Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 23 Apr 1998

Vol. 490 No. 1

Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - Agenda 2000.

Michael Ferris


2 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress, if any, he has had at EU level in having the thrust of the Agenda 2000 proposals rescinded; the plans, if any, he has over the forthcoming weeks to lobby against the proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9428/98]

The Commission's detailed proposals for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy were published on 18 March 1998. A special meeting of the Council of Ministers was convened on 31 March to enable Ministers to put forward their initial responses to the proposals. At that meeting, I informed the Commissioner and my colleagues in the Council of the economic significance of the Irish interests which would be affected by the proposals. I told them that the proposals were seriously damaging to Irish agriculture and the Irish economy, and that, consequently, Ireland emphatically rejected them in their present form.

During Commissioner Fischler's visit to Dublin on 25-26 March 1998, I conveyed a similar message to him about the adverse implications of the proposals for Ireland, but in greater detail. Commissioner Fischler accepted that the proposals created difficulties for Ireland and indicated his willingness to consider alternative proposals.

During the coming months of negotiations, I will put Ireland's case forcefully to my ministerial colleagues and the Commissioner both in the Council and bilaterally. It is my objective to secure a final agreement which not only will not disadvantage Ireland but will provide a favourable framework within which the Irish agriculture and food industries can continue to develop for the benefit of those who work in those industries and for the economy as a whole.

I appreciate the Minister's comments. He stated his position on his objection to Agenda 2000. He knows from all our meetings with the farming organisations that the Oireachtas has responded jointly to this.

In view of the comments of Commissioner Fischler when he came to Ireland, that there was room for negotiation in this package, and the Minister's stated intention to negotiate, has the Minister made proposals in any area for instance, to have the specialised heifer beef sector included? Has he made proposals along those lines or is he just preparing his case?

The position is as Deputy Ferris outlined. The precise words which Commissioner Fischler used in Dublin were that these proposals were not cut in stone and, therefore, there was room for negotiation.

It is envisaged that the negotiations will take place throughout this calendar year. I have established consultative groups of the main farming organisations, the participants in consensus 2000, and people from Teagasc and the universities, to go through in detail the beef, dairy, cereals and other sectors affected by the proposals and present to me in good time detailed position papers on the matters to which the Deputy refers.

Agriculture is uniquely important to Ireland. The beef and dairy sectors make up a considerable portion of the overall industry, and then there are sectors of the industry, such as sheep and pigs, which are left out of the proposals altogether. I want to make sure that the model of negotiations which we put forward will have the best possible result for Ireland and ensure the most equitable distribution of the support for agriculture for the next five or six years.

Does that mean, in the consultations the Minister is having with the farming organisations that specific sectors will be prioritised and that we cannot concede these proposals, which the Minister said would be detrimental to the overall economic development of the industry? Whereas there must be give and take in various sectors, in some areas that is not acceptable to the Minister, representing the Government or the farming organisations. I ask the Minister to at least prioritise some areas which are not open to negotiation so that matters will improve.

I can give Deputy Ferris that assurance. For example, the beef sector is obviously critically important to the agricultural economy. One proposal is that intervention be abolished, which is clearly unacceptable. There are other elements, such as the ceiling for special beef premia and the critical difficulty with extensification.

With regard to milk, for example, a 2 per cent increase is proposed. Some 1 per cent of it is available throughout the Community but the other 1 per cent is not available to Ireland. That is clearly unacceptable.

There are specific matters which are unacceptable, but right across the board the consultative groups are evaluating the pluses and minuses and the gains and losses so that we can make the best possible proposal. As a result, we will end up with the best possible deal in the best interests of Ireland and with the most equitable distribution of the supports available.

Will the Minister keep in touch with the spokespersons from the various parties on the lines he is proposing so that we can assist in whatever way possible with our political contacts in Europe?

I would welcome the fullest possible consultation and public debate on the matter over the coming months because, like in any negotiations, it is not until the final week that one comes to the critical detail of the proposals. Between now and then we should have the widest possible consultation. I will suggest to the Chief Whip that he organises, in consultation with the other Whips, a debate here as soon as possible. The Seanad has already had a full day's debate on these proposals.