grave exception to the Minister's accusation that, as a responsible Deputy and farmer, I am doing something to prevent the eradication of bovine TB or brucellosis. Nothing could be further from the truth. I spent many years as a voluntary member of a farming organisation encouraging farmers throughout the country to work towards the eradication of diseases to better their lot.
In this debate we have lost sight of the importance of the beef and dairy industries which are only in their infancy. In order for those industries to succeed and prosper money will have to be poured into them at farmer level, factory level and all the way along the line. We have just succeeded in capturing a little corner of the market because of the quality of our products. It is possible for us to grow and expand but if we start at the source and hammer that, as the Minister is doing, with levy after levy we will hinder the continuance of that progress. We will do serious damage to the farming industry and the nation. That is why I do not make any apology for asking the Minister to discuss the levy with his farming colleagues after church on Sunday and ask them for their views on the levy. The Minister should ask Fianna Fáil backbenchers for their views because they have been very reluctant to support him on it. Of course, they all think the Minister is mad to put this levy on top of others.
Is it worse than not having any scheme as was the situation under the Coalition?
That is not the choice.
The Minister's statement is not true.
The Coalition Government locked the vets out.
This levy, on top of the others introduced by the Government, has put a big question mark in the minds of the farming community and, worse still, has put a bigger question mark in the minds of the lending agencies. If confidence is lost in the farming community it will take a long time to recover. I appeal to the Minister to scrap this levy before it is too late. The farmer whose herd is hit by brucellosis will have to pay the levy although he will be very badly hit. What about the farmer who is recovering from such an attack on his herd? On top of his other commitments he will have to pay this levy. There is no justification for the Minister's action except that the Government are short of money because, in order to win a general election, they dissipated money right across the board; they threw money away and the Minister while travelling around in his State car is now looking in every nook and cranny for money. The Minister has fallen into the pit and it is he who will have to get out of it.
It is my intention to be brief because it is my belief that the subject has been milked dry. However, having listened to the excellent contributions the Minister does not have any choice but to withdraw the Bill and review it. The Labour Party believe that those with the ability to pay tax should do so and it is the duty of the Government to ensure that such people pay their fair share of tax. We are opposed to the Bill because there is a fundamental principle of social justice involved. A levy of £3, plus charges per gallon of milk, are being foisted on the farming community but, ultimately, that charge will have to be met by the consumer. Those who are in touch with reality will know that meat is conspicuous by its absence from the diet of our people. In spite of that the Minister is imposing a charge on farmers which will mean an increase on certain produce. When the Minister wants more loot for any of his schemes all he has to do is to adjust this increase and he has got his money. The Labour Party feel that that principle is very wrong, and we will have to oppose it. We feel that this is a regressive tax and it should not be imposed on anybody. If the Minister is sincere he should go back to the Department of Finance and tell them that this is not the way to collect tax. The Minister for Finance has a duty to tax everybody, irrespective of the trade or profession of those people, equally. I am as conscious as anybody, inside the House or outside it, that it is important to have a scheme for the eradication of bovine TB. It is in the interest of everybody, not alone those engaged in agriculture, that not only for this generation but for generations to come, we have disease-free cattle.
We hope we have a Minister and a Government capable of introducing a comprehensive scheme to tackle this very serious scourge we are facing. It is of interest to the ordinary people of the country who have no interest at all in the farming community except that they know they are there and they know the type of business they are engaged in, that we have disease-free cattle. They are all very conscious of several illnesses people suffer from today which come from cattle, and it is important that the Minister introduces a comprehensive scheme to ensure that we have disease-free cattle. The scheme the Minister is now introducing is comparable to Sonny Liston, with all the confidence in the world, going into the ring to take on Cassius Clay. Poor Sonny is knocked out when his guard is down. The Minister introduced this at the end of a session when he felt that the guard of the Opposition would be down and he would get away with such a Bill. That cannot happen because there is no guarantee in the Minister's proposal that a proper eradication scheme will be introduced.
The consumer will ultimately pay this increase. The Labour Party, because of this, are very concerned. We are in touch with the ordinary working class people, the less fortunate in our society, the deserted wives, the widows and the social welfare recipients who cannot put much meat on their tables today. The Minister is now proposing to foist on the consumer through the farmer another increase in the price of meat. This is unjust and we cannot accept it.
We had a few excellent bacon factories in Limerick city employing a considerable number of people but, because the producers of pigs no longer found it lucrative to engage in that business, they went out of business and did not produce the pigs. Many of the factories could not keep their doors open and hundreds of people lost very good employment. The levy proposed in this Bill is £3 now plus the increase in the gallon of milk. If the Minister is given the all clear now he will be at liberty any time to adjust his rates.
Quite a number of years ago we had a very serious illness among human beings and a comprehensive scheme was introduced to eradicate TB from humans. There was an incentive with that scheme. People were encouraged to get treatment and if they were hospitalised the State financed their stay in hospital. We had the elimination of TB among humans because of that scheme. The Government decided then that the problem could not be tackled just by tipping the iceberg, trying to fiddle around the same as the Minister is doing in this Bill. They gave incentives to people.
The Minister has an obligation to eradicate bovine TB but he has not shown so far that he is serious about tackling the problem. He is trying to get money from farmers which will ultimately be passed on to consumers. The Exchequer should finance this very important scheme. If the Minister brought in a scheme like that he would get the support from all sides of the House. The man in the factory who is depending on cattle for his employment will be very seriously affected. I do not mind the Minister smiling, but I want to assure him that we have had experience in Limerick city where very good employment was given in bacon factories and because the people involved in pig production got out of that business those workers found that the factory gates could not be kept open any longer. If farmers decide to get out of cattle production there will be a serious situation and people engaged in the industry will find themselves in the dole queues.
The Labour Party believe that people should pay tax. We insist that those who are able should do so but this is no way to tax people. It is wrong and unjust. Once this levy is adopted the Minister can adjust it. At the moment people cannot afford to buy meat and they will certainly not be able to buy it if this levy is introduced. The Labour Party oppose the Bill.
I am giving the Minister my opinion in the hope that common sense will prevail. I am the Deputy for South Tipperary and the farming community form a large proportion of my constituents. They have come to me individually and collectively asking me to bring their views on this vexed question to the notice of the Minister. As farmers in the Golden Vale they feel that this Bill will affect them most severely.
I wish to leave the Minister in no doubt as to where I stand on this measure. I oppose it categorically and unequivocally. I realise that the Government have a large majority in this House and my vote will not affect the passage of this Bill. The farming community in South Tipperary are bewildered at this further levy. They feel they are being victimised once more by this Government, they think they are being singled out and they accuse the Minister of being totally insensitive to the situation as it affects farmers. This levy is a further barrier between urban and rural Ireland and will cause great divisions. This levy follows on a succession of levies. The Government have introduced punitive legislation; there have been capital acquisition and gift taxes, there has been a crippling increase in the rates——
That has nothing to do with the Bill before the House. The Deputy should stay on the Bill.
We cannot debate this in isolation.
We cannot debate rates and other matters of that kind now. They have nothing to do with the Bill and the Deputy knows that.
It is only a passing reference to the crippling increases imposed on farmers. People in urban areas have had their houses derated. There has also been the coresponsibility levy——
Half per cent.
Irrespective of the amount——
That is of great importance.
It is the cumulative effect of these taxes that is important. As the Minister knows, it was the last straw that broke the camel's back—in this case the farmer's back. In this House we are about to bring in legislation with regard to milk——
We have not reached that yet.
I am anticipating it.
The Deputy should not anticipate future legislation on this Bill.
The Minister may not know what his Department are doing against the farming community and it is no harm to remind him of it. Prior to this there has been the removal of subsidies on food and the removal of the cheese subsidy. I am bringing these matters to the attention of the Minister to remind him of the anti-farmer, anti-agriculture legislation that has been introduced by this Government.
Food subsidies have nothing to do with this Bill and the Deputy knows that.
I accept the ruling of the Chair, but I think we should jog the Minister's memory about what has gone on and what he has helped to introduce against the farming community. The Minister came back from Brussels recently with one hand as long as the other with regard to milk production. We are told a price freeze is to be introduced. He had the audacity to accuse the leaders of the farming community that they were living in cloud cuckoo land——
That is true.
The Minister had the audacity this morning to verbally assault his illustrious predecessor, Deputy Clinton. Perhaps it is worth jogging his memory. When the former Minister came into office the income of the farming community amounted to £250 million per year but when he left office it was £950 million. These figures speak for themselves. They are incontrovertible and cannot be challenged. If the Minister has any doubt about the popularity of his predecessor he has only to check his vote in the recent Euro-election where the former Minister swept to victory with overwhelming support from the farming community.
It has nothing to do with the Bill.
This morning the Minister verbally abused the former Minister and it is only right that we should put the record straight.
Verbal abuse is not unknown in the House. The Deputy should speak on the Bill.
I wish to say that I was not guilty of any verbal abuse of my predecessor.
I did not hear the Minister.
The Minister had stated that he was not guilty of any verbal abuse of his predecessor and the House must accept that. The Deputy should talk on the Bill.
The Minister may not have intended it but he implied it. He must be aware that the past winter will be known among the farming community as the winter of discontent.
As and from when?
As and from 1 October to the end of May.
Is the Deputy referring to the future or the past?
The past. I admit it was partly due to the elements, which are outside the control of the Minister. His Government imposed price increases on fertilisers, seeds, on diesel, on lime——
These matters certainly do not arise on this Bill.
I am trying to fill in the background.
I have given the Deputy every latitude.
The Chair is unfair.
The Deputy has not come to the Bill yet.
I am trying to build up the case for the farming community. This winter has been the winter of discontent among the farming community. Despair and gloom were cast over the countryside partly due to the elements outside the Minister's control but also due to measures brought about by the Government, and particularly by the Department of Agriculture.
Many young farmers have made deep commitments to agriculture—milking and silage layouts, the purchase of extra land and machinery and so on. They have committed not only themselves but their children for years ahead. It is against this background that I want to inform the Minister of the true feelings of the farmers of south Tipperary and south Kilkenny. They look upon this extra levy as a further disincentive to progress. It will sap the confidence, enthusiasm and drive needed among our young farmers if they are to be competitive in the EEC. Once confidence in the farming community goes it will be very hard to restore it. Lending and banking associations will feel this lack of confidence and the urban and rural communities will suffer the consequences.
The Minister must be aware that land, particularly the top ten inches, is one of the greatest assets. What is below the earth in minerals or in our seas are extra bonanzas but——
This is very lyrical material.
The Deputy will have to discuss the Bill.
I am filling in the background.
You have been doing that for the past ten minutes and you will probably continue along those lines for the next 20 minutes and we will never get to the Bill.
We will eventually get to the Bill.
The Chair must insist that the Deputy discusses the Bill straightaway.
Despite the efforts of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am trying to bring home to the Minister for Agriculture the value of every square metre of land. When the Minister is being whisked through the countryside in his black Mercedes he must be aware of the need for further drainage and development——
The Chair has been very kind to the Deputy up to now but if he does not discuss the Bill all I can do is ask him to discontinue.
With your indulgence, Sir, I am trying to give the Minister some idea of the appreciation the farming community in south Tipperary have for every square metre of land. Every incentive should be given to the farming community rather than the disincentive proposed in this Bill.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
Before the interruption I was attempting to bring home to the Minister for Agriculture the consequences of the implementation of the levies proposed in this Bill from the rural point of view. I would like also to bring home to him the effects this could and will have on the urban dweller, particularly the consumer. The butchers will pass on the levy of £3 on slaughtered animals to the consumer. Consequently, meat will become much dearer and less available to the urban dwellers. Naturally the price of milk will increase, but perhaps by only a small amount.
I am particularly concerned about a statement in today's paper from the prestigious and reputable association, the Irish Livestock Exporters' Association. Yesterday they claimed that the cumulative effect of all the taxes being imposed on beef cattle herald the deathknell of the livestock export trade. These are very serious words and I would like the Minister to heed them. No one can accuse that association of being flippant——
Is the Deputy in favour of live exports?
Is the Minister?
Deputy Griffin, without interruption, please.
What is the Minister's attitude?
I have debated that many times.
I do not want any interruptions from either side. We are not dealing with live exports. Deputy Griffin on the Bill.
It was the Minister who interrupted—unbefitting of a Minister for Agriculture.
The association's secretary was quite concerned and hoped the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Finance would take cognisance of this fact and of the irreparable damage this must inevitably cause to farmers and to the economy of the country. They are concerned that a further levy might be imposed—50p per animal—to fund the activities of the CBF.
The chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association national and animal health committee also said that imposition of these levies on beef cattle now amounted to the enormous figure of £16 per head. That is absolutely monstrous. It will remove the profitability from beef herds and it will be a discouragement to export or even raise cattle. A number of young farmers in Tipperary have indicated that should this and subsequent levies be imposed they will go away from milk production despite their deep commitment buildingwise and their financial commitments in the production of milk. If this happens surely it will be a national loss not alone to rural Ireland but also to urban Ireland and to the economy at large.
We all laud any efforts made to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis. This year the figure for the eradication of these diseases will, as the Minister said, amount to roughly £22 million. He hopes through the imposition of these levies to collect £10 million. If this £10 million is collected it will be rfrom the point of view of the economy and of the goodwill of the farming community, the costliest £10 million collected by any Government in this State. I suggest that the Minister have a second look at this, but he seems to be unrepentant and to take pleasure in imposing further penalties on the farming community. I hope he will have another look at this to see if an alternative method can be arranged so that this £22 million can be got from Exchequer funds. To draw a parallel, it is as though a person suffering from tuberculosis were to be charged the full cost of treatment in a sanitorium or a hospital. It is as outrageous as that.
I am concerned about some sections in the Bill. Section 2 (2) states that the amount of levy payable:
... stands for the time being so prescribed, £3 per animal.
The Minister can at a whim increase that to £5 per animal. There is no clear indication that it will be £3 and only £3. Likewise the charge on milk is:
... for the time being so prescribed, 0.5 new pence per gallon.
Again, in the next budget, perhaps, the Minister can double, triple or quadruple that.
The farming community have an inbred fear of the Revenue Commissioners and their inspectors. They feel that the prying eyes of the Revenue Commissioners will be delving into their private affairs, their books, bank accounts and various other matters and they are naturally and understandably worried about this further extension of the powers of the Revenue Commissioners to inquire into their private affairs.
1984, Animal Farm.
There is nothing to inquire into.
For the Minister to understand the mentality of the farming community——
The Deputy will be a great help in telling me how it goes.
The Minister could do with a little teaching in that regard. He must be aware that the older farmers especially despise keeping accounts. They are not prepared for it. Perhaps the younger generation of farmers are more suited to keeping accounts and records than are the older generation. Here they are being asked to keep further accounts.
Section 10 concerns information to the Minister as regards land used for or in connection with the grazing or retention of animals. Here again there may be concern that there will be undue pressures on the farmers, undue inquiries made, undue interference with private deals of grazing of land and retention of animals on land.
Section 12 refers to the inspection and removal of records. Here we are setting a dangerous precedent where an inspector or officer may request the production of or may search for and inspect any records, books or other documents whatsoever relating to milk or to animals. This is giving them too much power when they can go in and search, forcibly I suspect if necessary, for these documents. The privacy and sanctity of a man's house is being contravened here.
Section 17 states that under this Act proceedings may be instituted at any time within two years after the date of the offence. I am not a legal man, but to my knowledge in other offences this is limited to six months. Here again the farmers are being treated in an exceptional manner and more punitively than any other person. I believe that section to be unconstitutional and I would like to see it challenged in the courts.
Section 20 leaves some doubt in my mind. It says:
Moneys paid to the Minister in pursuance of any provision of this Act shall be paid into or disposed of for the benefit of the Exchequer in such manner as the Minister for Finance may direct.
I thought that all money accruing to the Minister under this Act would be employed solely for the eradication of bovine diseases and is not to be used at the discretion of the Minister for Finance. I hope that the Minister will amend that and that he will insist that moneys so gathered from the farming community, this £10 million, will go exclusively for the purpose for which it was extracted, that is the eradication of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis.
This Bill, especially in section 22, implies that among the farming community there are many criminals who are always out to falsify, alter, ante-date or counterfeit ear tags and to defy the Government and the law of the land. This is totally unfair to the farming community, especially when the high level of penalties is considered. I do not know of any other section of the community who would be penalised to the extent of £2,000 at the discretion of the court, or sentenced to a term not exceeding two years.
Does the Deputy consider the sentence too high?
I do, certainly.
For a person who changes tags should it be far less?
I am asking the Minister to have another look at this. Members on this side of the House have noted that no Member at all and especially no rural Member in the Minister's own party has given him any support in the implementation of this Bill. If he took a head count of his rural Deputies it would be interesting to know what support he would have for the introduction of this levy.
This Bill is reminiscent of the struggle between landlords and tenant farmers and it ill behoves the Minister in this centenary year of Michael Davitt to impose further levies on the farming community. In the name of sanity I would urge him to reconsider. We all know that bovine TB and tuberculosis must be eradicated and rather than impose this penal levy on those who are unfortunate enough to have diseased animals we should give them every encouragement to get rid of them. The grants available will not adequately compensate any farmer for replacing a diseased animal.
The Minister must regain the confidence of the farming community. They have indicated that they are prepared to pay their fair share of taxation. The Minister would find them responsive to other suggestions, especially those which would not impose further levies. As a rural Deputy representing some farming constituents I oppose this Bill and hope the Minister will have a change of heart. In these difficult times farmers must face the competitiveness of their Northern Ireland and European counterparts and every encouragement should be given to them to meet the challenge.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,
Deputy Griffin to continue without interruption.
Especially from urban constituencies.
Or European constituencies.
I would ask the Minister if moneys granted to Ireland from the EEC for disease eradication could be utilised instead of the £10 million he hopes to extract from the farming community. Has he any target date for the eradication of bovine TB and brucellosis? Will the amount of the levy remain at the level now proposed or does the Minister intend to increase it in the future? The Minister should go back to his constituents and farming friends and I have no doubt they will enlighten him as to what they think of this levy. Perhaps they will suggest some other method of ridding the country of the plague of TB and brucellosis.
The worst provision in this Bill relates to the price differential as between milk from disease-free herds and that from infected herds. The implication is that dairy farmers would deliberately introduce or welcome brucellosis into their herds. It is well known that an outbreak can occur in any herd without any reasonable explanation. Why should the owner be victimised in such circumstances by receiving a reduced price for milk? Very little consideration is shown for the man who has the problem of replacing the herd. These diseases are very contagious and would most easily occur in congested areas because of ease of contact with adjacent farms.
I particularly refer to County Clare where over 30 million gallons of milk is produced and where production during the last few years has been so notable that the co-operative intend to build a processing factory within the county. The Minister will be responsible if this provision so discourages dairy farmers that they do not consider it worth while to continue in a business which does not provide a steady income. Serious consideration has not been given to this provision and I ask the Minister to delete it completely. The farmer is not responsible for an outbreak of disease and there should not be a reduced price for milk from infected herds. It is well known that milk from an infected animal would not show any infection.
It is not a fact in regard to brucellosis.
Is that true in all cases?
I think so.
Possibly for TB, but however I shall not dispute the veterinary judgment done on this particular line.
I am totally opposed to this provision for the reasons stated and would ask the Minister to give thought to the smaller producer in the congested area where the incidence of that disease would be more likely to spread. These are the people who are the backbone of the dairy industry and of the cattle trade. They are stuck firmly to a limited acreage, with no hope of expansion of that acreage because of the congestion. For that reason I appeal to the Minister to give the matter the necessary thought and to leave it in that provision. I fail to see why the dairy farmer should carry the cost of the implementation of a scheme. You might as well say that our teachers should carry the cost of the Department's inspectorate or that industries should bear the cost of the Department of Industry, Commerce and Energy. The same logic could apply in regard to our different Departments. The load appears to be laid more heavily on the dairy farmer than on most. This weight of taxation and of levies is entirely unprecedented. I am asking the Minister to be reasonable and not to differentiate between the price of milk from an infected herd and that from a free herd.
I regret that it was not possible for me to be here this morning when the Minister was replying to the debate on the Financial Resolutions because what he had to say should be at least relevant to the Bill we are now discussing. I did hear something of what he had to say and I understand that he spent a little time making honourable mention of myself in the House. That is only as it should be. The Minister obviously appreciates that he is on the defensive in this matter and has to try to pick up things in order to support in some way his claim for this exceptional levy for disease eradication—something which has never been exacted from farmers in our history.
Last night I asked the Minister a few questions, in the course of making a short contribution on the Financial Resolution. The Minister did not answer these questions; he made no reference whatever to them. I said that the last year we were in office we provided £20 million for disease eradication. Now, I may be £0.5 million wrong, it may be £19.5 million.
How much did you spend?
All I know is that the Minister gave back to the Minister for Finance £7½ million of that, unspent, although I had an agreement with the farmers and the veterinary profession that immediately the first round was finished we would start the second round in an effort to get ahead as fast as possible with the eradication of disease.
That is nonsense. You know it well yourself.
The Minister was at some pains to talk again about the reduction in cattle numbers and to trace the cause of this back to what happened in 1974.
That is right.
If the Minister talks like this, it is right that the House should know exactly what happened in 1974 and why, because the Minister knows it only too well but wants to try to deceive the people into believing that what he says here is correct in all this. 4What happened in the couple of years leading up to 1974, of course, was that prices were rising. They were rising, in fact, before we joined the EEC in anticipation of higher prices. Cows which normally would have been culled were kept on for at least two years extra in order to obtain extra calves that would secure this enormous price increase that was coming up. It was quite a sensible decision in the normal way. It was also quite a sensible decision, when a drastic drop took place in the price of cattle and beef in 1974, that they should decide that this was the right time to get rid of these animals as they were overdue for getting rid of in any case. I hope that that was the right decision for me at the time, as Minister for Agriculture, to ensure that when——
It was an absolutely dreadful decision.
——they had to get rid of these cattle they got the best possible price for them. That is why I allowed them into intervention.
You did nothing.
Deputy Gallagher will have an opportunity of making his contribution to this debate.
I am sure he will.
You did nothing.
I am sorry, Deputies, we will have no interruptions. Deputy Clinton has something to say.
Deputy Gallagher was very vociferous here until the change of Government and he has not opened his mouth about it since.
Deputy Clinton, through the Chair. I am only allowing Deputy Clinton to make the case he is making because he has said that the Minister raised this matter this morning. It has nothing to do with the Bill before the House and that is the only reason I am allowing it.
It is entirely relevant to the fact that the Minister is looking for £10 million for disease eradication and we are bound——
We are tidying up after you.
——we have a responsibility to talk and that is what we are doing. The Minister talked at length about the reduction in cattle numbers. I want to deal with that because he dealt with it and I think I should be given the some opportunity.
That is the reason you are being given that opportunity of dealing with it.
Thank you very much.
It was not relevant this morning and is not relevant now, but I am giving the Deputy the opportunity.
I have the feeling that it is relevant because we are all very concerned about cattle numbers, about cow numbers to produce milk and to produce cattle for the beef herd as a result. I certainly can assure the Minister that I am as anxious as he is that this should be so. He did not refer to the fact, and did not explain the fact, that in the last year 20 per cent of the cow herd were slaughtered. He has not said why that happened. Why has it happened? I want the Minister to tell us why 400,000 cows were slaughtered last year.
Do not be impatient. I shall tell you.
When the Minister is replying I want him to tell us.
In due course.
Four hundred thousand cows were slaughtered. The Minister cannot deny that, because it is on the records, and it is not because calves were selling at a fiver. I want to explain. The whole intention of the Minister this morning was to blame me as the Minister in office at the time for the slump in the cattle trade in 1974——
The people in Leinster gave their answer.
——that he knows was not alone a European slump but a world slump in prices. Nevertheless it is contended that I here in Ireland was responsible; this little corner of the globe should have been able to keep prices where they were, keep cattle numbers from being reduced and calf prices where they were.
The European elections showed the result.
The fifty-mile limit is the job of the Minister for the Gaeltacht. The fifty-mile limit is the one the Minister for the Gaeltacht ran away from.
He knows nothing about that.
The Minister had to be squashed because of the things he said in opposition.
There is a golden rule in this House that only one Deputy speaks at a time. Deputy Clinton is in possession.
Everyone knows that the cause of the slump in 1974 was that there were absolute miscalculations made by the Commission in Brussels, that there were imports allowed from all over the globe to an extent that should never have been allowed, that there was not even a unit in existence to forecast the market or assess the future position. We were assured, two months before the collapse, that as far as they could see four years ahead, there was no danger of an excess supply in Europe. It was an outrageous situation but that is the fact. It is outrageous of a Minister to come in here and dishonestly blame me for the fact that there was a slump in the cattle trade in 1974.
I hope the Minister, when replying, will explain to the House what has gone wrong now—when 20 per cent of our cows were slaughtered last year with none of those conditions obtaining, and when prices were as high as they have ever been. There is serious difficulty being experienced in the cattle trade because numbers are not increasing as they should be. I had the impression that the Minister at least had a hope that he would come back from Brussels with a deal that would provide inducement to people to put heifers in calf, to increase our cattle numbers, but we do not even seem to have got anything on those lines.
I should like to know what the Minister has in mind now—since his statement in the manifesto and so on—about a livestock development programme. What is his new look at the whole situation? What will he do now, because our processing capacity has doubled since 1974. The position now is that a lot of processing factories will be in very serious difficulty unless our cattle numbers can be increased. At the same time we are confronted with a very serious problem of disease eradication that must take place at an accelerated rate. All of us in this House are concerned that disease be eradicated in the shortest possible time. In this regard all of us inside and outside the House have an obligation to co-operate with the Minister and the people in his Department in every way. I ask the Minister to state in what other country is this type of levy being imposed for disease eradication. I ask him to consider the competitiveness of our exports to Northern Ireland, to the United Kingdom, where they get very much higher grants in this respect. How does he see the justification for imposing—on top of the very substantial losses farmers are experiencing and which they necessarily incur particularly in replacement of cows—a levy thereby increasing their burden? He has not endeavoured to explain that. He simply said this morning that nobody said where the money was to be found. I say we found approximately £20 million in 1977.
The Deputy only wrote it down in the book but he did not spend any of it.
The Minister did not spend it; I would have spent it in July were I still there. The Minister did not spend it; he handed it back.
The disease eradication scheme was in bits anyway, totally disorganised, a mess.
In 1979, the Minister—having failed to spend the money in 1977 to prove that things were not moving and that it could not be done—produces £22 million. I say £22 million in 1979 will do no more than, if as much as, £20 million in 1977.
It will not even do half.
I want to know from the Minister how much money we are now getting from the EEC to assist us in the cost of disease eradication. I want to know also when that money comes, what will be the net figure he will be providing, or what is his estimated cost of an accelerated programme, what is the accelerated programme for which he is seeking this money. As I see it, the farmers are being asked by the Government and the Minister for a blank cheque; they are not being told the total amount of money that will be necessary in any one year, this year, next year or whenever; they are not being told how long this will last. Neither are they being told exactly how it will be used. They are not being told the extent to which they themselves will have a say in the use of this money.
The situation obtaining is that farmers —and there are many of them in the country—eradicated brucellosis from their herds entirely at their own expense without any assistance whatsoever from the State. Indeed, I managed an institution farm where that was done with a herd of approximately 170 cows, and as many more other cattle, at no expense to the State. Is it fair that herdowners who did that should be asked to pay now for the eradication of disease in respect of other herdowners who did not do so by the imposition of this levy? Is any consideration being given to those people who concerned themselves with the eradication of disease within a reasonable period?
Recent decisions about this plethora of levies being imposed by the present Government—like a lot of other things they have been doing—have not been thought through. All sorts of difficulties are arising all over the place. This was to have been stopped in the marts in the first instance. The auctioneer in the marts was expected to know who was a butcher and who was not; the man selling to a butcher get so much less. I am sure the craziness of the whole thing could not have escaped the attention of the Minister for Agriculture. His influence in the Cabinet must be very small indeed when he was not able to make his voice heard sufficiently in order to overcome the stupidity of all of this.
Unlike the Deputy now speaking.
I can tell the Minister that I have done the rounds in the past four or five months. I have been in many butchers' shops. I have heard the customers talking to the butchers and vice versa. The butchers said: we will go to jail before we will collect this money for the Government and the customers said: if you charge us the levy, we will never stand in your shop again. I am quite sure the Minister knows that only too well. I am sure he has been confronted with it in Kilkenny, as I have been. It is of very considerable significance that not as much as one Fianna Fáil Deputy got up to defend what the Minister is looking for.