That Dáil Éireann:
— current beef prices are in the €3.75-€3.85 per kilogram range, which is below the cost of production;
— suckler farmers continue to depend on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) direct payments for their livelihoods, with average incomes just below €13,000 according to Teagasc;
— there are 951,397 suckler cows kept on 66,069 Irish farms;
— 90 per cent of all beef produced on Irish farms is exported, with total beef exports worth €2.4 billion in 2018;
— Brexit poses one of the biggest ever threats to the beef sector for suckler farmers, exporters and related jobs, with 50 per cent of all beef exports going to the United Kingdom (UK);
— a no deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the Irish beef sector with World Trade Organization tariffs of 70 per cent on exports entering the UK which would result in an additional €780 million cost, while the price of beef produced by farmers would fall to an estimated €2.50 per kilogram;
— only 13 per cent of Irish beef exports went to non-European Union (EU) countries in 2018;
— Ireland has just three agricultural attachés stationed in embassies outside Europe currently, while Bord Bia has offices in five countries outside of the EU to grow market share for Irish beef produce;
— the Beef Forum has become a talking shop and failed to deliver on commitments entered into for farmers, including the introduction of a market index for price transparency;
— insufficient urgency has been shown by the Government to address the lairage capacity issue flagged last year that is constraining the live export of calves to the continent;
— farmers have lost faith in the Quality Pricing System (QPS) grid; and
— the Government has failed to adequately promote and incentivise the uptake of Producer Organisations (POs) in the beef sector resulting in zero registrations with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine since a legal basis was given to POs in 2016;
— how recent comments by the Taoiseach regarding meat consumption have greatly angered beef farmers across the country and undermined commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government, as well as Bord Bia’s ongoing work to promote Irish beef produce in markets abroad;
— that the Brexit Loan Scheme for farmers, fishermen and food businesses announced in October 2017 has still to open 17 months on; and
— that the Government has signed off at EU level to permit 70,000 additional tons of South American beef into Europe for EU-MERCOSUR negotiations;
and calls on the Government to:
— immediately request Brexit mitigation funding for farmers, specifically exceptional and market disturbance aid for beef and other vulnerable sectors under Article 219 of the CAP Common Market Organisation Regulation;
— seek relaxation of State aid ceilings in order to increase the grant aid permissible to safeguard exposed exporting enterprises and associated jobs from Brexit in the agrifood sector;
— work with Bord Bia, livestock exporters and French authorities to deliver enhanced lairage capacity at Cherbourg Port in order to increase the live export of calves;
— deliver a fully funded, fair, and simpler CAP post 2020 that safeguards direct payments with measures to directly support all low-income farm sectors, including the beef sector;
— introduce a beef market index for price transparency as committed to under the Beef Forum and examine the feasibility with stakeholders of requiring processors to report wholesale prices on a regular basis;
— increase farmer transparency and introduce more robust measures around carcase trim and grading, including publishing details of on-the-spot fines for factories breaching EU carcase trimming rules;
— strengthen the position of the primary producer in the food supply chain and transpose EU Directive (2018/0082) on unfair trading practices into Irish law swiftly, which should be enforced by an independent authority;
— consult with stakeholders and tackle any barriers associated with setting up beef POs;
— protect the beef sector and suckler farmers in all upcoming EU trade deals and reject increased beef access in any potential agreement with South American MERCOSUR countries;
— secure additional funding in the next CAP programme to achieve a suckler cow support payment of €200 per cow;
— work with stakeholders to ensure all animals which come from a quality assured farm should receive some level of bonus payment;
— commission a full review of the QPS grid and the four movement rule;
— secure Protected Geographical Indication status for Irish grass-fed suckler beef at EU level in order to increase its promotion as a premium product; and
— immediately open the Brexit Loan Scheme for farmers, fishermen and food businesses, which was originally announced in October 2017.
I welcome the many people in the Public Gallery, which is entirely full for the motion this evening. In particular I welcome the very large delegation from the IFA, led by its president, Mr. Joe Healy, and its livestock chairman, Mr. Angus Woods, accompanied by its general secretary, Mr. Damian McDonald. It has a very strong representation from throughout the country, including from my county, led by the Donegal chairman, Mr. Brendan McLoughlin. I also welcome Mr. Patrick Kent, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, and its general secretary, Mr. Eddie Punch, and, from the Beef Plan Movement, Mr. Eamon Corley, Mr. Mick Rafferty, Mr. Conal Tiernan and Mr. Seamus Scallon.
Our motion contains 14 key policy points, and we want the Minister, Deputy Creed, to act on them immediately. We are now in an immense crisis for the beef sector and the agrifood sector in general. It comes against the ever-changing backdrop of Brexit, the massive threat it poses to our agrifood sector, and the vista which has emerged in recent months of beef farmers losing money hand over fist in beef production, and finishing animals in particular. If not for the performance of the Government we would not have to move this motion tonight. It has demonstrated that it is totally tone deaf and has a lack of understanding of the pressure that many in our agrifood sector and many farmers are under. It has taken a very stiff-legged approach in reacting to the difficulties in this area. That is no surprise. The Taoiseach's instinctive response a few weeks ago, in a discussion on climate change, was to indicate that he would be eating less beef due to the issue. That is the kind of leadership offered by the Taoiseach, despite the fact that he is charged with leading the promotion of the agrifood sector internationally, along with Bord Bia, using the €50 million budget in place for that purpose.
Unfortunately, the record of the Minister, Deputy Creed, has been poor over the past couple of years in terms of responding to the needs of farmers. This was clear during the grain and tillage crisis a couple of years ago. It took a motion from Fianna Fáil to make the Government put a compensation scheme in place. The same is true of last year's fodder crisis, where it was clear that the Minister was not listening to the difficulties farmers were experiencing. It took another motion to make him move on that occasion. We are now facing the same in our attempts to convey the difficulties the beef and suckler cow sectors are under. A motion, opposed by the Minister and the Government, was passed by a large majority.
I welcome the fact that the Government is not opposing our motion. However, accepting the motion is not enough. We have to see action, which is something which we have not seen in the past. The measures called for in this motion have to be taken seriously. Our 14 points range from the urgent need for clarity on the funding that will be made available in the event of a hard Brexit, but also the need for immediate aid for farmers, particularly our beef farmers, because of the massive pressure they are under. Unfortunately for farmers, Brexit is not just something that will happen in a couple of weeks but something that has been happening for months, and it has been hitting farmers directly in the pocket. There must also be a relaxation of state aid rules. The motion also calls for clear, serious action from the Government to improve the route to market for our live calf exports, especially by increasing capacity for lairage at Cherbourg port. Unfortunately, over recent months the Minister has been asleep on the job in terms of his responsibility to ensure that there is a proper route to market and that there is no cap imposed on the viable trade in live calf exports to Spain and Holland. The Minister has belatedly turned his attention to that, but it is too late. As a result, the chance to take one clear measure which would have resulted in the removal of some animals from the country at calf stage and avoided an oversupply in months to come was missed.
The motion also calls for more transparency for our food chain and the transposition of the unfair trading directives recently brought in at European level. It also calls for the Government to work towards an increase of €200 per suckler cow and makes a clear call for the introduction of the Brexit loan scheme. I note that, just a few hours before the Minister was due in the Chamber to deal with the motion and almost 18 months after he initially promised to introduce the loan scheme, it was introduced, a few days ahead of the new Brexit deadline of 12 April.
I hope that the Minister, for once, will act on the motion which will pass tonight. I look forward to the contributions of others in this House and support across the floor for the 14 commitments and policy actions we are demanding today.