General Scheme of Animal Health and Welfare (Amendment) Bill 2021: Discussion

We have resumed in public session. I should have said at the beginning of the meeting that apologies were received from Deputy Paul Kehoe. This session is on pre-legislative scrutiny of the animal health and welfare (amendment) Bill 2021. I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Charlie McConalogue. I also welcome Mr. Gerry Greally, senior inspector in livestock breeding production and trade, and Mr. John Kinsella, principal in the legal services division. They are all very welcome to the meeting. We have received the opening statement and briefing material. These have already been circulated to members. We are limited in our time due to Covid-19 restrictions so the committee is taking the opening statement as read. We can use the full session for questions and answers. All opening statements are published on the Oireachtas website and are publicly available.

Before we begin I have an important note on parliamentary privilege. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter of these proceedings be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible they should not criticise or make charges against person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Participants in the committee meeting from a location outside of the parliamentary precincts are asked to note that the constitutional protection afforded to those participating from within the parliamentary precincts does not extend to them. No clear guidance can be given on whether or the extent to which the participation is covered by the absolute privilege of a statutory nature.

Before I open up to questions, I wish to note that in the previous hour we have had representatives from fur farming appearing before the committee. They gave us a very comprehensive briefing and raised a number of issues that are to be covered in the legislation. I am aware that other members will also be raising this issue, but we find ourselves in a very unique situation in respect of the workers and the compensation that is available to them. In my memory - I can be corrected if I am wrong - this is the first time that legislation has been introduced to cease an agricultural activity, albeit a very minor activity, but obviously for the three farms in question it is their income and of very great importance to them.

Questions have been raised about workers' compensation and the redundancy packages that will be available for them. Other questions raised were in respect of the calculation of the profit level of these farms which is being done on a five-year cycle where these farms are producing evidence to say that a ten-year cycle would give a far better reflection of the fluctuations in the fur trade. The farms' representatives state that fur is recovering very strongly in price in 2021 and went through a very serious valley period during the years which the Department is using for the determination of profit.

Another point made by these representatives, which would greatly concern me, is the question of the cull and the differences in costs that they say will arise per animal and what the Department is estimating. In the past we have had instances where businesses have closed and where a cull was not done effectively. This caused very significant problems for people in that locality. The culling has to be sorted out as a priority.

A further point made is that these farms have made an investment in their buildings and there are now going to be very significant demolition costs in respect of those buildings. This also needs to be catered for in the legislation.

I know that other members will have points to make to the Minister but I was taking notes while the representatives of the mink farmers were talking in the last session and these are four points I highlight which they made in respect of this legislation and the compensation package that is to be put in place for them. That is what they focused on. While they feel aggrieved that the licence that they have in place to 2024 is now being revoked and that they have been unfairly treated in that regard, their main focus has been on the compensation package both for themselves and their workers. That is my summary of their position and others will obviously add to it with further points but when the Minister is answering questions at the end, I ask that he might take those four points on board. I will open up to the other members of the joint committee now.

If I may, Chairman, I wish to make a number of introductory remarks to thank both the Chairman and the joint committee for facilitating the pre-legislative scrutiny on this Bill within a very good timeframe, which I appreciate. As the Chairman has outlined this is a unique initiative and action in respect of the closing down of a sector which emanates from a commitment in the programme for Government and emanates from very significantly changed attitudes in society as to the keeping of what would otherwise be wild animals specifically for fur or skin. It is a correct and welcome move but undoubtedly has very significant impacts for the three remaining fur farms in the country. They have run their operations in compliance with all of the rules and regulations and in a very efficient, effective and compliant manner and it is very important that that is stated. The fact that this decision has been taken is no reflection on them.

It is also very important to acknowledge the fact that this means an end to their livelihood and what has also been a way of life for them. Some of these farms have been pioneers from the very outset in the setting up of this industry in the country and this decision is not their choice but is one that has very significant implications for them.

I also want to thank the team within the Department Agriculture, Food and the Marine for their work on this Bill, and to thank Mr. Greally and Mr. Kinsella who are joining me here today. I also acknowledge the engagement that there has been with the fur farmers and their representatives over the past period of time in what has been a challenging issue.

Pre-legislative scrutiny is an important step here because it enables in the first instance the fur farmers to also have a public forum in which to engage with the joint committee, to raise questions and also for feedback and engagement with me as Minister in the framing of this Bill. I look forward to engagement today to explain the rationale behind this Bill and our approach to it and I will bring both Mr. Greally and Mr. Kinsella in with their technical expertise on some of these matters. I will also take on board the feedback from the members of the joint committee.

I thank the Minister and call now Deputy Fitzmaurice to speak.

I thank the Minister and all his officials for attending today as I know the Minister was busy this morning. It is also appreciated that we undertake pre-legislative scrutiny in this committee but unfortunately over the past week we have seen too much legislation not being looked at. I ask either the Minister, Mr. Greally or Mr. Kinsella to deal with the offer that is on the table of 35 cent for the culling of every mink. The figure I received was that 400 mink would be killed per day. Will the Department set up an abattoir or a place for the killing of these animals, use the ingredients, and give 35 cent? The fur farmers are talking about €5. Where is the discrepancy in this?

I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice, I will respond at the outset and will then ask Mr. Greally to respond.

The approach being taken here is very much informed by reports we have commissioned from outside expert advice through Grant Thornton on what an appropriate compensation scheme would be and to also take on board what has happened previously internationally because there have been significant similar moves taken across Europe over the past number of years and this is very much the direction of travel. There are significant learnings here which we have been informed of through these reports. I will pass to Mr. Greally to deal with the substance of the question.

No matter what approach the Minister is taking, with all due respect to Mr. Greally, if 400 animals are killed in a day, with the money that the Department is offering, this would not even pay the wages of a person. It would be unbelievable for a person to work for that kind of money. Where is the discrepancy then?

Through the Chairman, I ask Mr. Greally to come in here at this point, please.

Mr. Gerry Greally

I thank the Minister and the Chairman. These figures are to do with the fact that we have not got that sort of detail from the farmers. As the Minister has said, we went about using consultancy expertise to come up with these figures in the absence of the detail from the farmers as they have not provided that detail to us. In the absence of that information we have put these values in place. To explain to the Deputy, the value relates to the costs of labour and material. The labour is the cost of killing these mink and the material then is the carbon monoxide gas that is used which is the 35 cent cost per mink.

With all due respect to Mr. Greally, I hope that the Department officials will go back and look at this again. I mentioned the 35 multiply by 400 and I asked how many animals would be killed in the day and was told between 400 and 500 animals. With the best will in the world on a good day 500 animals would represent €175 which would have to be given to the person doing the work for that day. I ask the Department to go back and look at those figures.

Second, the Department appears to be offering two weeks' statutory redundancy. These people are not being taken out of their jobs or leaving them because they want to but are doing a favour in respect of whatever was agreed in the programme for Government. I may not agree with that but that is the way it is. I have a number of questions as to this offer of two weeks' redundancy from the Department. We have seen the Debenhams and many other cases and I ask the Government to lead from the front on this to say that the least that these workers need is four weeks', or whatever, redundancy payments to look after them?

It must be borne in mind that these people are working with and not against the Government.

Many of these buildings have asbestos which must go to Germany. It costs €50 per square metre to get rid of that and to demolish those buildings. Whoever commissioned the report does not know much about farming. I am not even talking about fur farming. These so-called experts would want to go down on the ground and find out what building projects cost now. Turning to this type of farming, I have gone through this myself and talked to others about how it operates right across Europe. Like other types of farming, this sector seems to follow a seven-year cycle. A few good years are then followed by a few bad ones. There seems to be a pattern of seven years alternating between good, middling and average outcomes. These farmers, then, have sought to calculate their costs based on a ten-year cycle. Is the Department prepared to do that?

In 2012, the Department issued new regulations for animal welfare. That is fine. All the people involved in this area complied with those regulations and spent large amounts of money on infrastructure. We are not talking about the construction of something like a three-bay shed in the back garden. This was fairly significant and expensive infrastructure. There are not 5,000 or 50,000 of these farmers around the country, so why has a genuine effort not been made to ensure that we look after them? I refer to aspects of employment, infrastructure, asbestos removal and disposal, etc. Many of these people have been in with the banks, to be frank. It was not possible to build the infrastructure required without loans. It is as simple as that. Why has a genuine effort not been made to help these farmers? Why is a five-year cycle period being used? I have examined this area myself. Around Europe, this type of farming has a seven-year cycle. These farmers are seeking the use of a ten-year cycle for assessment. Is the Department willing to co-operate with them on that point?

I call the Minister.

I thank the Deputy for those questions. The report has advised us based previous experience. I ask Mr. Greally to elaborate on and explain the rationale behind that part of the process. This meeting is intended to allow us to tease this matter out and to take on board the views of the members of this committee. I will hand over to Mr. Greally.

Mr. Gerry Greally

Regarding the report, Grant Thornton from the outset sought to put together a scheme which would be fair and reasonable to the farmers concerned and the taxpayers. I must make that point to begin with. In undertaking that process, Grant Thornton did, of course, look at how best to compensate for a business that is being closed. Methodologies used in this regard in other countries were examined. In the general perspective of accounting, certain conventions and methodologies are used when trying to value a business. Grant Thornton considered two methods of doing that and then combined them in the end. The first was valuing the assets and devising the net book value of those assets. The second approach then was a consideration of the profitability of the businesses concerned over time. The thinking was that combining those two methods of assessing value in a formula would best produce a market value for these companies.

The Deputy's questions concern the formula in the context of a five-year or ten-year cycle of assessment. The five-year cycle in this regard encompasses a retrospective examination of five years and a projection of five years into the future. In calculating the profitability figure, therefore, the accountants suggested taking an average by going back five years and then going forward another five years to give these companies a multiple of that profitability average for the future. The rationale behind using a period of five years to measure backwards and forwards was that these are multiples and values that are used in company evaluations and for companies of this type. It would be very unusual to go back ten years to calculate a retrospective average of profitability and then to go forward another ten years with that outcome. The logic here is that going back five years is considered as being enough to show the historical profitability of a company and, equally, projecting forward for five years should also be adequate. Going forward those five years takes into account the consideration that people seeking to put a value on these companies will estimate that it will take that long to make their money back. These sorts of multiples and values, therefore, were put together in that context by Grant Thornton and it was conscious of the type and size of the businesses being examined.

The farmers have only recently come to us regarding a ten-year cycle and given us some data for those years. In effect, we have struggled to get any data from them. We first gave them notice that we required these data back in November 2020. We have repeatedly sought these data since then. The farmers provided some data to us, but it was not adequate. They put together some trend lines for us for the ten-year cycle they are talking about now, but that information came in their last communication to us just a little over a week ago. We have not had a chance to examine that information in any detail yet, but we will do so. My main point, therefore, is that Grant Thornton put together the formulas in the absence of specific data on these farms. Granted, information was available from statutory accounts which could be used and, in many ways, it is possible to put together a model for compensation based on such accounts, but we also needed the detailed information that we received only recently. However, we certainly can look at using a period of ten years rather than five years.

Would the Deputy like me to deal with the other questions concerning asbestos, etc.?

Yes, I would like Mr. Greally to comment on the asbestos issue and on the redundancy arrangements for the workers, if he can.

Mr. Gerry Greally

On the subject of asbestos, we got a chartered surveyor company to provide us with figures in this regard. It was done through Grant Thornton, which commissioned that company as a contractor to do the work for us. Therefore, we are familiar with the levels of asbestos material on each of the farms. We could, then, take into account that asbestos costs much more than a fibre cement roof, for example, to demolish. Therefore, the figures in this regard were adjusted to take account of the presence of asbestos. Regarding the figure of €50 per square metre, the farmers have come back to us and they are now talking about €62 per square metre. Again, it is easy to pluck a figure out of the air. They have not given us any detail regarding the breakdown of that figure of €62 per square metre. As far as we are concerned, we have the required knowledge of the type of roof on each of the farms and the amount of roofing material involved to allow us to calculate a cap value.

On that basis, we put together a figure of €50, which takes into account some building inflation costs. To drill down into that figure, the maximum figure we had originally was €47 per square metre. We rounded it up to €50 to include some building inflation costs. On the asbestos, an exercise was done by specialists here and those are the figures they came up with.

On redundancy, we are really just doing what happens in industry in general. When a company goes out of business, the company is bound by law to pay redundancy to its staff. It is statutory redundancy and it is bound by legislation. That is all we are doing here. We would be of the view that farmers themselves could contribute extra to the workers if they wished. We were suggesting, however, that we would only cover the redundancy as per the legislation, that is, as the Deputy said, the two weeks' redundancy. Have I answered the Deputy's questions?

I thank Mr. Greally very much for answering that.

I welcome the Minister and his officials to the meeting. We had a very good engagement this morning with the witnesses. I did not think it was satisfactory in terms of their answers. Of course, the big problem we had was that we did not get from them a definitive number of minks that are on these farms today; not yesterday or tomorrow but today. There is a long lead-in and mink breed pretty rapidly. If one wanted to bring the numbers up, one could do so pretty rapidly. That is just a cautionary note I want to raise.

I want to share with the Minister that I was also somewhat disappointed that there was much talk about the individuals involved but not too much talk about the workers. Again, it raises the issue of data, facts and figures with regard to this industry. How many people are registered and officially employed on these farms today? I simply do not know. I would be interested in hearing from the Department about its knowledge of how many minks are in this country. We know from media reports some months ago in the context of the Denmark mink controversy, although it was in an Irish newspaper, that there was a confirmation of approximately 120,000 mink in this country at that time. The witnesses did not seem to dispute that with us. Indeed, two of them nodded their heads. I, therefore, took it that it was around that or perhaps more but they did not contradict that suggestion that there were approximately 120,000 mink in the country.

We were not told how many employees there were. When I asked the witnesses what they had in mind in terms of a package for the workers, they said they did not know. They did not seem to come up with any opposition to any idea I suggested. Indeed, I took from it, and this is my own view, that they did not really give much thought to it at all. Certainly, I was interested when the Minister's official talked about what the ownership of these companies can contribute to their workforce. We need to know exactly the numbers of registered employees on these farms and we need to talk about compensation for them. I am sympathetic to the people involved in the businesses.

This is Government policy. Phasing this out is a Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party agreement in the programme for Government. That is, therefore, the reality. This is a numbers game; the Minister knows it and politicians at this meeting know the story. The Minister has seen what has been happening in the Dáil and the Seanad in the last few months. If the Government has the largest numbers, it can effectively do what it likes and we have to put up with it. That is the reality and it is frustrating for someone who is in the Opposition. It is not good politics. There will be a day and a time when the road will break and people have to go left, right and centre and then there will be all sorts of complaints and accusations. That is for another day. It is inevitable and it is going to happen.

On what is in hand today, I am interested in what will happen to the workers in these places. I am interested in fair and equitable compensation for the people through the Government's decision and policy to close their businesses down. They need to be supported but we need to see the whole package.

I set out today the animal welfare issues and EU regulations, with which the Minister will be familiar, regarding the culling of animals. Welfare is another aspect about which I have had more calls and emails than about any other matter. I spoke today about mechanical operations, instruments that penetrate the brain, overdose of drugs by anaesthetics, electrocution by cardiac arrest and exposure to carbon monoxide, chloroform and carbon dioxide. They are options I do not necessarily support but they are set out in these regulations. Two of the people told us today that they are using carbon monoxide to destroy these animals. What is clear in these regulations or in whatever the Minister and his officials intend to do is that we need to have veterinary and animal welfare people oversee the culling of these animals. It needs to be very clear. That is important. I do not believe we can allow for any vagueness here. Whatever the Department and the veterinarians believe is the appropriate way to deal with this, it needs to be set out in order that we have no ambiguity about it. That is a major concern.

I want to wrap up by commenting on the inevitability of it all. It is about fairness to the companies involved and to the employees, who need a far better package and who are my concern. We also need very strict guidelines, which are in line with international practice and European Union regulations, and statutory instruments with regard to this matter. That is really important. I thank the Minister for listening. It is important we set out and address specifically those issues.

I thank Senator Boyhan for that comprehensive overview of his assessment of the situation. I will first address one point he made with regard to Government having a majority and driving things through and that being very frustrating. This is an issue on which I am consulting with the committee and on which I am listening. It is a unique issue and one-----

With respect to the Minister, could we stick to the legislation? We will not have an argument about what the Government is doing. I probably should have stopped the Senator when he was making his comments. Could we stick to the legislation, please?

The core point I am making is that this process in which we are engaged is important. The feedback and assessment from the committee and the continuing engagement with the three farmers concerned will be important because what we have at the moment is the draft Bill. We are at the pre-legislative scrutiny phase. We have not yet introduced it or finalised it. I will ask Mr. Greally to come in on some of the technical points.

Mr. Gerry Greally

The numbers are very fluid to the extent that the young are slaughtered at the end of the year in November-December. If one goes into the farms in the middle of the year, one will see the breeding females only. They will not have kitted down at that stage. To give members some idea of the numbers, we are talking about 15,000 breeding females. Each of those will, on average, have five kits. Straight away, therefore, at the end of the year, the number is up to approximately 90,000 mink at that stage in the year. In the normal course of events, all the young from those females would be slaughtered and we would be left with the breeding females at the end of December of the year concerned. It depends, therefore, on what time of the year we dip into these farms to look at the numbers. The maximum we are talking about is 100,000 or 110,000. It is that sort of number.

As regards numbers of workers, we do not have exact figures here but our estimate is ten or 12 across the three farms. Again, however, that is fluid in that the numbers will increase when they are doing the pelting, which is during the months of November and December. Obviously, they will not need as many workers when there are no young. As the young are weaned and start to grow, the feeding has to be done so there might be extra workers then during that period.

The answer to the question is it depends on when you dip into the farm concerned but 100,000 to 110,000 is the number being bandied around in the media and that is fairly correct. The worker numbers are around ten or 12, but extra contractors would come in towards the back end of the year. As regards welfare and-----

The culling practices.

Mr. Gerry Greally

The culling practices are closely monitored by departmental staff. Veterinary staff from the Department inspect these premises at culling time. The premises also have a veterinary practitioner available. That person goes in and monitors the culling practices as well. Carbon monoxide is used. Training schemes have been in place for a number of years to train the users in the killing method. All these farmers and their workers are trained in its use and it is closely monitored by staff from the Department and by private vets. We have had no issues around the welfare aspects at culling over the years. Generally speaking, these farmers are very much in line with national and EU legislation in that regard. They built extra houses in 2012 when we reviewed the industry and they revamped the cage sizes. We continue to be happy with compliance with welfare regulations.

I thank Mr. Greally.

I apologise for missing the first session. I was taking part in Question Time. Could I get clarification from the Minister on the timeline he envisages for the enactment of the legislation? I presume it is expected that when the final cull takes place, the animals will be skinned, or whatever the term is, so that it is not a complete loss-making exercise for the companies involved.

Yes, that is correct. The timeline envisaged is that this would be the last breeding season. The pelting season is during the latter two or three months of the year and it would continue as normal this year, but then we would be dealing with the breeding females. Mr. Greally said there were 15,000 of them. That is the intention.

I support Senator Boyhan's point regarding the staff involved. This is a unique situation because legislation is being introduced to ban a farming practice. While most of us fully support the principle behind the Bill, there will always be consequences from such a decision and the Bill is reflective of that in terms of supports and compensation for the businesses involved but we must also be cognisant of the staff involved. Because of the nature of this process, the Opposition will not be permitted to bring forward amendments in that regard given that costs would arise. It would be very useful, therefore, if the Department and the Minister would engage with us on our proposals. One of the suggestions is that there would be a one-off lump sum for the staff involved. We may not need to talk about huge sums of money but we should recognise that people are losing their jobs because of a decision of the Oireachtas. This is a unique situation, and I ask that the Minister give consideration to that.

I have one final point about how the legislation could potentially be improved. Most of the fur involved is for export, but it would be useful if we could insert into the Bill a ban on the importation of fur, particularly as we are banning its production in Ireland. It would defeat the purpose and principle of the Bill if we were to import fur products that are banned here. Would the Minister be willing to amend the Bill in that regard?

I will certainly reflect further on the point the Deputy made about redundancy for the workers and take on board the feedback from this pre-legislative scrutiny.

A ban on the import of furs is not something I had considered, but I will dig into the matter further and assess the options. My instinctive response is that there could be many relevant considerations and side issues in that regard, but I will explore the issue further.

You set out the stall very well at the start of the meeting, Chairman, when you mentioned the key issues that were raised by the previous witnesses. In terms of redundancy, according to the departmental officials we are only talking about 12 members of staff. It was stated that they have to get two weeks' redundancy payment. That is a very small amount of money and we must find a way around it so that they can be suitably compensated for their work. Effectively, we are giving 24 weeks, which is 12 by two. We must find a mechanism whereby we can ensure that some kind of contribution can be made to staff following the change in regulations and legislation that is not of their making. Finding a solution to that is one of the key issues we must address.

Could Mr. Greally comment on how he came up with the calculation of €50 per square metre, taking into consideration that there is a loss? He also mentioned that it was €47 and he increased it to €50 due to building inflation. In my part of the world, building inflation is running at 25% this year alone and building costs have increased dramatically, particularly in the context of labour. When responding, could Mr. Greally outline the date on which the calculation was made, given the dramatic increase in building costs in the past six weeks alone?

Could Mr. Greally also clarify the views of the three local authorities involved on how the work can take place? Is planning permission required? What licences or permits are required and how will the process function in terms of a timeline for when the buildings will be taken down? Is there a proposed timeline in the legislation for the decommissioning of the buildings? Will there be a period of grace and how will it be set out in the legislation? Mr. Greally might respond to those issues.

In a previous contribution it was mentioned that Denmark gave a ten-year compensation line. I would like to hear a comparison between the differences in our approach and the approach in Denmark. Why did Denmark propose ten years and we proposed five? If we are following international best practice and what has happened previously in other jurisdictions, why did we deviate from the Danish model based on ten years?

Another issue raised by the Chair and other members is the cost of culling per animal. The difference in price is unbelievable. It ranges from 40 cent to €4 or €5. What communication was there between the Department and the three farms in recent months, because we are out by 90% on a good day?

It shows how much work needs to be done. I thank the Chair and I realise we are under time pressure.

Can the Minister respond?

I thank Senator Lombard and I note his points and contribution in relation to redundancy payments. I will ask Mr. Greally or Mr. Kinsella to come back on some of those points.

Mr. Gerry Greally

First, I will answer the question about the €47 per square metre. That figure is attributed to one of the three farms on the basis of an analysis of the roof type, mainly. We have information on the roof types, whether they are galvanised, fibre cement or asbestos roofs. The consultants concerned calculated that figure on the basis of the components that I just mentioned. These consultants are from a chartered surveyor company. We asked them to look at those aspects. They had information on the farms concerned. They had pictures of the buildings, they had photographs from Google, they had planning applications and they had information on Department files that we have had for years. Our Department engineer has been working with these farms since 2012 to bring the type of building up to a certain standard. We have a lot of information in that regard. All that information would have been used to come up with the figure of €47 per square metre.

I take the Senator’s point that perhaps the €3 extra for building inflation is not enough in the current environment. However, a cap like that can be looked at again. We are not saying that this is set in stone. We could look at the cap again. Certainly, we can take into account whatever information the farmers are willing to provide to us.

As I explained to Deputy Fitzmaurice, the cost of killing the mink are based on cost the of labour as well as the cost of carbon monoxide gas. That is all that is included in that compensation. The farmers obviously are including other costs. Unfortunately, we do not have the information as to what they are including. I note that we talk of 35 cent per mink. However, there is also a compensation amount of €160 per tonne of carcase material. We do not know if they are comparing like with like. In the absence specific information from the farmers, we put those figures in place. I apologise for repeating this but we have been struggling from November of last year until this date to get specific information from the farmers. It is only in the last week and a half or so that we have gotten some information on these aspects. That information can be looked at again.

I will respond to the question about the Denmark situation. The accountants examined different compensation packages. Denmark was just one of these. Denmark has ten years but the UK, for example, has five years back and seven years forward. It depends on what kind of compensation at which we are looking at the time. I am sure the consultants had this issue as well but it is difficult to try to compare like with like when looking at these schemes in other countries. I take the point that Denmark has a ten-year multiple. We do not have information as to why it is ten years, rather than five. Our five-year multiple is based on what Grant Thornton deemed to be adequate. This is five years forward in time and five years back in time for the average. It deemed it adequate to place that value on a company of that type. It is using custom and practice here in Ireland, as well as abroad, in general accounting practice. I cannot give the Senator the exact details as to why Denmark has ten years, rather than five years.

I thank Mr. Greally and call Deputy Martin Browne.

I will be fairly quick. Just like the other speakers, I encourage the Minister and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to look after the workers. There is a discrepancy between what we heard earlier and what the Department is saying. The farmers told us that they had 30 to 40 workers. It is still a small number of people who are losing their jobs because of the legislation. As Deputy Fitzmaurice said earlier, the Department should lead from the front and look after the workers in this situation.

Is there a particular reason that the farms should be closed down this year? I think the Minister’s statement stated that it had been envisaged to close down these farms in 2024. Why has this date been brought forward so much? Can the Minister give us an overall estimate of what farms are likely to get under the compensation?

I have a question for Mr. Greally on the price of removal of asbestos. I may not know a whole pile about mink farming, but I spent 35 years working on steel and using asbestos. I can assure Mr. Greally that there is a massive difference between removing asbestos roofs and fibre cement roofs and galvanised roofs. The figure of €50 would come nowhere near covering the cost of removing those kinds of roofs. Asbestos roof removal has to be done by someone with a licence. Every pallet of an asbestos roof has been double wrapped and sent to Germany for disposal. The person in the Department who came up with the figure of €50 needs to update the information. Like I said, I spent 35 years on that kind of work and I know a figure of €50 would come nowhere near what is needed. I will leave it at that. All of my other questions have been answered. I would appreciate if the Minister could answer those two questions.

I thank Deputy Browne for the questions. These questions have been covered in response to earlier contributions. Certainly, I take Deputy Browne’s point. We will be reflecting on the approach to redundancy. We will also do further assessments and look for further evidence and information that can inform us when we finalise the approach to cost. We will note and take forward the Deputy’s contributions.

I call Deputy Flaherty.

I thank the Chair. I am conscious of the time. I see that Senator Boylan wants to come in. Most of my questions have already been asked. I will, therefore, defer to Senator Boylan given the time constraints.

I thank Deputy Flaherty; I really appreciate that. While the Minister is here, I will take the opportunity to discuss an issue with him. This relates to pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the animal health and welfare Bill. Would the Minister be open to meeting me and to taking on board amendments when the Bill comes to the Seanad on another area of concern in the animal health and welfare Bill? In section 38 there is loophole around young animals that are being transported in breach of domestic or EU regulations. Section 38 does not allow for a power of the authorised authorities to either sell or rehome those animals. Those animals have to be kept for the duration of the court case. This means that young pups being seized at ports and are about two years old before they can be rehomed. Not only is this bad for animal welfare, it also puts a significant cost on the animal welfare charities that are the authorised authorities. I am just flagging this with the Minister. When the Bill comes to Committee Stage, at least I will have raised it. However, I would like to meet with the Minister to discuss this. I would also like to know if he would be open to accepting an amendment to the animal health and welfare Bill on this issue.

Can the Minister respond?

It is open to Members to propose amendments and to explain the rationale behind them. It is then for me to consider whether to accept them. I suggest that, in the first instance, the Senator put her proposal in writing. I can then reflect on the points she is making and take it from there.

That is great. If the Minister is happy to meet with me, I have the legislation ready to go.

We will take it step by step.

Will the Minister clarify a point for me? It is unusual to provide for compensation in legislation. Is agreement to be reached with the fur farmers? As I pointed out in my summary at the start, the fur farmers raised four major concerns with us this morning. The issue of workers' compensation has been raised by many others. The number of years taken into account when determining profit and the costs of the cull and demolitions are integral to the issue of compensation. As has been said, compensation for the mink farmers is provided for in the Bill. Do we need to reach an agreement with the fur farmers on those matters before we can proceed with the legislation?

The point the Chairperson is making is a fair one. It is something I have discussed with the team and we are going to reflect on it. Mr. Greally or Mr. Kinsella may wish to come in with regard to the ins and outs of the matter up to this point. It is a valid point. I have been considering what is appropriate to include in the primary legislation.

I will direct the question to Mr. Kinsella who, as the legal person, might give us his view.

Mr. John Kinsella

You would ordinarily find details such as these in secondary legislation while only the principles would be set out in primary legislation. This Bill is somewhat unusual in that it contains much of the detail. As the Minister was saying, some of that detail may well be stripped out of the primary legislation as the Bill progresses and then included in secondary legislation at a later point. There are a number of reasons for it being where it is at the moment. It is useful because it gives everybody involved, including the farmers and the committee, a good snapshot of the thinking with regard to the compensation scheme, the various heads of loss and other matters we are looking at. It is useful to have a debate and to get good input from everybody involved at this stage. That might not be the case if the detail was to be held back and if we were only to talk about the very high-level stuff you normally see in primary legislation. It is there at the moment, but whether it will remain in the primary legislation after we have input from the committee and further input from the farmers remains to be seen. It might be more appropriate for detail like this to go into secondary legislation, which would allow for greater flexibility. It may not be ideal to hardwire figures or detail on matters such as the issue of five years' debit versus ten years', about which there was a lot of discussion today, into the legislation. It might be better to leave things like that to the secondary legislation. It is certainly good to have it out at this point so that we can discuss it with the farmers and with the committee and so that people can see what the thinking is. Does that answer the Chair's question?

As I have said, we got a very good briefing in the first session and we have raised our concerns in this morning's discussion. I have been in farming for a fair while and, in my experience, I have never seen legislation that outlaws an agricultural activity. Will the Department come back with amendments on the basis of the concerns raised this morning with regard to this legislation? What does the Minister see as the next step in getting this Bill onto the floor of the Dáil and passed?

I thank the Chairperson. The next step is for us to reflect on our engagement with the committee and on the further engagement with and information from the farmers, which we are seeking. We will then adjust the Bill as we feel appropriate having considered and taken on board the matters arising before introducing the legislation in the Dáil. At that stage, it will go through the process and it will be open to Deputies and Senators to come forward with amendments. In advance of bringing the finalised Bill to the Dáil and having it approved, we will consider what amendments are appropriate. We will then introduce it to the Oireachtas.

We have had a very good interaction on this legislation this morning. As I have said, we were better prepared for the second hour of the meeting after the first hour. It is unique legislation. On behalf of the committee, I thank the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and his officials, Mr. Greally and Mr. Kinsella, for briefing us this morning. They have been very open in their answers to our questions. I thank them very much. We look forward to this legislation and to what we have heard this morning being taken on board. Does the Minister want to make a comment?

I thank the Chairperson and all of the members for the engagement today and for facilitating this pre-legislative scrutiny. It is good to have it completed before the summer recess so that we can continue the work over the summer and be in a position to introduce the Bill to the Oireachtas early in the new Dáil term. I thank the Chairperson and all of the committee for their engagement over the course of the past Dáil year on a number of occasions and in respect of a number of Bills and other matters which the committee facilitated me in expediting. I very much appreciate that. I also want to recognise that this has been a very productive year for the committee. It has had a very strong output in terms of meetings and has had some very constructive engagements. The committee has been very effective. I hope the Chairperson and all of the members get a good break over the recess. I look forward to more constructive engagement after the summer.

May I ask a question of Mr. Greally before we go?

I will watch my wording because these are only allegations but, down through the years, it has been alleged that mink were let loose from some mink farms somewhere in the west. I dealt with a situation in recent weeks in which mink had got into the roof of a person's house. There seems to be a difficulty with mink in certain parts of the country. There is a similar problem with badgers. I know the Department is doing its best with that issue. Is the Department looking at mink that were on mink farms but that are now wild? Is anything going to be done about this situation? I know the animal rights activists will be jumping up and down but they do not have to live in some of the areas we live in where mink are a problem. Is the Department monitoring the issue or doing anything about it?

This may not be the kind of question Mr. Greally expected but we would appreciate it if he would be able to answer Deputy Fitzmaurice's question.

Mr. Gerry Greally

Our responsibility is really for the farms and enterprises concerned. We have not considered the release of mink into the wild and the problems that brings. Perhaps issues around mink outside of these farms need to be looked at. Our remit really finishes with the farming enterprise. Beyond that, it may be an issue for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. In summary, we have not considered the issue of mink outside of the area of mink farming.

I thank Mr. Greally. Deputy Fitzmaurice has raised a very pertinent question. We may come back to the matter in the next session. It is a problem. Any species that is not native which is let out into a given area causes serious problems. Mink are most definitely doing that. It has damaged the balance of wildlife in certain areas. It is a serious predator. I thank Mr. Greally for his answer on that. That concludes our proceedings for today.

The committee is adjourned until 9.30 a.m. Tuesday, 20 July, when we will be joined by representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for a meeting on the horse-racing industry. The committee is not going into recess just yet. I thank members and our witnesses for their engagement today.

The joint committee adjourned at 11.40 a.m. until 9.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 20 July 2021.