I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for the opportunity to raise this important issue. It goes without saying that we all welcomed the end of milk quotas on 1 April. It provided an opportunity for the dairy industry to expand and reach its undoubted potential, given Ireland's natural advantages in grass production, know-how, technique and climate. This is a new era for production but, unfortunately, a legacy of the old regime has seen quite a number of farmers being badly hit by steep superlevy bills. The total cost to the industry is approximately €69 million, a significant sum that will ultimately come out of the production cycle in the dairy sector.
Varying amounts are due to be paid. With the European Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, the Minister has endeavoured to provide a facility whereby the bills can be paid over a three-year period, but I have discovered that the superlevy bills of a number of farmers are such that three years would not be adequate to meet their needs. Many of these farmers are in heavily borrowed situations, having expanded in anticipation of harmonising with the new regime from 1 April, and they now find themselves with exceedingly large bills.
I was a Deputy when the milk quota regime was introduced in 1983. Its restrictive impact on the expansion of the dairy industry over that time is known by us all and has been articulated many times in this Chamber. In a European context, the amount of overproduction in Ireland is relatively modest. I do not have the statistics in front of me, but I suspect that other member states are under their production thresholds. There must be a case for revisiting this issue with the Department and then with the Commission, having regard to the serious and profound implications for a sizeable number of dairy farmers across the country.
My information is based on the experience of several producers in the north east. They are genuine producers that started on a small scale, expanded rapidly and are now significant enterprises. If the future sustainability of these enterprises is jeopardised by large superlevy bills that must be paid over a relatively short period of 36 months, the issue must be revisited.
I exhort the Minister to speak to his former colleague in this House, Commissioner Phil Hogan, to see whether this matter can be revisited in the overall context of some over-production in Ireland and some under-production in other EU member states. There is a very strong case to be made for such an approach. It is certainly worth trying. If the Minister succeeds, he will do a great service to the many farmers who will be seriously adversely affected by an excessively demanding superlevy bill.