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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 26 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 7

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Agriculture Industry

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

117. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce primary legislation to establish an unfair trading practices enforcement authority. [26982/22]

I want to ask the Minister about the expected timeframe in respect of his proposed legislation to establish an unfair trading practices enforcement authority; when he considers each stage will be progressed through the Dáil; and when he expects the final legislation to be concluded.

I thank Deputy Carthy for the question. As he is aware, the unfair trading practices enforcement authority was established by my Department in April of last year when I signed a statutory instrument transposing the EU unfair trading practices, UTP, directive directly into Irish law. I want to assure the Deputy that this enforcement authority has been assigned all the necessary legal powers, including to investigate complaints from suppliers of agricultural and food products and to initiate legal proceedings for breaches of the unfair trading practices directives, which are defined in the UTP directive.

It is open to suppliers, including to primary producers, to engage with the enforcement authority on any concerns they may have in relation to UTPs. Information regarding enforcement authority can be found on the authority's website, where there are good resources and information. Suppliers can submit complaints in confidence through that website.

The authority has been engaging in an active awareness-raising campaign. It has been meeting with stakeholders throughout the supply chain to ensure compliance with the directive.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that, following Government approval of a general scheme of the agricultural food supply chain Bill 2022 on 22 March last, the Bill has been forwarded to the office of the Parliamentary Counsel for priority drafting. It has been submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine for pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that Deputy Carthy will be able to give it his support in order to deal with that pre-legislative scrutiny promptly. The general scheme of the Bill has also been published on my Department’s website and I am hopeful that the legal drafting will be finalised shortly, in the next few weeks, and that the Bill can be presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas in that timeframe.

This Bill will establish the office for fairness and transparency in the agrifood supply chain as a new independent statutory body. It will take over enforcement of the UTP directive. It will also have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland, with a view to bringing greater transparency to the agricultural and food supply chains. I know that we are all committed to that. The establishment of the new office will fulfil the Government's commitment to ensure transparency in the food supply chain for farmers and fishers. I want to thank Cabinet colleagues for their support on this to date.

I say with assurance that the Oireachtas committee on agriculture will, as I know from our discussions, be keen to scrutinise this Bill in an efficient way. Yet, it is very important that we do it in a robust way. The Minister will know that I was part of the discussions at a European level in relation to the unfair trading practices regulation. I was extremely disappointed with the concluding document. I felt that it was minimalist and that it allowed member states to take a minimalist approach. At the time of transposing the UTP directive via statutory instrument, the Minister took a minimalist approach. This legislation is an opportunity to make a real difference to primary producers, such as our family farmers, to ensure that they at long last get fair play in the food supply chain.

How does the Minister envisage this process? If a farmer has a complaint with the price they receive for their product within the factory, what ability will they have to make a complaint? More importantly, what power will the new enforcement authority have to pursue that complaint?

I have been advocating for this since my time in opposition. Indeed, I put it forward as part of our platform at the last general election. I welcome the recent support from Sinn Féin for the principle of the establishment of an office to ensure fairness and transparency. It is important that we see the Oireachtas agriculture committee do that pre-legislative scrutiny. I look forward to a robust and thorough engagement in relation to that.

It is important to outline that prices cannot be set. The market determines that. The key objective behind this office will be to ensure that there will be transparency in terms of what is happening in the market. Then we can see how it can be traced back from the prices that are available in the marketplace, back to the farm gate. We will see where the margins are going in relation to that. We can then put pressure on the supply chain to ensure that the farmers get fair reward, a fair profit and fair respect for the work that they are carrying out. I see that as a key objective behind the office.

As the Bill moves through the Oireachtas, I look forward to the pre-legislative scrutiny, as well as any engagement or perspectives that Deputies across the House will have in aiding in that. I have engaged very widely so far in consultation to ensure that we can have legislation that is as robust as is possible.

I am sure that the Minister will agree the last thing we need is another quango. We need an organisation that has real teeth. In the first instance, therefore, we have to ensure that unfair trading practices are outlined, identified and outlawed. That means that the current list of outlawed practices needs to be widely expanded, in my view. Second, we need to see that the enforcement authority has power to pursue breaches of that.

There is legislation before the Dáil at the moment on Committee Stage to give new powers to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to levy fines of real significance that are based on turnover. It will give the commission new powers to tackle actors who are in breach consumer and competition law. In my view, a real meat regulator that has teeth would have those powers, and more. Will it have those powers? Farmers will quite naturally ask if they will finally see a rebalancing of the relationship between them and the factories, so that they can challenge decisions that are made by factories in relation to prices. This does not necessarily relate to the prices itself, but to the penalties and to the rules that apply at factory level that are set in place to penalise those same farmers.

This is a quite unique initiative that the Government and I are bringing forward with the objective of ensuring that primary producers, in particular farmers and fishers, get respect and that they get paid properly a fair margin of what is available in the marketplace for their massive amount of work over one or two years to produce an animal for market. As a country that exports 90% of the food we produce, it is the international marketplace that determines the final outcome. We must try to optimise that in every way we can.

The core objective and the reason for coming forward with this office is to ensure there is an independent office with the credibility and capacity to shine a light on what is happening in the marketplace and the supply chain and, therefore, to try to ensure farmers are getting fair play and, where they are not, that it is called out. That office will have any powers possible to follow that through.

I have taken a very collaborative approach to how we can develop this. I look forward to continuing to do that through pre-legislative scrutiny and in bringing legislation to the House.

Departmental Policies

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

118. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to facilitate farmers trading carbon credits; if he intends to establish a verifiable framework to record and manage net carbon sequestration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27161/22]

The agriculture sector is facing an emissions reduction target of 30% by 2030 due to the failure by the Government to progress any actions over the past two years to reduce emissions. While plenty of stick is being doled out to farmers to meet these targets, there is not too much carrot. What is being planned to encourage farmers to sequester carbon and get rewarded for it?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The recent publication of the European Commission's communication, Sustainable Carbon Cycles, has sent a clear signal to European member states on the need to increase the ambition and participation of our land managers in the area of carbon removals and reductions. Under the recently updated all-of-government Climate Action Plan 2021, the Government has committed to “explore the development of a carbon farming model”. This commitment is in recognition of the important role land managers will play in the achievement of our national climate change mitigation targets and the potential to reward these land managers for their additional carbon sequestration activities.

To address this action, officials in my Department have formed the carbon farming working group to examine how an enabling framework for carbon farming can be developed. A key element to future efforts required for a carbon sequestration reward model will be the establishment of national baseline data for a range of activities. To this end, and taking a proactive approach, we have provided core funding for a number of relevant initiatives, such as the establishment of the national agricultural soil carbon observatory, the pilot soil sampling programme and the farm environmental scheme, along with a number of European Innovation Partnership, EIP, research projects based on peat soils.

These national research and demonstration activities will have key learnings for future policy in this area, while also leading to a refinement of data to the national inventory reporting framework for greenhouse gas emissions. The current woodland environmental fund, administered through my Department as part of the national afforestation programme, provides us with a pre-existing model for targeted payments to land managers for their positive environmental activities, which will be of significant benefit to the future roll-out of a dedicated carbon farming incentive to the Irish market.

Our farm families and landowners are key to delivering national climate change targets. In fact, they are taking a real leadership role in meeting our ambitions. Offering farm families the opportunity to derive new income streams from their land is something I am excited about working on. I look forward to working with all stakeholders on innovations such as carbon farming and contributing to the future development of an Irish-specific voluntary carbon market.

I am afraid not too much excitement was relayed in that response. As the Minister of State knows, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has pointed out that mitigating greenhouse gases alone will not get us to net zero. We need to increase our carbon stocks, and measuring what we have in our soils, hedges and trees is key to that, in addition to improving our soil health and, in turn, storing more carbon in our soil and rewarding farmers. To do this, we need to establish a carbon measuring, reporting and verification process, which has already started in Northern Ireland. Why not here? Why are we still tinkering away at pilots instead of getting on with delivering on this project for the whole country?

The challenge is to have a baseline. We need to have a baseline so we can adequately market in the future the activities of farmers. Should we have been doing this earlier than recent years? Probably. If we had our baseline from five or ten years ago, we would be in a stronger position now, but that is why the investment we are undertaking now is so important. It is critical to have a meaningful carbon farming option and income stream for farmers into the future. That is why our investment in the national agricultural soil carbon observatory, which will be comprised of a network of greenhouse gas measuring flux towers that are a very significant investment on our part, with up to 20 funded by the Department across a range of farm enterprises and soil types, is critical. These sites are managed by Teagasc and will be established on a range of soils, adding value to existing Teagasc projects, including the industry co-funded signpost farms and the agricultural catchments programme. The resulting national agricultural soil carbon observatory will place Ireland at the forefront of EU carbon sequestration research.

We will not get a baseline with 20 sites. To get the ball rolling, we need to support a comprehensive carbon soil analysis programme throughout this country. We need to roll out the airborne light detection and radar surveys on our land. Instead of expanding the airborne surveys, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has suspended its existing programme, but should we be surprised? The Government has net deforestation by felling more trees than it is planting. Farmers and homeowners have not been paid since last June for renewable electricity they are putting onto the grid, even though that right was forced on Ireland. I signed up to it in 2018, despite strong opposition at the time, and people are still not being paid today. Is it any wonder the Government is demanding farmers cut emissions by one third more over the next eight years, as it continues to sit on its hands and talk about pilots?

I respectfully disagree with the suggestion the Government is sitting on its hands. We have talked about the national agricultural soil carbon observatory, which is obviously important, and the flux towers in different locations are a key component of that. These will be established through working with the Teagasc signpost programme. We also have the pilot soil sampling programme, which is very important. EIP projects such as the results-based environmental agri pilot and farm payments for ecological and agricultural transitions are locally led, innovative, results-based farm schemes. The results-based element is critical to the changes in how we gather that information. The national soil moisture monitoring network is a very important part of that. It will also involve soil moisture probes and new instruments, known as cosmic ray soil moisture observing systems, being deployed throughout Ireland. These are a number of the measures being taken with a view to us being able to have a viable income for farmers from carbon farming as an additional source of income for their farming enterprises into the future.

Organic Farming

Matt Carthy

Ceist:

119. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his proposals to increase participation in organic farming. [26983/22]

Organic farming is one area where the interests of Irish agriculture and our climate action targets can collide, yet we have set a very low target in this State, which has been highlighted by the European Commission. What is the Minister's proposal to increase participation in organic farming within Irish agriculture?

Growing our land under organics and continuing to build a very exciting sector here is a key priority of mine and the Minister of State, Deputy Hackett. The current programme for Government target is to align the utilisable agricultural area under organic production in Ireland with the EU average of 7.5%. A budget of €21 million was allocated to the organic farming scheme in 2022, which is an increase of €5 million from the previous year. This allocation supports the 1,734 contracts currently in the organic farming scheme.

The sector in Ireland is experiencing considerable growth at present, with the area of land under organic production now at approximately 110,000 ha following the most recent reopening of the scheme. It has been reopened in each of the past two years to give every farmer the opportunity to join. I have introduced changes to the scheme this year by reducing the required stocking rate and by increasing the area paid at the higher rate from 60 ha to 70 ha, measures I believe will encourage new entrants to organic farming. These have already had a positive effect. There were 380 new applicants to the organic farming scheme, which closed for applications in April. This is almost a 20% increase in application numbers compared with 2021. Altogether, this means just under 700 new farmers joined the scheme in the past 12 months, which is significant.

In 2021, an additional 12,000 ha were farmed organically and it is expected this will increase by a further 17,000 ha, taking into consideration those who applied to join the scheme this year. These 29,000 new hectares mean a 35% increase in land farmed organically in the past two years. I am committed to continuing the implementation of the national organic strategy 2019-2025 that sets out an ambitious growth strategy for the sector by aligning it closely with market opportunities, which the Deputy will agree is important.

The Minister mentioned the 7.5% target was the EU average about three years ago. It has already gone way beyond that.

For what year is that target? When does the Minister expect to achieve it and what is the Government's target for 2030? The EU has set a target of 25% for then.

The Minister mentioned marketing opportunities and the need to ensure that, when farmers move to organic products, they get a premium for those and they have a market into which to sell. Has the Minister engaged with other Departments, in particular the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to ensure a portion of the budget for the procurement of food using taxpayers' money is ring-fenced for Irish-produced organic food? This single measure could make a major difference in increasing the targets the Government has set.

There has been engagement with other Departments on that issue and there will continue to be. The 7.5% target was set when the three Government parties agreed the programme for Government. It represents a significant increase-----

The end of this programme for Government period. That is why we have increased the funding allocation for organics in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme fivefold compared with the previous programme. We have allocated €250 million to organics over the course of the next CAP period, which will run from 2023 to 2027. Those who have applied to the scheme this year and last are being accepted. Previously, there was not enough space on the scheme for the number of applicants. That is no longer the case. The door is open and there is a warm welcome for everyone who wants to go organic because the Government has committed to putting funding in place. Farmers are increasingly seeing the opportunities in organics from the point of view of family farm profits and, importantly, what it can contribute in terms of the sustainability of our food and its emissions footprint.

Regarding procurement, we need to go beyond just engaging with Departments. Consider the hundreds of millions of euro the State spends on food for hospitals, schools and buildings such as this one, for example. When using public money to purchase food, it would send a strong signal and be a supportive measure for the sector if a portion of that budget were ring-fenced for Irish-produced organic food.

The Minister referred to marketing. Bord Bia will set out what it has done to market Irish-produced organic food, but its budget for that is not ring-fenced either, so how can the Minister or any of us be confident we are marketing and selling this fantastic product appropriately? Irish-produced organic food is probably the best quality food in the world. How are we ensuring there is always a market for it and that, when our food is going into that market, it is securing a premium price?

We are making good progress. I have outlined the Government's commitment of a fivefold increase in funding for organics over the next few years. Between last year and this, the area under organic farming has increased by 35%. That is significant, but we need to drive on. We want to reach the 7.5% target. We want to communicate to farmers the great opportunity for them presented by moving into organics, how that can work for them from the point of view of production and profitability, and how it can work for Ireland in terms of capturing more of the organic marketing, which is undoubtedly growing internationally and domestically. The Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has engaged with Bord Bia on ensuring the marketing of the organics scheme proceeds at pace alongside the growth of the sector, and the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, has been working closely with Bord Bia on this matter and on new market development in his responsibility for developing markets. It is important we not just support organic produce through our schemes but also develop the premiums and markets for same.

Agriculture Industry

Carol Nolan

Ceist:

120. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address the concerns that agricultural contractors are facing in terms of unprecedented input costs that are leading to major instability within the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27216/22]

What measures will the Minister take to address the unprecedented and significant input costs our agricultural contractors are facing? The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland, FCI, has highlighted its concern for the sector's viability, stating the sector is under increased pressure and that, in addition to the supply issues, the significant fuel costs are making the situation impossible for contractors. It has become a crisis. What measures is the Government currently taking to support the sector and what measures could it take?

I thank the Deputy for posing this question. In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, significant implications are being seen across all sectors, including the agrifood sector. As well as the immediate humanitarian crisis that is facing us and that must take priority, we need to take the necessary steps to ensure food security is maintained in the period ahead.

The impact the illegal war in Ukraine is having on our farm families is the number one priority for me and the Department. At farm level, the crisis has been impacting significantly on the price of fertiliser, animal feed and fuel. Within the Department, I have established a rapid response team to monitor actively the impacts on the agrifood supply chain and to contribute to the whole-of-government response. I have established the national fodder and food security committee, headed by Teagasc under Professor Frank O'Mara and chaired by Mr. Mike Magan, and tasked it to prepare an industry response and develop contingency plans and advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises over the coming months. I have also announced a number of measures over the past three months to assist the agricultural sector and am currently considering, and will continue to monitor, what additional measures may be necessary.

One of the main input costs for contractors is fuel, which has been subject to significant price rises in recent months. While primary responsibility for the taxation of fuel lies with the Minister for Finance, I continue to work closely with him to ensure the tax code reflects the Government's priorities for the agrifood sector. I am working closely with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, in advocating for that.

Ireland's taxation of fuel is governed by EU law, as set out in the energy tax directive, and the Finance Act 1999 provides for the application of excise duty in the form of mineral oil tax. As the Deputy will be aware, gas oil that qualifies for a reduced rate of mineral oil tax is marked green and is usually referred to as marked gas oil, MGO, known as green diesel or agricultural diesel.

Additional information not give on the floor of the House

Mineral oil tax is comprised of a non-carbon component and a carbon component. The carbon component is commonly referred to as carbon tax and the non-carbon component is often referred to as excise. In March, the Minister for Finance reduced the excise rate on agricultural diesel by 2 cent per litre and then again by an additional 3 cent from 1 May. This total reduction of 5 cent reduces the non-carbon component, or excise, to nil. The current rate of mineral oil tax on agricultural diesel is €111.14 per 1,000 litres. This compares favourably with the current rate applied to auto diesel, which is €405.38 per 1,000 litres.

It should be noted that those who incur expenses in respect of farm diesel in the course of farming or the trade of agricultural contracting may claim an income tax or corporation tax deduction for these expenses, including any carbon tax charged in respect of the diesel.

I continue to engage with all stakeholders and continue to work across Government and with our European partners to respond to this crisis, using all of the tools at our disposal. I am taking a proactive approach to the crisis in Ukraine. We must protect our agrifood sector through this period of significant upheaval.

I thank the Minister for his response, but the Ukrainian crisis was not responsible for the introduction of the carbon tax, which has crippled agricultural contractors and had pushed many of them out of the sector before the Ukrainian crisis ever erupted. This Government blames either a crisis or the EU, but it needs to take responsibility and implement clear measures to support this sector.

Has the Minister met the farm and forestry contractors, who are in a deep crisis? They are facing more than a doubling in the price of MGO, known as green diesel, since January. MGO is used in the machines that provide services to thousands of farmers in every townland throughout Ireland. FCI research has shown that, during 2021, its members were being quoted an average MGO bulk delivery price of 75 cent per litre, plus VAT, with slight variations throughout the year. In recent weeks, quotations have risen to nearly double that and now average €1.30 per litre, plus VAT. This is the highest ever price quoted for MGO for farm and forestry contractors and we need action from the Government.

There have been intensive engagements between my team and contractors on the issues facing the latter. I will meet them shortly to discuss the challenges further. Due to the fact that excise duty on green diesel is much lower than on auto diesel, the capacity to make changes in that excise duty is limited. We applied significant cuts to standard diesel and standard petrol in response to the fuel challenges, but we also reduced the excise rate on agricultural diesel by 5 cent - 2 cent initially and a further 3 cent subsequently. While this reduction was small in terms of its impact on farmers and contractors, it represents the removal of the majority of the excise.

A large contracting expense on farms is silage. Importantly for the year ahead, I have introduced a €1,000 support for farmers to help cover the increased cost of contracting prices.

That is a significant measure which I hope will help in this regard.

The Minister made reference to limited capacity to reduce the excise duty on agricultural diesel. That suggests to me the Minister could have gone further than the 2 cent reduction. I ask him to go further and to make sure he takes measures that will assist this sector, which, as I said, is in deep crisis.

I ask that an additional matter be considered. Farm Contractors Ireland, FCI, is requesting that farming and forestry sector fuel supply requirements are prioritised, given that contractors need supply. These requirements need to be prioritised as essential in the event of national fuel shortages. The FCI fears that the national silage harvest could be compromised, leading to a fodder shortage in winter 2022 and spring 2023. It has also asked for the Government to remove immediately the carbon tax from the marked gas oil used in agriculture and forestry by farm and forestry contractors for a period of five years in order to reduce costs and allow adequate time for the international machine development and supply sector to provide alternatives to internal combustion engines. I ask the Minister to consider those measures.

We have been monitoring the situation closely, in particular the challenges facing the farming community. That is why I came forward with the tillage scheme, providing €400 per hectare for each additional hectare of cereal that is grown this year. It is also why I have come forward with the €1,000 payment to farmers to help with the cost of making silage. One of the key costs involved, alongside fertiliser, is contractor costs, which are obviously increased because of the current challenges. That should certainly help farmers and contractors with those bills, although it will not cover them all.

In regard to the removal of excise on green diesel, there is no more room to change that as we have now removed it all. The first 2 cent move reduced the take of the national Exchequer by 40%, which is small in regard to what it means for farmers but it was 40% of the total. We then proceeded to remove it all so there is now no excise duty on green diesel for the foreseeable future as a step to supporting the sector.

We are conscious of the pressures. We are working closely with the sector and will continue to monitor this issue.

Agriculture Industry

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

121. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 157 of 31 March 2022, the status of the wool feasibility study; when the final report will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26800/22]

I have specific questions in regard to the wool feasibility study being carried out. Where is it? When is going to be published? What are the reasons for the delay?

As Deputy Connolly will be aware, one of the commitments in the current programme for Government is to conduct a review of the potential demand for wool-based products, such as for insulation and fertilisers in domestic and international markets. There is huge potential for us to develop a wool industry here in Ireland to help to drive increased returns to our sheep farming families. Over the last couple of years, for a product that used to be quite valuable, it has not been covering the costs of clipping.

In March last year, I initiated a public consultation to identify terms of reference for this review and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, has worked to bring this forward. The agreed terms of reference were as follows: identification and assessment of market opportunities domestically and internationally for wool-based products; carrying out economic feasibility and cost-benefit analysis on proposed market opportunities; determining mechanisms that could be used to support industry initiatives; and identification of potential research projects applicable to supporting the identified market opportunities. Respondents were also asked to make recommendations on potential domestic and international market opportunities for wool products. Forty-five stakeholder submissions were received.

The request for tenders seeking service providers to carry out this study was published in July 2021 through a competitive public procurement procedure and five tenders were received. In November 2021, I appointed “The Agile Executive”, a consortium of experts from Munster Technological University and Donegal Yarns, to conduct this study. The expert group was contracted to conduct the review in accordance with the terms of reference. The final report has been received and is expected to be published in the coming weeks. Given that wool is a natural substance that is sustainable, organic and renewable and can be used in a variety of products such as textiles, fertiliser and insulation, it makes great sense to investigate its potential.

When we ask a lot of questions, we build up a library of responses. What jumps out of that response gives life to the cliché of pulling the wool over our eyes. The Minister repeated, as the Minister of State repeated, the huge potential in regard to wool products, and I agree with them. Where is the feasibility study? What is the delay? Part of the terms of reference surely included a timespan. Has that timespan been exceeded? If so, why? The only positive thing I heard from the Minister is that the final report is with the Department. Is it going to be published?

We are being very proactive in trying to identify new uses for wool. The completion of the report took longer than we had hoped but we were pushing hard to keep it moving along. Thankfully, we now have the report and it will be published in the next short period - over the next few weeks.

Our objective has to be to see how we can add value to wool. Its traditional use is in regard to clothing and while that market has become depressed, there are new potential uses for it. I hope this report will provide potential opportunities and then, as a Government, we will look to see how we can try to work on delivering on those opportunities. It is something we owe to our sheep farmers and also something we owe to the sustainability of the sector overall because it is such a tremendous natural product. We have to make sure we maximise its potential and its uses.

I fully appreciate that but the same language has been used repeatedly, with reference made to the programme for Government, conducting a review, the potential demand for insulation and fertilisers, and the domestic and international markets. I welcome the Minister's confirmation that it is going to be published, which is positive news. Cuirim fáilte roimh an fógra sin. However, why has it taken so long? It was going to be published “shortly”, “in the first quarter of 2022”, “very soon”, and so on. At some stage, words have to mean something instead of woolly language. Forgive me for this stretching of clichés and stretching of words but we are drowning in responses like this. I will take the best part of the response today, which is that it is going to be published in the next few months.

In his reply, will the Minister clarify the cost? I know €100,000 was set aside. Were the terms of reference extended to allow it to continue on and to look at the various issues that have been identified? What is the cost to date?

To take the Deputy’s approach, we are looking for woolly opportunities here. We are looking to maximise the potential that wool can deliver in terms of new uses, ones that have not traditionally been used and ones which can deliver a profit margin for farmers and remove what has become a cost for them. Under the programme for Government, we have taken this initiative, which is unique among countries internationally. We are looking to forge new ground and we are working hard to drive it on as quickly as we can. We will be publishing that report and we will then look to see how we can avail of the opportunities that might be there. If the Deputy has any ideas or suggestions in that regard, we are certainly very open to that. This is a tremendous natural product and one which we want to use.

What has been the cost to date?

As to the overall cost, €100,000 was committed to the project.

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