Future of Irish Farming: Motion.

I move:

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.

Far from it.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has been fully conscious of the implications of the nitrates action plan but for some unknown reason that has not been communicated to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That was publicly admitted before Christmas at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food. Sadly, the Minister has not taken action. It is about time she started taking an active role on the issue.

The Minister has also failed on the sugar issue. She failed to make the case at EU level for the survival of the Irish sugar industry. First, she failed to ensure the retention of the Carlow sugar plant until the negotiations were complete, which could have strengthened her hand in those negotiations. Instead she turned her back on the Carlow plant and the people of Carlow. She also failed to impress on the Commission that Ireland was in a unique position in that it had only one processing factory and was not contributing to the over-production of sugar within the EU, and that restructuring was naturally taking place in Ireland.

A key question which the Minister failed to have answered by the Commission was whether a member state should have the right to produce sugar, and whether Ireland had that right. Even after the negotiations nobody seems to know what exactly was agreed. Does the Minister know what she signed up to and at what cost to Irish farmers? There are currently 3,700 farmers who grow sugar beet and who are in limbo on a number of fronts. What was the specific detail of the Minister's agreement when she signed up to facilitate the closure of the Irish sugar industry? What will be the reference year or years on which compensation will be based? Will farmers be forced to grow beet at a loss in 2006? Under what circumstances must the restructuring levy be paid if there is sugar production in 2006 or 2007?

The Minister claims that there is no liability but the European Commission stated in a response to my colleague, Mairead McGuinness, MEP, that Ireland would be liable for the levy in both 2006 and 2007 if we were to produce sugar in both years. Who will be paid compensation, under what circumstances and at what level? Under the restructuring fund of €145 million, is it the case that growers and contractors are entitled to a maximum of 10% or at least 10%? That is a key question. What about the 1,000 or so people employed in the sugar beet processing industry and ancillary activities?

Farmers must decide whether to grow sugar beet this year. They must make arrangements about matters such as conacre, fertiliser, seed and getting land ready. Despite a week of negotiations last November, no one, including the Minister, seems to know or have answers in respect of what was agreed. We are now told that we must wait for the legal text before we know what is happening.

We know there is compensation in respect of the price reduction and a once-off payment of €4 million in the event of sugar beet production ceasing in this country. What about the €145 million compensation available for the economic, social and environmental costs of the restructuring of the Irish sugar industry involving factory closure and renunciation of quota? Last week, the Minister of State stated that "at least 10% of the fund shall be reserved for sugar beet growers and machinery contractors to compensate notably for losses arising from investment in specialised machinery". However, no mention was made of farmers who purchased sugar quota.

This is a mess and the Minister does not seem to know exactly what is happening. She cannot provide answers on the matter. I call on her to immediately instigate multi-party talks on the future of the sugar industry and the scale of the compensation to be made available to beet growers and contractors. The forum must be composed of representatives of growers, contractors, Greencore, the Departments of Finance, Agriculture and Food, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the employees of the company and the Attorney General to deal with all the complex issues raised by the reform of the sugar industry.

We need immediate clarification on the production of sugar in 2006 and legal clarity on the ownership of the sugar quota and the powers of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, who holds a golden share in Irish Sugar. While the Minister has stated that the quota is not an asset, that is not true. Many farmers have traded quota in the past and now the EU is going to buy back quota from member states. This clearly indicates that the EU believes that the quota is an asset. If that is so, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, and the Attorney General must provide clarity on the ownership and the powers the Minister has under her golden share.

We must know what plans, if any, the Government has to kick-start the bio-fuel sector, which could be a valuable outlet for sugar beet. Sugar beet is one of the best raw materials for the production of ethanol. However, as matters stand, it is not economical without excise reduction or removal. The Government could be doing more to look beyond mere sugar production to harnessing sugar beet growth for bio-energy.

Fine Gael has published a set of proposals on this topic, including the removal of all excise duties on bio-fuels produced from all renewable energy crops and funds for the establishment and operation of a number of bio-fuel processing plants. Fine Gael also proposes to legislate for all motor fuels to include a blend of fuel from renewable sources. All petrol sold at filling stations will include a 5% bio-ethanol mix and all diesels will contain a 2% bio-diesel mix. This would not necessitate the conversion of standard motor engines and would represent a good start to reducing emissions from cars. It would provide an immediate market for farmers to sell energy crops.

If the existing plant in Mallow were used to produce bio-ethanol from beet, it would dramatically reduce the Greencore case for compensation as it would not need to foot the cost of job losses or decommissioning the plant to return it to a greenfield site. Furthermore, under no circumstances can Greencore be compensated for the closure of the Carlow plant, a decision that seriously undermined the Irish negotiating position and that the company stated at the time stood up to commercial scrutiny.

Has the Minister held discussions with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the issue of utilising the sugar beet crop or is it like her consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the nitrates directive? Each time I asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food about the nitrates directive, her first comment was that it was an issue for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Good boy, the Deputy must be learning. If he repeats it long enough, he might understand it. That is his answer.

It is clear that she took a back seat in respect of the nitrates directive and did not lay out the implications of its implementation as it stood for Irish farmers. She has not played an active role with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government towards developing a comprehensive bio-fuel industry. She made an announcement today regarding a three year research programme but it should not have been up to her to do so. Her colleague, the previous Minister for Agriculture and Food, should have done it a long time ago. It is a bit late trying to close the door after the horse has bolted.

The Minister's failure to close off various legal loopholes in the area of food labelling is undermining confidence in the Irish meat industry. Irish farmers are obliged to compete with low cost products that should be clearly labelled. Meat derived from low standards throughout the world and with low cost production is entering the European Union and competing on a level playing pitch with Irish products, whether as beef, poultry, lamb or whatever. It is critically important that we at least play on a level pitch. Pork from the United States of America, chicken from south east Asia, lamb from Thailand, beef from Brazil and vegetables from Israel are coming into this country and being passed off on restaurant tables as Irish food or reprocessed here and sent out as Irish products.

This causes significant problems, one of which is with consumer confidence. Irish consumers are shopping blindfolded in our supermarkets because they are unable to decipher our ambiguous labelling system. It is disgraceful that we can bring a chicken fillet from Asia into this country, spread breadcrumbs on it and call it an Irish chicken fillet. Something is wrong with that system.

The prepared consumer food sector is one of our greatest success stories, as the Minister has acknowledged, with annual sales reaching €3 billion. Exports in 2004 were valued at €1.6 billion. What happens if a product that does not meet our basic standards is imported from a third country, reprocessed into a consumer product and sent out of this country with an Irish label? It would have a devastating impact on the Irish processing industry and on Ireland, but it is allowed to happen week in, week out.

The Minister promised labelling within the catering trade and at long last, the legislation is going through the House. Last September, the Minister announced a voluntary code but I have not yet seen any restaurants that have implemented it.

I could take the Deputy outside some day and show him. We will make it a date for next week.

I have travelled quite a distance around this country and eaten in many places. As the Minister can see, I am thriving.

I hope the Deputy will be free on Tuesday night. It will be very nice.

I have not yet seen country of origin labelling placed on food.

A chicken fillet on the Irish market at present is named after an island off the County Mayo coast and its package is green, white and orange. It is processed in Germany but I would lay any money that the product comes from outside the European Union. That is a deception of consumers here and throughout the European Union. Sadly, nothing has happened in the Minister's Department to address the matter. The abuse is continuing. I commend the motion to the House.

I am advised the nitrates directive, as currently framed, will cause the worst crisis in rural Ireland since the economic war. I refer to the Government regulations giving effect to Directive No. 788 of 2005, a complex 47 page document. There will be major adverse effects on agriculture throughout the country as a consequence of these regulations, and particularly in my constituency of Cork South-West. The consequences will be calamitous and there will be an appalling impact on all sectors of our rural community and those dependent on them.

Many kinds of farming and farm-related activities take place in Cork South-West and this has caused me to speak in this debate. We have the best dairy farmers in the country, farming based on growing and grazing grass in an environmentally friendly manner for up to 330 days per year. Currently we have a competitive cost advantage but under the directive this advantage will be severely affected if not totally eliminated. We also have many less intensive farmers and in the earlier debates on the nitrates directive it was believed these would not be affected. It is now clear they will be affected and many will have their viability questioned.

I have spoken to many involved in the pigs and poultry sector recently. Their view is that they will be wiped out and I am not sure what is the Minister's reaction. Serious people involved in serious business foresee a wipeout. This is a major problem, affecting an area that has 10,000 sows.

I refer to four major co-ops, including Carbery, in my area. The workers in those co-ops will be affected and towns and villages dependent on agriculture and the food sector will be severely affected. I do not think the interests of these people are being properly addressed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. I do not mean this in a personal sense as, on a personal level, I like the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

That is my death knell. The Chair will be jealous.

The interests of rural Ireland have not been looked after by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Her statement in April of last year, suggesting Fine Gael was exaggerating the problem, defies criticism given the current outcome. This position was reiterated by the Taoiseach last week, who seemed to dismiss the difficulties, in response to Deputy Kenny. The Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food have sleepwalked rural Ireland into a catastrophe. Many farmers have been placed in an untenable position and many are now breaking the law without being aware of it.

The past is past and the damage has been done. What can be done to rescue rural Ireland? Regulation No. 788 of 2005 should be withdrawn in its entirety. Regulation is necessary as has been clearly outlined by Deputy Naughten, who has highlighted this issue for the past 18 months. Any revised document should take into account the realities outlined by Fine Gael. It should also be based on scientific data and an objective assessment of water quality in Ireland. We seek a framework that can be implemented without threatening farming and farm related operations. This requires a reasoned public debate focussing on the objectives to be achieved. Despite the improvements in water quality objectives must be achieved but we must focus on major concerns that arise.

We must receive a decent derogation and the figure of 250 kilogrammes is generally accepted. Besides the figure, we must consider conditions that may be attached to the regulations. In the world of single farm payments there is no point in having complicated conditions, endless bureaucracy and high cost in compliance. The derogation should be practical and long-term as there is no point in a one or two year derogation.

I am not certain how many have studied this entire document but I have studied it with experts in the field. Tables 12 and 13 are a disaster and should be withdrawn. These are economic guidelines from Teagasc set as legal maxima but we want best practice advice from Teagasc for each farmer.

Confusion exists in respect of grants. Decent grants, perhaps 70%, should be made available for a reasonable length of time but there is no point in having a scheme such as this if the grants cannot be drawn down. Sufficient time should be provided so that farmers can comply and provide storage space. The confusion that exists, with a law that farmers do not understand, must end and we seek proper public consultation and guideline documents for farmers. Farmers, advisors, inspectors, county council members and Deputies do not know what is happening. The information deficit is enormous.

We must examine the problems of less intensive farmers and the possibility for industries such as pigs and poultry. What has the Minister done regarding advances in technology? Last week a contract was signed between UCC and Moor Park on technology and this reflects the Government's position. A contract was signed last week concerning a regulation that came into effect on 1 February.

The nitrates directive will have major implications for north Kerry, especially in the Feale catchment area, the most intensive dairy and farming part of the country. It will have major implications for the pig and poultry industries in the area.

I refer to the food labelling element of this motion. Food labelling is consumers' first point of contact with Irish food and they must be assured that products branded Irish are Irish. The same applies to overseas markets, where many customers chose Irish produce over any other product. There is no room for uncertainty or complacency.

CSO figures show that beef imports increased by a staggering 60% to almost 30,000 tonnes, representing a third of the entire domestic requirement. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has continued to stall on implementing a labelling requirement for the catering sector. Current EU legislation allows any meat product imported from outside the EU to be labelled as an EU product provided it has undergone a substantial transformation. Currently, beef from Brazil, lamb from New Zealand, chicken from Thailand, pork from the United States and vegetables from Israel are being passed off as Irish. Irish labelling laws have failed to make this practice illegal.

Irish agriculture and food is facing tremendous pressure from imports, price cuts arising from world trade talks and the impact of the global marketplace. We have a quality product, with a good international reputation, which could be severely undermined if we do not protect it with watertight labelling laws. The Ministers for Agriculture and Food and Health and Children lack the willpower to end current labelling loopholes. Many firms are reprocessing meats such as chicken and pork from third countries and selling these on as Irish or failing to point out that the meats are non-Irish.

Chicken and pork, let us get serious. We need some national spirit.

This continues to be a significant problem.

The Deputy should have a bit of courage.

It is good to hear Deputy Smith. I am glad he has a view on something at last.

Feet on the ground.

This continues to be a significant problem, particularly regarding the meat sold by the catering industry. Current EU regulations allow for meat, which has undergone what it terms substantial transformation, to be imported into the EU from third countries, processed and passed off as Irish produce.

There are many problems with current meat labelling requirements. According to EU beef labelling regulations, beef imported into Ireland from a non-EU country which does not meet all the requirements set out can still be sold if it is labelled as non-EU. It is merely an indication as to where slaughter took place. This is far from ideal. It does not give enough guarantees to consumers, particularly as there are numerous food scares in many EU states.

The Minister is aware that there is an extensive foot and mouth outbreak in Brazil. If third country meat is slaughtered or processed in some manner, such as pork to sausages or the addition of breadcrumbs, the processor can label the product as Irish. This does not represent the true origins of the meat. What we state clearly is that we want to know what people eat. We want to know the truth and it should be labelled as such. Deputy Smith should pay attention now that he interrupted me.

Deputy Deenihan is strong on the ditch he is on.

The Minister expressed her support for regulations at EU level that beef served in catering restaurants should have the country of origin on the menu. This must be extended to all meat types, including chicken, pork and lamb. This provision will be meaningless unless Irish consumers can be guaranteed that what they are eating is Irish or from another country. Current labelling requirements do not guarantee this.

We were promised that labelling provision of the country of origin on restaurant menus would be introduced. That is still not compulsory throughout the State. To protect Ireland's reputation for producing top quality and safe food, the Minister for Agriculture and Food must take urgent action. Ireland must protect its quality domestic product by distinctively labelling its own produce. It is vitally important. I am aware the Minister's officials are examining this and they must come forward with proposals as soon as possible.

On the issue of traceability, in October 2004, the EU food and veterinary office identified serious deficiencies within the Brazilian beef processing industry, particularly regarding its traceability and tagging system. However, we continue to import beef which does not meet the high standards required of Irish beef. Following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Brazil in October 2005, the EU moved to ban the importation of beef from certain regions of Brazil. Given that Brazil's tracing systems have been found to be flawed in the past, this ban should be applied nationally.

Fine Gael has put forward a good proposal. Ireland, with its green image, low population density, extensive farm production system and reputation for quality food production, lies on the edge on one of the richest markets in the world and is ideally placed to capitalise on the opportunities to supply this emerging food market. Fine Gael proposes that a green Ireland label should be developed by Bord Bia and marketed throughout the world. The label would seek to build on Ireland's green image and capacity to produce safe quality assured food, which lives up to its reputation. Deputy Naughten will outline the proposal. The bottom line is that we must protect Irish food and we are failing to do so. I am sure Deputy Smith is interested in doing the same.

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss the important issue of the future — or lack of a future — of the sugar industry. Our motion calls for the Government to provide clarity, particularly on the implementation of the restructuring levy and the distribution of the compensation package for Irish Sugar.

What is the position with regard to the €25 million levy? Does the Minister know whether it must be paid this year? I challenge the Minister this evening to answer that question. It is crucial that we know. There seems to be a contradiction. I raised this matter last week on the Adjournment with the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, but he was unable to answer the question I put to him regarding the levy. He did not even refer to it in his response.

If sugar beet is grown this year, must the levy be paid? The European Commission stated in Brussels to my colleague, Deputy Mairead McGuinness, MEP, that it does, but the Minister is reported to have stated it does not. There is clearly a contradiction. I want the Minister to tell us tonight what is the position on whether it must be paid. It is important that farmers and the industry know. We need clarity on that point.

Prior to coming here this evening, I spoke to a worker in the sugar plant in Mallow, the last of four. He pointed out that the plant is one of the most efficient in operation, that the sugar company was rationalised during the past 12 months to compete in Europe and that the campaign for this year is now finished. He wanted to know whether it was the last campaign. What is the Minister's view on that? It is crucial that we know.

There were 72,000 acres and 185,000 tonnes of sugar involved and the campaign was completed last Sunday night, which is a record as far as I know. The workers in the plant need to know their future prospects. Approximately 1,000 people apart from farmers are dependent on it. We saw reports of people supplying machinery, hauliers, contractors and workers in the plant. Their future is at stake. It is the Minister's responsibility to state what the future will be, whether it is possible even at this 11th hour to keep the sugar industry going in Ireland or to convert the plant into one which produces ethanol to keep jobs. Does the Government have a view on that?

The Minister is aware that the IFA recently commissioned Deloitte & Touche to carry out a report. It maintains that even with single payments and diversification payments, the farming community is set to lose €106 million during the coming years due to the lack of the sugar beet crop. Until this year sugar beet was probably the most profitable crop grown by farmers. It was a sure crop and was important for rotation purposes. The loss in my part of the country in particular will be immense. I emphasise to the Minister tonight how serious this issue is, how seriously farmers are taking it and how uncertain they feel.

During the past couple of days we had exceptionally fine weather for this time of year. Farmers were out tilling the land, preparing for conacre and buying fertiliser. However, they do not know whether they will grow sugar beet this year. Greencore issued a letter on 27 January indicating that because of the uncertainty regarding the levy and the quota, it was not sure whether it could take the risk of going ahead with the campaign this year.

The clock is ticking. It is gone beyond the 11th hour and the Minister for Agriculture and Food must bring clarity to the situation. Tonight we have given her the opportunity to do so. I call on her and challenge her to come forward with clear information regarding what exactly is going on in this industry. In his response last week, the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, stated it is up to the company and the farmers to come together and sort it out. I call on the Minister to provide leadership, examine the motion we tabled and establish a forum to bring together all the interested parties to see whether an agreement can be reached on the future of the sector. That is crucial.

In my part of the country, people are in despair because of the uncertainty. They do not know whether they can grow beet this year. Will the plant be returned to a totally greenfield site if beet production ceases? I challenge the Minister to bring clarity to the debate and to give clear answers. If she does not know the answers to questions, she should say so.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"recognising the need to implement EU policies designed to ensure the development of agriculture and the agrifood sector in a sustainable and more market oriented manner, supports the Minister for Agriculture and Food in:

—seeking the early agreement of the European Commission on her proposals for major improvements to the farm waste management scheme specifically intended to assist farmers in meeting the requirements of the nitrates directive;

—working with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to explore with the European Commission the possibility of some changes to the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for the Protection of Waters) Regulations 2005 in relation to phosphorus limits on the basis of a review at present under way in Teagasc of the science underpinning these limits as well as working with him in pursuing a derogation for certain farmers;

—having secured modifications of the sugar reform proposals to take account of Irish interests which, when adopted by the Council, will be implemented in consultation with the stakeholders; and

—implementing the recommendations of the food labelling group and, in the absence of EU legislation, advancing national legislation to regulate the labelling of meat in restaurants and the catering trade and securing voluntary agreement for the implementation of origin labelling in advance of the mandatory requirement;

while at the same time ensuring the successful implementation of the most fundamental change in EU support arrangements for agriculture since the inception of the CAP, forcefully representing Irish agricultural interests in the ongoing WTO negotiations and preparing a national action plan to drive the future development of the agrifood sector in a more competitive and liberalised market."

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Carty agus Johnny Brady.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to address issues arising for the agriculture and agrifood sector. The Irish agrifood sector is the most important and successful indigenous economic sector in this country. It is facing major change and challenge arising from a combination of factors, notably developments in EU and world trade agriculture policy, technological developments, changes in food markets and increasing trade liberalisation.

In recent years, the CAP has been fundamentally reformed and is now based firmly on the principles of sustainability and market orientation. The Irish agricultural sector showed its readiness to fully embrace the opportunities of the reformed CAP by opting for the full decoupling of direct payments.

Since assuming office as Minister for Agriculture and Food, one of my top priorities was to ensure the implementation of the decoupled single payment scheme, the most significant change to agricultural support since our accession to the European Community.

This huge task was successfully implemented when over €1 billion in single payments issued to 118,500 farmers last December meeting the target we had set ourselves of making the payments on the first possible date. By any standards, this was a major undertaking and the outcome, after painstaking preparatory work in establishing individual entitlements, was a major achievement.

Currently, total payments amount to €1,114 million with 95% of farmers paid. A number of payment runs continue to be made weekly as the more complicated files are cleared. I should add that the changeover to the single payment was undertaken while work continued on winding up existing schemes. This was but one achievement in a year marked by many.

The outcome of the negotiations on the financial perspectives was very significant in terms of the preservation of the CAP in the face of a number of powerful member states whose priorities lay elsewhere. At the December European Council, political agreement was reached on the financial perspectives for the 2007 to 2013 period. Key objectives for Ireland were the provision of adequate funding for CAP direct payments, market supports and rural development. This was achieved.

Over the seven years 2007 to 2013, Ireland will receive over €9.1 billion in CAP direct payments. Additional spending on market supports should put this figure well over €1 0.3 billion. We also secured a good outcome on EU support for rural development. We will receive an allocation of EU rural development funds on the same basis as the other EU 15 member states but we will also receive a special additional allocation of €500 million. The precise details remain to be finalised but I expect that our receipts under rural development should be in the region of €1.9 billion.

We also wanted to ensure that any deal reached would remain intact for the full seven years until 2013. While the December agreement includes a review clause under which the Commission will report in 2008-09 on both the expenditure and revenue sides of the budget, unanimity will be required for any decisions taken under this review. As far as I am concerned, the review process will not in any way prejudice the funding for CAP up to 2013. We can now plan for the future with the confidence that direct payments under the CAP are secure up to 2013 and that the EU will continue to be a strong supporter of rural development.

Earlier in 2005, agreement was reached on a new EU rural development package for the 2007 to 2013 period. This provides an excellent support framework and was particularly satisfactory in so far as forestry support and the classification of disadvantaged areas was concerned. We are now proceeding to draw up a national strategy and rural development programmes in consultation with the stakeholders.

In the ongoing negotiations on the WTO development round, we resisted pressure in the Hong Kong ministerial meeting to agree to 2010 as the end date for export refunds. A more satisfactory outcome was achieved providing for conditional agreement on the end of 2013 for elimination of all forms of export subsidies — not only refunds but also export subsidies used by non-EU countries. This gives the industry in Ireland eight years to adjust and ensures there will be a level playing field with our competitors on world markets. We also ensured that the flexibility on how to phase out export subsidies has been retained by the EU which is very important for Ireland.

In addition to these over-arching achievements the Government's proactive approached to the sector was demonstrated throughout the year in a number of areas. We negotiated a major package to deal with the overshoot of the special beef premium ceiling. The package included funding of €17.5 million benefiting some 25,000 farmers.

They are still looking for the rest of it.

We achieved the highest level of participation in REPS with a record level of 48,000 farmers receiving nearly €283 million in payments in 2005. This is the highest figure since REPS began in 1994 and represents an increase of 36% on the previous year.

A generous package of measures was provided for farmers in the 2006 budget. Farm-specific measures worth over €24 million will help meet the challenges ahead in relation to competing on global markets. The main focus of these budget measures is to help farmers consolidate farm holdings through leasing or purchase of land, to further the productive use of land and to encourage the entry of young farmers into agriculture.

The gross Estimate for my Department for 2006 will exceed €1.516 billion, an increase of 12% on last year's outturn of €1.355 billion. Generous funding is provided for a whole range of schemes designed to put money directly into farmers' pockets and to assist them in adjusting to the requirements of the reformed CAP. Increased funding was provided for REPS, the early retirement scheme, installation aid, on-farm investment schemes, disadvantaged areas incomes support and forestry.

This massive financial support is hardly the hallmark of a Minister or an administration whose commitment to the farm sector can be questioned. The upshot of the support provided in 2005 combined with good market conditions for principal sectors resulted in an increase of almost 20% in farm incomes, hardly indicative of a sector in crisis. There was progress on many other fronts, including the animal health area and in food safety but I wish to turn to the specific issues raised by the Opposition.

The nitrates directive has been there since 1991. Sooner or later it had to be complied with. We are coming to the end of long and difficult negotiations with the Commission in which both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, and I have fought hard to get the best outcome for Ireland and Irish agriculture. In spite of all the exaggeration, scare-mongering and general grandstanding that have gone on in the past few weeks, I believe we have succeeded.

We must all face certain realities, however tempting it might be to pretend they do not exist. The nitrates directive is European law and is not optional. The basic provisions of the directive have been clarified by the European Court of Justice in a series of cases that the Commission brought against several member states, including Ireland. The court has found that Ireland had not implemented the directive. When the court finds that a member state has not implemented European law, only two things can happen. Either the member state comes into line or the Commission returns to the court and asks it to impose a fine. In this case, our advice is that a fine would be in the region of €11 million a year, back-dated for several years. No Government could risk taxpayers' money in that way.

What about electronic voting?

The court judgment and the threat of a fine were not the only things to be taken into consideration. Most Irish farmers depend on EU payments for their viability. When the current round of rural development measures was approved in 2000, the Commission insisted on an undertaking to implement the nitrates directive. The current round runs to the end of this year. It was made very clear to us that continued EU funding for the duration of the round was contingent on some movement on our part on nitrates.

The next rural development period starts in January 2007 and will run to 2013. Within months, we will enter discussions with the Commission on our proposals for the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, compensatory allowances, forestry, on-farm investment and the Leader programme for the next seven years. We must be in a position to launch all these new schemes in January. Without agreement on nitrates, there is no prospect of getting Commission approval in time. Moreover, the introduction of the single payment scheme marks the most important change to the system of direct payments in many years and is vital to the vast majority of farmers. Every cent of it comes from Brussels and without agreement on nitrates it would also have been at risk.

These considerations tend to be overlooked in some quarters when the nitrates directive is mentioned. It is hard to tell whether this is deliberate. Others lightly wave aside the threat to EU funding, as though it is a transparent bluff by Brussels. Such issues should not be disregarded during the debate this evening and tomorrow. The nitrates directive, with the regulations made by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, cannot be discussed in isolation. They are part of a much bigger picture and the idea that we could stonewall the Commission, as if rural development funding, the single payment scheme and daily fines were completely unrelated matters, is nonsensical.

I am aware that the implementation of the regulations will be challenging for some farmers. The Government is committed to helping the farming community meet the challenge by providing information as well as improved financial assistance and tax reliefs, which are already in place. Following from commitments made in the Sustaining Progress agreement, which related explicitly to the nitrates directive, the Department negotiated average increases in REPS payments of 28%. The REP scheme is now hailed on all sides as a success, with numbers and spending reaching record levels last year. We also introduced improvements to the farm waste management scheme and the dairy hygiene scheme.

I have tabled proposals to the Commission for further major improvements to the farm waste management scheme which will provide a far more attractive package to farmers than that which was previously available. The proposed changes include the introduction of a standard grant rate of up to 70%, instead of the present 40%, for both animal housing and slurry storage. The scheme will be extended for the first time to the pig and poultry sectors. There will be an increase in the income ceiling for farmers from 450 to 650 income units, with no upper limit being applied in the case of pig and poultry farmers. Moreover, the maximum eligible investment will go up from €75,000 to €120,000 per holding. I also seek the removal of any minimum income requirement from farming from the scheme so that all small farmers can participate in it.

Negotiations on the improved scheme are at an advanced stage and I have recently written to Commissioner Fischer Boel, stressing the major importance of this issue for Ireland. I expect that any remaining issues will be resolved shortly and that the revised scheme will be introduced at an early date. I have secured an Estimates provision of €43 million in 2006 for the revised scheme.

In addition to an improved farm waste management scheme, I have also sought EU approval for the introduction of a further scheme to support the demonstration of new technologies to help the agriculture sector, particularly the pig and poultry industries, to meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. The scheme envisages the granting of financial support for up to ten projects for the treatment of livestock manures and the maximum eligible investment ceiling per project will be €1 million with a grant rate of 40%. The Exchequer contribution will therefore be a maximum of €4 million for this scheme. The scheme will be introduced as soon as the required EU approval is received.

My Department, working in conjunction with Teagasc and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, will do everything in its power to explain the new nitrates regulations to farmers. A farmers' handbook, explaining the main provisions of the regulations in plain language, is ready to go to print and on to the website as soon as the nutrient limits in the regulations are finalised. Information meetings will be arranged with the help of Teagasc. To help farmers with record keeping, my Department will send them an organic nitrogen statement every year. This will be taken from the Department's own cattle movement monitoring system, CMMS, records and area aid information, and will inform them of the quantity of organic nitrogen produced by their cattle per hectare.

I am aware that many of the comments in recent days and weeks have worried farmers. It is not an overstatement that they are frightened of the impact of the nitrates directive. That is not necessary and it is time for the farm organisations, Teagasc staff, private advisers and my Department to bring some balance to the discussion. Farmers will not be forced out of business left, right and centre. They will not be forced to operate at uneconomic levels of fertilisation. They will not be hounded under the single payment scheme or tormented with extra inspections.

The two Departments concerned, with a great deal of extremely valuable input from Teagasc, have discussed the matter with the Commission for several years. The negotiations were prolonged and difficult, not least in respect of the technical details, which came under extremely critical scrutiny from the Commission. The Commission has its own scientific experts, who are not easily persuaded. Nevertheless, the critical tables on nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisation rates in the regulations are in line with good agricultural practice and agronomic requirements as defined by Teagasc.

Acceptance by the Commission's experts of Teagasc's scientific data was in itself an achievement by the Irish negotiating team. Teagasc has indicated that it may be possible to review part of its advice in a way that could improve the effectiveness of the regulations. Therefore, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, having consulted the Commission, has agreed to a short deferral of that part of the regulations which deals with nutrient management. Both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I have made it clear that if Teagasc comes forward with revised phosphate tables that are supported by robust underlying scientific evidence, the Government will be prepared to make a case to the European Commission to revise the current limits.

There is no movement on nitrogen.

As the regulations were made before Christmas, we were able to start to pursue our case for a derogation for certain farmers from the organic nitrogen limit set by the directive with the Commission and other member states. The proposal is designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg. This is particularly vital for farmers in the more intensive dairy sector. My Department has taken the lead role in this matter and, with the support of Teagasc, will continue to work with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government towards achieving a successful outcome. For the sake of the farmers who need this derogation, it is essential that we get clarity on the regulations as quickly as possible so that the negotiations can go ahead.

A decision on the future of beet growing in Ireland will be a commercial decision by the stakeholders concerned, having regard to the reformed EU sugar regime which will apply from 1 July. While the regime had remained largely unchanged for 40 years, its reform was inevitable and could no longer be postponed due to internal and international pressures.

The political agreement reached at the Council in November with regard to reform of the regime was the culmination of protracted and difficult negotiations. I engaged with the stakeholders on a regular basis and had their full support for my negotiating stance.

The Minister must be joking.

The outcome, from Ireland's perspective, was the best possible deal in the circumstances. The main features of the reform package have been widely publicised. We succeeded in having the proposals changed to provide a longer phasing-in period, as well as a number of options to enable the sector to adapt to the new regime. There will be a lower reduction in the support price of sugar than originally proposed, namely, 36% instead of 39%, as well as the phasing-in of the corresponding reduction in the minimum sugar beet price over four years, instead of the two step reduction originally proposed.

We also secured an enhanced compensation package. Beet growers will be compensated for up to 64% of the price reduction in the form of direct payments, which will be worth approximately €123 million to Irish beet growers over the next seven years. A once-off payment of almost €44 million will also become available under the diversification heading, in the event that sugar beet production ceases in Ireland. In that event also, an aid package of up to €145 million becomes available for economic, social and environmental costs of restructuring the Irish sugar industry involving factory closure and renunciation of quota. This will involve the submission of a detailed restructuring plan for the industry. The reform agreement provides that at least 10% of the restructuring fund shall be reserved for sugar beet growers and machinery contractors to compensate notably for losses arising from investment in specialised machinery. This proportion may be increased by member states after consultation of interested parties provided that an economically sound balance between the elements of the restructuring plan is ensured. The entire compensation package for Irish stakeholders has an estimated value in excess of €310 million.

The final legal texts giving effect to the reform agreement have yet to be adopted. They could not be considered and approved by the Council of Ministers until the opinion of the European Parliament had been received. That opinion was delivered on 19 January. It is expected the legal texts, which are being discussed at technical level in Brussels, will be approved by the Council at its meeting later this month. In these discussions we have succeeded in removing the requirement to deliver beet in the year preceding renunciation of quota to qualify for restructuring aid. In parallel, the EU Commission is working on preparation of detailed implementation arrangements which can only be finalised once the Council texts have been adopted. Until all the various legal texts have been adopted, it will not be possible to finalise the implementation arrangements definitively but all parties concerned fully appreciate the importance of having this process completed as soon as possible. I have continued to keep in close touch with the stakeholders about these developments.

What about——

I am prohibited from being definitive on the basis that I have not received the legal text. The question asked in the context of the political agreement prior to the decision of the Council in December was whether the sugar company has to pay a levy in the year it renounces the quota and the answer was no. The implication of that must be finalised in the legal texts. Political agreement will be reached in February. Unfortunately, I cannot give a definitive reply on these issues until 20 and 21 February.

When must it be paid?

It does not have to be paid in the year the company renounces the quota but other issues must be dealt with before a decision is reached on 20 and 21 February.

Is this the final year?

I asked a particular question and received a particular reply. I cannot say anything definitive in a legal vacuum and without the availability of the legal texts. I have asked the sugar beet representatives to wait until 20 and 21 February when we will be a position to be definitive on that matter.

Food labelling is of great importance. Consumers need to be provided with full information on foodstuffs and that is why the food labelling group was introduced. Nineteen of the group's 21 recommendations, many of which went beyond the remit of my Department, have been activated with a number of others to be completed. We all agree the issue of substantial transformation must be addressed. I have not received much support at European level on this matter but I have restated my concerns, particularly to Commissioner Kyprianou. Despite the lack of EU legislation, we introduced a Bill in the House and, hopefully, the matter will be finalised as quickly as possible. There are concerns about products imported into the Community and I have raised them with the Commission. I am sure we will get as much political support as possible to address consumer and producer concerns.

Agriculture and the agrifood sector is in a period of major transition but it is vitally important to Ireland. I will provide a broad framework for the future development of agriculture and in tandem with farmers, State agencies, my Department and I look forward to developing the full potential of this important industry in the coming years.

I wish to share time with Deputy Johnny Brady.

The Minister mentioned REPS in her speech and I congratulate her and her officials for making such an excellent scheme available to farmers. Mayo has one of the highest participation levels in the country. More than 5,500 farmers are in REPS and last year their payments came to more than €32 million. It is vital to safeguard the future of REPS for all farmers. I wish the Minister every success in her negotiations with the Commission on REPS 4. It is important that those negotiations are not overshadowed by difficulties with the nitrates directive.

I welcome that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, has put aspects of the nitrates regulations on hold until Teagasc can review its scientific advice. It is important these regulations, which will have an impact on so many farmers, are based on the best scientific advice we can get but, whatever may come out of this temporary deferral of part of the regulations, the nitrates directive is in place and we have to live with it. Like most Members, I have been approached by many farmers who are worried about what it may mean for them and there is a great deal of uncertainty. It is important that farmers should be given clear information as soon as possible, and I welcome the Minister's comments about information meetings and a simple handbook for farmers. When farmers know where they stand, they can plan for the future but the uncertainty worries them.

I refer to the issue of the nitrates regulations as they affect REPS farmers. The Minister stated recently that REPS farmers and planners can carry on as before as far as nutrient management is concerned. As far as other aspects of the nitrates regulations are concerned, they will have some impact on a certain number of REPS farmers. The closed periods for spreading may be slightly longer than they have in their REPS contracts, and they may need to get extra storage capacity. Based on the inquiries I have made, however, I am satisfied the impact will be minor. As far as extra storage capacity is concerned. REPS farmers have the same time as every other farmer to meet the new requirements — up to the end of 2008 — and they can also take advantage of the improved grants under the farm waste management scheme.

The nitrates regulations will also require farmers to keep records, but REPS farmers are already well used to keeping records. The only extra item they will now have to record is the amount of concentrates that they feed to grazing livestock. On the issue of record keeping, it is good news that the Department will use CMMS to give every farmer a statement of the amount of organic nitrogen that his or her cattle are producing.

What will a 75-year old farmer outside Knock do?

It was noticeable that Labour Party Members were not present when the Deputy contributed but they were present to hear the Minister's contribution. The Deputy's Green Party colleagues were also not present.

The section of the regulations that Deputy Roche has deferred deals with nutrient management. As the section stands, some of the more extensive REPS farmers would be allowed to use less chemical fertiliser and this would also apply to other farmers. The work that Teagasc is doing may lead to a change in these rules but, in any event, through better spreading technology and better timing, farmers can improve the efficiency of livestock manure and that this would compensate for a reduction in chemical fertiliser. Grant aid for the new technology will be provided in the improved farm waste management scheme, which will be a big help.

I commend the Minister on her work. I wish her well and she has the full support of this side of the House.

I congratulate the Minister on her Trojan work on behalf of the farming community. Since assuming office 16 months ago, her efforts at the Cabinet table, at EU level and at the WTO negotiations in Hong Kong last December have been second to none. The agriculture industry is in safe hands with the Minister and her two Ministers for State. It is cheap of Fine Gael to table a vote of no confidence in the Minister. As chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture Food, I have met many members of the farming community from across the political spectrum who have the height of respect for the Minister. I meet these people every day. I meet people from the Fine Gael Party who say they are very lucky to have a capable Minister, who cares about the interests of agriculture.

The Deputy's constituents did not think so during the by-election.

The Deputy should conclude.

It will be a tragedy for agriculture if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle asks me to conclude.

I ask Deputy Naughten and his Fine Gael colleagues to go back to 1974 when he was a garsún in short trousers. Does he recall the days he went with a calf to the sale and he could not buy a chicken to bring it home?

Why did the Deputy not go back further?

Does the Deputy recall 1997 when the Minister for Agriculture was supposed to be at Dublin Airport in the interests of agriculture but was in a pub in Wexford?

(Interruptions).

I call on the next speaker.

Does the Deputy recall when the former Deputy De Rossa said that the farmers were ruling us and Fine Gael agreed with him? Does the Deputy recall these bad days in agriculture? Thank God, since Fianna Fáil came into power in 1997, there is a future for agriculture in this country.

I call Deputy Upton.

(Interruptions).

I thank the Leas-Cheann Chomhairle. I will add three and a half minutes to my time which I wish to share with Deputy Penrose and Deputy Sherlock.

The debate is to be welcomed because it is not just about the future of agriculture but about the future of rural Ireland, which cannot be separated. If rural Ireland is to survive in the way we would like, we must bring together the responsibility for the management of agriculture, rural development and food production under one roof. It is a very artificial separation that rural Ireland and rural development is separate from the Department of Agriculture and Food. We need the same Minister to be responsible for agriculture and rural development. If Ireland is to survive, we must give that one Minister responsibility for food. The future of rural Ireland and agriculture depends on a joined-up approach in Government.

What should the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, rural development and food do to save Irish farming, and what is wrong with the current Government? Despite Deputy Carty's passionate description of how great it is, I have a few challenges to the questions he raised. The nitrates directive and food labelling are two aspects I want to address. My colleagues, Deputy Penrose and Deputy Sherlock will address, in particular, the nitrates and sugar beet aspects. I also want to speak on the nitrates directive and food labelling.

It is clear that a total mess has been made of the nitrates directive. None of us will deny that while there was a need for a nitrates directive, a fudge has taken place in recent weeks, especially in the past ten or 12 weeks, in that we did not have a nitrates directive. We had an opportunity to put in place a system that was workable but the Government failed to do so.

The main problem with the implementation of the nitrates directive is that the Government is insisting on using a statutory instrument to spell out how much or how little fertiliser Irish farmers might spread over their land. However, we know that the land's tolerance of fertiliser varies according to soil conditions, weather and a number of other different factors. This is why a number of other EU countries implemented the directive without stipulating precise amounts. In a number of other EU jurisdictions, farmers will follow a voluntary code of practice and together with a government inspector they will draw up a legally enforceable plan to govern when and how much nitrates they can spread on their land. In other words, an element of common sense will be introduced.

The value of the system developed elsewhere in Europe is that flexibility which allows for variations in the land's tolerance is built into the legislation transposing the directive. Thanks to this Government,however, Ireland now has more than 50 different straightjackets into which farmers must cram themselves to comply with the legislation and avoid a criminal conviction. The Government, through its unco-ordinated approach to implementing the nitrates directive, is threatening to destroy rural Ireland's largest industry, and with it rural Ireland itself. It is not that the nitrates directive is not important and that we should not have one — of course, we should. When I examined the figures last week, it occurred to me that one would need a PhD in soil science, an ion-exchange column and perhaps a small laboratory in the garden shed to meet the detail of the requirements.

I was pleased to hear the Minister saying that there would be simple uncomplicated instructions and guidance for farmers, but I hope they will have moved on significantly from what has already been made available to them.

God help them if they have to decipher the regulation.

The nitrates directive is not the only recent mess for which the Government is responsible in terms of food. I want to speak about food labelling, in particular. We hear almost daily reports of outbreaks of foot and mouth in the cattle herds of countries such as Brazil. Meanwhile, Irish farmers are protesting at the continued importation of potentially diseased Brazilian beef into this country. The Minister made clear to me her view in reply to a parliamentary question in December when I asked if she was satisfied that beef from a country with endemic foot and mouth is still being imported into Europe and taking away potentially the livelihoods of Irish farmers. Her reply was as follows:

With respect to traceability and controls of residues of veterinary medicines, the purpose of EU legislation is not to impose on exporting third countries a system of guarantees that is equal to the EU system but that the exporting country provides guarantees that are equivalent to the standards applied in the EU.

All third countries, like Brazil, must do is provide us with guarantees that are equivalent to the standards applied in the EU. This means that a guarantee from the Brazilian Government is not equivalent to applying the same standards as Irish farmers must struggle to uphold. A guarantee is a piece of paper. The standards Irish farmers must follow are much more than a piece of paper; they are a way of life. Despite this, we allow the importation of beef from countries with foot and mouth disease on the strength of a piece of paper. A guarantee is just that. It is a piece of paper, not an inspection system, a traceability system or a blood test. We need much more evidence, stringency and labelling.

The Minister will say that she does not make the rules and that we operate within the constraints of EU law. I will leave aside the point that she represents us in Europe and that we would hope she would make a very strong case on our behalf at the Council of Ministers. While I accept she may not be able to stop Brazilian beef coming into country, she can ensure that we know where it is coming from. The Minister may be happy with a guarantee from the Brazilian Government that its standards are equal to ours, but I do not think the rest of us as consumers are happy about that.

What is needed is legislation, with the country of origin clearly defined. There must be a level playing pitch in regard to products that are imported and our own home produced products. The country of origin must be defined for all imported meat. A voluntary code of practice is all very well, but there is no way of enforcing it. One should welcome it in so far as it is a step in the right direction, and there is clearly the implication that we are all in favour of having the country of origin and clear labelling on our products, but it cannot be policed or enforced. Therefore, it is crucial to have in place proper legislation.

The future of farming will not be secure, even if the Minister persuades the Minister, Deputy Roche, to withdraw the nitrates directive in its current form. The future of farming and rural Ireland will only be secure if the Government co-ordinates its approach to rural Ireland, the production of food and the challenges that face agriculture. A number of challenges face agriculture that have not been addressed.

Countries which achieve the optimum balance on the one hand between profitability in agriculture and food processing and, on the other, society and the consumer's increasing quality requirements will succeed best in the agriculture and food industries in the immediate years ahead. We need that balance. A Minister with responsibility for agriculture, food and rural development might be able to secure this future for Irish farming if we have the courage to meet the challenges with which Irish farming is faced. There are challenges over which no one can have control, but we can address them and try to respond to them. We have relatively little control over climate change. We need consolidation of agri-industrial enterprises, EU subsidies are ending and we have a globalised economy whether we like it or not. These facts may not be very pleasant or helpful, but we must face up to them. We must put in place the systems that will allow agriculture to remain vibrant.

We must examine the new terminology being used in agriculture, namely, multifunctionality. Multifunctionality embraces food production, quality, safety, the environment, animal welfare and the production of biofuels. It means embracing the knowledge economy in Irish agriculture, but it is difficult to see how we will do that when we cannot roll out broadband in the city of Dublin never mind in more remote parts of the country, yet we talk about the importance of the whole education and information society.

We need much more research. I acknowledge the moneys and supports that have been given to food research in this country, which is very important, but we have much more to do in that area. We need to establish national capabilities in agrifood biotechnology, for example, and to promote those. We need to quantify the costs and benefits of EU and national environmental policies. We require Government policies that embrace the production of biofuels, not just policies which merely tolerate it. There is scope for that now and there is also an obligation on this country to meet the requirements in regard to biofuels. There is an opportunity to develop it and we should move that forward, not just aiming to reach minimum standards, which we are not yet doing.

We must combat the rural brain drain. What are we doing to stop young people moving out of rural Ireland? If we do not have such supports as broadband, we are expecting educated, well-informed young people to put up with prehistoric facilities. We need education and training programmes to raise the human resource capabilities of rural business and of rural populations generally. We must be more specific in terms of helping young farmers remain on the land.

Rural Ireland will face many challenges in the coming years. Judging the Government on its performance on country of origin labelling and the nitrates directive, it does not have the energy to face them. That is why I urge this House to support the motion.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this topic again. My colleague, Deputy Upton, has outlined the obstacles and impediments that may well face us in the immediate future, and how we should deal with them.

An inextricably linked topic is that of getting young people involved in agriculture. In the last week I met young people applying for installation aid. Inspector Clouseau would not do a better job than some of the Department officials. What is happening is an absolute scandal. Documents that are accepted by the Revenue Commissioners are being rejected. Some officials are a law unto themselves. They think they are God Almighty. In one case, instead of helping a 24-year old young man to get started on the farm he had bought, they assumed an omnipotence and operated on the basis that nobody but themselves knew anything. They are treating young farmers with contempt.

I will bring the example to the Minister to show her what has been sent back to the young farmer in question. He was in tears on Sunday when I met him. He is not even in my constituency but, as somebody who is committed to the future of rural Ireland and to the future of agriculture, I am astounded at the barriers that have been placed in his way. Installation aid of €9,000 is very important for a young farmer who has borrowed in excess of €80,000 to buy land. For the life of me I cannot understand what is going on.

The Minister has missed the boat in regard to Brazilian beef. I am disappointed that a greater effort was not made at the WTO talks. Deputy Upton is correct about what is happening there. I recently read that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Brazil is becoming more serious; new cases are still being identified and the disease has spread beyond the original area. Efforts there to contain the disease have failed and we must be extremely vigilant in this regard. We have rightly insisted on the highest and most rigid standards in regard to food production here, which we are achieving. Adhering to these high standards is extremely important in the context of food safety and, ultimately, consumer confidence. Why should we accept beef from Brazil, or anywhere else, that does not apply the same high standards from the perspective of traceability, residue testing and general controls on movement?

It is time we put in place barriers that will ensure people can operate on a level playing pitch and that our consumers can be assured they are getting Irish beef. Perhaps we should do as the French and put a little tricolour on our beef in the way the they did with their lamb which I saw in evidence at the Rungis market. The sticker told people it was French. Much is made of our having to be great Europeans, which we are, but the French also claim they are great Europeans while at the same time demarcating their own products. Let us label our own products and let us not be afraid. That will tell people where the beef is produced and what has gone into its production. All that information is extremely important.

I studied agricultural science many years ago but I do not know what went wrong with the nitrates directive.

Deputy Penrose did not learn about that.

It requires that the good farming practice code should be made legally binding in nitrate vulnerable zones. Farm organisations had no problem with that requirement being implemented in law. Can the Minister explain what went wrong? The authoritative Teagasc publication on nutrient and trace element advice for grassland and tillage crops is referred to as the ‘green book'. It is the code of good practice in this area — in effect, it is the bible for farmers. It gave people usage levels for fertilisers and so on. It is also the reference document on the specification for nitrates and phosphorous use for participation in the REP scheme.

Somebody intervened but nobody knows who it was. We cannot gain access to the documents that were used. We do not know who wrote them. Everybody went to ground when the pressure was felt. Who devised this? Who were the authors? From where did they get their information and from what scientific basis did they arrive at this conclusion? They have made a shambles of the whole thing. We will end up with a large number of people being ousted from farming activities. I do not speak of big farmers either. People with REPS plans in place will find they will not be able to achieve their targets. Where do we go from here?

Ongoing communication evidently took place between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the farming organisations, so why did we end up at this point? The Department of Agriculture and Food evidently accepted the thrust and genesis of the ‘green book', which was considered the best advice for farmers from Teagasc's farm advisers. It was accepted as part of the REPS 3 process that was agreed in early 2005. What happened and who intervened to say it was no longer acceptable? From where did the evidence come? Who blew the house down? Some official must be responsible and he or she should be identified. This matter is too serious to be ignored.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have to delete most of the provisions from the regulations enacted in SI 788 of 2005. There is no use fiddling around with it. The Minister, Deputy Coughlan, should prevail upon the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to delete the regulations and go back to the drawing board. If necessary we should get independent scientific advice but we should not introduce something that would sound the death knell for Irish farming.

In 1990 I was the only Deputy on this side of the House to oppose the Fianna Fáil policy to privatise the sugar industry. Section 2 of the legislation at that time provided a golden share for the Minister for Agriculture and Food which would give the Minister a say in what the sugar company could do under the Greencore regime. The Minister should tell us clearly whether she thinks Mallow sugar factory will be producing sugar beyond 2008 and if the decision hinges on whether the IFA will accept the compensation package. The IFA appears to be dictating the terms in this regard.

The factory at Mallow has produced sugar since 1933, that is 40 years before we joined the Common Market and 40 years before a subsidy was ever paid to beet growers. How come we cannot do that now? The Irish sugar industry depends on 72,000 acres for the production of the beet crop. The Mallow plant processes 1.2 million tonnes of sugar and under the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats regime that will be no more. I say to the Minister that this matter is not over yet.

The decision of the EU Council of Ministers to overhaul the sugar industry begs serious questions about the negotiating position of the Minister for Agriculture and Food in these talks. Why is there such uncertainty surrounding the future of the industry when it is clearly profitable and viable? Why have a ridiculous situation, whereby the IFA president, Mr. Pádraig Walsh, has accused Greencore of planning a massive cash grab in compensation for the shutdown of the Irish industry while the growers of north Cork are holding firm in favour of retaining a viable industry?

It is ridiculous that the Minister will not be able to tell us until the Council of Ministers meets in 20 February next whether she or the Irish sugar industry must pay the €25 million restructuring levy if a crop is grown in 2006. The Minister has given an assurance that there will be no compulsory growing of sugar beet in 2006 in order to qualify for the restructuring fund. Added to this is the EU Commission warning that growers must reduce their production quotas in 2006 on the basis of overproduction. Does this mean that the Commission will seek to reduce production quotas for 2006-07?

The Deputy should conclude.

Táim beagnach críochnaithe. I am going to say what I have to say on this matter of the sugar industry.

We need a clear statement from the Government on this matter. The workers want to keep working and the growers want to keep growing. It is clear that the negotiating position adopted by the Minister in Brussels was at variance with that of the growers in north Cork. Is there a disparity between the growers' position and that of the IFA which is calling the shots here? Every grower to whom I spoke wants to keep growing the crop. The workers in Mallow have the right to know what the future holds for them. As the negotiating position taken by the Minister——

Will the Deputy move the adjournment?

I just wanted to finish this, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

We have gone over the time.

Because you allowed somebody to interfere with our time and take two and a half or three minutes of it. I will not ignore that fact.

North Cork has seen steady erosion of the industrial base for the past two years and the future of food production in this region looks unsteady. The Minister has sat on her hands through it all.

Debate adjourned.