Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 8 May 2014

Vol. 840 No. 3

Priority Questions

Grassland Sheep Scheme Expenditure

Éamon Ó Cuív


1. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a coupled payment for sheep farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy 2014-20; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20373/14]

I wish the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, the best of luck today. God knows what it might bring. This question relates to what he intends to do for sheep farmers. He has made a proposal to include the grassland sheep scheme in the single farm payment scheme. For most farmers, this would mean that the grassland scheme would disappear into the single farm payment scheme by 2019. Many sheep farmers receive far less than €150 per hectare as a single farm payment.

The grassland sheep scheme is based on Article 68 of the current EU regulation that governs direct payments in the form of the single farm payment. From 1 January 2015, that regulation will be superseded by EU Regulation 1307/2013. Consequently, there will no longer be a legal basis for the continuation of the grassland sheep scheme in its present form. In developing the shape of the new system of direct payments in Ireland I have been very conscious of the needs of sheep farmers, particularly those who farm on hill and commonage land. In general, sheep farmers hold low value entitlements under the current single farm payment scheme and will benefit significantly from the model of convergence to be applied in Ireland. Those with a low initial unit value will see the value of their entitlements increase over the period of the scheme, which is seven years.

Essentially, we have looked to apply the same approach we applied to the beef sector. In the future we will not have a lump sum of unspent money that we can simply assign to a sheep grassland scheme as we did in the past. For this reason, we are proposing to decouple that payment and add it to a sheep farmer's single farm payment. As a result, in 2015 sheep farmers will get the full value, which is €15 million this year. I have increased that value from €13 million last year to try to maximise the amount of money I can put back directly into the sheep sector. That €15 million is as far as I can go in terms of the availability of unspent moneys. We wanted to maximise that amount of money, decouple the payment and add it to a farmer's single farm payment, as opposed to allowing the €15 million to go back into the general pot. The money will be staying within the sheep sector.

I am aware that some sheep farmers have said they would prefer a direct coupled payment. That would involve a great deal of additional bureaucracy in terms of inspections and form-filling, etc. The cleanest approach - it is the easiest approach to understand and implement - simply involves taking a decoupled payment, adding it to a farmer's single farm payment and ensuring the €15 million fund remains in place for sheep farmers. We have not yet finalised this, but we will do so in the coming weeks. I have set out the approach we are tending towards.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

When determining the initial unit value of a farmer's entitlements under the basic payment scheme in 2015, Regulation 1307/2013 gives member states the option to take into account any payment the farmer received in 2014 under Article 68 schemes such as the grassland sheep scheme. Deputies should note that this option is only available where the member state is not applying voluntary coupled support to the sector concerned under the new Common Agricultural Policy. I have decided to apply this provision in Ireland as a means of safeguarding the value of the payments received under the grassland sheep scheme for those farmers concerned. The grassland sheep scheme is the only Article 68 scheme being incorporated into the calculation of entitlements under the new basic payment scheme. If such incorporation did not take place, the value of such payments would simply remain in the national fund and be redistributed generally among all farmers who establish entitlements.

The incorporation of the grassland sheep scheme payment into the calculation of a farmer’s initial unit value in 2015 will result in a higher entitlement value for the farmers concerned from the start of the scheme, rather than relying solely on the gradual process of convergence to increase the unit value over the five year period up to 2019. Our analysis confirms that as a result of this provision, the group of farmers who receive the grassland sheep scheme payment will have an immediate financial benefit in 2015 as part of their payment under the basic payment scheme. In the past two years sheep numbers have stabilised. While the breeding flock declined slightly in 2013, a return to growth is expected in 2014. I was pleased to note that Irish sheep throughput had grown for the third consecutive year, reaching 2.61 million head, which represents an increase of 7%. These developments led to sheepmeat production rising by around 3% to stand at just over 55,000 tonnes. The total value of Irish sheepmeat exports is estimated to have increased by over 4% in 2013 to reach €220 million.

Will the Minister agree that if the €15 million fund is used in the way he has proposed, the vast majority of farmers will see their share of the fund reduced by one fifth every year between now and 2019? Under his proposed arrangement, by 2019 they will be getting no benefit whatsoever from the grassland scheme. I suggest he put the €15 million fund back into the single farm payment scheme and then put €15 million into a coupled payment scheme. He is providing for a coupled payment in the beef sector.

No, we are-----

Yes, the genomic scheme involves a coupled payment. If my suggestion were adopted, it would ensure the €15 million fund would continue to be available to sheep farmers in the next five years, rather than being reduced by one fifth every year. Does the Minister agree that this is the factual position?

No, because different sheep farmers are in different situations. Each sheep farmer will be affected differently by the redistribution model, depending on what his or her single farm payment is. Obviously, the lower the payment, the higher the gain from redistribution between now and 2019. The relatively small number of sheep farmers on high payments will lose something as a result of redistribution. The issue is how we maintain supports for sheep farmers next year and the year after. The decoupled payment approach we are proposing will mean that the value to them of the sheep grassland scheme will be maintained in full immediately. We will look at a fair redistribution model after this, in the same way that we decoupled beef payments in the past, as opposed to treating the two separately. It is not true to say we have a coupled payment for beef. We decided not to go for a coupled beef payment under Pillar 1 because everybody else would have had to pay for it. Instead, we found €53 million under Pillar 2 for a beef genomic scheme that would involve farmers having to perform a certain number of tasks in order to get €80 per calved cow. If we were to do something similar in the case of sheep, we would probably be looking at a very small amount of money per ewe. I do not think many farmers would want the hassle of this.

We are trying to keep this as simple as we can for everybody.

It must go down as a classic phrase, "We are trying to look after them next year and the year after." That is exactly what the Minister is doing. As one goes to the next year and the year after that, for the vast majority of sheep farmers and virtually every hill sheep farmer who do not have any choice of enterprise, the payments will totally dissipate into the maw of single farm payments.

That is not true for all sheep farmers.

It is a fact for virtually all hill sheep farmers because they have very low single farm payments. They will be coming up to the €150 which is there anyway. Therefore, what the Minister is saying is that he will look after them next year and the following year once we get over the election. After that their payment will disappear. On what grounds is the Minister not willing to ensure that the €15 million is retained, not for one year or two but into the forseeable future for the length of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, for sheep farmers throughout the country and particularly for the very vulnerable hill sheep farmers who have no alternative choice of enterprise?

First, this has nothing to do with an election. That might be Deputy Ó Cuív's mindset but it is not mine. This is about putting in place a new CAP process around a redistribution of single farm payment and incorporating a sheep grassland scheme in the same way as when we decoupled headage payments for beef that became part of a farmer's single farm payment. Farmers got the benefit from that. We are now looking at a redistribution post-decoupling and so it makes sense to apply the same rationale to the sheep sector as we applied to the beef sector in the past, and to maximise the amount of money available to decouple for sheep farmers before we do that, which is what we have done.

Milk Quota

Martin Ferris


2. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his Department has completed its investigations into alleged milk quota irregularities (details supplied); if the Garda fraud squad has been involved in the case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20375/14]

Has the Department completed its investigation into alleged milk quota irregularities? I supplied the details with the question. Has the Garda fraud squad been involved in the case? Could the Minister make a statement on the matter?

EU milk regulations, introduced in 1984, provide for maximum milk production limits for member states and in turn for farmers delivering milk. Milk produced in excess of the national quota is subject to a levy of 28.6 cent per litre, and this sum is levied on the relevant producers and remitted to the European Commission by the Department. In years in which the national quota is exceeded the calculation of such levies is finalised in the September following the end of the relevant quota year. The EU quota regime is due to terminate on 31 March 2015.

Under EU milk quota regulations and related national statutory instruments, my Department is the competent authority for ensuring compliance with the EU milk quota regime and that milk deliveries from farmers are accurately recorded. Where allegations of non-compliance are made, my Department investigates such matters to ensure that the obligations of all parties under the milk quota regulations are being met in full, that any levies are paid in full, that the systems and procedures underpinning the operation of the regime are robust and to ensure that there are no financial losses to the Exchequer or the European Union arising from any non-compliance.

In relation to the specific case referred to by the Deputy, an investigation by my Department into alleged irregularities is ongoing. The case is proving to be complex. We are very close to finalising the investigation. Last night I got the first report back from officials in the Department, having pulled together all of the different elements of the investigation which involved a lot of interviews and consideration. We also had to get legal advice from within the Department and that has taken time. We are close to drawing conclusions and when we do I will certainly let the Deputy know what they area.

The reason I raise the matter is because my understanding is that the case involves a college, a farmer 125 miles away, 500,000 litres of milk and I am concerned about the possible effects it could have on suppliers to a milk processing company in terms of the super levy. Will other suppliers suffer the consequences of what has happened?

I share the concern of Deputy Ferris. We are taking the issue very seriously, which is why we have taken our time and undertaken a very thorough investigation. It is true that a number of parties are involved - a school, a large food processing company and a large farmer who was managing farming operations on behalf of the school. It has taken a while to get our head around the issues because of the complexity involved. I assure Deputy Ferris that we are taking the issue very seriously. Under no circumstances will I allow dairy farmers, who should be in a position to avail of a reallocated quota because there is unused quota, to be prevented from doing so due to wrongdoing. We will have a full outcome to the case in the next week or fortnight. We will put matters right in terms of what happened.

Is the investigation being carried out by the Department?

Yes. We are the competent authority to do that.

Is there a possibility of the fraud squad becoming involved in the investigation?

That is unlikely. I will take legal advice on the matter from the Department and I will follow it to the letter. We have a pretty good understanding of what happened. There are consequences and we will enforce them but I am not in a position to give full details at this stage.

Bord na gCon Remit

Maureen O'Sullivan


3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 90% of the Irish Coursing Club's funding is provided by dog registration fees; if he will propose a complete transfer of the function of greyhound registration from the ICC to Bord na gCon; if he will amend existing legislation governing the greyhound industry to include this transfer of powers; his views that the hard-pressed track racing industry would benefit greatly if Bord na gCon were to become a registering body for greyhounds here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20572/14]

The Irish Coursing Club, ICC, has been the keeper of for the Irish Greyhound Stud Book since 1923. The stud book is the property of the ICC. Section 26 (2) of the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, provides that the ICC is subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon, which is the statutory body with responsibility for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing. The ICC has built up considerable expertise in this area since 1923. It has established the appropriate structures in terms of personnel, information technology and the procedures required to execute all matters relating to the registration of coursing and racing greyhounds. The ICC is a member of the International Greyhound Stud Registries. The ICC manages the stud book and covers the considerable costs attaching to the operation of the stud book. It is my understanding that the ICC has discharged its function as keeper of the stud book in a satisfactory manner to date. Accordingly, I have no plans to transfer responsibility for the studbook to Bord na gCon.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department has commissioned independent consultants to undertake a comprehensive review of certain matters relating to Bord na gCon. The review encompasses the policy, governance and regulatory framework and the financial situation of Bord na gCon. The consultants will compile a report, documenting the findings of their review. The report will assess the current situation with regard to Bord na gCon and will make recommendations as to any changes required so as to ensure the industry is best placed to meet the challenges that lie ahead in a very dynamic and challenging environment. I expect to get the report shortly. If there are recommendations along the lines advocated by Deputy O'Sullivan then we will certainly take them on board in the same way as we are looking to implement the results of the Indecon report into the horse racing industry.

Greyhounds are kept for two reasons: for racing on the track with a mechanical hare, and for coursing, in which wild hares are captured within an enclosure. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has detailed the extent of the injuries suffered by the hares through mauling and tossing and pinning to the ground and also injuries to the greyhounds. In my view it is incongruous and it does not make sense that people who own greyhounds, regardless of their views on coursing, must pay that registration fee to the coursing club. Coursing is illegal in many other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland and Britain, Australia and New Zealand and most of continental Europe, yet coursing with live hares is carried on in this country, in spite of the fact that so many polls show that much of public opinion is against it. Why should a greyhound owner who is against coursing have to pay fees to the Irish Coursing Club to register and name a greyhound? It is known that Bord na gCon has financial difficulties and that the track industry is in trouble. I hope the review will make a recommendation and, if so, that the Minister will consider it favourably.

We discussed coursing in the context of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill. I hope the Deputy will attend our animal welfare conference next Friday; I understand she has been invited to attend. If she has not received an invitation, I extend the invitation now.

We will consider the Indecon report on Bord na gCon and the greyhound industry, and if it makes recommendations in this area, I have an open mind about implementation and change. So far as I am concerned, there is nothing untouchable here. Regulation, inspection and enforcement in the operation of coursing and coursing clubs in recent years has changed and improved considerably. I am aware that a large body of people, including the Deputy, would like to see coursing banned. We had that discussion in the context of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill and we decided to take a different route. If the review makes recommendations for future adjustments and changes in that area, we will consider it.

Our point is this: why can the mechanical hare, which is used in track racing, not be used in coursing so that live hares are not used and injured? I will be attending the animal welfare conference. Deputy Clare Daly and I had hoped we would be asked to make an official input in view of our work on animal welfare, but that was not to be.

I have two further points. The website of The Gathering highlighted the positive aspects of our country in order to attract people to come here. However, there was no mention of coursing as one of those attractions.

Both the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht are involved. It would make more sense if one Department had complete control of everything to do with animal welfare.

It would not be correct to say that my Department has complete control of everything to do with animal welfare, but we certainly have taken on board much more than was previously the case, particularly with regard to horse welfare, where we have implemented a significant number of changes, and we need to continue to make appropriate changes because that issue is not yet fully resolved. There has been a dramatic increase in the financial commitment in the area of animal welfare since I became Minister in this Department. We are trying to do a lot. I acknowledge the Deputy's genuine concerns and views in this area. I hope she will have an opportunity to contribute at the conference next week, although probably not as a platform speaker, because the only politician there will be me and I am only chairing some of the sessions. There will be an opportunity to raise issues from the floor.

I take the Deputy's point about some issues relating to animal welfare being cross-departmental, but my Department has taken on more responsibility in this area than was the case previously.

Single Payment Scheme Administration

Éamon Ó Cuív


4. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the total number of penalties and disallowances imposed on the 2013 single farm payment applications and disadvantaged payment applications following inspections and also the examination of farmers' maps; the total monetary value of these penalties; the total number of farmers who have had a 100% penalty imposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20374/14]

Everywhere I go I meet farmers who complain that their single farm payment was cut last year because of the inspections and changes to the maps. There seem to be significant difficulties in the west of the Minister's county. I ask the Minister to provide me with factual information as to the effect of all these penalties on farmers across the country last year and, in particular, information on the number of farmers who lost their total payment, which is equivalent to a PAYE person losing his or her income.

Under the terms and conditions of the direct aid schemes, which include the single payment scheme and the disadvantaged area scheme, farmers are obliged to declare only eligible land when making their applications, ensuring they exclude ineligible features such as roads, buildings, farmyards and dense scrub. These claims are then recorded on my Department’s land parcel identification system, LPIS. Given the importance of the LPIS database and the inspection system in underpinning direct aid payments worth in excess of €1.5 billion annually, my Department is obliged under EU regulations to ensure their accuracy. In the context of delivering the single farm payment scheme, the disadvantaged area scheme and other area-related schemes, my Department is required to carry out an annual round of inspections covering the eligibility of the land declared to draw down payments. The basis for these inspections is governed by EU legislation and there are certain minimum numbers that must be conducted each year. The details of the inspection results for the 2013 schemes are shown in the following table.


Total No. of Cases with Payment Reduction

Total Value of Payment Reductions

Total No. of Cases with Sanctions/Penalties

Total Value of Sanctions/Penalties

Single Payment Scheme


€0.685 million


€1.060 million

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme


€0.176 million


€0.279 million

Following consultation with the European Commission, as part of the normal accounting process, my Department was requested to undertake a complete review of the LPIS database. This has resulted in a requirement to adjust the land parcels of a significant number of applicants where it was established that ineligible features had been included. To date, this review has resulted in the withholding of just over €10 million in single payment scheme payments from approximately 33,000 farmers and a further €2.3 million in disadvantaged area payments in 2013. A total of 276 applicants had 100% penalties under the 2013 single payment scheme, while 284 had 100% penalties under the 2013 disadvantaged areas scheme. In total, the review covers more than 132,000 applicants and the land parcels declared by them as eligible for payment under one of more of the mentioned schemes. It should be remembered that my Department operates a robust appeals mechanism, whereby, in the first instance, farmers may appeal internally to officials within my Department and then directly to the Agriculture Appeals Office, with final recourse to the Office of the Ombudsman.

The Minister has given out a lot of figures. It looked great at the beginning; I thought to myself, my God, only 2,000 were penalised. However, it then turned out that the figure was really 33,000. Will the Minister confirm that 33,000 represents over one quarter of all farmers?

Does the Deputy wish me to respond now?

The Deputy has one minute in which to ask a question.

Yes, I know, but I still got the attention of the Minister. How many of these farmers will be penalised retrospectively because of the recalibration of the LPIS? An ordinary farmer could never have carried out these calculations with the accuracy required by the Department.

There is nothing new here. The Deputy is attempting to make a big new story out of something that we have been debating now for about nine months.

It is not going away.

I have always said that about 73% or 74% of farmers are totally unaffected by this. There is a cohort of farmers, approximately 20%, who have a minor issue with regard to overclaims of less than 2% or 3% on ineligible land.

The repayments those farmers must make are very small. The payments they did not get last year as a result of ineligible land are very small. There are also a very small number of farmers - in the low hundreds - who have claimed on over 20% of their land, which requires a 100% penalty. We need to work out a way forward with those farmers.

This is public money. There are only two ways to deal with this. Either we try to deal with it accurately ourselves on a parcel-by-parcel, case-by-case and farm-by-farm basis, or the Commission will deal with it by making an estimate. It will multiply that estimate by five, seven or ten and that will be a disallowance or a fine which every farmer will have to pay because it will come out of the agriculture budget. That fine could be up to €160 million, which is the figure we have been quoted. The Deputy knows that and I appeal to him to help us to resolve this issue in as fair a way as possible for farmers so that there is a minimal impact on agriculture as a whole.

I asked the Minister how many would be penalised retrospectively over what I understand can be up to five years. It is very important that we get that figure. Does the Minister have a breakdown of the penalty applied? In other words, 33,000 farmers made some mistake, and to think that these set out to give the wrong data to the Department is outrageous.

That is not the point.

How many of these are on land holdings of less than 20 hectares? Does the proportion of farmers who got caught in this system increase as the farm size decreases? A question I asked the Department previously is what percentage of those who were penalised because they had an error of more than 3%, which means they lose three times the overclaim, had land acreage of less than 20 ha. It is disproportionately hitting the smaller farmer because a much smaller error has a much bigger effect on a small farm.

This is about accuracy, public money being drawn down and land that was not eligible.

Will the Minister give me the facts? I was not looking for a moral lecture.

The Minister has the floor.

I will not take a barracking from the Deputy. The Deputy is trying to spin this into some kind of anti-small farmer agenda, which is absolute nonsense.

I asked a question.

I am giving the Deputy an answer, so he should listen. This is about public money being drawn down on land that was not eligible. We can see it is not eligible because of the accuracy of maps. The European Commission is insisting on asking for its money back plus penalties. For countries that cannot do that, it is applying very significant fines. I am trying to ensure we minimise the exposure of Irish agriculture as a whole and that we try to treat individual farms as fairly as we can through an appeals system and through giving the benefit of the doubt to farmers when it is reasonable to do so.

I do not have exact figures in terms of individual farm size and the percentages for which the Deputy is asking. I think the Deputy knows I probably do not have that to hand.

Why? It is easy enough to get.

If any farmer feels he or she is being unfairly treated, there is an appeals system in the Department, which has been successful for farmers in terms of the percentage success rate so far, and there is a further appeals mechanism outside the Department if the farmer feels he or she is not getting fair treatment. That is about as fair as we can be.

We will also look at the retrospective issue because we have to do so, and we will try to put repayment programmes in place for farmers in a way that is as fair as possible and protects cashflow for farmers as best we can.

Will the Minister get me the data on how many people have been asked for retrospective payments? Will the Minister arrange for that to be sent to me?

I do not know what the answer is.

I have answered the question.

If it is a separate question, the Deputy can table a separate question.

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

Martin Ferris


5. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will seek compensation under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to help alleviate the loss of earnings for fishermen from mid-January until April as a consequence of last winter’s storms. [20376/14]

All of us in this House and further afield were very conscious of the weather at the start of this year. Many fishermen, particularly inshore fishermen - the more dependent fishermen - had no income from the middle of December until probably the beginning of April. Will the Minister seek compensation under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to try to compensate for the loss of earnings for fishermen from mid-January to April as a consequence of the terrible weather during that period?

I thank the Deputy for this question. I think he knows we have already put quite a considerable budget in place in response to that storm damage, particularly from a construction point of view, within 115 harbours controlled and managed by local authorities. That was a total of approximately €9 million. We are putting a further €14.6 million in place for our own harbours this year. We have also put a pot compensation scheme in place for fishermen who have lost lobster and shrimp pots. To be honest, the response to that scheme, clearly because of some of the restrictions associated with it, is that there have been only 151 applicants, so we are reviewing whether we need to do something further, as I have said previously in the House.

I am anxious to do something more than we have done for this sector. Next week I will outline a new policy framework for the inshore fishing sector, which should have been done in the past but was not done, and which will for the first time put structures in place to give inshore fishermen a voice in contributing to policy decisions.

The reason it is hard for me to give the Deputy an exact answer to his question is that we do not have a clear picture as to what the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will be for Ireland, so it is very hard for me to make commitments on the back of not knowing what the budget will be. Hopefully, we will know that figure by the end of this month, or certainly by the end of June. The European Commission is finalising that.

We have options to do all sorts of things with that new fisheries fund, but we need to know how much money we have and then we need to work out with the industry how we can best spend it in terms of implementation of the new Common Fisheries Policy and potentially putting a fund together which can support fishermen through difficult periods such as the one we had this winter. I have an open mind on all of that, but until I have a pool of money that I know I can spend, it would be irresponsible of me to commit to spending money I do not have.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In regard to the pot compensation scheme and the very low take-up, with 151 applying for it, much of that is down to the restrictions the Minister mentioned and the fact that people had to produce receipts for pots bought in the past. Many people do not have those receipts and that prevented people from trying to avail of the fund.

I refer to the fisheries fund and the loss of earnings, particularly for share fishermen, who, partially through their own fault, do not have access to any type of social welfare payment, although they can go to the community welfare officer to try to beg for money. However, that is not working out. We need some type of fund.

Can the Minister confirm that funding can be applied for retrospectively in order to help fishermen who face awful losses? If they do not get some help, many of them will be out of business as a consequence.

My understanding is that it is possible to apply retrospectively or to apply for hardship supports retrospectively.

We need to do that in the context of a discussion with people in the industry about how best to spend a limited amount of money under a fisheries fund, as it will be called. When I know the budget we have - we are trying hard to increase the fisheries fund for Ireland despite the fact that the overall fisheries fund available to the Commission has reduced - I am hopeful we will see an increase in the amount of money we have to spend. We got a particularly poor deal the last time, giving us approximately €10 million per year to spend on the EU fisheries fund. I am hopeful we could get more than that this time. It would be justifiable. Although it is my understanding that this may be possible, we will have to decide the issue in consultation with stakeholders in the industry once we know how much money we have to spend.

Is there any consultation with the industry about that? The Minister has indicated that he will try to see if it can be applied retrospectively. From speaking to people in the industry, my understanding is it can be done. Will the Minister give a commitment that if it is possible to do it, it will be done?

No, as we must first know how much money we have and then we must prioritise how to spend it. The industry and stakeholders will be part of the discussion. We should know how much money we have to spend by the middle of the year and we will then put in train a process to decide how we spend it by the end of the year. It would be irresponsible of me to start making commitments before I even know the pool of money. I will certainly give a commitment that we will have serious stakeholder discussions of how the fisheries fund will be spent. That is not unusual, and we have ongoing consultations with the industry every week on how to manage quotas and the fisheries sector generally. This will be an extension of that process. It is difficult to decide a set of priorities unless one knows how much money is there to spend. That is the first decision to be made.

Is it possible that there could be retrospective payments?

I am not ruling that out.