I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important matter which is creating further havoc in an industry which is already on its knees. The lack of action and inability by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to solve problems is becoming a sick joke.
This Adjournment matter arises as a result of the industrial action by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, which has resulted in chaos in the services administered to farmers, particularly in relation to their need to trade livestock and the permits which are needed to certify the disease free status of herds in relation to TB and brucellosis. There are farmers now who cannot trade. For months, they have been holding back stock because of the appalling prices on offer. That catastrophe is now compounded by the failure of the Minister to resolve a problem which means many farmers cannot obtain special herd tests and are practically locked up, through no fault of their own.
I have pleaded with the Minister on a number of occasions in relation to various areas of policy. I raised this issue because of the number of inquiries I received over the past few weeks in relation to this matter. For example, I was contacted today by a person involved in the farm retirement scheme who leased his farm from 1 May. As a result of this decision he has arranged for a disposal sale of his livestock and farm machinery for 4 May. In preparation for the sale he tested for TB and brucellosis on 5 April. Because of the work to rule, he is unable to obtain the laboratory report of the results of the blood tests. Consequently, he is unable to get cattle identity cards to proceed with the sale as planned. It is of considerable significance that in 34 years of intensive livestock farming, this individual has never had a single case of TB or brucellosis. If he has to postpone the livestock sale he will forfeit all his benefits under the retirement scheme and will have to provide for the upkeep of livestock at great expense as he has already leased his property.
This is just one of a number of cases where people have asked me if the Minister or the Department have any inclination to deal with the havoc, pressure, hardship and worry suffered by an increasing number of farm families as a result of the failure to deal with the work to rule. The Minister should consult his colleagues in the Departments of Education and Finance who have been able to secure special measures for acute problems in their Departments. The Minister for Education resolved the problem in relation to examinations.
The famous farmers' charter is becoming something of a racket. People around the country are asking if anybody in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has the ability or competence to solve these problems and resolve the crisis cases. People need cash now and to sell now. They are entitled to the results of blood test. Livelihoods are at stake. We do not need to talk about BSE, the reduction in export refunds and all the other issues we have continually highlighted here, although unfortunately to no avail, in terms of farmers' livelihoods and earnings. The Department is not capable of solving a problem which arises as a result of people not being able to sell in the marts in their own country, let alone being able to sell in foreign markets because of issues which have arisen in the UK.
The Minister must confirm in the House he has resolved the issue because it cannot go on any longer. Farmers are telephoning and writing to me, the Minister and every other Deputy asking if there is any way the collective genius of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry can overcome this problem so that people, like the person to whom I referred, will not lose all entitlements as a result of a failure in the Minister's Department to deal with the workings of the country's most important industry.
As I said earlier, the farmers' charter is a sick joke. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry spent £600,000 of taxpayers' money on special payments to staff in his Department before Christmas — advance payments before the work was done. This advance payment was for overtime, the purpose of which was to clear backlogs of work which arose because he insisted on the offices being open all day and not allowing staff to deal with the backlog which was accumulating as a result. The farmers' charter has proved to be an unplanned and uncosted fiasco. It is the most expensive photo opportunity in the history of Irish agriculture. This estimate does not take account of the approximate £250,000 spent on the launch. Farmers are paying in spades for the continuing one day, PR driven agenda of this Minister. He is not even willing, it seems, to deal with the most desperate cases from this latest fiasco in the running of his Department. There are livelihoods at stake. People expect results and are fed up listening to excuses.