Common Agricultural Policy: Statements

I thank the House for affording me the opportunity to address it regarding the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. The agri-food sector is very important to the Irish economy and to our rural society. It will play a vital role in our national economic recovery. The Government has recently published Food Harvest 2020 which is an ambitious but realistic strategy for smart, green growth in the Irish agri-food sector over the next ten years. The CAP will be a key instrument underpinning this ambition. The negotiations on the future CAP are therefore of significant importance for this country because the policy decisions taken on foot of these negotiations will set the context and many of the conditions for the development of Irish agriculture in the years to come. For this reason I appreciate the time allowed for this debate in the House as I believe there is a significant benefit in having widespread consultation and advice. I am looking forward to the input from Members and I am anxious to hear their views. I hope that, collectively, we can come to conclusions on the best and most appropriate policies for agriculture in our country for the years ahead and advocate for policies at EU level.

When I addressed the House some five months ago, I outlined the background to and developments in the CAP discussions up to that point. I would now like to bring Members up to date on the developments that have taken place since then and to share with them the views of the Irish Government.

The basic context for these negotiations has not changed in that they are taking place against the background of an EU budget review and a new EU financial framework for 2014 to 2020. There are clear pressures from some quarters for a reduction in the amount of funding to be set aside for the CAP, both as a share of the budget and in absolute terms. While the overall EU budget and the share going to CAP are matters for decision by Heads of State and Government in the context of the negotiations on the next EU financial framework, it is inevitable that the distribution of CAP funds between member states will inform that process and that both sets of negotiations will become inextricably linked.

As regards the timing of negotiations, a formal communication from the Commission is due to be issued on 17 November. It is expected this will set out the general principles and policy direction for the future CAP. This will be followed by full legislative proposals in mid-2011 and the plan is to secure agreement on an overall package in the first half of 2012. The process will run in parallel with the negotiations on the EU budget. These are issues of major importance to our country and indeed to the entire European Union.

When I spoke to the House last May, I mentioned the high level of activity and debate even though formal negotiations had yet to commence. This high level of activity has continued over the summer months, with formal policy debates taking place in the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers as well as informal contacts and meetings at bilateral level, the production of position papers by stakeholder organisations and a full-scale consultation process initiated by the Commission.

My Department and I have participated actively in all of these discussions with a view to building up alliances and pressing the Irish viewpoint. In addition to representing the Irish view at formal and informal meetings of EU Agriculture Ministers, I have had bilateral meetings with the Commissioner and with colleagues from a number of other member states. Indeed, I travelled to Poland and Hungary last July to meet my ministerial counterparts. I have come to the House this afternoon following a meeting with Minister Ilse Aigner, the German Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. My French colleague, Minister Bruno Lemaire, will come to Ireland at my invitation at the end of the month.

These contacts are proving very productive in deepening our understanding of each other's positions and in establishing support for the Irish position in the negotiations. My meeting today with Minister Aigner was a case in point. We had a comprehensive discussion ranging over all the main elements of the dossier and I am pleased to report that we share a lot of common ground on the importance of a strong and well-resourced CAP in the future.

I had the pleasure of welcoming Commissioner Ciolos to Ireland two weeks ago. It was an opportune time for such a visit just as the Commission was finalising its thinking on its formal communication. We had very useful discussions and the Commissioner went on to address the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to meet stakeholder organisations at a specially organised event in my Department's offices in Backweston, County Kildare. In addition, the Commissioner was able to see at first hand the realities of Irish farming at a beef and sheep farm in north Kildare. I would like to think that his Irish visit will bring a distinct Irish influence to the content of that communication and to the future direction of CAP policy after 2013.

At official level we have continued our engagement with our colleagues in other member states, the Commission and the European Parliament. This is the first time the European Parliament will have a co-decision role in this process. There has been a number of bilateral meetings and contacts and we have shared information and analysis, discussed policy positions and explained the Irish context and viewpoint. This work has also proved very effective in gaining understanding and acceptance of the Irish position.

I am also continuing to consult widely on the domestic front. I had the opportunity of addressing the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the occasion of the EU Commissioner's visit and of hearing the views of committee members. Earlier in the year I established a consultative committee to advise me on the CAP after 2013. That committee is comprised of all the major farming organisations and agriculture-related representative organisations involved in social partnership as well as a number of academics. The committee had its inaugural meeting last May and went on to participate in the stakeholder event I organised during the visit of Commissioner Ciolos.

Having brought the House up to date with recent developments, I would like to turn to the main issues emerging and to explain the Irish position on these issues. In this connection I should mention that many Senators may have already seen a media report of a draft of the communication that is due to be released by the EU Commission next month. As interesting as it may be, it is still a media report of a draft and subject to change when it is discussed within the Commission College. Consequently, I do not intend to go into any detail on the contents of that draft nor to make specific comments on its substance. Instead I will focus on the issues as they have emerged from the informal negotiating process over the last several months.

As regards the general orientation of future policy, there is good support among EU Agriculture Ministers for Ireland's view that we need a strong and properly resourced CAP after 2013. This was reflected in discussions held at the informal meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers held last May. There was general agreement at that meeting that the agriculture and food sectors could make an important contribution to the EU 2020 strategy. In addition, the need for a strong and well resourced CAP was emphasised by a majority of member states. I welcome this endorsement. This near consensus was repeated at our September Council meeting. The key context for Ireland is sustainable and competitive food supply, and the sustainable management of natural resources, including mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We want a coherent approach based on the family farm structure. As an exporting country, it is particularly important for Ireland to focus on competitiveness.

There is also an emerging consensus in favour of a two-pillar structure. In our view a major purpose of pillar one is the support of farm income and the core function of rural development is to support farmers in developing their productive capacity while securing the environment and ensuring the well-being of the wider rural society. In my view, pillar one should be financed fully from EU funds and there should be no requirement for co-financing from member states. The introduction of national co-financing would have the effect, in my view, of fragmenting and re-nationalising the Common Agricultural Policy. I also believe that the budgets for pillar one and pillar two should be fixed from the start of the next financial framework and there should be no question of modulation from one pillar to another. There is much support for these views among other member states.

One of the biggest challenges ahead in these negotiations will be to reconcile the competing demands from the different member states for their fair share of the funds available, both in pillar one and in pillar two. One of my priorities will be to preserve Ireland's entitlements. Regarding the distribution of funds in pillar one, the two issues of the distribution of funds between member states and the distribution of funds within member states are often confused. To clarify matters in the negotiations, we should look at the two issues separately. There have been calls for some redistribution of pillar one funds between member states by flattening out average payment levels between member states. It is my strong view, which I have repeated, that the starting point for our negotiations must be the current distribution keys for pillar one. We must start any debate by looking at current national envelopes. In any deliberations on this matter, it is essential we use the correct and most accurate measurement to determine average payment levels based on the eligible areas that we have invested great effort in measuring. This is a critical point of detail and is fundamental to the eventual success of the negotiations.

Our partners in Europe need to be realistic in their expectations. Focusing solely on the distribution of direct payments without any reference to other EU funding is not balanced. Fair does not necessarily mean equal. To be fair, any new mechanism must take into account the wide diversity of farming between member states. Pillar one direct payments are income supports and we must recognise that the cost of living and cost of farming vary widely throughout the EU. Once the share-out of funds between member states is agreed, it will be necessary to agree on the criteria for distribution of these funds within member states. Regarding the type of direct payment we should be aiming for and the criteria for distribution, a primary role of pillar one payments in the future should be the support and stabilisation of farm income. Direct payments are fully justified on the grounds of support for farm income in a high cost environment, in recognition of the costs of meeting the EU's high standards and of the environmental and other benefits from cross-compliance. There may be a need to sell these benefits more actively to those who are not farmers and to explain that the EU is supporting family-based farms engaged in sustainable production and meeting high safety and quality standards. While public opinion in this country takes a broadly supportive view of the Common Agricultural Policy, the same can not be said for all of the other 26 member states.

Decoupled payments are the most appropriate mechanism to underpin sustainable farming activity while allowing EU farmers to respond to market signals and achieve competitiveness. Ireland has fully decoupled since 2005 and is ahead of most member states in this respect. While I can accept that there may be a need to continue coupled payments in certain regions of the EU to counter severe disadvantages or natural handicaps, I do not support any large-scale reversal of the policy of decoupling.

I favour allowing member states considerable flexibility in respect of the distribution of funds within member states, as is currently the case. The agro-ecological and social conditions of farming vary hugely within the Union and we need to have the flexibility to apply the payment model that best suits our conditions. I am not seeking to impose this model on other member states but I would like flexibility for each member state to decide on the payment model that best meets its needs.

Ireland's current payment system has the major virtue of focusing funding on active farmers. As we are fully decoupled and apply cross-compliance, this has the effect of supporting sustainable production while not distorting competition or interfering with the farmers' response to market signals. The focus on active farmers is becoming a big issue in the discussions and there have been calls to limit payments to active farmers only. While I fully endorse the principle, I will reserve judgment until I see concrete proposals from the Commission.

Other ideas on the table for direct payments are the possibility of establishing upper ceilings or caps on individual payments and fixing minimum payment levels for small-scale farms. I am open to looking at these ideas but I need to see more detail before taking a firm position. There have been some suggestions that less favoured area payments should be moved to pillar one because they are annual payments primarily directed at supporting farm income. I have a strong preference for retaining these payments in pillar two where they can be targeted at those most in need. Not all member states utilise the option to pay less favoured area payments and it is difficult to understand in those circumstances the move from discretionary payments in pillar two to obligatory payments in pillar one. Moreover, it would preclude the flexibility currently allowed to member states to respond to the specific local characteristics of their individual agricultural production systems and it would have the effect of neutralising the value of such payments on areas of natural handicap most in need of funding.

As for market supports, there is an emerging consensus, with which I agree, that existing market support tools are appropriate and should continue. There may also be a need for adaptation of these measures to address particular difficulties in the market as they arise and there is general support for this view among my colleagues in the Agriculture Council. For the future, we need new tools to address increased market volatility. Given the diversity of production systems and risks across the EU, I am cautious about establishing EU-wide insurance regimes. My preference is to look at a suite of options for member states.

As for rural development, the principles I outlined regarding the distribution of funds between member states apply equally in respect of pillar two. The current distribution of funds should be the starting point for our examination of any request for redistribution of funds between member states. The current distribution of rural development funds among member states reflects the actual record of countries in pursuing successful rural development programmes with co-funding from their national exchequers. Even under the current severe constraints on the Irish Exchequer, Ireland continues to meet its co-funding responsibilities fully and to undertake additional national actions, for example, on forestry. This should be fully recognised in the distribution of funds in the next programming period.

Ireland's share of these funds also reflects the fact that we account for a significant share of the EU's rural land area and modulation. As to the policy itself, there is considerable acknowledgment among the Commission and member states of the importance of encouraging competitiveness. I am pleased about this. It should be a high priority within pillar two of the CAP. Ireland's view is that the core purpose of rural development policy is to support farmers in developing their productive capacity while securing the environment and ensuring the well-being of the wider rural society.

Measures directed at investment and which promote competitiveness perform a pivotal role in encouraging efficiency and innovation in farming for the future. These measures are critical to the future of Irish and European farming and should be maintained and enhanced. Investment measures that support competitiveness should be seen as a key Community priority in the new rural development regulation. The other key priority for me in our future rural development policy is to have effective support for agri-environmental measures that contribute to the sustainable management of our resources. In essence, competitiveness and sustainability should be the twin goals of our rural development policy of the future.

We have a long way to go before we arrive at a conclusion to these negotiations. The negotiations will not be easy but I am determined to fight for the best possible outcome for Irish agriculture. Agriculture is our largest indigenous industry and we have much to gain from a successful outcome. I value the input from Members of this House and members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Over the next two years we will have the opportunity to exchange views on an ongoing basis on this critical issue for our country.

I welcome the Minister and wish him well in his endeavours to secure a package favourable to Ireland, its agricultural industry and our economy in the ongoing negotiations. The Minister referred to welcoming the input and co-operation of all sides in this House. On the Order of Business we had a debate on political consensus and I assure the Minister that in respect of this issue concerning the vital funding of Irish and European agriculture, there is broad consensus in the House. We are all wearing the green jersey. We are all committed to ensuring a package of measures will be arrived at which will retain agriculture in its key role as a driver of the rural economy, an employer and the centrepiece of farm families across the European Union.

The Common Agricultural Policy has been the most successful policy within the European Union, formerly the European Economic Community. It has produced for the people of Europe at minimal cost a food supply, in terms of quantity and quality, not available prior to the foundation of the European Community. The possibility of food shortages across the continent of Europe has become a distant memory as a result of the success of the policy.

The Common Agricultural Policy needs a good public relations manager, as no policy is more wrongly maligned or misunderstood. We see ill-informed commentary and articles written on its cost. It is often reported that it uses up 40% of the entire EU budget. We, therefore, need to get matters in perspective. The total budget for the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the broader activity and income of the European Union is minuscule. The current cost is approximately €100 per head of population. For €100 per citizen we are guaranteeing a food supply in terms of quantity, quality and security that is vital to the economic and social well-being of the peoples of Europe.

We should reflect more often on the situation in Europe just after the Second World War up until the mid-1950s when food scarcity was the norm. There was no guarantee of a food supply. As a result of the thinking behind the Common Agricultural Policy and the modest amounts of money spent on it, these worries are part of history and that is where we should leave them. We must continue with an agricultural policy that provides for security of supply from both a quality and quantity perspective. Beyond that simple equation of producing the basics for life, the Common Agricultural Policy has been the great generator of jobs in rural economies across Europe. This country has been a major beneficiary. We appreciate, however, that there must always come a time when we have to reflect on and renew policy. The Common Agricultural Policy has changed dramatically since this country joined the European Union in 1973 and we are now back to the change agenda. I appreciate that the matter is up for debate, consideration and, possibly, amendment.

I was impressed by the performance of the new European Commissioner for Agricultural and Rural Development, Mr. Ciolos, at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a fortnight ago. He appears to have a broad grasp of the issues over which he has a great degree of control. I know the Minister will engage closely with him in order to find a solution that is fair, balanced and good for the country and its economy and the broader population of Europe.

My party wishes to ensure the maximum national envelope is retained. Our priority is to secure a level of funding for Irish agriculture at least equivalent to what we currently enjoy. There is a need for ongoing debate on how the money will be spent. However, we in this House are united on the fact that we must maximise the funding the country receives from the EU budget. For that to happen it is imperative that the agriculture budget retains a strong significance in the total budgetary expenditure programme of the European Union. It is important that the Minister and his counterparts across the 27 member states of the European Union lobby in that regard and I accept that he is doing so.

It bears repeating the success of funding for agriculture since 1973 and highlighting the need for it to continue. We have received a significant number of submissions on how future moneys should be spent. There is a wide variety of ideas on the best way of putting the money to use. First, we must focus on the size of the budget and then move on towards analysing the historic payment basis and other variations of the theme. We have become used to such payments. It appears current thinking within the broader European Union suggests there will be a change. However, if the change is carefully managed, it will allow new opportunities to emerge. I took on board with interest the comment of the Commissioner that he was a practitioner of evolution rather than revolution. Accordingly, he will, wisely, tread with a degree of caution.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been examining the subject in some detail and is drawing up a report on the matter. We have expressed concern that major change could result in a regime of winners and losers. However, we must recognise that even under the current system of historic payments, there are winners and losers. I would be disappointed if those who have lost out under the current system were not given some hope that there will be flexibility under a new scheme. Whatever scheme is put in place must allow an opportunity for new entrants to become involved in agriculture. Too many have been shut out since the system of historic payments began. The basis for new entrants should be commercial, with a reasonable income.

The debate also centres on rural development and environmental measures. Farm families have ensured a "guaranteed Irish" form of rural development. Unfortunately, such families have disappeared in great numbers since 1973, which is understandable, given the introduction of industrialisation and modern technology. I accept things never remain the same. However, we must ensure farm families are recognised as offering the best guarantee of ensuring a strong rural economy and rural development. I participated in and supported Leader and other rural development projects. We must consider them as add-ons to the broader direct funding of agriculture. We must try to maximise the amount for the direct support of agriculture.

To return to the questions faced by the Minister, his colleagues and the Commissioner, the message must be sent from the House that retention of the maximum national envelope is our first and strongest request. There is no point in putting our heads in the sand and saying things will remain as they are. We must recognise there will be a degree of change, flexibility and, as the Commissioner described it, evolution. If we can secure the funding we need, we can have an additional debate on how the money will be spent to keep farm families on the land, support active farmers and protect the environment and rural communities.

The Common Agricultural Policy brought to an end food shortages and starvation in Europe. It has been a tremendous success story at a very modest cost — €100 per head per annum. We need to see this investment continued. I support the Minister and his colleagues in his endeavours to secure the best possible package for Ireland.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for coming back to us within six months on this important issue, the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013. It bodes well that he knows how important it is to keep us informed of what is happening and what he expects to happen in Europe.

The CAP post-2013 is at an early stage, with no final decision being made until at least 2012. It is important our views are made known to colleagues across Europe. I note the Minister is holding meetings with his European counterparts and had Commissioner Ciolos here two weeks ago to meet with all strands of Irish agriculture. He met the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Food, the farming organisations and other stakeholders in the industry. It was important that he was taken to a working Irish farm to see first hand how it operates because farming is totally different in his country. Our family run farms are of great importance and the production of beef, sheep meat and dairy produce is mostly grass-based and as near to organic as can be found. During the years, under the various schemes, and especially through REPS, the farming community has made the environment part of its green image. That is why it is important to show the Commissioner our way of farming. I hope the Minister will bring his ministerial colleagues on farm visits, particularly to marginal areas where farming is more difficult, such as in the north and west of my county, Mayo, and the west of his own county, Cavan, where the land is mountainous. It is important they see how people farm land of that type.

Consumers in Europe must make up their minds between cheap food and food security. If they want cheap food, they must accept imports of dubious origin and production compared to Irish products. We cannot produce at the prevailing costs because we produce food at the highest level that is disease free and of a quality that is second to none. To do this, the various payments from the CAP must be maintained and farmers paid to produce this. The taxpayers of Europe must maintain their payments and that is why the envelope must be kept going for producers. If not, the producers must give up and if that happens there will be a food shortage, something that would be detrimental to Europe. There would be a panic and money would be given to farmers to produce. Now is the time to batten down the hatches and ensure that food continues to be produced in the way it is done at present.

It is vital that more funds are made available from EU funds and co-financing from member states is kept to a minimum. Commissioner Ciolos made much of the fact that there are now 27 members where previously there were 15 and that there must be a massive increase in funds. We cannot divide the present funds among 27 member states as there would be a massive shortfall for the developed countries, those that built up their agriculture regime during the years. The incoming countries are entitled to funding but not to the detriment of the competitiveness of agriculture across Europe. It has taken a long time to arrive at this point and we must keep it going. In years to come, with population increases, we will need to produce far more. In the Minister's recent paper on food until 2020, he outlined much of what we will need. It is a great document and it should be read by all stakeholders in agriculture in the country.

There is unity of purpose in this House and between MEPs in maintaining the national envelope. I attended a meeting of the North-South forum last week and Jim Nicholson MEP spoke. He was upbeat about agriculture but he saw many shortcomings. I hope our 15 MEPs will come together to work for the common good of agriculture in the European Parliament.

Senator Bradford made a fine contribution today and offered full support, which is welcome. The green jersey is very important here, as the Minister appreciates when negotiating in Europe.

I thank the Minister for coming and outlining to us what he envisages will happen in the coming months. We will wait with baited breath. There was a leak today in the media of a section of the report of the Commission that is to be published on 17 November. I do not know the basis for that leak, we must wait and see. The Minister and his officials will try their best to ensure Irish agriculture remains at the forefront.

I welcome the Minister. I am stepping into the breach for my colleague Senator Michael McCarthy.

The future of the Common Agricultural Policy must be addressed now. We are fast approaching 2013 and, with every day that passes, the situation for Irish farmers becomes more critical. Agriculture remains at the core of Irish rural life and the CAP 2013 is vital to securing the viability of farming as an option for young men and women. We must encourage young people to get involved.

CAP reform must protect small producers who form the backbone of rural Ireland and it must ensure they are not neglected in preference to larger operations. The single farm payment is key to the livelihoods of most small farmers. Our Government must act in a decisive manner to protect the single farm payment from the threat posed by the future negotiations of CAP. The CAP process is not something intangible: it is about real people, real families and real communities.

I am glad this debate is taking place. It is time for an informed debate to begin. We cannot wait until 2013. Now is the time for action, to decide what it is we want from the CAP and for the future of the agriculture industry.

My colleague, Alan Kelly MEP, carried out a survey of farmers earlier this year. The findings show that 97% of farmers believe the CAP is of major or vital importance to Irish agriculture but over 90% of them believe the future of CAP will have a negative impact. He revealed these results at the "Future of CAP — Crisis or Opportunity for Rural Ireland" conference which took place at the end of March. This conference was the first of its kind in Ireland and it saw attendees from across Ireland gather to hear speakers, including Deputy Eamon Gilmore and the IFA President, John Bryan, discuss the future of the CAP for Irish farmers.

The CAP is worth over €1 billion to the Irish economy in purely financial terms. Unfortunately, because it is an agricultural issue and an issue for rural Ireland it does not get the attention it deserves. We must present a united front in Europe to protect our national interests and ensure a future for Irish agriculture. We need a strong vision for the future of the CAP. We cannot have a CAP that provides almost random subsidies to large farmers and companies. We need a CAP that will protect and foster the family farm structure.

If we believe in the future of Irish agriculture, we need to structure the CAP in such a way that it fosters and encourages innovation, sustainability and quality. My colleague, Deputy Sherlock, Labour Party spokesperson on agriculture, has been calling for this approach for some time. As they say, the devil is in the detail and the CAP is no different. It is obvious there are real concerns in the farming community that the CAP will lead to a significant reduction in income within the agricultural sector. The fact that ever-increasing numbers of farming families have been awarded a payment under the farm assist scheme since the beginning of the year is further proof that many families in rural Ireland are on the bread line. This is a worrying trend and reinforces the need to ensure that any decision regarding the CAP will not further negate farm incomes.

We often make the mistake of believing that the interests of those in rural Ireland are different from the interests of those who live in urban Ireland. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are one Ireland and all our interests are intertwined. Deputy Gilmore stated:

Real vibrant communities will not survive and thrive without some support. As CAP moves more and more away from direct support for farmers, it can have a new role in protecting and enhancing rural life.

Small rural businesses, cottage industries and green energy can be supported through a restructured CAP. We cannot hope to develop sustainable communities in rural Ireland unless farming is in a healthy and sustainable condition.

If the global population is to increase from 6 billion to 9 billion by 2050, it is vital that the Irish agrifood sector is supported by adequate resources in both pillars of the CAP. Global food security is a major challenge. Coupled with increasing demand for dairy products in Asia, in particular China, this should see Ireland well placed to take advantage. The economic downturn in Ireland can be tackled by ensuring the €1.3 billion we get from the CAP will place an emphasis on the agrifood business. There is considerable potential for growth in this sector and, if we go about it the right way, it could turn into a business with a turnover of more than €25 billion. I am glad the Commissioner has stated that direct payments are critical to the future of the CAP and that these would be backed by market measures. The new round of the CAP must benefit those who are innovators within the industry and the Labour Party will press for its preservation.

I welcome this timely debate. It is time for the Government to engage with all stakeholders to ensure a fair and beneficial reform of the CAP for all. I wish the Minister well in his discussions in Europe.

I welcome the Minister to the House in an effort to keep us up to date regarding the forthcoming talks on the CAP. I wish him well in those negotiations as he will have an uphill battle if he is to maintain Ireland's level of funding. He should be fully supported by the farming bodies and all Members of the Oireachtas because the negotiations will not be simple.

We come to this debate in the context of an ever-changing agricultural community. On the one hand, some of its members are elderly and, on the other, so many young people are trying to become involved at various levels that our agricultural colleges were not able to accept every applicant this year. The reason is simple. While agriculture may have its ups and downs, it is more level and provides a better future for young people than some of the other opportunities that might arise for people from farming backgrounds.

Major changes are under way in the food industry, which will have a significant role to play in the CAP negotiations. People might not say that processors are producers, but those processors will need to become producers of food that is acceptable to people. We cannot expect European farmers to produce food to the standard required by European consumers and still compete against other groups that produce food by various methods with cheap labour, cheap land and poor standards of quality and supervision. This matter will lead to a major clash when negotiating the new CAP. Certain countries within Europe will want cheap food irrespective of the consequences for consumers. They will want it for nothing if at all possible.

Globally, food prices are increasing. Some commodities are worth more in certain parts of the world where they are unsubsidised than they are worth in Ireland. Recently, the Farming Independent reported that live cattle were worth $3,000 per tonne in Egypt, far in excess of the value of the same stock in Europe. This raises a question. Are producer prices being suppressed within the EU? I honestly believe they are, but I am not in a position to do the research. Irish farmers’ prices are being suppressed because they are being paid €170 less for animals than they would were those animals processed in the UK. This raises major questions about where the CAP is going and how producers will be protected from supermarkets and processors. The margins being taken by some supermarkets are depressing the prices received by primary producers. Neither are those margins always of great benefit to the consumer. Europe’s current food supply will only last 26 days. This is a low stock of food available to people within the EU. If the Irish rate of production continues to decrease as it has done in the past two to three years, we will have national problems with certain areas of the food industry within ten years.

We need to strike a balance between what is paid to individuals and what they produce in return. None of us wants to see the butter mountains or beef mountains of the past, but we want a reasonable level of production to be maintained. If we allow production to diminish, we must accept the consequence of job losses. If we are to produce, we must be able to compete with our fellow Europeans.

That so much of our young stock is exported live for fattening in other countries and sold within the EU is terrible. This is a loss to the economy because we are not able to command the final price commanded by the locals. This phenomenal situation has an effect. As the Minister is aware, the decrease in livestock numbers will lead to job losses.

The dairy industry has been able to deal with the situation the best. Most dairy co-operatives are growing rather than retracting. It is important that they be encouraged because they have diversified into various dairy products that are consumer-friendly and are accepted by consumers as being of a high quality. In many cases, the benefit of Irish food over food from elsewhere in Europe is removed because many of our producers and processors are forced to sell their food without the Irish brand attached. If they used the brand, they would meet objections within certain EU countries on the basis that their food comes from outside these countries. In France the situation is almost impossible for Irish companies which produce a superior product, especially of beef or meat, because in many cases supermarkets will not label the product as Irish but rather as of EU origin. On the opposite side Kerrygold butter commands a premium price in many parts of Europe. Labelling is to be introduced. If a product is to be labelled as European, it will be branded and carry such a logo. In the United Kingdom the red tractor symbol is used for all home produced products and can only be used on products produced in England, Scotland and Wales. These are the issues that lead to problems in production. We must opt for "Brand Ireland" as proposed and gain acceptance for this across Europe. If we are to have national branding, let us give those who want to buy national products the opportunity to buy them, but everybody should have the right to brand and sell their product within the European Union.

We could all speak further on this issue. All I will say is we want consensus on the direction we should take in the overall renegotiation of the CAP. We do not want to see anyone coming out with negative proposals which might have an effect across the board. We need to get people to realise that food security and quality and food production methods must all be taken into consideration in that renegotiation.

I welcome the Minister. The contributions of my colleagues are also welcome. I welcome this debate because, as my colleague, Senator Bradford, noted, we all have to don the green jersey. I wish the Minister luck in the negotiations. There is time between now and 2012 and we can all participate in the debate.

I come from a provincial town in the midlands which is supported to a large degree by people who earn their living from agriculture. What I understand about the CAP is that heretofore it supported rural communities and provided safe and healthy food at an affordable price for the peoples of the European Union. The Minister has indicated he does not wish to refer to the draft CAP reform proposals, but they were leaked last week and I am somewhat disappointed he has not given his opinion on the flat rate system for the single farm payment.

I flatly rejected the flat rate payment from the word go.

Fair enough. That is very welcome.

I did so last May. The document to which the Deputy referred which was aired in the public media was the leaked draft communication. A draft document has been sent to the college, or the Commission, for consideration. I do not know how accurate the information in the media is; I am sure there are some accuracies. I do not mean to interrupt the Senator, but——

I thank the Minister for the clarification.

We could not give credence to the leaked draft document that has not been endorsed by the college. When the Commissioner brings the document to the college, as a meeting of Commissioners is termed, it will not be finalised until the meeting of the Commission on 17 November and that afternoon it will be presented to the European Parliament. That is the reason I am reluctant to comment on the leaked draft document. I hope Senator McFadden can appreciate this.

I do totally, but the Minister can also understand that the said leaked document will have caused huge insecurity. I, therefore, welcome his assurance which will go a long way towards reassuring the farming people of Ireland.

There is a further point to be made in regard to the flat rate. We expressed a very strong view against a flat rate payment. The Commissioner was constrained in what he was able to say to us when he was with us last Friday week, but he ruled out a flat rate payment in as much as he was able to do. We cannot say he did because it all has to go before the college; therefore, to a certain extent, there is speculation on all our parts, but I believe he has ruled out a flat rate payment.

I read the transcript of the debate and discussions the Minister had and it seemed very much above board. The Commissioner appears to have been very forthcoming and supportive of the Minister's position. I wish the Minister very well in the negotiations. So far he has done a very good job.

As the Fine Gael spokesperson on agriculture, Deputy Doyle, noted, the CAP is a victim of its own success because so far it has provided for a very safe, healthy and traceable food supply in this country. That is very important, especially having regard to what is happening in South America. Traceability is crucially important. I noted that when Deputy Aylward asked questions, he did not receive very satisfactory answers from the Commissioner. We are very anxious we should not again face the issue of Brazilian beef. I, therefore, ask the Minister to fight strongly in order that we will be able to say we know exactly where our food comes from, how it is produced and how safe it is.

Coming as I do from a rural town, I am aware of the devastation caused by the collapse of construction and how important it is that we go back to our roots and values in producing food. As some Members, including Senator Ellis, stated, we could very easily find ourselves in a situation where we would not have enough food or only a six-day supply. Compared to other countries such as Russia, for example, with its adverse weather conditions, we are very lucky to have the ability to produce food because of our wonderful soil and weather conditions, etc. It is important, therefore, that we contribute to the bank of food available.

I ask the Minister to try to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape which should be brought to an end because they are the scourge of so many farmers. It costs €1,800 to have a matter reviewed, perhaps 10% to 15% of an entire budget.

I highlight the very important value to the environment of the CAP and biodiversity. Farmers have taken on board the need to ensure the protection of wildlife and biodiversity.

I refer to another issue about which the Commissioner spoke, namely, sheep farming. Many rural parts of the country are extraordinarily difficult to farm. The Commissioner has stated sheep farming is not only about the production of food; he has guaranteed its protection in order to maintain a rural way of life in Ireland, which is welcome. He spoke about the Leader programme, which was also welcome because under the programme many grants have been provided for many rural pursuits and other items that have helped to sustain and maintain rural communities. He also mentioned forestry and rural development. Forestry is of huge importance in dealing with out carbon footprint.

I welcome the fact that the Commissioner has stated he intends to put in place as large a package as possible to apply across Europe. It is, therefore, incumbent on the Minister — God bless and save him — to fight as hard as he can for us. He certainly will have the backing of the Fine Gael spokesman, Deputy Andrew Doyle, Senator Bradford and I, as well as all of our colleagues, in securing as good a package as he can.

The Commissioner said specifics would be taken into account. Please God the Minister will be able to outline the specific circumstances necessary for Ireland to get as much as possible in the division of the pie.

I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I agree with the previous speaker as regards the good job he has been doing so far in the negotiations.

The outcome of the coming negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 will have far-reaching effects for Irish farmers, agriculture and the overall economy. The Irish economy is more dependent on a successful outcome to these talks than any of the other 27 countries in the EU. The recent report, Food Harvest 2020, has clearly set out a vision of how Irish agriculture can play a significant role in the recovery of the national economy. It envisages that by 2020 the agri-food and fisheries sector will have increased the value of output from farming and fisheries by €1.5 billion, value added output by €3 billion and increased exports by a total value of €12 billion or 42% compared to the 2007-09 period. The Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, has set up an implementation committee and given a commitment to provide the necessary provisions for the implementation of the Food Harvest 2020 report.

The existing CAP model has successfully maintained a production base on Irish farms and helped maintain the family farm structure here. The traditional family farm structure, with a strong work ethos and a good production base, will enable Irish farming to achieve the goals set out in the Food Harvest 2020 report. It is essential to the future welfare of this State that agriculture is supported with a strong CAP policy at EU level. I was pleased to hear the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Ciolos, on his recent visit here confirm that he was committed to maintaining a strong CAP for the whole of the EU and would fight to secure a strong budget for the CAP.

The EU CAP budget must be maintained and the current Irish national envelope protected vigorously to ensure it is maintained in the new CAP post-2013. The reduction in farm gate prices plus the increased costs of production have resulted in a decrease in production due to reduced profitability in the mainland based farming sector and the EU is now no longer self-sufficient in beef or sheep meat. Farm subsidies under the CAP are essential as a guarantee of food security and as income support for the maintenance of the family farm structure as a way of maintaining rural communities.

Recent events such as the volcanic eruptions and the reduction in the Russian wheat harvest due to drought have shown the importance of the EU having a secure supply of food, produced to the highest standards for all of its citizens. The EU has to be careful that it does not become dependent on imports for its food supply, thereby risking a crisis in that regard. The CAP is essential towards maintaining production of high quality food that has full traceability and safety and is produced to the highest animal welfare standards.

The protection of the environment has been a key element of the CAP in the recent past. This has successfully ensured that through schemes such as REPS, where farmers are rewarded for adopting practices to protect and enhance the environment, our countryside and rural communities are pleasant places to visit or live in. It is important that this policy is maintained and that CAP supports the policies that enhance the environment while maintaining production capacity not only in the bigger regions but in all rural areas. Such a policy will ensure that Ireland, with its extensive grass-based farming enterprise, will be competitive on EU and world markets. In that way EU consumers will be assured of secure, safe and fully traceable food that meets the highest environmental and animal welfare standards.

In the revised CAP policy there must be supports to encourage those grass-based enterprises, which by their nature have low levels of profitability and benefit in particular the environment, in disadvantaged regions. While I welcome the supports the Government has given to the suckler cow and sheep sectors, it is important that mechanisms should be established in CAP post-2013 to give additional supports to these sectors. The dairy sector has been highlighted in Food Harvest 2020 because of its potential for significant growth after the abolition of the milk quota in 2015. The commitment set a 50% growth increase in milk by 2020 as a realistic and achievable target. This would increase output value at the farm gate by €700 annually. In the run-up to the abolition of the milk quota in 2015, there should be more flexibility at EU level.

Significant capital investment in stock and buildings is needed on many dairy farms to reach the target increase in milk output. Much of this investment will be undertaken in the lead-up period to the abolition of milk quotas. We should campaign for the gradual dismantling of the milk quota regime during the lead-up period rather than wait for complete dismantling in 2015. This would reduce the risk of superlevies for those who increase production during the lead-up period.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue in the House. Securing of a strong CAP post-2013 will enhance the profitability of Irish and European agricultural and rural communities. I am confident the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, and his team will secure a deal that will benefit Irish agriculture and the economy.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House, and I thank Senators Bradford, McFadden and Carty for their fine speeches. Someone just asked me since when were there cows in Cork city. There are no cows in Cork city but there are cows in Cork South-Central and they do produce milk. It is important to place this issue in context. Agriculture is important to our country, and we should not classify it as purely a rural issue. CAP reform has implications for employment and for communities.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, to the House, and thank him for being here.

It is Deputy Cuffe.

I apologise, I mean Deputy Cuffe. Deputy Sargent is a former Minister of State at that Department.

At this stage all members of the Green Party are in danger; therefore, getting them mixed up does not matter at all.

No offence, Senator Coveney.

My apologies to the Minister of State.

We are talking about agriculture now.

As I am sure it will be on Twitter later on, I offer my apologies. I was struck by the comment in the Minister's speech that fair does not mean equal. In closing, he said: "[W]e have a long way to go before we arrive at a conclusion to these negotiations", and he is right. I urge the Government to use the phrase famously used by the former Minister for Agriculture, Austin Deasy, when he said there must be no capitulation. Ireland cannot capitulate when it comes to the CAP.

Senator Carty spoke about various issues in agriculture. Last year, 2009, was a desperate year for farmers, with bad weather and falls in prices and incomes, although I am glad to say that this year has seen some recovery. We have seen a complete change in the development of agriculture in this country. Despite the cost of living, farm incomes have declined. Diversification has become the norm in agriculture, and more people are becoming dependent on jobs off the farm, which is regrettable. Senator Carty also mentioned the importance of the REP scheme and the role it played in rural Ireland, and he was right.

A question that must be dealt with by the Minister and in whose answer there must be no obfuscation is whether we want cheap food or food security. This issue was mentioned by Senators Carty and Bradford and is related to the debate on traceability and South American beef. We must protect Irish consumers and farmers. The discussions on the CAP are probably the most important we will ever have in an agricultural context. All Members agree, I hope, that a strong Common Agricultural Policy is critical in ensuring the consumers of Ireland and of the EU have confidence in the produce they are buying. We must strike a balance to ensure the economic future of our farmers in areas such as Ballygarvan, Crosshaven, Minane Bridge and Ballinhassig in Cork South-Central, as well as Mayo, Galway and other counties, is assured. That is why it is important a fair and stable income is ensured for farmers in all these areas under the CAP.

During the recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Andrew Doyle stated that Ireland needs to export 80% of what it produces and that the industry supports 250,000 jobs, which is a very large number. That is the context in which this debate and the wider debate on the CAP takes place. It would be wrong to focus on the CAP as primarily an issue for farmers, although it is. It also deals with climate change, animal welfare, environmental protection, and the economic development of our country. Senators Carty and Ó Brolcháin will not agree with me on this but Government policy has let down rural Ireland, and that needs to be addressed.

Senator Bradford spoke about the issue of food supplies and the elimination of food shortages. We must protect the quality of the food we produce and sell to consumers. I would love to have a wider debate on the issue of food quality. We can have a consensus, to use a word we have heard many times in the House today, on this decision.

Enough has been said about that.

The Senator should keep going. He is doing well.

I am all for consensus, as Senator Ó Brolcháin knows well. Farmers also have a responsibility in this regard. I commend the farming community and the IFA on the role they have played in the CAP discussions and the reasonable approach they have taken.

Fine Gael has stated that the priority must be to secure a national envelope of farm payments and protect the single farm payment. This is critical in terms of protecting the family farm structure which is at the core of rural Irish society. Listening to Senator Carty's contribution, I wondered what de Valera's comely maidens would have made of modern rural society. Those times have changed but farming must still play a vibrant role in our society, and it can help us trade our way into economic recovery. Support for farmers will help us to achieve our aims in rural Ireland and in the agricultural sector.

I was interested to hear the discussion at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with Commissioner Ciolos. I am not sure how to pronounce his name because I am not good at foreign languages, apart from Gaeilge, although some would argue that our approach to the Irish language is not correct because it is not a foreign language. The fact that we have not helped promote the Irish language at EU level is symptomatic of the problem we have with trade. This was mentioned on the Order of Business by Senators O'Toole and Ó Murchú. We have lost our sense of Irishness partly because agriculture has changed. We have not promoted the Irish perspective on agriculture or the idea of producing food in an environmentally friendly way. We have great produce but we should make more use of Bord Bia. Commissioner Ciolos focused on the areas of quantity, quality and diversity in food production, and I agree with his comments.

The agriculture sector is worth €1.8 billion and supports a quarter of a million jobs. Exports are critical to the economy and we need to ensure they are of the highest quality. It rests with our producers, farmers and all those involved to ensure the Irish brand, whether it is on our beef, our lamb or our dairy products, is indicative of the highest quality. Irish products should be gold-star quality. I hope that CAP reform will lead to the enhancement and protection of our agriculture sector for the benefit of consumers.

I conclude by quoting Austin Deasy, who said there can be no capitulation on behalf of the Irish farmer and the Irish consumer. It is too important. We are an island nation on the edge of Europe and it is important we have consensus on CAP reform, but it is also important that Ireland is not left behind by its fellow member states.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe. I recognise Deputy Cuffe and it is quite clear that he is not Deputy Sargent.

My apologies for that.

No offence taken.

The consensus that is emerging here is quite important. It is crucial that we all support the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to obtain the maximum for this country from any discussions at a European level. I have heard various Senators discussing the wearing of the green jersey in the negotiations, and it is not a great difficulty for me to do that.

The CAP developed as a result of a food security crisis following the Second World War. The purpose of the CAP under the Treaty of Rome was to secure food, stabilise markets and increase productivity and quality of food. It has achieved these goals to a large extent. The proportion of the EU budget devoted to the CAP was roughly 48% in 2006 and it is due to be cut to 32% of the budget by 2013. There are many challenges facing us in Ireland because the agriculture and food industry in this county is very important, and much more important than it is in many other EU member states. The British jokingly talked about doing away with their food industry because it was roughly 1% of their total output. That is not a joke we could make here because the industry is intrinsically a part of everything that we are.

Exports from Ireland are doing well at the moment. Food exports traditionally represent about 8% of the export market, which is very significant indeed. Senator Buttimer stated that roughly 10% of our workforce are employed in this industry, about 250,000 people. The figure is a very sustainable part of our employment, so we need to underpin it. I notice from the Irish Farmers Journal that the Commissioner is talking about different options. The word “sustainability” seems to be consistently coming to the fore and we in the Green Party definitely support that. Sustainability is the way things need to go. We need a sustainable food sector.

We need to ensure that biodiversity and locally produced food are encouraged in agriculture policy. In order to sustain vibrant rural communities, it is important that people do not depend on monocultures or industries that may disappear overnight. It is important that we diversify. We wish to encourage a greater degree of forestry, horticulture and organic food production. This leads to my point about the ongoing debate of quality versus cost. This is seen as a clean, green island by many people across the world and products such as Irish beef get premium prices in many countries. It is quite important that we maintain that image and that we concentrate on biodiversity, and on the quality of our food.

Our grass based system for livestock is quite unique and it allows us to maintain premium prices. We already have products that are world leaders. I worked for Baileys Irish Cream, which is a fantastic product. It is often not seen as a dairy product, but the quality of that cream is second to none. People have also mentioned Kerrygold, but there are many other brands and agribusinesses here.

Low level sustainability is very important and local farmers' co-operatives, markets and food movements are vital. We should try to encourage people to buy food locally. There is nothing worse than seeing potatoes being shipped out of Ireland, passing a ship that is bringing potatoes into Ireland. It is crazy that broccoli and flowers are flown in from South America. Flying agricultural produce around the world is not a good idea.

We need to look at environmental standards when assessing quality. We need to examine the notion that we can sell food in this country that does not adhere to the same environmental standards that we demand of our own producers. The EU needs to look at this in a big way. I appreciate there are international treaties on world trade, but we need to ensure the standards we demand of our own producers are equalled by those who are importing into Europe.

The Common Agricultural Policy was first negotiated under the Treaty of Rome. We came into the EU and the CAP was already in place, but we signed up to the Common Fisheries Policy after that. About €200 billion worth of fish has been taken out of Irish waters between 1974 and 2004, and that has not always been done sustainably. That is a huge amount of money and if the CAP is being cut, then we might need to look at the Common Fisheries Policy again. There was a bit of a trade off at the time by the then Fine Gael leader, Garret FitzGerald. If we are to see a reduction in the CAP we need to look at the fisheries policy again.

People were talking to me today about bio-fuels. We need to look at alternative methods for farm families to make an income through sustainable energy, green energy and ecotourism. The future of Irish farming is not guaranteed, but we need to look at what is happening and do our utmost to support the Irish farm family on the land.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an phlé seo. Is é seo an cineál ábhair a bhí pléite go mór ag an gcomhdháil treas-Teorainn i gContae an Dúin an deireadh seachtain seo caite.

CAP reform was one of the big items discussed at the all Ireland parliamentary conference. It is one of the areas where we can all agree, both North and South. We need to benefit in the best way possible from the discussions on reforming the Common Agriculture Policy after 2013. This is very important, given the drastic fall in farm incomes in recent years. In 2009 farm incomes fell by 30% and average farm income is well below the average industrial wage. It was interesting and welcome to note that Commissioner Ciolos, when he met members of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food here two weeks ago, assured them that there would be no threat to direct payments. He also stressed the need to preserve the European model of farming based on family farms and the centrality of food security for the future of the CAP and European farming.

While my party and the farming organisations welcomed the introduction of decoupling and the advent of the single farm payment in 2003, it has not proven to be the panacea that many thought it would be. While it has provided a certain level of income security, it is not sufficient to maintain farm families. Nor have the market opportunities that were promised once payments were decoupled from subsidies and premiums in most cases materialised. It has been somewhat of a missed opportunity and not what we expected in 2003. The average single farm payment for most farmers is extremely low and a small percentage of larger producers receive the vast bulk of payments. This has led many, including my party, to look at the structure of payments, which needs to be central to the negotiations on the post-2013 reform package.

There are issues related to modulation on low payments, with a large proportion of the payments going to a small number of people many of whom, disgracefully, are not farmers at all, but agribusinesses which have acquired entitlements. We will certainly be proposing changes both on a lower limit, below which modulation does not take place, and on an upper limit on the amount to which one single person or business ought to be entitled.

There are other issues affecting food security. Although the threat that seemed to be posed by the WTO proposals made by the former European Commissioner, Lord Mandelson, appear to have abated, it is vital that the EU ensures the CAP does not become a sacrificial lamb — pardon the pun — in any wider trade agreement. That is vital not only in order to protect the interests of farmers but also to avoid having much of Europe's food supplies sourced from outside Europe. Given that food security was the motivation behind the CAP in the first instance when the memory of the food shortages after 1945 were still very much alive, it would be criminal if that threat was revived as a consequence of a simplistic adherence to the so called "free market".

The next reform of the CAP must also reconsider how farmers might be encouraged to engage in new forms of production, which was claimed to be one of the key factors behind the introduction of the decoupled single farm payment. Farmers could take advantage of a number of areas both in food and in areas such as bio-fuels with the income security provided by the single farm payment. However, as I have said, that does not appear to be the case in the vast majority of instances.

Domestic policy of course also has a part to play but we have been slow in devising a new strategy since 2003 to capitalise on new opportunities. That has been addressed in two reports by my party colleagues, Deputy Ferris, who produced a report on farming post-decoupling in the west, and Deputy Morgan, who produced a report for his committee on the potential represented by the agrifood sector. We need to reread those reports, which were adopted by all the parties in those committees, to establish how we can start to implement them.

We need to focus on where we can gain comparative advantage, which needs to be a factor as we engage in the debate which is taking place on the 2013 reform. I trust there will be close co-operation between the Departments and Ministers with responsibility for agriculture on both sides of the Border in the interests of farmers throughout the island.

It was a unique experience to be in Newcastle, County Down, with 120 parliamentarians agreeing on a common framework. While certain issues separated us in the past, on agriculture we had a senior Unionist, who has been an MEP for many years, and the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew, MP, MLA, talking about the threats and challenges that face us as an island after 2013 with both reaching agreement. We need to capitalise on that aspect and approach the issue of what will happen post-2103 from an all-island perspective.

Cuirim fáilte riomh an Aire Stáit, Deputy Cuffe. I believe it is my first opportunity to welcome him in his new capacity. On a separate issue I compliment him on the initiatives he has taken on planning and the hopeful elimination of ghost estates, with which my county has been blighted as the Acting Chairman, Senator Leyden, will testify, living as he does in that part of the world, but sin ceist eile.

When it comes to agriculture matters, colleagues on all sides of the House wear the green jersey, primarily because agriculture has been good for the country. Since 1973 it has been the driving force, particularly in the rural economy where the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy has filtered down to every town and village. This is sometimes forgotten in the argument about farmers gaining money for doing very little. The reality is that towns such as my own, Drumshanbo, and many others in the west and rural areas in general would not have been able to survive without having the farming hinterland, where in recent years, particularly since decoupling, minimum payments have ensured the viability and survival of rural families. If the political philosophy is that people should stay in so far as possible within the areas in which they have grown up, which is one of the objectives of the spatial strategy, why should it be any different in terms of agricultural supports?

As mentioned by other Members, leaked Commission proposals have raised quite a storm. For example, today's edition of the Farming Independent reports:

The IFA has called on the Government to "totally oppose" the CAP reform proposals contained in the leaked communication from the EU Commission.

IFA president John Bryan claimed the Commission proposals would be devastating for the single farm payment for productive farms across all enterprises.

"The proposals would seriously undermine agricultural production in Ireland, with damaging consequences for the rural economy, agricultural output, food exports, jobs and farm incomes. They must be rejected by the Government," he said.

From what I can glean, while it is very open in its generalities, it is short on details. I presume this is because the budget elements of the new CAP regime have yet to be worked out. While I understand the draft leaked documents have not received the formal approval of the Commission, they give an indication of its thinking.

Most people would be concerned about the abolition of market support and income support measures, phasing out direct payments, giving only limited payments for environmental public goods — the term now being used, although not yet defined — and for specific natural constraint payments. I agree with commentators that the agriculture committee in making its submission to the relevant DG seems to have one eye on the financial implications of the CAP in the current economic climate while on the other hand trying to provide some sort of reassurance that the money to be provided to farmers would have a public good element to it, with a more enhanced environmental programme. Be that as it may, it will obviously mean more cost impositions on the farming community, especially here. While on the face of it the sentiment behind the proposal, if it becomes effective, is to have a more equal distribution of the Common Agricultural Policy across European agriculture, one of the side aspects is of particular concern to me. Declan O'Brien, the farming editor of the Farming Independent, stated:

One proposal mooted is that member states would get a guaranteed percentage (possibly 75-80%) of the current EU average SFP of €215/ha. This would be a major boost [if it were to be applied across eastern European countries].

That seems to be the thrust of much of what the leaked proposals suggest about equality of distribution income. He further stated that if that were to be the case and if it were to be implemented: "For a country such as Romania where farmers get an average payment of €31/ha, this would be a major boost." I share the view and obviously the IFA and a number of MEPs who have spoken share the view that "such a move would have to be financed by cutting payments to western EU members, and Ireland might not escape". There are worrying aspects to the leaked proposals. The fact that they have been leaked is a blessing in disguise because at least it gives all those involved in agriculture and those who represent them — the IFA and the MEPs — an opportunity to reflect on what is stated in the leaked proposals and how to debate them rather than be ambushed by them.

I refer to comments made by the Agriculture Commissioner on his recent visit to Ireland. He stated: "The visit is very useful as it gives me a chance to learn more about Irish agriculture just as we are drawing up our blueprint on the future of the Common Agriculture Policy." He said they hope to publish ideas in mid-November. I presume those are the ideas that have now been leaked to the media. He went on to state:

Agriculture is not only important for its considerable contribution to supplying European citizens with safe and sufficient food, but it also provides increasingly important environmental benefits to society, for example, in Ireland, through the grass-based, extensive livestock tradition. From a broader perspective, too, agriculture remains a major factor in maintaining the social fabric and landscape of rural areas.

The Commissioner further stated: "I believe these benefits give us good arguments to support a strong, forward-looking CAP after 2013."

I am especially pleased the Commissioner referred to the social fabric and landscape of rural areas. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of the Common Agricultural Policy and the continuance of the support systems for those living in rural Ireland. I do not want to be the rural equivalent of my good friend and colleague, Deputy Charlie O'Connor from Tallaght, in that every time an opportunity arises I put County Leitrim on the map, although my late father, God be good to him, who sat in the Seanad at one time was admonished by the Chair, the late, great Patrick Lindsay, that he would rule him out of order if he was to refer to Drumshanbo yet again in another contribution.

The Senator's father was a great man.

I thank Senator White. I would like to continue partially in that tradition because if we take not just County Leitrim but the entire western area and the midlands, which are under the severely disadvantaged scheme, there is nothing else for rural families, particularly with the downturn in our economic circumstances. Sadly, the only option now facing our educated children is to go abroad if they cannot find work here or to go on unemployment assistance, which is putting extra pressure on the Government's budgetary policies.

There was a time when the safety valve of emigration was available but I suggest it is no longer available. The English speaking countries to which the Irish tended to gravitate — England, Canada, America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia — are closing their doors increasingly. It is almost impossible now to get into the United States of America legally, although there are legal options, but it is increasingly difficult. We are faced with a position where we need to sustain rural families and the best way of doing that is to support forward thinking and progressive views on the Common Agricultural Policy.

We hear, on the one hand, that the big challenges for this century will be climate change and food and that there may be food wars over the quantity of food because of burgeoning population, yet, on the other, we have a unique, grassland-based agricultural economy which we seem to be taking steps towards dismantling with questionable policies towards our new European colleagues in eastern Europe where farming technology has yet to catch up. I do not want to go into that area in too much detail other than to say that all of the indications are that we in Ireland have got a very bright future in terms of agriculture. Several statements have been made in that regard both by the farming organisations and the Minister, Deputy Smith, who I compliment on the initiatives he has taken, the public support he continues to give to the Irish farming industry, and the engagement that has taken place between him and the farming organisations with a view to ensuring Ireland's case is strongly fought for in Europe. I want to put that on the record of the House. Media commentators who know nothing about agriculture and would not know one end of a cow from another sometimes make liberal comments about the actions of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as if they were somehow experts in that area.

As recently as today the Minister referred to the Irish beef industry as being the fourth largest beef exporter in the world, with 90% of our output exported. This gives another indication and a wider economic view of the reason this country needs the economic recession to end and consumer confidence internationally to kick-start the world economies because we have to export 85% to 90% of what we produce.

The quote I am about to give is only about the beef industry. I am pleased that at least the milk industry has got a very bright future. Irish grain farmers also have benefited enormously from the increase in world prices this year. I am aware that when one door closes, another opens. The increase is mainly because of the downturn in the wheat harvest in Russia. Speaking at the Beef Expo Ireland 2010 event in Kilkenny, the Minister said:

[M]ore than 5,000 people [are] employed directly in the processing sector, which purchases the output of some 80,000 farmers, and exports a high quality, indigenous Irish product with an annual export value of €1.5 billion. Ireland's future economic growth will be driven by exports of goods and services which will generate jobs directly in the provision of those goods and services.

He also referred to: "a farm sector providing a sound basis for sustaining vibrant rural communities and an indigenous processing industry providing secure employment as well as providing key linkages to a sophisticated international market place".

We are at the cutting edge of the food industry. We have a wonderful name and a great international food brand. I hope the combined efforts of the Government, MEPs and farming organisations will ensure that when the detailed discussions on the CAP commence, as they will do shortly, we will all wear the green jersey and ensure it is not a case of giving free money to farmers but of sustaining and developing the Irish agriculture sector.

I welcome the Minister. Ireland's agrifood, fisheries and forestry is our largest indigenous industry. Collectively, the industry employes 250,000 people either directly or indirectly and has an annual output in excess of €24 billion, including an €8 billion export industry.

Three significant reports on agriculture, food and forestry have been launched in the past three months, one of which is Food Harvest 2020 — a vision for the Irish Agri-food and Fisheries by the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment produced a report entitled, What is Required to Expand Employment in the Agri-food Sector? The other report was produced by the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, and is entitled, Trading and Investment in a Smart Economy.

There are 250,000 people employed either directly or indirectly in the agrifood industry and it is an €8 billion export industry. The agrifood industry is indigenous in nature, has a regional focus and is international in orientation. We are recognised internationally as a strong food producing nation.

We have had good news in recent months with the improving exchange rate. We have increased meat export volumes and a stronger export performance in the beverage, dairy and seafood sectors. During the first five months of 2010 the value of exports was more than 8% higher than a year earlier at almost €3 billion. The rate of recovery has accelerated as the year has progressed, with exports up to May some 23% ahead of the same month in 2009.

As every business person who is exporting understands, the exchange rate with sterling has been fairly bad in recent years but sterling is currently 6% stronger against the euro compared with this time last year. Likewise, the US dollar is currently 12% stronger against the euro relative to September 2009. Even if one is not exporting directly to the United States, many countries deal in the US dollar for their imports.

Until we joined the European Union in 1973, the agri-food sector was based on small-scale and co-operative businesses engaged mainly in exporting live animals and basic commodities. With EEC membership, the sector experienced substantial change and expansion of market efficiency in production facilities, technological development and improvement in market access and distribution systems. A recent report by IBEC showed that Ireland was the biggest net exporter of beef and lamb in the European Union, the largest supplier of food and drink to Britain and produced 15% of total global output of infant formula. Less than 17% of raw materials was imported by the sector, compared with a figure of over 60% for manufacturing generally.

The challenges facing the agri-food sector include changes to CAP and WTO arrangements. On 1 October I had the pleasure of attending the meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Ciolos. The Commissioner stated Ireland and the European Union shared two fundamental ideas, first, that the EU agriculture sector needed a strong CAP and, second, with tongue in cheek, a heavy purse makes a light heart, as can be seen in Ireland. In other words, getting money from the European Union lifts our hearts and makes life easier for farmers and those involved in the food industry. He also said a broad public debate on the future of the CAP had ended in July. During the public debate, in response to questions about why we needed the CAP in the first place, the various contributors identified seven major challenges, namely, food security, the competitiveness of agriculture, globalisation, environmental change, territorial balance, diversity and simplicity.

Based on the discussions with EU member states, the Commissioner said we could summarise the main objectives of the CAP as falling into three main priorities, the first being food production. Food security presents one of the biggest challenges the world faces in the years ahead. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization forecasts that global food demand will increase by 50% by 2030 and double by 2050. The strategic importance of agriculture will increase significantly. All 27 EU countries have a responsibility towards the citizens of the world. We should maintain our capacity to help countries facing challenges in feeding their citizens without blocking the growth of their agriculture industries. Two months ago I was part of a humanitarian mission to Malawi where I saw for myself the bare existence of the people. It is our responsibility not to do anything that would prove detrimental to such countries and to let them develop their agriculture industries.

Our second main priority is to deal with environmental change, namely, climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity and depletion of soil. Farmers are the first to be affected by climate change and extreme weather conditions. Commissioner Ciolos has said agriculture can provide a major response to all of these challenges. To fight them, we must maintain our production capacity throughout Europe, thereby ensuring a sustainable use of natural resources.

Our third main priority is to maintain the vitality of rural areas. The CAP, with its two pillar structure, allows for coherence between approaches in supporting agriculture and rural areas in Europe. The first pillar would be our response to the major challenges, common to all EU member states, such as social, economic, environmental and territorial challenges. The first pillar would provide support for all European farmers on an annual basis. The second would concern the development of our agriculture sector and territories, addressing climate change and contributing to the sustainable management of natural resources.

The Commissioner has said there is a crystal clear truth, namely, that direct payments are crucial for the future of European agriculture. The direct payments provide income support for farmers. The ways they are distributed will be adjusted, but the principle is not under discussion. Direct payments are indispensable to ensure the sustainability of agriculture across Europe. Without them, agricultural production would decline severely in vulnerable sectors or regions. The economic and social damage would be considerable and the Commissioner has said he does not imagine for one moment that we are ready to take this risk.

That said, Commissioner Ciolos did not advocate continuation of the status quo. In these troubled times we have to make the CAP Europe’s investment in its future. This will not be the case if the support for our farmers is based on what they did in the past. Direct payments must evolve towards better targeting of active farmers in order to optimise the use of public funds — this is on the agenda of the IFA in the form of payments to reward active farmers. These payments must better reflect the care farmers take of the environment, thereby providing stronger incentives to engage in sustainable farming, but must also retain the elements of income support for the many farmers who need it.

The reformed CAP must move to a system where taxpayers can understand what farmers are doing for them. Under the current system there are considerable differences in the rate of aid farmers receive from one member state to another, which will not be justifiable in the period after 2013. Direct payments must be more equitably distributed among member states, regions and forms of agriculture. The aim of the 27 countries of the European Union is to bring forward a balanced solution acceptable to all member states. We will not solve problems in some countries by creating difficulties in others.

Another issue raised by the IFA is that of retaining market support measures to minimise the effects on farm incomes of price volatility. The Commissioner has said the volatility and speculation in the markets have never had as much impact on farmers, processors and consumers. The European Union must ensure hyper-speculation is not jeopardising entire sectors of agriculture. New tools have to be put in place within the reformed CAP to address this extreme volatility in prices and farm incomes. We need more progress on the question of distribution of bargaining power within the food chain.

The future CAP will need stronger rural development programmes which will have to accompany agriculture on the path of modernisation, adaptation to climate change and innovation. Agriculture has a crucial multi-functional role to play in all of the territory of the European Union. I am confident that in the hands of the Minister, Deputy Smith, and Commissioner Ciolos we will have a reformed and successful Common Agricultural Policy.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe. I am always glad to have an opportunity to discuss the Common Agricultural Policy, particularly as someone who does not have the same vested interest as someone who has a direct interest in agriculture. However, as an Irish person, I have an interest in one of our most important indigenous industries and, more importantly, in how it will be developed.

The last speaker referred to the Commissioner stating he was not interested in maintaining the status quo, an interesting remark which is to be welcomed. Senator Bradford spoke about how the CAP was probably the single most successful initiative to be undertaken by the European Union in terms of food security and related issues. I am sure the Senator has looked at this issue in depth and it is remarkable that a policy has been so phenomenally successful.

I was also interested in what Senator Ellis had to say, namely, that the CAP had been hugely successful for some. I know it has modernised Irish agriculture in the years since we joined the European Union.

However, in many instances rich farmers received more money, while poor farmers were not left exactly thriving. That is what interests me about the review of the CAP. Who will get the money? It is important to find out who will benefit from a revised CAP. I am not very familiar with the language used, but I assume that when people talk about active farmers, they are referring to individuals who are farming themselves, not running a large-scale business. However, even in that regard, there is a contradiction.

The Minister spoke about how he had brought the Commissioner to visit a farm and Senator Carty said he was pleased that the Commissioner had the opportunity to see an Irish farm because our system of farming was essentially based on the family farm. There is a small challenge involved in this instance. I prefer to use the word "challenge", rather than "contradiction", because I do not wish to say something is negative. The Minister has spoken about what is really important and said the future of agriculture in Ireland is competitiveness, on which everybody is agreed. Given that there is one common policy, I assume the Minister is referring to how European agricultural policy operates in the international context. It must be competitive, yet our system, as acknowledged by other speakers who are more familiar with these matters than me, is based on the family farm structure which is inherently uncompetitive. It is a smaller operation. There is a challenge in that regard which the Minister must face. Senator Ellis put the matter well when he asked if we were considering food security or the production of cheap food. Regardless, we cannot ignore the issue of competitiveness. It must be the byword in a small economy such as Ireland's which is so export focused. We must be competitive, but I accept that it will be more of a challenge in the context of our family farm structure.

The Common Agricultural Policy as it applies to Ireland is not just about food production but also about rural livelihoods, the issue of sustainability and the challenge agriculture poses in terms of climate change, an issue in which the Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, would have an interest. We are making a good deal of progress in that regard, but it is something we must bear in mind. The Common Agricultural Policy is about rural development and how we sustain economies, particularly in local, peripheral and marginalised communities. These are places in which there are no great alternative employment opportunities; working the land is the one way in which people can provide for themselves.

It is good to have a debate in the House. I get the impression that the Minister is on top of his brief. I get that impression as somebody who is not deeply involved in the agricultural sphere, although I take an interest in it. I listened to him during the summer when he attended his local show, the Virginia Show. I am sorry I did not know it was on because I would have liked to attend it. I will make a point of going next year. I think he is very impressive on what he is doing for the sector, his vision for developing the agri-food business and recognising the cachet Ireland has in the industry. Others have spoken about how we are excluded from putting our best foot forward in so far as we are precluded from identifying a product as Irish, which is a hindrance. We must examine how we should seek to change this. I believe the Minister is very keen on expanding and modernising the agriculture sector.

Senator Bradford has spoken about the image we have of the CAP and said the main problem with the policy is that it needs a good public relations team to sell it well. I agree. Far too many who are not directly involved with the sector see the policy in a negative light. I will not repeat the negatives Senator Bradford outlined because repetition gives them perpetual life. It is necessary to convey a clearer message about what is good in the CAP and outline the facts about agricultural expenditure in the European Union. It would be very beneficial for engaging people who are not directly involved in the sector on the importance of using our country to best effect in developing what we are good at in the sector, for example, beef production, and letting us do it.

Although the Minister engaged directly with one of the previous speakers when she sought clarification on one of the issues in the leak today, it is a little disappointing that there is not more toing and froing in the debate. This is only a criticism of the system we use in the House. It is important to have some dialogue, particularly for Members who are not representatives of the agriculture sector, and to give them an opportunity to have an input into what is happening as regards such an important element of industrial policy in this country.

I welcome my county colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, to the Seanad for this debate. This will be a pivotal issue for Ireland in the next couple of years. Agriculture has regained significance with the downturn in the economy. It is an indigenous and well organised industry that continues to offer potential for Ireland. We talk about changes that will happen under the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013, but we should also talk about the history of agriculture in Ireland in the last 50 years.

Technological changes on the farm where food is produced have been massive. There has also been massive Government intervention in the agriculture sector by a number of Governments during the years. This has improved food production, the quality of that production and the quality of the product we supply to European markets. That technological change has occurred across the sector. In agri-business there have been massive changes in food processing and marketing. In earlier years we produced food, processed it very marginally and exported it. Now there is massive value added to the produce we export. However, there is still scope for Ireland to develop its agriculture business, give support to indigenous producers, both small and big, and maximise the return for the economy.

The agricultural co-operatives were the mainstay of Ireland's agri-business for most of the 20th century. Then the public limited companies, PLCs, came into being. They are now seeking to disconnect themselves from the co-operatives from which they emerged. This offers both threats and opportunities to agriculture for the future. We should hold a separate debate on the future role of co-operatives and PLCs. It must be acknowledged that one of the biggest changes in agriculture, with potential to improve the economy in terms of job creation and adding value to product, is the emergence of many small indigenous producers of very specialised products. They have great scope for development in export markets if they are given support by the Government. However, they are hindered because they have neither the capital nor the wherewithal to market their products.

I refer to another great visionary of Irish business, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, who is now better known for his role in Independent News and Media, but he started his career in the agribusiness sector with Kerrygold. He was one of the first to catapult it into the international marketplace. We need more people with his vision with a focus on the value-added products of the numerous small producers involved.

The post-CAP period will entail significant changes in the agribusiness sector. The Minister of State is well aware there will be significant cuts in the overall CAP budget and changes in how the money is spent. The European Union has been enlarged and the new accession countries have underdeveloped agriculture sectors. These countries will be looking for an increased share of a smaller pie. Ireland must, therefore, make a strong case for itself if good support from the European Union is to continue to be received under the Common Agricultural Policy. We must emphasise the importance of the rural economy, the role played by agriculture in rural Irish life and in the social fabric of communities. Our society is not as urbanised as in many other European countries. We still have a significant rural community whose way of life which must be protected.

We must also protect the quality of Irish food. We cannot compete against the produce of other countries outside the European Union. This is often overlooked by the Union because it wants to find sources of cheaper food. For example, an Irish cow or any Irish animal has a quality passport, but the same does not apply in other countries supplying significant amounts of produce to the European market. There should be stricter regulations for food labelling. A chicken produced in Ireland is subject to significant quality controls and standards of animal welfare, yet the same standards do not apply to chickens imported from Thailand and other countries in the Far East. Such chickens are imported into a European country, re-labelled and sold as produce of that country. We cannot compete with such produce. The Minister of State needs to fight for our produce when he goes to the European Union and insist that these other products be clearly labelled for what they are. European citizens should be asked if this is the quality of food they wish to buy or whether a higher standard should be insisted upon. Food security is important. We should insist that the basic staples within the food chain be protected and that quality control should form part of the process to ensure food security. We should ensure a quality product is available to the European consumer, as we do not wish to have health scares in the future following the importation of food of dubious quality.

There is a constant battle between producers and processors; the family farm is competing with agribusiness to see who receives the lion's share of the price received for the final product. The supermarkets are regarded as the winners by earning the highest profits from the sale of family farm products; however, there are a number of middlemen who also make a profit. We must try to ensure everybody receives his or her fair share for what is produced on Irish farms, otherwise the business cannot be developed. There is no point in just one sector of the food chain benefiting from the profits and perhaps putting the family farm out of business, which would result in the production of a lower quality product from another country.

We have many issues to deal with in the agriculture sector and the Minister should deal with them, as well as the major changes in the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013. This is the biggest single issue we will face because it will have such a massive effect on the potential incomes of family farms, but the other issues are just as important because they can help to sustain and develop our agribusiness, of which we are rightly proud.

This has been a very productive and interesting debate on the CAP post-2013. I thank Senators for their constructive contributions.

Before concluding the debate and responding to the comments made, I refer to a very important initiative in Irish agriculture. The Department has recently published Food Harvest 2020, an ambitious but realistic strategy for smart, green growth in the Irish agrifood sector in the next ten years. Together, agriculture, food, fisheries and forestry represent Ireland's largest indigenous industry, which sector is of vital importance to the national economy and rural society. There are notable social, economic and environmental interdependencies stretching the length and breadth of the country. The industry is responsible for 150,000 jobs and has an annual output of approximately €24 billion, with a significant export orientation running into several billion euro. The Food Harvest 2020 report was developed as a cohesive roadmap for the industry in order to build capacity, adapt to the challenge and grow in the context of emerging opportunities in the years to come.

Food Harvest 2020 is not merely a Government initiative but was developed in collaboration with the agrifood sector and its delivery will be driven by that sector. It is based on the premise of smart, green growth; smart in the sense of embracing innovation and new technologies; green in the sense of capitalising on Ireland's environmental credentials; growth in the sense of efficient and environmentally sustainable production, delivering significant growth and allowing the sector to play a key part in Ireland's economic recovery. The CAP will be a key instrument underpinning this ambition. The negotiations on the future CAP are, therefore, of great importance to the country. We are all agreed on the need for a strong and well funded EU agricultural policy in the future. There is also consensus in this House that this policy must support sustainable and competitive agriculture, notably the development of our vision for the sector as espoused in Food Harvest 2020.

Dealing first with the funding issues, there will be stiff competition on a number of fronts to ensure Ireland receives its appropriate share of the available funds. The first challenge will be to secure an acceptable EU budget and the second will be to ensure the share going to agriculture will be sufficient to provide a strong and supportive agricultural policy. The third challenge will be to ensure the share of agricultural funds going to Ireland will be adequate for our needs, as emphasised recently and referred to by Senator Twomey. One of our priorities in the negotiations will be to preserve the Irish national envelope.

Our primary aim is to secure a direct payment system that will provide our fair share of funding and which will support the viability of Irish farming. I note the claims from some member states for a redistribution of funds. While we are prepared to consider all options, we will require partners to be equally realistic in their expectations. It is important in the negotiations that we use the most accurate basis for comparison of funding levels, that is to say, eligible area. We must also use the current distribution mechanism as our starting point. We are opposed to an EU-wide flat rate payment because farming is very different across the 27 member states. Ultimately, we want a distribution mechanism that is fair, underpins competitiveness and sustainability and takes into account the wide diversity in costs of farming across the European Union.

We favour the two pillar structure with direct payments and market support measures in pillar one and rural development measures in pillar two. A primary purpose of pillar one payments should be to support and stabilise farm income. As for direct payments, we support the continuation of direct payments decoupled from production. This model has been applied in Ireland since 2005 and allowed our farmers to respond to market signals backed by the safety net of the single farm payment. We also wish to have flexibility in the distribution of funds within member states, as is currently the case. The agri-ecological and social conditions of farming vary greatly within the European Union and Ireland needs to have the flexibility to apply the payment model that best suits our conditions. We are not asking that other member states apply our system; rather, we would like flexibility for each member state to decide the payment model that best meets its needs. We believe there are positives for Ireland in the increased emphasis on the delivery of public goods from farming and we are prepared to engage in this debate provided it does not come at the expense of the income support function of direct payments. We should not forget that EU farmers are obliged to comply with the statutory management requirements of 18 EU regulations to qualify for payment. These statutory management requirements cover the broad spectrum of animal health and welfare, respect for the environment and the sustainable management of our natural resources. These cross-compliance requirements contribute substantially to the production of public goods from farming and we should not impose additional burdens on farmers without good reason.

Several Senators referred to donning the green jersey in these CAP negotiations. I appreciate the support of the House in this respect. As the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said earlier, his intention is to continue the dialogue in consultation with both Houses of the Oireachtas, MEPs and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food throughout the course of negotiations. On my recent visits to the European Parliament, I have seen cross-party support from our MEPs. That is welcome.

Several Senators stressed the importance of a cap in ensuring security of food supply and its contribution to ensuring food is produced to high quality and standards. The Minister indicated these objectives are high on our list of priorities in the negotiations. We must ensure any imports to the EU meet the same high standards.

Senator McFadden referred to the need for greater simplification in the new CAP. Ireland wants a policy that is simple to understand, administer and operate. This was one of the issues discussed at a meeting between the Minister and his German counterpart. Both Ministers agreed to meet in the coming weeks to propose a series of simplification initiatives for the current CAP with a view to submitting them to the Commission before the end of the year.

Senator Bradford mentioned the need for adequate transition periods for changes to the CAP and highlighted the need to cater for new entrants. We have taken the Senator's comments on board.

Senator Doherty referred to the benefits of North-South co-operation. There will be a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council tomorrow and one of the main topics of discussion will be the CAP after 2013. I will meet Michelle Gildernew tomorrow evening to discuss fisheries.

We favour the continuation of market support measures at safety net level, together with some flexibility to adapt or enhance them as the need arises. Over two years ago, when the CAP health check negotiations were in train, Ireland was in a minority of member states calling for these measures to be preserved. In light of the crisis in the dairy market in 2009, I am pleased to say the value of these mechanisms carries far more support in the Agriculture Council. There is general recognition that market supports such as intervention and private storage aid play an important role in stabilising the market and should continue. We must examine the additional measures to address the much increased volatility of markets. This view is widely shared among EU Agriculture Ministers.

As for rural development, we must focus on the twin goals of competitiveness and sustainability. Measures directed at investment and which promote competitiveness will perform a key role in encouraging efficiency and innovation in farming. They should be maintained and enhanced in order that farmers can improve their performance and deal with structural issues arising from, for example, the ending of the milk quota.

Consistent with green growth objectives, we must have strong agri-environment actions in our rural development policy, including targeted developments for public goods, support for the development of bioenergy on farms and for innovative actions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Our off-farm rural development actions should be consistent with this while focusing on genuinely rural areas and emphasising job creation. Looking to the CAP of the future, we must ensure it supports farm incomes and addresses the issue of price and income volatility while avoiding market distortions. We must encourage competitiveness and innovation through appropriate measures, including support for farm investments and the promotion of sustainability in all its dimensions in order that farmers are rewarded for the public goods they produce. By doing this, we will ensure the CAP delivers a secure supply of quality food to consumers and decent incomes to farmers while protecting and enhancing the natural environment.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.