That Dáil Éireann condemns the Minister for Agriculture and Food for her abject failure and gross negligence in failing to defend the interests of Irish farmers, by not:
—ensuring that the nitrates directive is implemented in a workable and practical manner;
—securing a future for Irish beet growers; and
—ending the abuse of Irish food labelling law to prevent inferior imported foods being passed off as Irish;
calls on the Government to:
—acknowledge the crisis within the farming sector;
—immediately suspend the implementation of the full nitrates directive, to allow for revised scientific information to be presented by Teagasc and a comprehensive public information campaign to inform farmers about their responsibilities under the nitrates action plan prior to its implementation;
—provide clarity on the implementation of the restructuring levy and distribution of the compensation package for the sugar industry;
—establish a forum to bring together beet growers, Greencore, workers and all beet industry interests to reach an early agreement on the future of the sugar sector;
—immediately introduce country of origin food labelling within the catering and processing sectors; and
—develop a survival action plan for the future of farming, which will deal with the key farming sectors of Irish farming and will be fully resourced and implemented on the ground.
I wish to share time with Deputies Jim O'Keeffe, Stanton and Deenihan.
The food and drink sector in Ireland accounts for almost half of the output value and for 29% of employment of indigenous Irish industry. One in every 11 people in the workforce is employed in the industry. More than 700 food companies provide direct employment to more than 40,000 people, while indirectly supporting 180,000 jobs in supply and ancillary services. The industry also has a unique importance in terms of the national spatial strategy as significant volumes of food processing take place in every county.
If we were to strategically develop Irish farming and food processing to become more commercial, more consumer orientated and more competitive on the global markets, we could secure a prosperous future for Irish farmers as the main supplier to this industry, which would aid the overall growth of the Irish economy. Sadly, the Government has failed to recognise this fact. This day last week in the House, when the Taoiseach was questioned by our party leader, Deputy Kenny, on the nitrates directive, he replied the position obtained following long negotiations was satisfactory, and this has been explained to Irish farm leaders and in Europe. Sadly, the Government has lost the plot regarding the nitrates directive.
Speaking on the issue in April last year, the Minister for Agriculture and Food said the problems had been exaggerated by Fine Gael because there are many farmers along the west coast and across the State who would not feel the impact at all. This clearly shows the Minister underestimated the implications of the nitrates action plan. The core objective behind the plan should have been to ensure the voluntary code of good farming practice, published in 1996 by the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Ivan Yates, was converted into legal obligations on the farming community. This would have ensured good quality of water and would have protected our environment. However, the goal posts have moved.
The Government claims the nitrates directive is being forced on it by the European Union. However, the nitrates directive position in Ireland is at variance with that in other EU states. There is no closed period for the spreading of farmyard manure in Northern Ireland, where poultry litter can also be stored on land during the winter. In the Republic we have a closed period from November to January and outside of this farmers must use a thermometer because unless the ground temperatures reach 6° Celsius outside the closed period, they cannot spread slurry. Along with forks and wellies, farmers must now have calendars and thermometers as basic tools of their profession.
Irish phosphorus regulations are completely out of line with what has happened in the rest of Europe. No other country is banning phosphorus use on all land which tests at over ten parts per million. The Irish phosphorus regulations are now by far the strictest in Europe. In most countries, the phosphates issue has not yet been discussed with the European Union. Northern Ireland farmers have been given until 2015 to implement individual farm phosphorus limits, as have Dutch farmers. The nitrogen and phosphorus limits come on top of other rules with regard to soiled water, and there is huge complexity involved regarding the storage of such water for a minimum of ten days. The implications and cost of that, especially for small producers with fragmented farms, have not been fully considered.
Last February, the Minister for Agriculture and Food told this house that the introduction of the single farm payment would lead to a significant reduction in the level of bureaucracy both for farmers and her Department. The implications of the nitrates directive show this is grossly misleading. To further compound the problem, as far back as April 2002, in the Fianna Fáil submission to the IFA on general election issues, the party stated that where an action programme is introduced under the nitrates directive it would be on a scientific approach and include adequate time for phased compliance by farmers. One week after the implementation of the nitrates action plan, no information has yet been provided to farmers on how to comply with the bureaucracy set out under the plan. This highlights the double standards of this Government. The nitrates action plan has a direct impact on day-to-day farm practices and farmers are liable to a six-month jail term for non-compliance.
A major public information campaign is to be introduced regarding the introduction of penalty point offences, in order to address the carnage on our roads. Those responsible for killing and injuring people on our roads will thus get a major public awareness campaign to let them know they may be liable to two penalty points. Farmers, however, who must deal with reams of paperwork on feed and fertilisers, are liable to up to six months in jail for non-compliance with the nitrates action plan, yet have not been given one sheet of paper on how to comply.
Even the Government statement last week on the suspension of part of the nitrates action plan is full of riddles. There is no indication that the Government will review the nitrates tables, especially those from 12 to 21, which are of critical importance with regard to good farming practice in this country. Those tables need to be amended to comply with Teagasc best farming management practice rather than with the current rules and regulations.
Last July, the Minister announced details of farm waste management grants. We still have not seen those grants in place and we do not know the specification regarding earthen banks, for example, which farmers require for planning permission. The Minister advised farmers in July that they should apply for planning permission. It is very hard to do that when, six months later, the specifications have still not been issued by the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Minister has still not discussed the issue with the Commission and resolved the difficulties and we have no indication on a possible derogation for Ireland. When Deputy Crawford and I met the Commission last April, the indication was that a derogation would take 12 months from the date of application, if Ireland was lucky enough to receive one. The Commission also warned us on that occasion that it was critically important that Ireland would put the storage requirements in place which would facilitate a positive decision on derogation. Nothing has happened in that regard. Sadly, the Minister has taken a back seat and washed her hands of the issue.