Agrifood and Rural Development: Motion

I move:

"That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— Fine Gael has been in Government for eight years;

— during that period of time, the beef sector has experienced regular levels of price volatility and insufficient levels of Government support in the pursuit of processor price transparency;

— this is contrary to commitments outlined in the Programme for a Partnership Government, which in 2016 recognised that market volatility and a fair return from the market place are ongoing concerns for the industry;

— the Programme for a Partnership Government also committed to introducing a framework for Producer Organisations (POs) and the development of POs in the beef sector, to ensure farmers are not just price takers;

— the aim of these commitments was to maintain a strong and viable suckler herd as a key priority;

— failure to realise these commitments has significantly and adversely impacted the capacity of the agri-sector to maintain a thriving contribution to rural development;

— in the medium- to long-term, rural development will continue to be under threat due to an avoidable destabilisation of the beef sector export market caused by the delay in realising commitments provided for in the Programme for a Partnership Government;

— the Food Wise 2025 strategy recognised the vital role of the agri-food sector in driving forward rural development; and

— the Food Wise 2025 strategy also recognised that the agri-food sector encompasses the landscape, history and personality of the country with everything from primary agriculture to food and beverage production, from fisheries and fish processing to forestry and forestry outputs, and its strategic importance to the Irish economy, its roots in local communities and its global reach make it a sector unlike any other;

recognises the agreement reached between Meat Industry Representatives and Farm Organisations entitled ‘Irish Beef Sector Agreement, September 15, 2019’; and

calls on the Government to:

— lay out a clear pathway toward avoiding the deepening of threats to rural development by honouring the commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government with respect to introducing a framework for POs and the development of POs;

— explore the merits of introducing a system of fixed-price contracts for beef producers in order to diminish the price volatility experienced by farmers;

— renew commitments provided for in the Charter for Rural Ireland and the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), which outlined a vision for rural Ireland that saw a ‘dynamic, adaptable and outward looking multi-sectoral economy supporting vibrant, resilient and diverse communities experiencing a high quality of life with an energised relationship between rural and urban Ireland which will contribute to its sustainability for the benefit of society as a whole’; and

— commit to establish a standing committee capable of facilitating an immediate crossdepartmental response framework to any agri-food crisis which may emerge, and which is likely to negatively impact rural development and the agri-food sector.”

I am happy to speak on the motion, tabled by the Rural Independent Group, on the beef price crisis which has been ongoing for the past two months. The practical outcome of the beef price crisis agreement is that beef farmers, who continue to feel isolated, helpless and desperate, go back to the status quo. They have been given a promise on price without any guarantee or commitment that a realistic base price will be paid for their premium product. The base price can still be manipulated with little or no transparency. This is not a good outcome for the farmer. Even if beef farmers hit all the quality criteria, they will not get a price which comes near to the cost of production.

Farmers are the ticking heart of rural Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, who is present, knows as well as I do that they are the core of rural Ireland. They are not being protected from predatory meat processors. Farmers are under serious financial and mental strain and feel badly let down by the Minister, Deputy Creed, the Government, the meat industry and Bord Bia. Meat processors continue to make a handsome profit while paying the minimum possible price. A profit can be made by all parties in the meat industry - producers, processors and retailers - if there is respect between the three components. Unfortunately, that respect does not exist and was not engendered by the agreement hammered out last week.

It is completely unacceptable that processors use their dominant position to maximize their profits at the expense of beef farmers, a situation that has not changed one iota as a result of the talks. The essential recalibration of profit and loss in the beef industry has not taken place and the farmer still loses while everyone else wins. There is enough of a margin in the industry to allow all involved to make a reasonable income.

Meat processors recognise the value of offal, the fifth quarter, yet the farmer gets nothing for that component of the animal. It is an additional bonus for meat processors and generates additional profit for them at the expense of the farmer who is powerless to object. Surely, farm organisations and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine must act on this type of sharp practice.

Bord Bia continues to promote Irish beef as an excellent product without referring to the fact that farmers are being exploited by being forced to sell beef cattle at a loss in order that all others can make a profit. Bord Bia's welcome for the most recent agreement in order that normal business can resume does it little credit. It will continue to promote Irish beef as a premium product while the beef farmer is being exploited. That is not fair trade and it is not acceptable internationally.

Farmers were threatened with court action by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and pressurised by Meat Industry Ireland which played one farmer off against another and laid off factory workers rather than enter into face-to-face negotiations and pay a sustainable price. Such behaviour is completely unacceptable.

The most important result of the dispute is the establishment of producer organisations which will be able to represent farmer in price negotiations. It is a very positive development. These organisations will convert farmers from price takers to price makers. However, meat processors will try every trick in the book to undermine the establishment of producer organisations, which they regard as a threat to their profitability. The Beef Plan Movement was approved as the first producer organisation and will be able to legally and collectively negotiate price on behalf of its members. However, there needs to be several more such organisations for them to be fully effective.

Unfortunately, power has been consolidated in the hands of a small number of meat processors and that grip on power will not be easily loosened. ABP Food Group, Dawn Meats and Kepak account for 65% of the total beef processing market. SuperValu, Dunnes Stores and Tesco have 67% of retail sales between them, while Aldi and Lidl have 21%.

On the broader question of rural sustainability, if beef farming continues to be unviable, the economic sustainability of communities in counties Clare, Cork, Kerry and Tipperary will be put at risk. All such rural communities will be put at risk. Even in light of the agreement, the future for the traditional beef farmer looks bleak. Unless the current economic model is re-calibrated, soon only industrial-style farms and feedlots will survive, with the loss of farm families from rural communities and the resultant knock-on effect of continued rural depopulation. The cards are stacked against the family farm as a viable entity by greed and profit. However, it does not have to be this way. A fully independent investigation of the meat processing industry needs to be carried out and include an examination of pricing, trading and employment practices and compliance with taxation in order to ensure that it is not only farmers who are being exploited. Fair trade is the only viable future for beef farming as anything less will spell the continued decline of rural Ireland. The principles of the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas need to be revisited in order to re-establish a vision for rural sustainability. Rural sustainability is built on the farming community. I ask that the Government does not let it wither on its watch.

On a point of order, this is unbelievable. We are discussing a motion tabled by the Rural Independent Group which deals with an important sector but there is only a handful of Deputies in the Chamber. Two Fianna Fáil Deputies have just joined us.

What is the Deputy's point?

My point is that we should have a quorum. This is a scandal. There is one Minister of State present and no Deputy from the Labour Party, Sinn Féin or Independents 4 Change. Thousands of people spent weeks standing at factory gates. My colleagues and I visited them, as did Deputy Cahill, who is present.

Has the clock been stopped?

The attendance for this debate is scandalous. It shows what many Members of this Dáil think about rural Ireland and agriculture.

Deputy McGrath is depriving his colleagues of speaking time. As a long-standing Member, he will be aware that Standing Order 22 clearly states-----

The clock should be stopped.

I must address the issue raised by Deputy McGrath. Standing Order 22 clearly states that a quorum may not be called during a Private Members' motion.

I ask that the clock be wound back.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the farming situation, particularly in rural areas such as those in County Kerry. As my colleagues and I understand it, rural Ireland depends on suckler farmers and hillside sheep farmers. In recent times, particularly the past two or three years, things have been getting worse for suckler farmers to the extent that they are not making ends meet. They are losing money. Suckler farmers have stated that they will cut down the number in their herds in spite of all the effort they have put in through the years because they cannot carry on. They meet all environmental standards and abide by every rule and regulation, but they are not being paid a fair price. The factories are nailing them to the cross while the retailers get away scot-free. In the past three months there was little discussion of the role of retailers as most attention was rightly focused on the factories.

We will also have to focus on the retailers. The farmers are the only ones who are still not being paid properly. We are all glad that the strike has been stood down as this is the time of year when most beef cattle go into the factories; they are fat at this time of year and have reached the 13 months. Many farmers were held up so it is good that it has been stood down for the time being but nothing has happened to the base price and I am worried that nothing will. I believe the farmers will be back at the factory gates in the not too distant future. I hope that I am wrong but I cannot see what will change. They are not even answering to the producer organisations, and if they are not doing it now after the pressure that was put on them, they will not in time.

Farmers must take all the risks, from breeding the proper calf to staying out all night to pull calves out until the calving season is over. One can see that farmers are physically in poorer condition after the calving season given the time and effort they put in. There is the cost of fertilisers and paying contractors for silage. So many people in rural communities depend on farmers, from the shopkeeper, the person with the filling station and the fellows who deliver the oil. They all live off the farmer and if the farmer goes bad, they will go bad shortly after. That is how it is now. Many farmers are under severe financial pressure. We met so many at the gates who are in trouble paying college fees for their children who had returned to college some weeks earlier. Back in 2004, when I was not long in Kerry County Council, it tabled a motion to watch the monopoly which was being created by the great supermarket bodies. The motion said they were dictating what the farmer would be paid and that they would dictate what the customer would pay. They have ensured they have a monopoly. I heard at the gates where the protests were held that Aldi and Lidl have exacerbated the price issue. The prices to the farmers are reduced all the time but we never see the price of meat on the shelves reduce. I hope that the Minister of State is listening. Regardless of what happens, when the farmer gets a bad price that is not reflected in a low price on the shelves in the Lidls or Aldis.

The farmers were looking for the abolition of the four movement rule. If a carcase is hanging, no human could say how many times that carcass had moved. That rule is wrong and should be removed. The 70-day retention period should be reduced to 21 days. That was not acceded to. The 30-month rule makes no sense at all. The farmers were asking that this would be increased to 36 months. That has not happened. They are getting nothing at all for the fifth quarter and the factories are being paid handsomely for that. They are getting at least €200 per head for the fifth quarter while the farmer gets nothing. However, it is the base price which is what the farmers are asking for. The factories must give a base price and if they do not we will be back at the gates in a very short time.

I am happy to bring forward this motion tonight, along with my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group, to address the ongoing and much-publicised issues facing the beef sector. Over the past eight years since Fine Gael came into government, beef farmers have experienced huge price volatility. It is our belief that the Government stood idly by and did nothing to assist the struggling family farms. Despite many pledges and promises by Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine during that time and commitments set down programme for Government, farmers have received no assistance in their pursuit for processor price transparency.

Another example of the Government’s contempt for beef farmers is the fact that myself and colleagues in the Rural Independent Group called on the Government to reconvene and have an emergency sitting as soon as farmers began to stand outside the gates of processing factories across the country. That call was ignored and it was seven weeks before we, as Deputies, had an opportunity to address this crisis in the Dáil Chamber. That is shameful.

I stood with farmers and their families at factories gates. Their message is simple. All they want is a fair price for their hard work and produce. These are decent hard working people, many of whom have never been on the picket line in their life. They did not want to be there but they felt they had no other choice as no one was listening.

Without immediate intervention and action by the Government, rural development will continue to be under threat due to an avoidable destabilisation of the beef sector export market caused by the delay in realising commitments provided for in the programme for a partnership Government. We in the Rural Independent Group call on the Government to lay out a clear pathway toward avoiding the deepening of threats to rural development by honouring the commitments in the programme for a partnership Government with respect to introducing a framework for producer organisations and the development of producer organisations.

We demand that the Government renew its promises in the charter for rural Ireland. This charter outlined a vision of a “dynamic, adaptable and outward looking multi-sectoral economy supporting vibrant, resilient and diverse communities”. That is what we all want to see in rural Ireland. We also believe that the Government must explore the merits of introducing a system of fixed-price contracts for beef producers in order to diminish the price volatility experienced by farmers.

It would not cost the Government a great deal to resolve the crisis but it would have to tackle the large retailers, which it does not want to do, and it would have to tackle the factories, which it does not want to touch. We, the farmers of Ireland, and I have a conflict of interest in that I am a farmer, and the citizens of this country need an independent investigation into the goings on inside our factories and it needs to be done quickly. A full report must be published and criminal proceedings must be brought against any wrong-doers whoever they may be if wrong-doing is going on. It might sound strong but the farmers of this country deserve it. For far too long the farmers were silent. They assumed they should get the meat weight of the animal but how wrong they were. For the first 40 minutes, when an average weight animal is slaughtered, 45 people work on that animal. Imagine 45 people working on a slaughtered average sized animal. What could be so valuable that there would be 45 people working on it in 40 minutes. That animal is hugely valuable; every part of it is sold. The blood has a value for making red and white protein powder in Craigavon. It is alleged that every farmer's details are on computers in factories. What about GDPR? Are all our details freely available? This is very controlling. Does the House know that there is a value of the cow's udder or that there is 20 kg of meat on the cow's head? When cutting the carcass, fat is used for soap and shaving foam. Does the Minister of State know exactly what goes on in the bone halls of these factories? Does he know what really happens? I would like to know what really happens to poor quality animals. There is a market for the tongue, for the throat, and I could go on forever. Nobody wants to know about this. The farmer gets €700 or €800 for the animal but the man inside the factory is making hundreds on hundreds of euro, perhaps running into thousands of euro, on the animal and yet there is nobody willing to stand up for the farmer. These farmers have wised up strongly.

One thing the farmers were strong about last week was that they wanted a base price.

The factories, the Minister, the State, and all the powers that be were telling everybody to leave the gates, but nobody was willing to tackle the issue that the farmer could not get an improvement on the base price. I stood with the farmers in Bandon mainly - I was in Cahir as well - nearly every day of the protest. Sometimes I gave them ten minutes and sometimes I gave them two or three hours. The one cry from these genuine men and women, and young children who had an interest in the future of their farms, was that they were being terribly wronged and they were going out of business. These are honest to God people. They are not the type of people who would usually go protesting but they knew this was the only channel left to them. They will be back because nothing will happen. The power of the factories and the large retailers has taken over this country. Statements that were being continually made through this protest by Minister after Minister were totally in line with the statements the factories were making, so who is talking on behalf of the farmer? That is what we need to know. We need to know that soon and we need action on the ground. In the next few weeks we will be watching every movement that goes on in this Government on that issue.

I am glad to speak on this issue again, notwithstanding the fact we had lengthy discussions on it last week. I am always happy to talk about farming and all matters related to farming. I share the serious concerns about the ongoing difficulties facing the beef sector and I understand the frustration that has driven some farmers to engage in prolonged picketing of beef factories.

The weekend before last, the Minister, Deputy Creed, facilitated lengthy negotiations involving beef stakeholders to try to find a resolution to the current dispute. These were only the latest talks in a series of formal discussions between beef stakeholders that have been facilitated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. These commenced with a meeting on 12 August and continued over the past month. In addition, both the Minister, Deputy Creed, and I have had ongoing bilateral discussions and meetings with farm organisations, representatives and individual farmers. The common thread in discussions was that all parties agreed it was critical to find a means of getting the sector fully operational and protecting the livelihoods involved, including both beef farmers and factory workers, whose jobs were at risk. The talks of the weekend of 14 and 15 September culminated in an agreement between the meat industry and seven farming organisations and representatives, all of whom undertook to support the agreement and recommend that those on the protests step back in response to this negotiated agreement. The agreement is a two-strand approach aimed at providing immediate benefits direct to beef farmers as well as addressing long-term structural issues. A means to implement and measure progress on these measures was also set out and agreed.

As part of the deal, beef producers will benefit from an immediate increase in a range of bonuses. These include an increase of 66% in the current in-spec bonus for steers and heifers from 12 cent per kilogram to 20 cent per kilogram; the introduction of a new bonus of 8 cent per kilogram for steers and heifers aged between 30 to 36 months that meet all the non-age related existing in-spec criteria and that up to now have not received any bonus; and the introduction of a new in-spec bonus of 12 cent per kilogram for steers and heifers under 30 months in the categories of grade O- and fat score 4+ that currently do not qualify for any bonus. The in-spec 70-day residency requirement will be reduced to 60 days on the last farm. These measures offer an immediate financial benefit. They both increase the level of bonus being paid and increase significantly the number of animals that are eligible for a bonus. The cumulative effect is that over 70% of all steers and heifers slaughtered will now be eligible for a bonus payment on top of the base price to be paid.

A beef market task force is being established immediately to provide leadership to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in economic, environmental and social sustainability. The Minister, Deputy Creed, will appoint an independent chair to lead the task force. Its membership will comprise members from the Department, relevant State agencies, and nominees from farm organisations and the meat industry. The task force will provide for a robust implementation structure for commitments entered into in the agreement, with timelines and stakeholder engagement. It will also offer a suitable platform for strategic engagement with key stakeholders, including retailers and regulatory authorities.

Other key immediate actions include the development by Bord Bia of a beef market price index model, and a scientific review of the quality payment grid. The second strand of the agreement sets out strategic measures that seek to address structural imbalances in the sector. These measures will provide clear information and bring greater transparency to the sector with a view to ensuring sustainability of the sector into the future. A number of actions in the area of market transparency, beef promotion and strengthening the position of the farmer in the supply chain were agreed upon. The agreed measures set a course towards greater clarity for all stakeholders involved in the beef supply chain, primarily farmers. The agreement includes commitments on an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in the four in-spec bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector, and an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal, including the fifth quarter, along the supply chain. The results will inform further actions as necessary.

The beef industry will co-operate in providing data and initiatives on improving information on carcass classification. It is imperative that we have the hard facts about third-country and customer requirements to inform discussions on market specifications. The independent review will provide clarity around those requirements. A country exporting the vast majority of its products is dependent on a range of market requirements. The agreement also includes commitments on more detailed price reporting, more reporting on carcass classification, and the transposition of the EU directive on unfair trading practices.

I am satisfied the agreement contains the best balance of immediate benefits for beef farmers and a series of more medium-term strategic actions. The entry into force of the agreement is contingent on the cessation of all protests and blockades. All parties to the agreement took responsibility for ensuring this would happen by recommending the agreement to those they represent. The situation was doing immeasurable damage to the sector and its reputation in overseas markets, which account for 90% of all the beef we produce. With the future of the beef sector in the balance, I welcome that the protests have been stood down. We must now focus on the implementation of the agreement and look to the future of the sector.

Direct payments and payments from the rural development programme, RDP, represent significant EU and national Exchequer support for the beef sector. The Department estimates that at least half of the €1.8 billion in annual supports to farmers goes to beef farmers. Within that, the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, is the main support specifically targeted at the suckler sector, which provides Irish beef farmers with some €300 million in funding over the current RDP period. The Department has rolled out a range of schemes as part of the €4 billion Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

In addition to the BDGP, other supports that are available for suckler farmers under Pillar 2 of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, include the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, the areas of natural constraints schemes, ANCs, and knowledge transfer groups. Suckler farmers also benefit from the basic payment scheme, BPS, and greening payments under CAP Pillar 1. In addition, this year a provision of up to €120 million was made available in targeted support for beef farmers through the beef exceptional aid measure, which is being provided in light of the difficult circumstances that Irish beef farmers have been facing as a result of market volatility and uncertainty arising out of Brexit and the beef environmental efficiency programme, BEEP. The Department is examining all appropriate measures to support the different agrifood sectors, including the suckler sector, in preparation for the next iteration of CAP. My view is that such measures should support and encourage suckler farmers to make the best decisions possible to improve the profitability and the economic and environmental efficiency of their farming system.

My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Creed, announced last week recognition for the first time of a beef producer organisation in Ireland. I firmly believe that producer organisations are an important part of the toolkit in building resilience in the sector by strengthening the position of the primary producer in the supply chain.

Funding provided for the establishment of beef producer organisations is available under the current rural development programme. This funding is available to support the engagement of Department approved facilitators to assist with the application process for recognition of producer organisations. Funding is available for each group of up to a total of €3,000. Department officials have engaged extensively with potential groups since the inception of the measure in 2016 and one of the commitments from the Backweston agreement in August was that officials would engage to the fullest extent possible to assist with the establishment of beef producer organisations. This commitment was clearly demonstrated through the engagement with the newly established group, which has publicly acknowledged the level of support it has received from Department officials in this regard. Furthermore, the establishment of the first producer organisation in the beef sector is an important and timely signal to farmers that they can collectively do business in a way that enables them to have increased bargaining power as well as helping them to increase their economic and environmental efficiency through collaboration, with the potential for enhanced knowledge sharing and economies of scale. My Department is currently exploring the role producer organisations should play under the next CAP and how best to facilitate this. Producer organisations not only have the potential to improve the position of farmers in the supply chain but also to provide strong relationships between the elements of the supply chain to the benefit of all.

Developing new markets and growing existing markets on the basis of market insights is one of the five themes of Food Wise 2025. Market development and diversification is also a key response to the challenges which Brexit poses for the agrifood sector, particularly for beef producers.

I ask the Fianna Fáil Party speakers to observe the clock.

I am sharing my time with my colleagues and we will all take two minutes each.

The Taoiseach recently indicated that he wants to eat less beef but beef has been a regular feature on the menu in the Chamber in the past two weeks - twice last week and again today. That is only right considering the very difficult position farmers find themselves in, the unacceptable incomes they receive and the low prices they are taking for their beef. I commend the Rural Independent Group on tabling this motion, which the Fianna Fáil Party supports. Given the stand farmers have taken for the past eight weeks, out of pure desperation and frustration at the way they have been treated in the beef and food supply chain in recent years, it is essential that the agreement that was signed and which led to the removal of protests and pickets across the country is acted upon urgently and immediately. A key aspect of that is the beef task force, which must be established promptly and a chairman appointed in order that it can carry out its work and deliver results. It is essential that transparency, which has previously been lacking, is brought into the Irish beef sector because farmers cannot see what level of fair play they are or are not getting. They have not been getting fair play and have been repeatedly forced to take price drops while all other players in the sector have been able to maintain their margins. It is also essential that specifications such as the 30-month rule, the four-movement rule and the 60-day residency are thoroughly examined. Those issues have been clouding the sector and the task force must address them. The Government's contribution must include a new support scheme to follow on from the beef exceptional aid measure, BEAM, scheme. Issues with the BEAM scheme also need to be addressed, but we need a support scheme to support farmers in response to the losses they have suffered since May. That is something the Government needs to act upon and deliver.

As my colleague noted, this is the third time we have discussed the beef crisis in this House within a week. I also commend the Rural Independent Group on introducing the motion. Our family farm structure is under threat like never before. I wonder if the processors have been listening to the farmers in recent weeks. The 30-month rule, which has been a major bone of contention, is a leftover from the BSE crisis of a generation ago. The differential in price remains even after seven or eight weeks of pickets. Bord Bia has come in for much criticism in the last few weeks and the recognition of the job it does has been lost in the crossfire. Farmers have lost confidence in Bord Bia. I ask the Minister of State to ensure a certain level of the agency's funding is ring-fenced for supporting live exports because there is a belief that no effort is being made to secure outlets for live exports or move live cattle out of the country. Live exports were always the safety valve that kept competition in the trade. Hopefully, when the producer groups are established, they will allow family farmers to have the same clout as feedlots in securing a reasonable price. Feedlots have clearly been getting preferential prices over the small operators with five or ten cattle, and that has to end. The crisis fund must also be extended and a commitment made to farmers on that. Unfortunately, farmers' losses have increased since the 12 May deadline for the crisis fund passed. It is essential that the Government shows its commitment to farmers by extending the crisis fund to offset some of the losses incurred during the summer months.

I will focus on the role of retailers in this area. We are well aware that farmers, who are the primary producers, are losing money while the processors are making millions and retailers are also doing very well out of beef. Is there any way to get retailers to the table to help resolve the problem that one party, the primary producer, is not making any profit from beef? While some progress has been made on issues around age of slaughter and cattle movements, we have not yet had any input from retailers as to what price they are willing to accept or at what price they would be willing to sell to the public. While progress has been made and I welcome the lifting of the blockades, progress would not have been made had it not been for the actions in which the farmers reluctantly engaged. That is what finally got people around the table and got talks under way. I hope it does not require similar action to get retailers around the table to negotiate what we all want, which is a fair price for primary producers for their quality product.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. If we are to be serious about ensuring we have a profitable beef industry, we have to take radical steps. I come to this debate as a suckler farmer. The beef task force being set up must take a clinical look at processors. An industrial engineer should look at the factories, including their costs, outputs and work processes. Financial accountants should also advise the task force on the factories' assets, depreciation and overheads. We all know factories have to run a profit because nobody will survive without a profit but, as we go forward in these negotiations, we and the farming community need to clearly understand what margin the factories are achieving. Over the summer, the critical issue was that the factories were making millions of euro, as the previous speaker said, and the farmers were making nothing. We have to take a radical approach. We should get an industrial engineer to look at the factories and financial accountants to look at the costs involved in order that farmers can make a legitimate claim to have a viable income. Agriculture is clearly the biggest indigenous industry on the island of Ireland. Given the various incomes streams it generates, it is vital that we protect the sector. If the Government is serious about doing so, the legitimate expectations debated here both last week and today, and the advice from the farming community, have to be listened to like never before because we are in a serious crisis.

In my opinion, humble though it may be, the Minister of State, Deputy Creed, and the Government have let down the farmers of Cork South-West. Right across Europe dairy prices are strengthening, but what is happening in Ireland and in west Cork? The prices are weakening. Beef farmers in west Cork are on their knees. Beef farming is no longer sustainable. The farmers in west Cork cannot make a living from farming any longer. They had no option but to picket a meat factory in Bandon, which had the knock-on effect of temporary job losses and, in essence, had a very detrimental effect on the economy of my home town of Bandon. I call on the Minister of State to please look after my farmers in Cork South-West.

I support the motion on agrifood and rural development. It outlines how the beef sector has been failed repeatedly by the Government in the lack of price transparency and the way the commitment to producer groups, made in the programme for Government, has not been delivered for so long.

I have raised the beef farming issue previously in the Chamber and how the farmers are in such a distressed situation due to falling incomes and increased costs. The 140,000 farming families throughout the State are the engines of the rural economy. They are the people who spend locally in the co-op or the shop. They drive their local economies and they support the rural communities through clubs, schools and community organisations.

Even though so much money is generated in the agrifood sector, it is not there for the farmer to any extent, and especially not for the beef sector farmers, who are averaging €8,000 income per annum, or sheep farmers, who average €14,000 per annum income. They are under phenomenal pressure.

I put it to the Minister of State that farmers really feel treated unfairly and unjustly in that they are not getting value for the huge amount of work they are putting in and for the high-quality product they produce. The beef market task force must meet its timelines and deliver. Farmers should be able to get a share out of the fifth quarter. There must be a CAP market disturbance aid for price losses since the summer.

The future of rural Ireland is undeniably linked to the future of agriculture. A viable agrifood industry, be it dairy, beef, suckler, sheep or crops, is the backbone of rural Ireland. Fianna Fáil supports the Rural Independent Group motion. The past two years especially have been very difficult for farm families and rural areas. A thriving agriculture business means strong rural communities that support each other through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad. Last year farmers went through a fodder crisis and a drought, and this year it is the beef crisis. The farming sector is lurching from crisis to crisis with a reactive approach by Government instead of a proactive approach.

A compromise was reached last week that has enabled farmers to return to their farms and workers in meat processing factories to return to work. It is important now that space is given to farm organisations to advocate all aspects of the deal to their members and that Meat lndustry Ireland, MII, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine ensure that all agreed actions are implemented promptly.

Irish farmers are being crippled by low prices, market volatility, labour shortages, bad weather, and a lack of competition in some sectors. Combined with these, stark challenges remain on the international front such as the EU-Mercosur trade deal with South America, the UK exit from the EU, and meeting our climate change responsibilities. These challenges will not be easy. A just transition is required, with Government supports, to ensure that farm families and rural areas can continue to live, thrive and work, support their communities, raise their families and make a fair living.

I am very happy to commend and support this motion. The family farm model of agriculture in this country is really struggling at the moment. It means that our local rural communities and rural way of life are struggling also. When farmers have money, they spend it in their local communities and in their shops. When no money is being spent in our local communities, the local shops are not doing well. Fianna Fáil believes in this model of family farm agriculture and supports it. The agrifood sector employs more than 250,000 people in rural communities and is the largest indigenous industry in Ireland, with food and drink exports reaching €13.9 billion in 2018. That does not mean that the farmer as the primary producer is getting that - not at all. The average farm family income in 2018 was just over €23,000, which lags far behind the average industrial wage. More than 40% of farms are actually earning an income of less than €10,000 per annum.

Members have spoken over recent years about the beef crisis, and we all welcome that the strike is now over. Part of the reason farmers had to go out and strike was the complete lack of trust. This led to the strike. Commitments have been made and they must be adhered to. Trust has to be built with the farmers and in the rural communities. We need fair prices, trust and transparency.

Irish farmers are being crippled by low prices, market volatility, bad weather, and stark challenges on the international stage such as Mercosur on the horizon and Brexit. We need to support our farm families and our rural communities. Supporting our farmers is one of the first steps towards doing that.

I thank my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to speak, and I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion before the House. Anybody from a rural community will thoroughly understand that the past eight weeks have been very difficult, not just for the farmers on the picket lines but also for the staff inside the gates and for the farming families at home who let the farmers out to go to the picket lines. It was also difficult for the rural communities that did not have the investment from the sale of the stock, because that sale did not take place.

I have a number of requests to ensure we have sustainability of rural farming families and that this business continues. First is that the Minister of State's Department would encourage MII to engage with the new producer organisation, also known as the PO. There is no point in us having the licence for a PO if Meat Industry Ireland and its plants do not engage with it. It would be completely useless. We need to encourage it and explain the value of having it. If a producer organisation can quote for a price, and price was the main issue that could not be discussed at any of the talks the last time, then this vehicle could be a lifeline for small farmers throughout the country. We openly acknowledge, and I personally acknowledge, the work done by the Department in ensuring that the PO was formed and that it is now on the table. It is worthless, however, unless we encourage, educate and inform the farming community of the value of it. We see the value of such a measure across Europe but we should now see its value here on our Irish soil. We should work to ensure that farmers can have value in their produce and value through the price chain, because this is what they want and it is the area in which they feel they have not had fairness.

My second request is around transparency, an issue that my good colleague Deputy Michael Moynihan, addressed earlier. I refer to transparency within the factory, with the grid and around the calibration of the weighing scales. Farmers do not trust that system. Trust has left that arena for farmers with the industry. This is very unfortunate and it needs to be re-established. The trust needs to be brought back. We need to centre trust, loyalty and respect. It is a two-way street. For far too long the factories have taken away that trust. It has been lost. No matter how much can be done at this time, we have to help rebuild that trust. The best way to do this is through the task force sitting regularly, perhaps a minimum of every two weeks. If the Minister of State does nothing else this week within the Department he could give us a start date for the first task force review. Let us set out the agenda and see who is the independent chairman. Let us bring in the farming organisations and all the other people and companies who are involved.

For the last number of weeks, Bord Bia has taken an incredibly hard battering. We need to re-establish confidence in it, taking into account the worldwide interest in our primary product, namely, Irish beef. We export 90% of our beef. Confidence in that market needs to be re-established. In terms of new markets and the possible onslaught of Brexit, we need to restore that confidence. This can only be done through transparency within the sector. We need transparency throughout the system, from the arrival of cattle in the back of lorries at the factories, the weighing process and so on. Transparency was one of the issues discussed at the first round of talks which took place within the farming organisations. We need to refocus our efforts in this area.

Family farms and local communities depend on this business. I come from a county which has the largest suckler herd in the country. My county is totally and utterly dependent on it. Galway needs the suckler farmer and the beef farmer. We need to ensure there is longevity in those areas. People who stood on the picket line did so because they wanted to ensure a future for their children and grandchildren, that they would have the values of growing up with what their predecessors had. They do not want to see everybody moving to the cities or emigrating. They want to retain an ethos and a value within rural Ireland. They want to ensure that their local post offices, Garda stations, schools and communities will survive. As stated by those on the picket line in Athleague and at Liffey Meats in Ballinasloe, they do not want to see the gate going up at the Shannon or for the west of Ireland to become the playground for the east. They feel very strongly about that. We want those on the benches opposite to come forward with a date for the review task force.

I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Kenny.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No 1:

To insert the following after "which is likely to negatively impact rural development and the agri-food sector.":

"— establish a beef market observatory from which each processor is legally compelled to publish daily price reports to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding:

— the prices for cattle (euros per kilogram) established on that day, categorised by:

— type of purchase;

— the quantity of cattle purchased;

— a range of the estimated live weights of the cattle purchased;

— an estimate of the percentage of the cattle purchased that were of a quality grade of choice or better; and

— any premiums or discounts associated with:

— weight, grade or yield; or

— any type of purchase; and

— the quantity of cattle delivered to the processor (quoted in numbers of herd) on that day, categorised by:

— type of purchase;

— the quantity of cattle delivered on a live weight basis; and

— the quantity of cattle delivered on a dressed weight basis; and

calls on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make the information available to the public every reporting day."

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important motion. For decades now, rural Ireland has been damaged and neglected by successive Government policies. The evidence of this can be seen in the closure of banks, health centres, marts and many other important facilities across the country. Broadband remains unavailable and in many parts of the country public transport is almost non-existent. Parts of the midlands region is in danger of becoming a rust belt owing to a lack of investment or serious job creation projects. God knows how much longer rural Ireland will have to wait for broadband. Provision in this regard has been a total mess owing to the privatisation by this Government and its predecessors of Eir and the current botched procurement process. This matter needs to be addressed now.

We are in the midst of a severe crisis within the beef sector as family farms across rural Ireland face the threat of closure. Fine Gael has been in government for eight years now and rural Ireland has never felt so isolated and under pressure. I thank the Rural Independent Group for proposing this motion, which fairly accurately reflects what is happening.

Sinn Féin has tabled an amendment to the motion, which I hope the Rural Independent Group and others in this House will consider supporting. It is about transparency in pricing. There has been much talk here over the past 20 minutes about transparency. The Sinn Féin amendment provides parties across the House with an opportunity to support it.

A major issue now in the beef sector is the lack of trust between the processors and the farmers. We need to deal with that issue and the Sinn Féin amendment is a serious attempt to do that.

There are issues such as the base price for which we cannot legislate. The factories have a role to play in setting a fair beef price. The deal that was agreed, while not perfect, represents progress but it needs to be built on. Much is dependent on the setting of a fair base price. We need to underpin transparency with legislation. The Bill put forward by Sinn Féin provides for transparency between the processor and the primary producer.

Currently, a small group of powerful cartel-like processors are taking advantage of a system in which farmers are denied basic information. The Sinn Féin amendment calls on the Government to establish a beef market observatory which would require processors to publish daily price reports. I raised this issue last week with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, when they assured me that would give serious consideration to the proposed legislation. I hope that they will reiterate that on the record today. We understand the legislation is not a silver bullet and it certainly does not meet all the farmers' demands but it would go some way towards ending the manipulation of prices and rebuilding the vital trust that is needed. It would also address a lot of the key issues in the sector.

I support the call in the motion for a commitment to introduce a framework for producer organisations in the beef sector. Time will tell whether these producer organisations are the answer. Farmers are divided on the issue. Some farmers have told me that they will not work but we must give them a chance. I have never seen a situation where a combination has been bad. There is always strength in numbers, whether workers, farmers or any other group. Currently, we have an Independent Farmers of Ireland producer organisation and we are soon to have a beef farmers of Ireland producer organisation. It is very important that we find a way to allow farmers to negotiate on a level playing field with processors and the producer organisation provides an opportunity for small and medium sized farmers to come together to fight as a collective.

What we need now from the Minister and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the putting in place of the relevant technical support and legislation to ensure that these farmers are given the best opportunity possible to make the system work and to build on the deal that has been negotiated.

I want now to touch on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. Previously, we had a system of farm payments which was based on historical entitlements, which served only to preserve inequality as some farmers received more per hectare than others. There are huge variations in terms of what farmers receive in payments. We need to address this issue. Sinn Féin has long supported an upper limit of €60,000 per annum for basic payments, with farmers having the option of topping up their payments through participation in environmental schemes. This would allow for front-loaded payments for the development of small and medium sized farms. It would offer additional supports proportionally for those small and medium sized farms and it would also reward farmers for good environmental practices and build on some of the existing schemes. It is disappointing that the Government continues to advocate for direct payments to be capped at €100,000, with loopholes that will allow payments above this limit. Some of the beef processing factories are claiming these benefits. This is deeply unjust.

We need to be focus our attention on new income streams for farmers and rural Ireland. Renewable energy development, in particular biomass and biogas, present us with a huge opportunity in this regard. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, is interested in forestry. There is a huge opportunity that we need to grab with both hands. Bord na Móna imports biomass from South America. There is land around the power stations in west Offaly, Edenderry and Lanesborough that could be used to grow biomass. There is a surplus of straw this year. Straw is the second best fuel for use in biomass. There are huge opportunities in the forestry sector. I would like the Government to give serious consideration to the opportunities in solar, small-scale wind and, in some case, hydro energy. We accept that Bord na Móna has to move away from peat production but this has to happen in a sustainable and fair way. We need to have a fair and just transition.

The biomass supply chains have the potential to replace peat production and to fuel the three midlands power stations. Hundreds of new jobs can be created in the midlands with renewable energy development. We need to give this serious consideration. I have brought forward several policy papers and Bills in this area. We also have a very large agricultural sector which creates an abundance of slurry, animal and crop waste. This waste can be used to produce biogas which is a renewable source of energy. Germany has over 6,000 biogas plants. England has 600 and Ireland has only one feeding in the grid, which is the Billy Costello facility in Nurney. We need the Government to start thinking about the future of rural Ireland and to begin the process of developing other income streams for farmers. As we move away from the current situation, farmers and all of us, Opposition and Government, must start thinking about the creation of new income streams. It is not sustainable into the future for us to compete with other countries where farmers are not dependent on beef or dairy and have supplementary incomes from energy and other sources.

We do not want the Government to be commentators and we should not be commentators. We must all be active around this and create new jobs and new sources of energy. In the short term, I urge the Government to play its part to make sure the deal agreed between the beef processors and the farmers is built on and implemented in full so we can ensure the future of beef farming in this country.

I commend the Rural Independent Group on bringing forward this motion. One of the key elements of the beef crisis, which is one of the things that has led to the focus on this, is the suckler farmer. Suckler farmers in the west of Ireland are under significant stress. When one looks at the economics of it, one can see that they do not work very well. I commend the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the committee's report on this. The suckler cow is kept every year and costs more than the calf is worth as a weanling when it is sold. That is the only thing that cow is producing. This is the stark reality concerning where the problem lies with regard to the suckler farmer. It costs more to keep the incubator farmers use to produce the animal than the animal itself so suckler farmers are totally dependent on the money they get in the post through direct farm payments, the GLAS scheme and other schemes. That is why it is vital to ensure that these farmers have access to these schemes and that they get the money on time when that money is due.

One of the things we need to think about is how that can be sustained as we move forward because suckler farming in the west of Ireland is in crisis. Unless the price rises for the beef farmer, it will not be possible to increase it for the suckler farmer. Key to that is looking at how that model works and we need work on this. The agreement reached between the farmers and the factories on foot of the crisis in the past few weeks is a basis on which to build but it is a long way from where we need to get to. The reality is that farmers are at their wits' end. Their backs are to the wall, they do not see a future and we need to recognise that. I again commend the motion. All of us have a significant job of work to do to turn this around because this entire industry is in crisis.

I support the motion and say that the view of the Labour Party is that the suckler sector is a vital for the Irish agrifood sector. We have been studying the report authored by Professor Thia Hennessy, Dr. Justin Doran, Professor Joe Bogue and Dr. Lana Repar entitled, The Economic and Societal Importance of the Irish Suckler Beef Sector. My own area of Cork is predominantly a dairy sector and is probably more protected from the vagaries of the market than the Border, midlands and west region to which other speakers have referred. The report sets out a clear challenge regarding where the suckler beef sector will see itself in a number of years. Page 66 of the report concerns moves afoot to replace suckler beef with dairy beef. I will quote from the report because it is worth considering the academic view on this. Section 7.4 states that:

It is expected that the dairy sector will continue to grow, and as such an increasing share of the output of the beef sector will be comprised of dairy-bred beef. Some believe that the threat of a contracting suckler cow herd can be offset by the potential to replace this sector with dairy-bred beef. However, for others there are concerns about whether rearing dairy calves is an appropriate substitute for suckler farming. Single suckling selling weanlings is the most common production system in the west of Ireland. Typically, calves remain grazing with the cow and are sold once weaned. These calves are typically purchased by farmers with better production conditions and possibly based in a better climate, and are then fattened. Single suckling selling weanling farms may not have the land type, housing facilities and/or husbandry skills to finish dairy animals. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, despite a number of campaigns to promote dairy calf rearing in the west of Ireland, uptake has been very slow. It remains to be seen whether dairy beef can be a viable alternative to suckler farming in marginal areas.

In speaking to that point, it is important that we do not forget that there are regional variations and that in certain areas, farmers must specialise in suckler farming because of the conditions that apply there. We must be mindful of the fact that those farm families need to earn an income, put food on the table and, as Deputy Rabbitte noted, give their children the option of continuing in farming. They must have a proper price for their product. They cannot be merely price takers.

We also welcome the recent moves regarding price but we feel strongly that the Government must play a more active part in ensuring that there is greater communication between all the stakeholders in a co-ordinated and organised way that recognises the regional variations that exist as they relate to those people who rely on the suckler beef sector.

The regional spread of the agrifood sector means that it underpins the socioeconomic development of rural areas, in particular. For example, more than half of all Irish farmers are located in the Border, midlands and west region with around a quarter of farmers being over the age of 65. Statistics from the Government pointing to job creation in the capital in the areas of finance or IT do little to compensate those farmers left to deal with the consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Simply put, these regions will need real support to transition through whatever crisis might come down the line. They are already at crisis point.

It is our view that the Government has failed to provide the necessary support and funding to the sector and rural Ireland over the past three years. Its failed management of two programmes, one of which was fully funded by the EU with the others being co-funded, demonstrates this fact. The LEADER programme 2014-2020, which is a key driver for rural developments, consists of €250 million with regard to projects relating to rural environment, social inclusion and economic development yet with less than 16 months until the deadline. At a time of deep turbulence for rural Ireland, less than 40% of the total funding has been distributed so far. These are all major funding lines that have a significant impact in those marginal areas and on the marginal incomes, to which I referred earlier. There needs to be a more co-ordinated approach at Government level.

In echoing the call of the motion, we agree that introducing a framework for producer groups is necessary to ensure a critical mass of farmers coming together to facilitate price negotiations. In addition, fixed-price contracts must be explored, as proposed by the motion, because the farmer takes all the risk. If a farmer has a fixed-price contract, he or she knows what he or she will get. It is a fixed price that a farmer can take to the bank, so to speak. Irrespective of currency devaluation, fluctuations or market conditions, the farmer knows that there is certainty. It provides a safety net. It would involve sharing the risk between processors and producers or farmers but it would provide farmers with reassurance and provide greater market stability.

We support the motion. We strongly believe that there needs to be a greater interrogation of the dynamics within the suckler sector. The report from which I quoted provides a strong basis for this. It states in its conclusions:

Despite the economic significance of the suckler cow sector, the grave and difficult economic situation at the farm level is a major weakness. The very low market prices relative to production costs mean that this large farm sector is almost entirely reliant on direct payments. This obviously makes the sector, and indeed the entire supply chain, extremely vulnerable in light of the proposed cuts to the CAP budget. Any negative price shocks arising from threats such as Brexit or international trade deals will exacerbate the economic situation at the farm level making farmers even more reliant on payments.

We have a lot of work to do to ensure the viability of the sector in this country, but this is a starting point, and on that basis we are supporting the motion.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí Dála thall as an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála.

I was very proud to stand with the farmers at factories at six different locations throughout the State in recent weeks. The farmers have shown many of us in this country how important it is to stand up for what is right and just in our lives and to fight for a proper income for our families. For me, the problem of this crisis is very simple. The beef industry is an asymmetric industry. It is an oligopoly. There are a small number of massive factories that have enormous power over every single condition of sale, including price, and tens of thousands of farmers who are so small that they have no influence over any condition of sale, including price. It is completely asymmetric, unbalanced, broken and distorted. We can see that by the fact that one factory can make a profit of €170 million in one year, be tax resident in Luxembourg, pay a 0.5% rate of tax, have assets of €3.5 billion and expect the farmer to bring a beast to the gate at below cost. It is a shocking injustice that a factory could make so much profit and expect the supplier to bring the product to the gate at a loss. By participating in this market farmers are making a serious loss. The average wage of a farmer is now between €8,000 and €10,000. It is only at that level because there is a subsidy. The subsidy makes up 140% of the income of a farmer. That is a startling fact. It shows that if the farmer stopped participating in the market, he or she would be much better off.

This injustice is black and white. It is an absolute disgrace that it continues and the Government is an absolute disgrace for presiding over it. The attitude of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to this has been one of laissez-faire. The Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government has sat on its hands right throughout this process as though it was not its fault. It amuses me that Fine Gael states that it is the party of the free market, yet so many markets in this country are absolutely distorted. The beef market is not the only one. The insurance market is distorted. It took the European Union to investigate the cartel in that sector. The housing market is absolutely distorted. It seems that there is nobody with an economics background on the Fine Gael benches who can sort out some of the distortions happening in the markets.

I spoke to a senior Fine Gael Deputy in the middle of the crisis. That Fine Gael Deputy said that the expectations of the farmers were unreasonable because they expected a price that was above the break-even point. It is amazing that a person who claimed to represent the farmers believed the expectation to make a living was absolutely unreasonable. Teagasc tells us that one third of farmers in the State are making a living from their farms, one third are only making a living because they are also working off the farm, and another third is making a loss, which means they are being pushed off their farms and into poverty and debt. I will say this as well. I do not believe all the factories are the same. Some of the factories saw this crisis as an opportunity to allow some of the smaller factories to go bust so that they could win their contracts.

Most of the speeches from the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government tonight have been fiddling around the edges. If we do not talk about the base price and the fact that farmers have to make a living from their activities, then we are not at the races. We are not being serious about the problem. This week I introduced a new Bill which would ban the below-cost selling of beef on an interim basis over a period of time in which the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission could do the job it is meant to do and ensure balance in the market. The Bill has a sunset clause and would fall into abeyance after a year if that market is fixed. I encourage Deputies from across the Chamber to support that Bill. I also note that the Beef Plan Movement's representatives are coming to the audiovisual room this Thursday at 11 a.m. I encourage Deputies to come and listen to them.

There is much more to this. These protests were about much more than the price of beef. They were about the straw that broke the camel's back. I believe this was a form of insurrection in rural Ireland. People talk about 20-20 vision. The Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael Government has M50 vision. It cannot see this country beyond the M50. We have an excess concentration of wealth, infrastructure and population in one small part of the country while population is falling in the rest of the country. Young people are leaving the rest of the country in their droves. Why would they do otherwise? Why would someone take over a farm that will drive him or her into poverty by cultivating it? It is very important that the Government starts to listen.

The anger over this has not gone away. Many of the farmers were so economically hammered that they had no choice but to return to their farms. The protests may be over, but this crisis is by no means over. I encourage the Government not to squander this opportunity to fix this crisis. Its members must take their hands from underneath their behinds, start to roll up their sleeves and get working on this issue. This is a crisis that we have to fix. We cannot allow a situation where one part of the country is overheating, with new schools being built, while in the rest of the country schools, services, Garda stations, banks and post offices are being closed. We need proper regional development and we need to make sure that rural Ireland can make a living in the future.

I support the motion. I thank the farmers we met in different places on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I also note that one meat processor met us on Sunday. I thank that party for being courteous and resolving the issue for the time being.

We have to decide what the future of agriculture in Ireland will be. Where are we going from this debacle? We know that the price farmers are taking is not sustainable. Unfortunately, the land in many parts of the country where beef or suckler calves are raised is not of a quality that could be used for dairy farming. A lot of concerns have out-farms and small plots of land of relatively poor quality. This is the only way of life these farmers can pursue at the moment. We must know what path we are leaving open to these people, because what is happening at the moment is not sustainable.

We have decisions to make. Are we going to continue to allow slurry to be exported from farms that have no land? Will cattle be behind barriers all year in feedlots? Whether in the beef or dairy sectors, are we going to allow slurry go to other farms? I was brought up with the idea that one should farm the land one had. It was not a case of putting two cows or two bullocks on top of one another and deciding to send the slurry somewhere else. Decisions have to be made on issues such as these.

We need to start breeding good quality calves out of the dairy herd. Those farmers are going to hit a wall and no one wants to see that happen but that will happen next spring. Beef farmers face a burden now and they do not want to go back there again. Are we going to have bull calves that are impossible to sell or are we going to try to promote a better quality animal to ensure the industry is sustainable for all involved? I note exports have increased, and I welcome that. However, we need to look for export markets for the heavier cattle, the stores and the weanlings to ensure it is sustainable.

The reality is that most farms in the west of Ireland are sheep or suckler because although one has the farms, one does not have the volume. Some 90,000 to 100,000 farmers have beef or sheep. Will they be sustainable? What is the plan for the future? Are we bringing in any mitigation measures? Hedgerows are not even included in the mitigation measures at the moment. Everybody wants to heap everything on top of the people in rural Ireland. Rural Ireland is supposed to pay for the carbon tax while at the same time be the carbon sequestration part of the country. There are solutions that can be implemented in that regard, such as shelter belts. However, farmers must be rewarded for doing that, rather than having something imposed on them.

There has been much talk in recent weeks at the gates of the factories about Polish and every other type of beef. Will we consider the idea of being the first country to identify all our cattle by DNA? It would be possible to trace the origins to the relevant tag and animal. Are we going to do that or are we going to allow the "ifs", "ands" and "maybes" and perhaps the exaggeration of certain things to continue?

I refer to the issue of 16% of our private land being designated as a special area of conservation, SAC - people were out and about in connection with that today - natural heritage areas, NHAs, and special protection areas, SPAs. All that places a burden on the landowners. There are 35 notifiable actions that have to be done. Those farmers are not allowed to farm like some of their neighbours. They have to bear that burden but a family still has to be reared in such circumstances. The Government hides and does not look after them. There will be reference to these farmers receiving the GLAS payment. Anybody can receive that payment if they sow some wild bird cover. There should be no reference to those farmers being looked through GLAS. We have to make sure that those farmers are looked after. We need Europe, as a whole, and not just Ireland, to decide if we are going to keep going with this drive for low-cost products. Are we going to try to keep bringing in food from Brazil, knowing the standard of traceability used there? Are we going to decide instead that we will produce and provide a proper traceable product at a proper price?

Another aspect that is worrying, and people at the factories will confirm this, is that 15 or 16 years ago, 78% of our cattle were R or U grade but that is now down to 48%. That shows we are not producing the quality animal. Have a look at the Italian market or at some of the other markets or just talk to dealers? They can go into a mart and pick out a pen of cattle in a few minutes. That is all it takes when they are looking for cattle that are E, U and even R grades. We have to decide whether we have a path for these people and these families to follow. I say that because there are more than 80,000 to 100,000 farmers involved. Probably another 2.4 people in rural areas do not have many alternatives.

We cannot continue to neglect and ignore them because as the old saying goes, if you pull a dog's tail often enough it will bite back. We have to put forward a clear path for them and not leave them in a jungle or a theme park. We have to ensure the €12 billion or €13 billion in exports will keep these people going. Our exports will decrease if we do not. We have to make sure the next generation is able to farm the land. Perhaps there are other options we can look at, but we have to make sure we provide some kind of clear path into the future.

I was away for the past two and half weeks, unfortunately. However, I was watching things from afar. The beef crisis has been looming for some time. When I was agriculture spokesman, I argued that farming was in a situation where farmers were losing money. If we were to look at the accounts of many farmers, minus the fixed grant payments, such as GLAS, the basic payment and the area of natural constraint, ANC, payment, we would find that those farmers are losing money farming. What has been going on for some time but what has been totally exacerbated this year is the reality that the more and the harder a person farms, the less money that he or she makes. A minimalist approach with minimalist inputs is the most profitable way of farming. The farming industry has been so structured for some time but the situation has been completely exacerbated by the collapse in the beef price this year. Such an industry is not structured correctly. We need to face up to this issue at national level and examine the way we are assisting farming at EU level. The collapse in the beef price brought the more intensive farmers to a total crisis this year. However, to state that this pattern has not been there for some time, particularly for farmers in the less advantaged areas, would be to ignore the reality that is visible in the accounts of farmers.

A second and valid issue concerns profit-taking in the sector. Deputies will remember when we did a major analysis of this subject in the agriculture committee. We looked at the retail sector, in particular. Work was going on in France and I produced a paper on this issue, which proved to be of great interest to the European Commission at a time. That paper examined the need to start finding out who was making what out of the farming industry. The one thing we found out, because it was easy enough to measure, was that out of the price paid for a litre of milk in a shop, the percentage going to the farmer dropped by 10% in the previous 11 years. It can be taken that the same is happening with other parts of our agriculture. However, it is much harder to measure the impact in respect of meat than milk because that is sold the next day. We really need to start to analyse this issue. Europe stated that it is interested. We need to deal with the cartels, and that involves not only the factories but the retailers.

Some evidence shows that the retailers are also manipulating the price and we need to deal with this issue. We need to examine it very carefully. An issue that needs to be examined at EU level is the idea that the retailers, who are small in number, and the factories are hugely powerful and can negotiate price but the farmers and other primary producers, who are hugely weak on an individual basis, cannot collectively negotiate price. If this is what competition law means, then competition law is an ass and it is time Europe faced up to it.

I used to often say when we were debating this issue that the problem of primary producers is not unique to Ireland. We all know about fair trade coffee, and we understand it perfectly well. Let us remember that none of us can survive without eating. We can do without many things in life, and some of us could even survive without an iPhone although it would be hard, but we cannot survive without eating. Food and drink are absolutely fundamental. The reality is that primary producers throughout the world are getting pressurised into taking uneconomical prices. I know about producer groups and all the rest. They are very handy and will work for some of the bigger players but for many smaller farmers represented on the backbenches by me, Deputy Scanlon and others they are not as good as farm organisations and other representative bodies being able to negotiate. Would it upset the entire free market of the European Union? I do not believe it would. Would it bring a bit of justice? Yes, I believe it would. We need a lot of change.

The motion also refers to general rural issues. I will mention a few topics very briefly. There is talk of a carbon tax in areas where the State underspends significantly per capita on public transport. The per capita spend in the capital city on buses is three times that of rural areas. The fares in rural areas are twice those of the cities. On the same wages, our taxes subsidise urban transport. I am not complaining about this as I use urban transport but we need equality and we will have to stand up and get it.

Something that slipped through, and perhaps some of us did not see it coming, is that if somebody is building a rural house 100 m away from the public water supply, he or she is no longer allowed to put the pipe in and Uisce Éireann will charge $20,000 - sorry €20,000-----

The Deputy has moved on from the dollar.

I was in the dollar country until the day before yesterday. That is jetlag for you.

People will be charged €20,000, which is even higher than $20,000, to lay that 100 m of pipe. If the distance is 200 m, the price is €40,000 and if it is 300 m, it is €60,000. That is absolutely ridiculous.

Do not give us anything other than fibre broadband. No broadband system other than fibre will be competitive.

I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath and those working in his office, including David and Mairead, for their work on preparing this Private Members' motion. I thank the Members here this evening who have spoken very knowledgeably and sincerely in support of the motion. There are plenty of people from various corners of the House who make a lot of noise about other subjects and there is no sign of them tonight. It is because they have forgotten this is an agricultural country. They have forgotten that the farmers are the backbone of Ireland.

They have forgotten where we came from. I do not know where they think they are going but I know they have forgotten where we have come from.

I am standing 100% with the farmers of Ireland who are fighting for survival. I am speaking predominantly about the small family farm. I hear people saying farmers own land but no farmer in Ireland owns his or her farm. Farmers possess it from the time it is given to them. They use it to make a living or a part-time living for their families. They do not own it. They do not look on it as an asset. They look on it as something they are holding on to in order to pass it on to the next generation, be it a son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, preferred niece or preferred nephew. I do know one thing for certain and that is they will not carry it into the ground with them when they are put six feet under. I never yet saw a farmer take land with him or her. Farmers know they are not taking it anywhere with them. They know they are passing it on to the next generation.

All of the people I know who own land want to leave it after them in a better way than they got it. They want to make improvements. They want to knock a ditch or build a bit of a shed. They want to improve an old bad road where a pipe needed to be put across it. Where old flags or gullets might have fallen down or got broken they want to dig them out and put in a proper gullet or a proper pipe. They want to reclaim land, knock and grow trees and grow and cut grass. They want to improve the place in every way they can.

The simple thing they want to do is make something very small, ordinary and decent, which is a small bit of profit. Whether people are gardaí, dentists, nurses, teachers, working for the local authority or whatever they are doing in life, all they want to do is make a living and a modest amount of money so they can pay their debts, cover their costs and be able to run the show. At present, and the reason we have tabled this Private Members' motion, and the reason Fianna Fáil, fair dues to it, did the same last week, is we want to acknowledge that our farming community is in the height of trouble. Any person who produces anything or improves anything believes he or she will make some little bit of profit. Somebody who bought an old broken down motor car or tractor, fixed it up and sold it would think common sense would prevail and that he or she would make a couple of euro out of it. People can put a bull into a field with a cow and that can result in a calf. At the end of the day, if that calf is brought into this world and reared and if that calf gets fat and into beef and the farmer takes it to the factory thinking he or she will make enough money to pay costs, he or she will be wrong because farmers are not making enough money to pay costs.

Some people are waking up. Some politicians around the country are waking up and thinking farming is in crisis and that people with suckler cows are in crisis. They do not realise this is been going on for a long time. For years, people with cows and calves and rearing beef have not been making money. This did not start in the past couple of months when the issue has been highlighted, and rightly so, by the Beef Plan movement, the IFA and various organisations. Of course, the protest happened and I am the first to admit thousands of cattle need to be killed and the sheep sector has been affected. I know people who desperately want to pay college fees and pay for education but they cannot do so. Even though we are speaking about bad prices, they want to get some price because, as the Minister knows, they have to sell. It has caused major disruption but it had to happen because the problem had to be highlighted.

People are making money out of beef all right but what is highly unfair is that those who are not making any money are those who produce it. They are the people who are up late at night with cows calving and who have cows going wrong and calves dying. They are suffering misfortune and every type of penal servitude that God can bestow upon any man or woman. These people find themselves in severe difficulty.

What people are going through is beyond belief. At the end of the day they are left with a massive bill in the local creamery they cannot afford to pay. It is as simple as that. They carry their calves, sell their weanlings, fatten cattle, sell them to the factory, get their money and by the time they start paying the contractors, paying for fertiliser and feed they will have got nothing out of it but a puff of smoke.

These people are not expecting to make a lot of money, but God blast it, it is a very fair ordinary decent thing for them to make enough money to pay their debts and have a bit of a living so they can pay their electricity bill, pay for the messages, rear their children, send them to school, run the car and tractor, but now they cannot.

At this critical time Ministers are talking about imposing a carbon tax to put penal servitude upon penal servitude. This is what is being proposed by the Government. It will cripple the most vulnerable people in Ireland who are people in rural Ireland. This is probably one of the most anti-rural governments since the foundation of the State because every decision it makes centres on improving things in urban areas and disenfranchising rural areas. It comes back to what I have been saying since the first day I came in here and sat in a far corner of this House. I said certain people in this House believe there is no life beyond the Red Cow roundabout. I am trying to tell the Taoiseach every day to wake up and realise Ireland is a bigger place than Dublin. It does not stop just out the road there. Ireland is a big country and it takes a lot of time to travel around it. There is an awful lot of diversity of people in it. I have nothing but respect for people from Dublin, but the Taoiseach is a Taoiseach for all of Ireland and not just for Dublin.

Unfortunately, when it comes to agriculture many of our Ministers may as well be looking up into the blue moon tonight as try to understand what it is to run a small family farm. They really do not have a clue. I am too polite to say where I like to think their heads are stuck, but they are certainly not stuck into agriculture. They do not realise the difficulties and genuine hardships on family farms.

The small family farm is not an asset; it is something these people want to pass on to future generations. Our young people are very astute, smart and clever. When they see the difficulties people in the farming community have at present and what their parents and grandparents are going through in trying to run the family farm, they will say they are wasting their time. I do not want them to think they are wasting their time. I want to see the factories giving a fair price. If the factories, shops and beef barons can make money out of beef, why in the name of God can the ordinary decent man and woman rearing beef not make money?

Our small farms need to become profitable even if only on a part-time basis. I am not trying to say a small farm will be able to make a full-time living, but at least if farmers had some other off-farm income the farm itself should wash its face and make a little bit of profit. That is all we are looking for in this Private Members' motion. I am very grateful to Fianna Fáil for tabling its motion last week. When I see the crowd from Labour, the crowd from the Green Party and the non-existent Fine Gael Party Members, I compliment Fianna Fáil Members who were here all night. Where, in the name of God, are the people who are forgetting we are a predominantly agriculture-based country? Anyone looking in here tonight would say they have lost their way. How can they know where they have come from if they do not know where they are going? I know where we want to go with this motion. We want a thing called fair play for our farmers.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle and I am sorry for going on.

The Deputy is all right. That was a particularly passionate contribution.

It is easy to be passionate when one is telling the truth.

I thank the Minister for giving me a couple of minutes to say a few words on the issue. I come from the heart of rural Ireland. We do not often get an opportunity to speak about agriculture. I was delighted to see that in the past couple of weeks many Members in this House have a newfound interest in agriculture which is strange for a change. I hope that is maintained in the future.

Agriculture is very important to rural areas of Ireland. During the so-called bad days between 2007 and 2011, agriculture dragged the country out of the mire in which it was at the time. Agriculture made sure that we laid the foundation for the strong base we have in the country today. It is very important that agriculture is maintained in the upcoming period.

The big issue at the moment is with the beef sector. This sector has been in difficulty for a number of years. The sector is in deep difficulty when 114% of the beef farmers' income comes from Europe and it must be addressed. The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine with the involvement of Deputies McConalogue, Cahill and others, produced a cross-party report on the sector in June or July. We made 12 recommendations, the majority of which have been taken on board by most of the farming organisations in recent weeks. The report found that there is no silver bullet to solve the problem. It is a very complex issue and a very complex sector to deal with.

My late father used to say that the suckler cow died in debt and he was right. Once a year the suckler cow produces a calf and that is the only thing she does. The farmer must wait until September or October to get a few euro out of her. She then goes on for the following year and the same issue arises. We have major issues to make that sector profitable in future and it will not be easy.

In recent weeks we have seen difficulties in the relationship between the factories, processors and the primary producers because transparency has been a major issue for some time. Trust has broken down completely and there is no confidence in the sector at the moment. It is vital to rebuild that trust because at the end of the day, whether it is a dispute today, tomorrow or the next day, that farmer has to go to the factory with his end product. That trust and confidence must be rebuilt.

It is important to build on the agreement made in the past couple of weeks. It may not be the perfect solution, but it is a very important first step. A crucial part of that is the proposed taskforce. It is important that the taskforce comes into operation as soon as possible. It needs to meet on a regular basis and specific timeframes need to be put in place to ensure we have a definite result from it.

When the EU directive on unfair trading practices is transposed into Irish law, it will provide more strength. It is important to have a sector regulator to deal with the beef sector across the board. A groceries sector regulator was introduced in Great Britain a number of years ago and it has proven to be very successful. A beef sector regulator would compliment the work done with the agreement in recent weeks.

I have said many times that the only way to secure the future of the beef sector is through collaboration and dialogue. I have outlined in this House recent developments which will provide a pathway in that regard.

Having a shared vision and strategy development process has been crucial to the growth of the entire agrifood sector in recent years. The FoodWise 2025 strategy has been instrumental in providing a shared framework for the sector since its launch in 2015. I acknowledge that the agrifood sector is going through an unprecedented time of challenge and uncertainty. However, we should bear in mind that ours is a sector of resilience. It has faced many challenges in the past and has pulled through. We saw this most starkly during the economic crisis Deputy Deering mentioned earlier. It is worth bearing in mind the extraordinary 73% increase in the value of exports since 2009. Like all strategic plans, FoodWise 2025 must evolve and respond to rapidly changing context and circumstances. We are facing new challenges, in particular the unprecedented uncertainty posed by the possibility of a no-deal Brexit as well as a challenge for the sector to contribute effectively to climate action and ongoing concerns over the new European Union budget and CAP reform.

That challenging background makes it even more important for us to come together and agree a coherent plan for the sector for the decade ahead. As mentioned by earlier speakers, there are emerging opportunities for the sector in the bio-economy.

Hearing the views of all interested parties is an important part of the process in developing the new strategy. In this context I opened a public consultation on 31 July last composed of a public consultation paper that sets out some of the emerging challenges and trends, as well as an online survey. This will remain open until 1 October. I will also host a national stakeholder consultation event on 16 October, and more details of this will be announced shortly. The development of the next agrifood strategy will be a major milestone for the sector and I would urge all interested parties and groups and individuals to contribute to that.

On the wider rural development, the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, was established in November 2012 as an independent expert group to examine and report on the medium-term economic development of rural Ireland until 2025. The report of the commission, Energising Ireland's Rural Economy, was published in April 2014 and made 34 recommendations to Government that the commission argued would support the further development of the rural economy by creating a dynamic, adaptable, outward-looking and multi-sectoral economy. Following the formation of the new Government in 2016, responsibility for rural development policy was transferred from the Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. In July 2017, rural development policy became the responsibility of the newly formed Department of Rural and Community Development. In accordance with a commitment in the action plan for rural development, a review of the status of each recommendation contained in the CEDRA report was undertaken by the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2018. The review found that many of the recommendations contained in the CEDRA report had either been implemented or had been superseded or replaced by actions set out in the action plan for rural development.

In January 2017, Realising our Rural Potential, the action plan for rural development, was published. The action plan built on the CEDRA report and was the first whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland covering a wide range of social and economic issues. The action plan for rural development has been the primary vehicle for the implementation of the Government's support for rural development over the past three years. It contains more than 270 actions for delivery across Government, the majority of which have been substantially progressed. Delivery of the measures contained in the action plan will continue until the end of 2019. Progress on the implementation of the actions is overseen by a monitoring committee that includes senior representatives of relevant Departments and key rural stakeholder interests. Progress reports on the implementation of the action plan are published twice yearly. There has been significant investment in rural areas since the action plan was launched through schemes such as the town and village renewal scheme and the new rural regeneration and development fund, and it will amount to €1 billion over the next ten years.

The whole-of-Government approach of the action plan for rural development is bringing real and tangible benefits to rural areas. Investment is taking place across Government in measures that support rural business, rural communities and connectivity. The investment is driving job creation, providing new types of service, and enhancing the quality of life in rural Ireland. My colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, informs me that the action plan for rural development is reaching the end of its three-year life cycle at the end of 2019 and his Department is in the process of developing a new rural development policy to succeed that action plan from 2020. The next phase will build on progress since 2017 and will focus on building the resilience of rural communities and the diversification of rural economies. The new rural policy will be forward looking and will focus on building the resilience of rural communities in a period of emerging challenges, which include Brexit, climate change, new technologies and the transformation of traditional industrial sectors. As was the case with the action plan for rural development, the new policy will reflect a whole-of-Government commitment to rural Ireland and will take account of other key policy initiatives such as Project Ireland 2040, future jobs Ireland, the Government's climate action plan, and my Department's agrifood policy to 2030. It is envisaged that the new rural policy 2020-2025 will be published in January next year.

The agreement reached by the beef stakeholders following the talks I facilitated over the weekend of 14-15 September, including the establishment of a beef market task force, has the potential to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability. The establishment of the first beef producer organisation in Ireland earlier this month is a significant milestone for the sector, strengthening the position of the primary producer in the supply chain. I hope that many more producer organisations will be established in the not too distant future.

The Government is committed to strategic rural development, including new plans in the agrifood sector and for wider rural development policy. I urge all stakeholders to engage in the planning process and to contribute positively to the future in rural Ireland.

I thank all the speakers who supported our motion and who came and gave of their time. Disappointment has been expressed about many who did not come. Agriculture is our primary industry and we must mind it.

I learnt a great deal during the time of the protests and it was not just the blockades in Cahir where I was much of the time. I thank Bob Wilkinson, a man in his 80s, young Daniel Long, and Alison de Vere Hunt, who travelled to Dublin for the talks and who was not treated nicely in the Minister's Department. I have said that to him before. I also thank Superintendent Denis Whelan, the gardaí in Cahir Garda station, and the workers who went in and out of the factory and were so peaceful and respectful of what was going on. Many of them brought food to feed the farmers and their families. I thank the many companies that brought food and the many women who baked scones and apple tarts and cream. There was a joyous atmosphere there. The weather was great. It went on longer than it should have.

We should not have had to have been there because this crisis has been coming. The Minister sleepwalked into it. When we got the mandate to talk to Fine Gael about the programme for Government and we agreed to include the issue of producer organisations, the Government did nothing about it. As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and others have said, this is a Dublin-centric Government. The Taoiseach, who should be sitting where the Minister is now, said that we must eat less beef. Is that a man to be heading our country? We know what his interests are. Deputy Healy-Rae was right to point that out. Time and again the Government was warned.

In recent days when my colleagues and others were working very hard to get the gates opened and the cattle going in, there were rumours that Meat Industry Ireland, MII, met the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to get the Garda to move the rest of the people away. We were negotiating, and while I acknowledge the Minister took a phone call from one of the Healy-Rae brothers on Saturday to try to get it stood down, he did not take a phone call or a text from me at the start of the protest. He ignored it and hoped it would go away. He was on his holidays and wanted to stay on his holidays. He could be on holidays every day because this is the most useless, toothless and fruitless Government that ever sat in this Chamber. It has no respect for rural Ireland, no respect for na daoine beaga or for any of the organisations, although some are too cosy with the Government. MII placed injunctions on the Beef Plan Movement, which had to go to ground. Then the Government told us it had no one to talk to. Independent Farmers of Ireland came forward and sent people to talk and, thankfully, we are where we are. The Minister cobbled together an agreement. It is a tús maith. It is a good start and we have to work to it.

The Minister of State said that all the stakeholders, all the usual suspects, will be put onto this task force. I do not want all the stakeholders. They can meet the Minister every day of the week, Bord Bia, Teagasc, and Department officials. This should involve MII, with a truly independent chairperson - someone like Kieran Mulvey. He does not have to know agriculture. The less he knows about it the better. He is someone who will not be fooled or have the wool pulled over his eyes. It has to include the farming groups, Veterinary Ireland, and MII, and it must have standards. There should be no threatening. It is shameful to say that Mr. Healy from my own county was using bully-boy tactics and incensing farmers when I saw the farmers and the workers saluting one another and giving tea and whatever else. I sympathise with the workers who lost their jobs or who were temporarily laid off. That should not have happened. I am an employer, like Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, Deputy Michael Collins, and many more. We would keep our workers for a few weeks certainly. Where is the good faith and the goodwill?

One day when I was there, a lorry with a 40 ft container arrived and a vet came to plead with the lads to let him in to inspect it. He told us that was Polish beef going into the factory. It left. Three weeks later another lorry came and we were told it was a load of pork. That lorry was followed because bringing in pork from Poland is dangerous due to swine flu and other infections. That would have been devastating. Everyone at the gates was filmed by powerful cameras all day and night. As if that was not bad enough, some of the lads came out of the factory to intimidate the protesters and make videos. We were all told we were caught on video. That lorry was followed. I know where it went. It came back saying it went to the wrong factory. I want the Minister to investigate those issues. That could cause unbelievable damage. It is reckless. We do not know what is going into the meat.

One thing that has come out of this protest is that the public has got a greater understanding of how the farmer is being blackguarded, when the fact was put on the posters that only 2.6% of the €10 goes to the farmer and what else goes to the retailers and the factories.

Where does the fifth quarter go? I salute Mr. Seamus Maye and the fabulous investigation of the fifth quarter he has carried out. The problems in that regard are staggering. The Government allowed a certain mogul in the industry to take control of offal only a couple of years ago. Every bit of offal is controlled by a big beef baron and nobody else can go anywhere with any of it. When individual plants were making deals because they wanted to get going and fulfil their contracts, as we all did, the heavy hand came in again. The moguls rule. The biggest beef baron in the country - everyone knows who I mean - said the plants could not sell their offal and instead could dump it wherever they liked. Such cop-on has been allowed. The Competition Authority is a disgrace. It has done nothing but tell farmers they could not negotiate the price. What is the authority meant to be? If I was running a business up a boreen on the side of a mountain and was doing something to cause unfair competition, the authority would fine me and close me down. It will not touch the people I have outlined, however, because there is too much money involved, too much big business and too many people who were friends with one another when they were growing up.

The IFA has given the Government an easy ride in the past eight years. Of course it has, given that most of its members are in the Government's party. Fair dues to the beef industry of Ireland and independent farmers. Circumstances have changed and will never be the same because the genie is out of the bottle and people know what is going on. They know that farmers have been blaggarded. When the animal is put in the trailer, as Deputy Michael Healy-Rae noted, farmers tend to it. If the cow is inseminated, farmers nurture the little calves, work with the cow the whole way and look after it. They are accused of all kinds of bad practices but they look after their animals and respect them, their land and their families. All they want is a fair price for their work, rather than cartels being formed, money being creamed off elsewhere, and the blaggarding that is going on.

I call on the Minister to insist that the Cahir factory is reopened. Everything was allowed in by the protestors except cattle or beef, while cattle were allowed in for the Chinese visit. Of course the Chinese delegation was allowed in because it would have been reckless otherwise, and meat was allowed out when it had to be brought out. All the maintenance crews were allowed in to keep the factory ready and in pristine condition, but now we are told it will take a couple of weeks in some places to start killing again. That is blaggarding and it must stop. The power must be given back to the producer. What are we here for? Rural Ireland will be wiped out. As has been noted, with all that is taken away from us, we will lose beef farmers and producers. They spend every penny in the rural economy, in the schools, shops, GAA clubs and the whole lot. Ní neart go cur le chéile.

What are we trying to do under the Government? It is a disgrace how it has treated everyone else. Any small person is in the way. It is all about the large supermarkets, Larry Goodman and company, and the rest of them, and to hell with na daoine beaga. The Government does not want them at all. It should go back to its roots. It will have to go back soon enough looking for votes and will find out the hard way. I thank the gardaí and everyone in Cahir who helped to keep the peace, normal trading and the work going on, even though some people were turfed out. We were on the cusp of a settlement in Cahir on Monday, 16 September but it did not happen, although it should have. We were again on the cusp on Wednesday, 18 September, when most of the farmers who wanted to stand down walked away. A group stayed on, as was their prerogative. The factory knew on Thursday that the matter would be settled on Friday but what did it do? It announced another 100 job losses on Friday morning.

It was such contempt, such waving, teasing and mocking of the protestors. The factory had a monopoly for 35 years and it got away with it, since Charlie Haughey bailed it out and left it alone. At least he made beef deals and with the Purcells sold exports to Libya. He did something for the country and did the State some service, but the Government has done nothing. It has watched it being destroyed, rural Ireland being decimated and farmers being driven to protest this week, but for several weeks the Minister would not even engage. When he did engage at first, he had MII dictating what would happen, who could be in the room and under what conditions. It is time the mask was removed from MII and that it respected producers. Many workers at the factories are annoyed at what happened and some of them are annoyed with me, which I fully accept. They are entitled to be, given that I was in the middle. If we did not have producers, the workers would not be kept at the factories. That is what we do not see in the picture.

I watched a wonderful exposé on RTÉ last night about what happened at the atrocious event in County Cavan. It is time that RTÉ and the rest of the media broadcast an exposé on what is taking place with the cartels in the beef business. It is beyond time but it will not happen, as it will not in the case of the multiples, because as we see when we open the Sunday newspapers, there are pages and pages of advertisements. Money talks. It is time the Minister answered the questions about beef from Poland and, worse again, the pork from Poland. Did it come into Cahir and, if so, why? What is happening in that regard? We demand respect. We do not want a taskforce with all the usual suspects taking up places, eating their dinner and taking up time. We want the producers, farm families, the organisations and MII. There must be an independent regulator, with teeth and power, and it must gain respect. Respect has to be earned and he or she who earns it will get it. Previously, the regulator was the Secretary General of the Department. I do not know the man but how could he be independent? He is not independent.

We want independence on the taskforce. We in the Rural Independent Group, en masse day in, day out, will call on the Government to ensure that the taskforce is meaningful, and that it will have respect and teeth. We will not be fobbed off. The fobbing-off is over, as the Minister will soon learn.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Motion agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 September 2019.