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Thursday, 11 Mar 2010

Priority Questions.

Agri-Environment Scheme.

Ceisteanna (1)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

1 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason he has not included a significant premium payment in the new agri-environment scheme for farmers located in a special area of conservation, a special protection area, a natural heritage area or a commonage area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12145/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (20 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The rates of payment under the rural environment protection scheme included a premium over and above the basic REPS payment in respect of Natura, natural heritage areas and commonage land. The basic payment reflected the whole-farm approach of the scheme under which the same rate per hectare was paid to each participant regardless of the specific actions he or she had undertaken.

To secure the agreement of the European Commission to the new agri-environment scheme, it was necessary to design the scheme as a menu of specific, closely-targeted actions which would contribute in a measurable and verifiable way towards the target objectives of biodiversity, water quality and climate change as identified in the CAP health check. It was not possible to negotiate a whole-farm approach for the proposed new scheme. There is a requirement under the new scheme to have sustainable management plans drawn up for Natura and commonage land in recognition of the particular environmental conditions of each such area and any restrictions on farming activity. The rate of payment for this measure under the new scheme is, in fact, very similar to the premium over the basic payment that applied to Natura and commonage land in REPS.

The situation in regard to the scheme is that the amendment to the rural development programme 2007–13, which includes the new agri-environment scheme, received a favourable vote at a meeting of the EU Rural Development Management Committee in January. I expect to receive the formal approval of the European Commission very shortly. I am planning to launch the new scheme as soon as the Commission approval has been received. The Minister for Finance has committed to provide funding for the acceptance initially of up to 10,000 participants into the new scheme at a maximum payment of €5,000 per participant. The level of payment available to each farmer who joins the new agri-environment scheme will depend on his or her particular circumstances and the actions he or she can or chooses to undertake. I am satisfied, however, that a payment of up to €5,000 can be achieved by a wide range of participants.

The decision to close REPS was taken in the context of the very difficult situation in the public finances and the rapidly escalating cost of the scheme. I firmly believe that the funding being provided for the new scheme represents a massive commitment by Government in very difficult times to a meaningful new scheme which will benefit farm incomes while delivering worthwhile environmental benefits.

I thank the Minister for his reply. What the Minister has outlined confirms farmers' worst fears, namely, that this is, in effect, REPS light or Mickey Mouse REPS. Does the Minister accept that someone farming in one of these restricted areas, whether on commonage, in an SAC or in an NHA, carries additional responsibilities and, therefore, additional costs due to the restrictions on the manner in which the land can be farmed? Given the average farm size in Ireland, in order to attain the maximum payment of €5,000, such a farmer would have to have a holding of 66 hectares and many farmers cannot attain this under the current scheme. Will the Minister revisit this issue and consider doubling the payment to €150 per hectare, which would raise the threshold to €8,000 per annum?

Is the ceiling of 10,000 participants absolute? If average payments are less than €5,000, which they obviously will be as it is the maximum, the Minister could finance far more than 10,000 applications.

It is not REPS light; it is a new scheme. As Deputy Creed will know from discussions he has had with me and the Oireachtas committee, the European Commission would not allow us to bring in a whole-farm-based scheme. In 2006, the European Court of Auditors was severely critical of agri-environment schemes in general, not just our scheme, and it stated that it was often not possible to measure what participants were doing for the money. The European Commission has been heavily influenced by the court's comments and is now insisting on schemes like the agri-environment option schemes which we are introducing in the coming weeks.

We sought to introduce a scheme which had a whole-farm approach and a basic payment but that was not agreed to by the European Commission. We then put forward to the Commission a number of measures. While it would not agree to some of them, we still have a menu of measures which farmers can opt to use.

Deputy Creed is incorrect in regard to the hectarage a farmer would need to derive the maximum benefit from the scheme. There are a number of measures for which remuneration is obtained by participating and naming the specific measures the farmer will pursue.

Question Time is becoming repetitive in that the Minister repeatedly makes the assertion that he puts a case to the Commission but loses. Farmers need income in their pockets. There is a whole section of our economy that is on its knees, namely, the farming community. Whether it is with regard to sheep tagging or REPS, we hear the same reply all of the time — the Minister put a case, the Commission said "No" and the Minister accepted that as the final word and came home. We need to win some battles in Europe. That is why the Minister is there. Unfortunately, in all of the major tests, he is losing.

With regard to the 17 May deadline, farmers will see their existing REPS payment, whether for REPS 2, REPS 3 or REPS 4, expire after that deadline. Under the scheme as envisaged, they will not be able to get into the new agri-environment scheme until the following year. Will there be a rolling date for applications so persons whose schemes expire will not be locked out for however many months and can apply for the remainder of 2010 and until May next year?

Deputy Creed is aware the Commission brought in some years ago a calendar date for farmers to participate in REPS. In the past, those participating in REPS 2 and REPS 3, by and large, made their applications in November and December and the anniversary date occurred, by and large, at that time of the year; 17 May has now become the closing date because it coincides with the single farm payment application.

I refute the allegation made by Deputy Creed in regard to our losing battles in Europe. There are many issues we brought to the European Commission. We were the first to outline the need to activate measures in regard to the necessary support for the dairy industry, which was going through a very difficult 2009.

The whole-farm approach is not available to any country in regard to these measures.

It was available under REPS 4.

REPS 4 was introduced——

The Minister closed REPS 4.

I closed REPS 4 but I paid out the largest amount of money ever under that scheme. The reality is that 63,000 people are participating in REPS at the present time.

There are not now 63,000 people in REPS.

This time last year, there were 46,000 in it.

The Minister should not mislead the House.

Allow the Minister to reply.

The Deputy should let me answer. I have not misled the House at any time. The Deputy is the one who continually misleads the House with his suggestions and inaccuracies.

The Minister has——

Deputy Creed should not shout down the Minister. Everyone will get a chance to speak.

The reality is that 17,000 new applications were received before 15 May last year and a further 1,600 before 8 July. All of those are being honoured. The highest level of funding for REPS was provided and paid out in 2009. That will be repeated in 2010.

The Minister had a whole-farm scheme and he threw it away.

Alternative Farm Enterprises.

Ceisteanna (2)

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

2 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will provide greater financial incentives for the production of miscanthus; and if he recognises the potential of this crop to add value to the local economy. [12071/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

In 2007, the Department launched a bioenergy scheme on a pilot basis to encourage farmers to grow willow and miscanthus as a renewable source of energy up to the end of 2009. The legal basis for the scheme was Council Regulation 1782/2003 establishing common rules for direct support schemes under the Common Agriculture Policy. This regulation authorised member states to grant aid the production of miscanthus and willow on areas declared by farmers under the EU energy crops scheme in their single payment scheme application.

In accordance with the regulation, member states were authorised to grant aid 50% of the associated costs of establishment, and this was, therefore, the maximum level of aid permitted to establish willow and miscanthus crops. The Commission made this decision on the basis that both willow and miscanthus crops are classed as agriculture crops, not afforestation, which is longer term and where higher aid rates could be justified.

Under the bioenergy scheme, farmers were paid a one-off capital grant of up to €1,450 per hectare to cover 50% of establishment costs. Eligible costs included ground preparation operations, vegetation management, planting and the purchase of planting stock. Aid was paid in two instalments, namely, a maximum of 75% of the grant — €1,088 — in the first instalment following establishment of the crop, and the remaining 25% — €362 — in the year after establishment, provided the applicant had adequately established and maintained the crop. The pilot scheme generated considerable interest from farmers in growing miscanthus. Overall, 2,100 hectares of miscanthus were grant aided.

Drawing on the experience of the pilot scheme, the Department launched a new bioenergy scheme in February 2010 to grant aid miscanthus and willow planting to the end of 2012. A total of €1 million is available to support the planting of a further 1,000 hectares in 2010. The legal basis for the scheme has changed to Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005, on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Accordingly, the new bioenergy scheme will now be funded under the Department's revised rural development programme. The new scheme will follow a similar format to the pilot scheme in terms of the application, pre-planting approval and payment process.

Approved costs will be grant aided up to 50%, subject to a maximum grant of €1,300 per hectare for both crops. The Department is precluded from increasing the 50% ceiling to grant aid establishment costs. The maximum payment per hectare has been reduced by €150 per hectare on the pilot scheme, to take account of lower establishment costs in 2010 and to comply with EU requirements that aid is based on the actual costs of establishment. The Department will continue to monitor the level of establishment grant over the lifetime of the scheme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In addition to establishment grants, areas planted with willow and miscanthus continue to qualify for the single farm payment and for payments under REPS and the disadvantaged areas scheme, subject to some restrictions on the areas planted.

It was evident from the response to the pilot bioenergy scheme that there is considerable interest in growing miscanthus. Ireland's climatic and soil conditions are very suitable for growing miscanthus and the sector has the potential to offer a new rural activity and provide farmers with added income streams. Miscanthus can also deliver positive outcomes in terms of reduced CO2 emissions and contribute an increased supply of biomass to meet Government targets on bioenergy. My Department will continue to work closely with industry stakeholders to ensure the development of the sector.

The reason I asked the question is because we have an opportunity in this country to phase out such fuels as coal and they can quite easily be replaced by miscanthus. Farmers tell me that the establishment costs are quite high and that the grant could be improved, if possible, to assist in that regard. Did I hear the Minister of State correctly when he stated that he is precluded by European Union rules from expanding or increasing that level of grant aid? I ask him to expand on that point. Once the crop has been established, is there any scope to improve the increments for weed control, the control of pests and also ploughing and cultivation? If he is unable to increase the grant for the establishment of the crop, perhaps he could consider an increase on the embedded side, if I could use that expression.

Deputy Sherlock is quite correct. The 50% maximum limit for grant aid continues but the level of grant aid is based on the establishment cost which is now estimated, under Teagasc figures, at €1,300 per hectare for the 50%.

The new scheme also has a number of new provisions in that unlike previous situations, it is not administered on a first-come, first-served basis; a number of criteria are attached. Deputy Sherlock is quite correct. In effect, the biggest difficulty facing people planning to grow miscanthus is the cost of the plant for establishment. It is particularly high because the level of take-up is relatively low here and the absolute imperative, in circumstances where we are not in a position to increase the grant above 50%, is to work to reduce the costs involved.

Will the Minister of State agree there are many companies facilitating farmers in establishing the crop in the first instance and that the expertise exists? Will he acknowledge the potential for this crop and that perhaps the Government is under-valuing the potential of this crop in meeting an alternative energy need? Will he also acknowledge that there may be a reluctance on the part of farmers to switch into this crop because the scheme itself is undersold? The Government needs to do a marketing job to encourage more farmers to diversify into this crop, given the level of expertise, particularly in the east Cork and west Limerick regions where two companies that are market leaders are only itching to get more farmers under their ambit but they need a greater financial incentive.

It is interesting that the development of the crop has tended to be centred around the locations where those companies as described by Deputy Sherlock operate. Naturally, there is some reluctance on the part of farmers who are not familiar with the growth of these crops and there are some concerns in that area, although very good quality research has been carried out in Oakpark since 1993. In some instances, farmers have run into difficulty because these are new crops. Pest control and all kinds of issues arise but support has been made available to them. In general terms, the Government would be very supportive of this scheme and will be taking whatever measures are necessary or available to try to ensure that farmers, for whom it is a viable crop, have the opportunity to begin growing it.

Cattle Identification Scheme.

Ceisteanna (3)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

3 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has made submissions to the European Commission opposing the proposed electronic tagging of cows; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12146/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (13 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

The European Commission has made no proposal on electronic identification of cattle at this stage. My Department is represented on a working group set up by the European Commission to discuss developments on bovine identification. I understand that plans are being formulated for the introduction in 2011 of a regulation for the implementation of an electronic identification system for bovines on a voluntary basis.

In 2009, the European Commission Directorate General for Health and Consumers published a study on the introduction of electronic identification to identify bovine animals within the European Union. The report was prepared by consultants on behalf of the European Commission. A consultant visited Ireland, met officials from my Department and had discussions with the farm organisations as part of the consultation process in drafting the report.

The report established that electronic identification has the potential to reduce reading time, errors and administrative burden. At farm level, the use of electronic identification has definite advantages for management purposes where automated systems are used to record and utilise production records such as milk yield, feed consumption, fertility and weight gain. Benefits of electronic identification accrue for official controls in reduced labour costs, due to automatic reading.

I cannot believe what I am hearing.

The benefits of an electronic identification system are significant when additional readings are required associated with the requirements of an eradication programme.

The introduction of an electronic identification system would lead to higher costs for identifiers and reading equipment. The report highlighted that the direct costs and benefits are not balanced all along the production chain. Costs are incurred by the keepers in the holding of birth while most of the benefits of an electronic identification system accrue to the stakeholders in downstream activities such as livestock marts and slaughter plants. Thus, the unbalanced distribution of costs and benefits may be considered as an obstacle to the compulsory introduction of electronic identification technology in the bovine sector.

I assure the Deputy that this Department will continue to be represented at the working group on bovine identification and we will participate fully in discussions on any proposals that may emerge to ensure that account is taken of Ireland's interests.

I despair when hearing the Minister of State eulogising the benefits of electronic tagging, given what we have witnessed already in respect of sheep tagging which is in danger of imploding an existing scheme. The Minister of State referred to the advantages such as increased efficiency. He fails to acknowledge that, in the case of sheep tagging, the Commission said that the error rate was in the region of 15%. This issue needs to be dealt with now and it needs to be taken off the agenda. We have a traceability system for beef and it was shown to work any time it was challenged and we do not need to satisfy some consultants' exercise an electronic identification system for cattle. The case of the sheep sector showed another instance of a Minister who went to Brussels and came home and said he lost. We need to have no truck with this issue of electronic tagging for bovines. The point was made in the context of the electronic tagging of sheep that the equivalent comparative cost for bovines would be in the region of €30 per head. The Minister of State should not participate. I ask him to advise the Commission that we will not co-operate on electronic tagging for bovines.

Deputy Creed is quite incorrect in saying I was eulogising the benefits of the scheme; in fact I gave a balanced account of the costs——

He is entertaining it.

——alongside the benefits and the drawbacks. It is well to bear in mind that whatever proposal may come from the Commission, it will, because of the new arrangements, have to be considered by the Council but also by the Parliament. One of the points emerging is the increasing number of people in this country who are seeking to be approved and some are already approved on a pilot basis for electronic identification of this nature. One of the difficulties with sheep tagging is that individual countries did it their own way and ultimately there was not a harmonised system. At a minimum, it would be to the benefit of people in Ireland, who already want and have been seeking permission to use the system, to have a harmonised system.

I ask the Minister of State to comment on a quotation attributed to a senior official in DG SANCO, which said that the Government did not object — this was carried in the Irish Farmers’ Journal recently. It seems the Government did not lodge any objection to the electronic sheep tagging system. Is it a fait accompli that it is now Government policy to go ahead? Is it now Government policy, in view of the fact that it did not object to electronic tagging for sheep and in view of the Minister of State’s remarks on the benefits of electronic tagging for cattle, to go along headlong in support of an EU proposal on electronic tagging for bovines?

It is not correct to suggest Ireland did not oppose the electronic tagging of sheep. The Minister did it on a number of occasions at Council meetings and I did it on one occasion myself at the Council meeting in Brussels and on another occasion in Luxembourg.

Did the Minister do it in this House?

In the case of sheep tagging, a difficulty that has arisen, and that will undoubtedly arise in this instance, is that there are not harmonised processes, there are several systems in operation. A country like Ireland, that is ultimately required to export in excess of 80% of its product, has the potential to lose out badly if the system that is in operation here, albeit voluntarily and for a small number of people, is not harmonised with the system being used in the rest of Europe. That is the minimum we should ensure for those who want to participate.

There is no market complaining about our traceability.

The Commission has not introduced any proposal and the report of the consultancy is balanced, setting out the drawbacks and costs alongside the potential benefits. It is clear to me that the Commission will not be bringing forward a proposal for compulsory tagging anyway.

Dairy Industry.

Ceisteanna (4)

Michael Creed

Ceist:

4 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his views on including the milk rights group on the recently established dairy consultative group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12147/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

In October 2009, I announced the establishment of a dairy consultative group so that I could ascertain the views of major stakeholders in the dairy sector on issues emerging at the EU Commission's high level group on the dairy sector.

The Commission established the high level group following a special meeting of the Council of Ministers on the dairy sector last October. It is chaired by the Commission's Director General of Agriculture, comprises representatives from all member states and is examining ways of stabilising dairy farmers' incomes and improving market transparency in the future. It will deliver a comprehensive report by the end of June this year.

The work programme of the high level group has been divided into four discussion blocks. Block 1 deals with contractual relations, the bargaining power of producers and price transparency, taking into account the experience of systems in place outside the EU. Block 2 examines the appropriateness of existing market instruments and the possibility of a futures market for dairy, again in the context of experiences in third countries. Block 3 covers information on markets and products: quality, health and labelling issues. Block 4 deals with innovation and research with a view to improving competitiveness.

There have been six meetings to date out of a total of about ten planned. In addition to exchanges of views between member states, the group has heard presentations from representative organisations for producers, processors, distributors, retailers and consumers, and from non-EU countries. It has also had exchanges with leading academics and with representatives from DG Competition and national competition authorities. The next meeting on 16 March will look at block 3 issues.

The dairy consultative group is representative of the broad dairy sector in Ireland, and the organisations participating provide me with a wide range of views. In particular, the ideas, knowledge and expert opinion of the members will provide key perspectives on how the sector needs to be developed and supported into the future. The group is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. It is following the progress of the Commission high level group and I welcome its constructive input.

For practical reasons there is a limit to how many organisations can be represented on a group such as this and all of the main farming organisations are included. I am confident therefore that the dairy consultative group as currently constituted provides a suitably broad range of views and will assist me in preparing the Irish dairy sector for its longer term future. I am satisfied that the concerns of all Irish dairy farmers are being considered in this process. However, interested parties are welcome to keep in contact with my Department on milk policy issues as they arise and to make submissions on these matters. Such submissions will be taken into account in this process.

There is concern about the serious financial losses being suffered, particularly in 2009, by the dairy sector. The milk rights group is holding meetings all around the country and dairy farmers are flocking to those meetings in large numbers. They are expressing a level of support for the agenda the milk rights group is advancing. Whether one agrees with the agenda or not, it is an important voice in the context of the CAP post-2013 and the critical months that lie ahead. To use the old maxim, when formulating a policy everyone can subscribe to, it is better to have the group inside the tent, where its ideas can be bounced off others and we can secure the distilled wisdom of all partners. I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to take on board the criticisms. These people might be considered as mavericks but they represent a large number of disaffected dairy farmers who feel the current regime is not listening to them. The Minister is exposing himself to the marginalisation of a sector that enjoys increasing numbers and momentum and he should give these people a seat at the table so we can secure the distilled wisdom of all partners.

When a working group is being established, there are always more organisations and individual representatives seeking access and participating than it is possible to facilitate otherwise it would become unwieldy. Apart from the working group and the consultative group, the Department meets other groups. More than any other Department, it is open to meeting groups, consultation and policy input. The group mentioned can be facilitated with meetings at official level and its views will be considered, even if it does not participate in the working group's meetings. That group does not work on an ongoing basis. It has a number of meetings that coincide with developments following high level group meetings in Brussels.

Oireachtas Members from all parties come to me seeking the participation of various groups. There are often good reasons for their participation but it is not always possible to facilitate all groups. I can assure Deputy Creed, however, that because an individual or group does not participate in the working group, it does not mean its views will not be taken into consideration in the work of that group. There are disparate opinions in the dairy sector and we are listening to all sides about the particular issues and difficulties that have faced the dairy sector in the last 16 months.

The Minister is missing my point about this group. It is gathering momentum and represents a significant and growing number of farmers who feel the current regime does not enable them to make a living in the dairy sector. It is in all of our interests to ensure the maximum possible number of family farm units remain involved in dairying. One more seat at the table is not going to make a difference. If the Minister, however, is not willing to change his mind, and I urge him not to be hasty today, will he meet the group in the coming days and will he organise a meeting between the group and the senior administrators in the dairy consultative group?

This group would have met people at official level, although I am open to correction on that. We may be blamed at times for being too accessible to groups. The other groups represented on the consultative group also have disparate opinions on the dairy sector but the one viewpoint shared by everyone around the table is that the dairy industry has been going through a difficult time. It has improved, although the markets are still fragile, and we want to be sure we have prepared the industry for the abolition of quota that will happen in 2015. There are many issues there and more than anything else, the thing we need for dairy farmers is stability in incomes and adequate anti-volatility measures.

Will the Minister meet the group?

I have no problem with meeting groups, I am probably too accessible.

Fishing Industry Development.

Ceisteanna (5)

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

5 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if Bord Iascaigh Mhara returned funding to the Exchequer in 2009; if so, the level of funding that was unspent; the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12148/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (10 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

As Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, is an independent statutory agency, the internal financial management is a matter for the board exclusively and the Minister does not have a role in it.

In 2009 BIM showed a total spend of €37.240 million, comprised of bi-monthly drawdowns totalling €34.932 million, a figure of €2.683 million brought forward from 2008 less €375,000 carried forward to 2010.

The revised Bord Iascaigh Mhara 2009 budget allocation amounted to a total of €40.8 million, comprising €17.2 million in current allocation and €23.7 million in capital allocation. In 2009 Bord Iascaigh Mhara achieved current savings of €2.4 million and the agency advises me that the savings were achieved through a reduction in the use of consultancies and contractors, legal and professional fees and travel, planning and communication costs. This reduction in spending was in response to the Government's efforts to reduce reliance on consultancies, contractors, external providers and measures to become as self-sufficient as possible using central, shared or managed services and procurements frameworks. BIM also advises that capital savings of €3.5 million resulted mainly from the delay in the adoption of the national seafood operating programme and also through information technology and training expenditure reductions. The level of savings was also achieved by ensuring that the operating surplus carried forward into 2010 was reduced to the lowest possible amount.

Following a European Court of Justice judgment in December 2007 that Ireland was not in compliance with certain obligations under the EU birds and habitats directives, my Department and its agencies worked with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to develop a plan to deliver compliance with the directives for wild fisheries and aquaculture over a determined timeframe. This plan was submitted to the Directorate-General for the Environment for consideration and has been subject to detailed discussions. While the Directorate-General had indicated that it was in principle supportive of the plan, it has recently advised that it remains concerned about certain aspects of the planned approach to delivering compliance for aquaculture licensing. I will continue to work with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to address outstanding concerns.

In that regard, €1 million was secured for the collection of baseline data for assessment purposes in 2009 and a further €750,000 for 2010 in addition to funding provided by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Following an EU tender, the Marine Institute appointed personnel to operate the data collection exercise. This process is ongoing and will support compliance of aquaculture and wild fisheries with the terms of the directives.

I met Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on the issue of sea lice on several occasions, most recently last November. I advised him on the significant progress that has been made on managing sea lice levels in salmon farms and the concerns of the fishery boards were also outlined. I am hopeful there is a better understanding of the issues involved from both Departments' perspectives and that on this basis we can find a satisfactory resolution to the concerns raised.

The first set of guidelines on corporate governance in State bodies, entitled State Bodies Guidelines, was issued by the Department of Finance in March 1992 and updated in October 2001. To take account of recent developments and consultations the Department of Finance issued an updated version of the code in 2009. The new code requires all State bodies to operate in an efficient and cost effective manner in order to make the most of constrained resources. With this objective in mind the board of BIM reduced the surplus of €2.7 million brought forward from 2008 to €300,000 carried forward from 2009 to 2010.

Is that it? My question was not answered in that load of waffle. The Minister of State has outlined his own competent incompetence. BIM, which is the statutory body to support the fishing industry, returned funds to the Exchequer because an operational programme has not yet been put in place by him even though he has been in his position for nearly two years. He is being talked up for a senior ministerial position but he could not even achieve this programme in a two year period. The money was returned because BIM is precluded from awarding capital investment to small fishing concerns along our coast.

Has the Deputy a question?

At present, 100 small and medium-sized enterprises around the country are looking for funding in order to create jobs but this money cannot be allocated because we do not have an operational programme. This is competent incompetence.

I ask the Minister of State not to pass the buck. When will an operational programme be implemented for the fishing industry?

My original reply addressed in considerable detail Deputy Sheahan's question in so far as what he was asking was obvious. It went into more detail than was required on the amounts of money involved. It also explained the factual position on the operational programme. Deputy Sheahan may choose not to deal in facts and the evidence suggests that is the case.

Allow the Minister of State to reply.

He should address his question regarding the timescale involved to the European Commission but in my view it will not be in a position to make a judgment. I have explained that the information is being collated over a period of time and that we invested €1 million last year and €700,000 this year in additional funding from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to draw this material together. Some would argue this should have been done a long time ago but I have committed to undertake the work. The Deputy should understand that the material to be collated relates in many instances to the migratory patterns of birds, which do not choose to arrive at our convenience.

They do the same thing every year. When will we have an operational programme for fisheries? Is the Minister of State receiving co-operation from the two Green Party Ministers? The potential for creating jobs in the fishing industries is being choked by the Minister of State because funding is not being made available.

For the sake of completeness, in February 2010 four key schemes to support the efforts of the industry were launched under the EU co-funded operational programme. These schemes, which are administered by BIM and co-funded by the EU, will provide for a total investment of €4.5 million in 2010 to assist the industry under a number of headings. I have already explained that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has come in with funding to support the collection and collation of the data. That is an indication of support from that quarter. I have held discussions with the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, regarding the concerns of the fisheries boards and I believe progress is being made. Ultimately, however, progress will depend on the presentation of this data to the Directorate-General for the Environment and receiving that party's agreement.

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