Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar
Gnáthamharc

Thursday, 11 Mar 2010

Other Questions.

Food Industry.

Ceisteanna (6)

Máire Hoctor

Ceist:

6 Deputy Máire Hoctor asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the EU initiatives being undertaken in regard to the food supply chain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11863/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (17 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

As I indicated in my reply to the Deputy on 27 January, I am pleased that the Spanish Presidency is committed to progressing the issue of improving the functioning of the food chain. There is a need for considerable improvement so that all players, including producers and consumers, receive fair treatment.

The Council of Ministers has held an initial exchange of views on a communication from the Commission entitled A Better Functioning Food Supply in Europe. The discussion focused on questions from the Spanish Presidency dealing with transparency and balance along the food chain, self-regulation, food price monitoring, territorial supply constraints and future initiatives at EU level.

In regard to market transparency, the main concern was the need to achieve a greater balance along the chain between producers, processors and retailers. Colleagues proposed greater monitoring of prices and the establishment of codes of good practice. I took the opportunity to inform my ministerial colleagues of the steps being taken by the Irish Government to implement a national code of practice for doing business in the grocery goods sector with a view to ensuring a fair trading relationship between retailers and their suppliers. As we are operating within the Single Market, measures of this kind need to be taken at Community level to provide an effective and sustainable food supply chain.

Views differ among member states as to the extent to which new EU regulatory frameworks are required. Some consider that contractual relations and other arrangements to regulate the supply chain are a matter for private operators while others favour a regulatory framework or guidelines at EU level. My own view, which I conveyed, is that we need to monitor and audit unfair contractual practices at EU level with a view to ensuring compliance with competition law. There is also a need to look critically at EU competition law in so far as it can militate against consolidation at producer level and make it difficult to achieve the scale necessary for trade competitiveness.

Suggestions were also made to improve the food supply chain by increasing research and development, providing new economic incentives and investment opportunities, reviewing the operation of state aids and strengthening the operation of producer groups. I emphasised the need for careful and sensitive use of market management measures. When applied in a timely and proportionate way, they can and do help to maintain balance in the market and assist in the provision of fair returns to producers. We saw this last year in the milk sector. The new CAP must address the difficulties for the agrifood sector arising from increased market volatility and provide effective mechanisms to manage this.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Presidency is currently preparing draft conclusions for Council centring on five key ideas. These are improving the structure and consolidation of the agrifood industry in order to help to achieve the scale necessary for greater bargaining power when dealing with large retailers; increasing transparency along the food chain to make it easier to track price levels and developments and to press stakeholders to speed up price transmission and contribute to distribution of added value along the food supply chain; and combating unfair trading practices. The Commission proposes to assess these practices in the Internal Market and propose any necessary Community measures to address such practices.

The Commission proposes to work together with the food supply chain stakeholders to prepare sets of standard contracts. Adoption of codes of good commercial practices is also envisaged.

The Commission proposes to work with the European Competition Network to develop a common approach to competition issues of relevance for the functioning of the food supply chain. The Council is reflecting on the interplay between the existing competition and CAP rules.

In addition, together with the European Parliament, the Council is currently working on a Commission proposal for recasting Directive 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 June 2000 on combating late payment in commercial transactions. In Ireland we have already taken action to ensure earlier payment by the public sector.

The draft conclusions are particularly helpful regarding the need to audit unfair contractual practices and to look again at how EU competition law is interpreted. At present it can discourage consolidation at producer level. The Presidency has tabled the conclusions for Council at its March session.

I refer to the need for a competitive edge as Irish producers and EU members within the food chain. What is the position of the negotiations at the Commission on policy in respect of food labelling especially on the matter of country of origin, but also the place of farming and the origin of the produce? While serving as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, I had the opportunity when deputising for the Minister, Deputy Harney, at the December 2008 meeting of the Council of Ministers to raise the issue of the country of origin and food labelling. At the time, the Commission indicated it would take until the end of 2009 before the information would be returned from it. What is the position now? Is the Minister satisfied with progress on this issue? It is in the interest of Irish producers that we maintain a competitive edge as EU members working in a global economy. I would welcome the Minister's response on the matter.

I thank Deputy Hoctor for the question on the labelling issue, which she has raised with me on numerous occasions. The Commission has carried out a two-year consultation on Community quality policy to better communicate to consumers higher EU standards in marketing, geographic indicators and organic and quality assurance to give EU farmers a competitive edge. The Council has endorsed a three-way strategy which includes the possibility of origin labelling by way of a compulsory reference to place of farming. The Commission will explore within the common organisation of the market the form that place of farming might take. It could be EU or non-EU based or country or member state of origin based. This is a good basis for progress. Ireland agrees that use should be made of existing mechanisms for price reporting and we support the proposed draft conclusion in this regard as well as the Commission price monitoring tool.

Obviously, much work remains to be done. This issue has gained prominence during recent years and there is a greater awareness and consciousness among all member states, or at least among the majority, in respect of the sourcing of food, apart from the origin of food, where it is processed and where the final product comes from. Even now, queries arise in regard to environmentally friendly farming, animal welfare and husbandry and so on. To some extent, the debate has widened. Unfortunately, decisions are not reached as quickly as we would wish at the Council of Ministers.

I was unsure whether the question related to competition policy or food labelling, but I will address both matters while I have the opportunity.

The Chair will afford great latitude as always.

We expect nothing less from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I appreciate that. Will the Minster acknowledge in respect of food labelling that there is no willingness on the part of certain EU countries to proceed with a change to the country of origin labelling regime in operation at present, because it would materially affect their trade and the issue of substantial transformation? If there were a real political initiative at EU level in respect of this issue, the Government and the Green Party would be shouting about it from the rooftops. Let us not be disingenuous about it.

I refer to the Competition Act. I appreciate the Spanish EU Presidency is taking initiatives in respect of this issue but there is already a considerable body of law on the Irish Statute Book. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Competition Act 2002, which incorporates the treaty on the functioning of the EU, prohibits agreements and concerted practices which have as their "object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in trade on any goods"? Will the Minister further acknowledge that upon the abolition of the groceries order in December 2005 it was stated that certain unilateral action on the part of non-dominant undertakings in the groceries trade would effectively be legislated for——

The Deputy is aware he cannot quote a question.

The dearth of legislation is causing the situation we have at the moment.

Deputy Sherlock's question is very comprehensive. Regardless of which side of the House Members come from we all support country of origin labelling. Some years ago, the Department of Health and Children, the lead Department with regard to labelling since it is the health directorate in Europe that deals with this matter, put proposals directly to the Commission on sheep meat and poultry meat. Unfortunately, those proposals did not progress. There is divided opinion in Europe but it is my judgment that there are more people in Europe now conscious of the need for an adequate and transparent labelling system than there would have been some years ago.

Recently, the Tánaiste dealt with questions in regard to the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority and in respect of a voluntary code of practice pending the realisation of a statutory code. This is very important because there is a great disappointment especially among producers and some processors about the unfair returns along the food chain. The necessary transparency is not there.

I was very pleased that the new agriculture Commissioner recently referred to the fact that he sought adequate returns for the primary producer and processor as well. He stated he would work with the competition Commissioner, Mr. Almunia, in that respect. European Union legislation is absolutely necessary.

It is welcome that the EU will give the lead on this matter. However, the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have acknowledged in the Chamber that they understand why people are concerned. People at home are concerned about unfair trading practices and intimidation within food supply, which is threatening indigenous domestic suppliers. Will the Government accept that the British model of a voluntary code of practice has been torn up and scrapped and that there is a need for a statutory code?

Last August, Deputy Creed and I introduced the Food (Fair Trade and Information) Bill which outlaws certain practices. That Bill deals very simply with the matter of unfair trading and intimidation by dominant players. Ultimately, the consumer will lose out if we do not take such measures.

I refer to labelling. It is not simply a matter of country of origin. There is misleading labelling across the range. The consumer who wishes to buy a product is entitled to proper information. There is only one thing worse than no information and that is misleading information, which is all we have at present.

Deputy Doyle makes the valid point that this involves the primary producer, the consumer and the retail sector. It would be beneficial to everyone to have in place these new systems.

It does not benefit the retailer. He or she does not want it.

Recently, the Tánaiste spoke in this House of the introduction in the near future of a voluntary code to be followed by a statutory code which would follow legislation to merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency. It is within that particular architecture——

We have the Bill ready. It is all there, including a proposed office of fair trade.

I appreciate Deputy Doyle's work in this regard but the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been working very assiduously in respect of this issue. The legislation is complicated but it is a very important issue for every sector of society.

We can give the Minister the Bill.

Horse Racing Ireland.

Ceisteanna (7)

Pat Breen

Ceist:

7 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will respond to the unanimous decision of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to recommend the re-allocation of the Irish draught horse studbook; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11933/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (25 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

I am aware of the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Horse Sport Ireland is approved to maintain the Irish horse draught studbook since 2008. The Department has received applications to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught horse breed from the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited and also from the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association.

The Irish draught horse studbook was first established by the Department of Agriculture in 1917 and was maintained by the Department up to the formation of Bord na gCapall in 1970. Bord na gCapall held the studbook from 1970 to 1989. The Department maintained the Irish draught studbook from then until 1993, when the Irish Horse Board was approved under EU legislation to do so. When the Irish Horse Board became part of Horse Sport Ireland in 2008, the Department then approved HSI, Horse Sport Ireland, to maintain the studbook. Horse Sport Ireland comprises a board of directors, who are representatives of the various affiliated bodies. One of the objectives in establishing Horse Sport Ireland was to bring together the breeding, sport and leisure sides of the industry. In respect of breeding, five members of the Horse Sport Ireland board are nominated from the breeding sub-board. The breeding sub-board is the board of the Irish Horse Board. The board of the Irish Horse Board is composed of 13 members, three of whom are nominated by the Minister and the remaining ten are voted in by the members of the Irish Horse Board, in each of the five electoral regions, for a period of four years.

The breeding sub-board formulates the breeding policy for the Irish draught horse studbook. Any paid up member of the Irish Horse Board is entitled to put himself or herself forward for election in his or her region. Therefore, breeders of Irish draught horses have the opportunity, through democratic elections, to have an input into the breeding policy for their breed.

In June 2009, HSI established an Irish draught horse breeding policy taskforce. The aim of the task force is to examine the breeding policy for the Irish draught horse and to preserve and improve the breed. The task force has five members, specifically chosen by HSI for their expertise in Irish draught breeding. Horse Sport Ireland invited submissions from interested parties and I understand that a total of 12 were returned. In November 2009, HSI published a draft policy and the task force then invited further submissions on the draft task force report and 39 submissions were received on this.

In addition, Horse Sport Ireland has published a strategic plan for the period 2009-12. This strategic plan makes specific reference to developing a sustainable breeding policy for the Irish draught breed in association with Irish draught breeders. Work on this plan is already well under way and I understand that a number of public information meetings on this will take place.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In late 2009 and early 2010, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food considered the issue of who should maintain the studbook for the Irish draught horse. The committee received presentations from Horse Sport Ireland, HSI, the Irish Draught Horse Society and the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association, and from my Department.

In the course of an earlier exchange of correspondence with the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister, Deputy Smith, indicated that the Department would give due consideration to any application it receives from any organisation to maintain a studbook for a particular breed. He has now received a further communication from the joint committee, requesting that he give favourable consideration to its recommendation regarding the allocation of the Irish draught horse studbook to the Irish Draught Horse Society.

The function of my Department in studbooks is to approve organisations and associations for the purposes of maintaining studbooks and to ensure that they comply with the legislation. The Department has been involved in the approval of organisations to maintain studbooks since 1992, when the European Commission introduced legislation harmonising the rules in this area.

The approval of organisations to maintain studbooks in Ireland is governed by the provisions of SI 399 of 2004 European Communities (Equine Stud-Book and Competition) Regulations, as amended, which transposes Commission Decision 92/353/EEC which "lays down the criteria for the approval or recognition of organisations or associations which maintain or establish stud-books for registered equidae".

Prior to 2009, the Department had not received an application or request from an Irish draught horse organisation seeking approval to maintain the studbook. In July 2009, the Irish Draught Horse Society Limited submitted an application to the Department seeking approval to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught breed. The Department has been in correspondence with the society since then and is currently considering a number of submissions from the society on that application. In March 2010, my Department received an application to maintain a studbook for the Irish draught breed from the Irish Draught Horse Breeders Association.

The Department is now reviewing these applications and a decision on them will issue in due course.

No doubt the Minister of State will be aware that the committee met with all of the players in this issue and concluded after listening to all of the exhaustive evidence that the holding of the draught horse studbook is not compatible with Horse Sport Ireland's core objectives.

Effectively, what Horse Sport Ireland is involved in is genetic engineering to produce performance horses for the horse sport industry, which is a legitimate objective. However, it is the unanimous view of the committee that the draught horse studbook should not be held by Horse Sport Ireland but should be held by a breed preservation society. In a nutshell, will the Department reallocate the studbook on that basis, "Yes" or "No"?

As Deputy Creed will be aware, the Department's main responsibility — in fact, real responsibility — in this area on studbooks is to approve organisations and associations for the purposes of maintaining studbooks and to ensure that they comply with the legislation.

Of course, I am aware of the unanimous views expressed by the Oireachtas joint committee. I am also aware, as Deputy Creed correctly points out, of the fact that the committee heard submissions from a number of groups — pretty much from everybody who was interested in making submissions — and that it made a strong recommendation.

My understanding is that the Department has received, subsequent to that, in January last, one application from the group which is favoured by the committee, and more recently, over the past week or so, a second application. It is incumbent on the Minister and the Department, under the terms of the legislation, to consider all applications and having done so, to respond in due course, and that work is under way.

Has the Minister of State an opinion on the fact that the committee took a unanimous decision across all of the political party boundaries and across the political spectrum, and that such decision was based on hearing a corpus of evidence from all sides? I respectfully suggest to the Minister of State that he must take cognisance of the fact that it is a unanimous view, which should be taken seriously by him in determining the final outcome, and that when the committee took the view, it did so on the basis that the aims of the Irish Draught Horse Society were not mutually exclusive from those of HSI and that there would be no threat to HSI by ceding the studbook to the Irish Draught Horse Society.

Like Members from constituencies around the country which have a tradition of horse breeding, I have received representations directly from a number of interested individuals and groups, and the Minister, Deputy Smith, and I greatly appreciate that the committee did one of the things which one likes committees to do, namely, consider the matter in considerable detail and reach a unanimous conclusion, which is somewhat unusual. However, the Department is charged with responsibility under the regulations, SI 399 of 2004, to consider the submissions made to it. My understanding is that the submission made by the committee stands alongside the other submissions and applications. Undoubtedly, it will be taken account of. Given the points which both Deputies made, considerable weight would undoubtedly attach to a unanimous view of a committee in this regard. However, the Department and the Minister are obliged, also under the terms of the statutory instrument, to consider carefully the applications which are de facto made by two organisations.

On a point of order,——

A brief supplementary question, Deputy Sherlock.

——I respect the views of the Minister of State but the line Minister is sitting right beside him. Is it in order for me to ask whether the senior Minister in the Department would have a view on this or would proffer a view to the House on this?

During Question Time any Minister can reply——

This is very much a case of "Yes, Minister".

——and it is presumed——

I am amazed at how we operate this Parliament, which needs to be seriously modernised and overhauled. It is ludicrous.

Can I explain to the Deputy?

I just had a surreal moment. I felt I had a bit-part in "Yes, Minister."

Questions can be answered by any Minister and it is presumed, under the constitutional doctrine of collective responsibility, that whatever voice is heard is the unanimous view of Government.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware.

I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's——

Go raibh maith agat, Ceist a 8.

——weighty advice but we need to speak to a little bit of common sense as well.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware.

Ceist Uimh. 8 in ainm an Teachta Durkan, le do thoil, a Aire.

As Deputy Sherlock will be aware, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, coming from the good County Clare, would be more familiar with horses than I would, or than Deputy McGinley coming from Ulster would. We are a little impoverished in that part of Ulster in that we do not have a large horse population. For example, Deputy Sherlock from north Cork, and Deputy Hoctor from north Tipperary as well, would be familiar with the horse industry, more so than Deputy McGinley and myself.

I certainly could not rule out the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency either——

I did not want to draw the Leas-Cheann Comhairle into it.

——but I should not involve myself in the debate.

World Trade Negotiations.

Ceisteanna (8)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

8 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps he will take to safeguard Irish and European food producing interests in the context of World Trade Organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11916/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (3 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

At present, despite high-level political commitments to conclude the WTO negotiations and notwithstanding the advanced stage of the negotiations, the prospects for a deal in 2010 are in doubt. The positions of some other key countries remain unclear and this has made progress difficult. That having been said, it is inevitable that the current WTO negotiating round will conclude at some point in the future and will set the policy environment for the future development of EU and Irish agriculture.

It is essential that we maintain coherence between our policy decisions on the future of the CAP and the negotiating process in the WTO talks. We must ensure that we do not undermine the competitiveness and sustainability of European and Irish agriculture by decisions taken in the context of the WTO negotiations and we need to adopt a coherent and co-ordinated approach to both policy dossiers.

My view is that by safeguarding Irish and European agriculture policy in the current negotiations on the future of the CAP and by adhering closely to the original objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy as set out in the Treaty of Rome and reiterated in the Lisbon treaty, these interests will then be safeguarded and compatible within the context of the world trade negotiations. EU agriculture policy must contain elements that protect farmers' incomes and thus maintain family farming in Europe. It also needs to ensure security of food supply and the delivery of quality products to consumers at reasonable prices.

Essentially, future EU agricultural policy must be based on the twin goals of competitiveness and sustainability and it must have sufficient resources to meet these goals. These objectives apply equally whether the discussion concerns the future of the Common Agricultural Policy or the WTO trade talks. They are points that I have pressed strongly in discussions to date with other member states and in the Council of Ministers and I am pleased that there is strong support for my views with my ministerial colleagues.

Is there a final position on the EU's position in terms of this negotiation or are there continuous bilateral talks on the Irish position at the WTO?

That is particularly relevant in view of the fact that the review of the Common Agricultural Policy is under way at present and there is a change in Commissioners as well. These are particular issues. However, at every opportunity we highlight the fact that we can only support a WTO deal that is ambitious, fair and balanced.

Less than two weeks ago I attended the OECD ministerial meeting on agriculture and food. While we were not discussing trade talks at that meeting, at any time in our various discussions on the future challenges in agriculture and food of climate change and food security when the issue of trade entered into the dialogue, the unanimity and similarity of views dissipated quickly. There are significant divergences. The OECD, as Deputy Sherlock would be aware, consists of approximately 40 countries — some members of the European Union, large member states outside it such the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile.

There is a divergence of views. In December last, Mr. Lamy, the Director-General of the WTO, was planning to hold a ministerial conference. That did not happen; there was a technical meeting. My understanding from the WTO, and from our regular questioning of this issue, is that there will be a meeting to assess the situation at the end of this month. By and large, that will be on technical measures, and at official, not ministerial, level.

Inevitably, there will be another world trade agreement. We do not know, however, whether it will be at the conclusion of this Doha round. There are substantially divergent views on the matter. The British Prime Minister, Mr. Brown, and others in the G8-G20 fora were putting out the message that with global economic turbulence, an international trade agreement would be a stimulus to economic development. A fair and balanced deal would help to create economic regeneration which we are all working towards. It cannot, however, be at the expense of the agrifood sector in the European Union.

Farmer Numbers.

Ceisteanna (9)

Jack Wall

Ceist:

9 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the action he is taking to promote the merits and advantages of a career in full-time farming; and if he will make a statement on the matter in view of this week’s report (details supplied) that farming’s share of the total workforce has fallen to 5.03%. [12035/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

The main focus of the report in question is on the impact of the economic downturn on off-farm employment patterns among farmers. It also reports briefly on employment trends in the agriculture sector between 2004 and 2009 as reported in the quarterly national household survey. Using this source, the report found the number employed in the sector declined in 2004 to 2005, then remained stable until the third quarter of 2007, increased from this point to the end of 2008 and declined again in 2009.

The availability of off-farm employment has been affected by the difficulties in the broader economy. This is leading to difficulties for those farm families who were previously dependent on off-farm employment, particularly in the construction sector, in a similar way to non-farm families also affected by unemployment. The impact of this on participation in farming itself is not clear, as reflected in the fluctuations in the referred figures.

While the merits of any career are to a large extent dependent on personal choice, the advantages of choosing a career in full-time farming are best served by facilitating an environment that makes a career in the sector a viable option.

In this respect, my Department has been active and committed to promoting and supporting the agrifood sector. For example, in 2009 direct payments to farmers totalled over €1.9 billion. This figure does not take account of capital investment and other grant payments which amounted to an additional €420 million. I also successfully sought the deployment of EU market support measures to underpin the weak dairy market last year and stabilise milk prices to farmers.

More generally, my policy of supporting the development of a competitive and sustainable agrifood sector is the best means of ensuring an attractive livelihood for full-time farmers. This policy has been expressed through the outlined farm level supports. It is also expressed through the investment assistance provided for the continued modernisation and development of the food-processing sector and through research and education services which have expended considerably in recent years.

The decline in farm employment has been stark. The loss of employment in the construction industry, as acknowledged by the Minister, is also having a major bearing on off-farm employment.

A report by David Meredith of Teagasc's rural economy research centre in Kinsealy, County Dublin, highlighted that 70% of farmers recorded lower secondary education as their highest qualification, meaning they are more vulnerable to an economic downturn. If only 6% of farmers have a third level degree, will the Minister agree more has to be done to encourage young farmers to up-skill so if they need an off-farm income they will have good employment choices and still be able to part-time farm? Will he also agree it is important to provide proper resources to the agricultural colleges?

The strong and vibrant economy of several years ago took people off the land and away from farming. All Members will know of young men with good well-established farms who went to work in the construction and other sectors and were not inclined to remain in farming.

Substantial investment has been made in the Teagasc agricultural colleges in Clonakilty, Kildalton and Ballyhaise. Courses are now being delivered in the evenings and an e-learning facility has been developed to suit farmers who may have off-farm employment.

At meetings with the various heads of departments in universities and the agricultural colleges, it has been indicated to me there is much interest in admissions to agricultural courses. Last September, there was a significant increase in attendance levels at agricultural colleges, a welcome development.

The top ten recipients of the single farm payment are not farmers but plcs. This must be addressed as some people trying to maintain a sustainable living from a farm are suffering at the lower end.

The agriculture committee recently had a presentation from Teagasc. I assure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle I will come to a question.

The head of Teagasc, Professor Gerry Boyle, said if an agricultural college loses teachers through retirement, ill health or maternity leave, it cannot replace them because of the embargo on public sector recruitment. The colleges have already flagged that they may not be able to offer the full range of courses. Will the Minister address this matter?

I am aware of the resource issues as I meet Professor Gerry Boyle regularly. There are particular pressures on every State organisation in the current financial climate.

We have a good agricultural college infrastructure across the country. For example, a person starting in Ballyhaise can continue with a food degree at Dundalk Institute of Technology. While we want to resource Teagasc robustly, there are pressures on every State organisation.

I am an advocate of having a cut-off point for the single farm payment. However, when the payment was first established many EU member states were against having a cut-off point. I am not an advocate of the payment for those with large resources, tracts of land or herds of cattle.

As well as processing plants.

The rate of decline was from 115,000 in 2008 to 98,000 in 2009. Not all of the agricultural colleges will be able to take up that slack to re-educate these farmers. While I appreciate the Minister's response, he will have to widen the scope of the existing education policy.

We must remember it is the agriculture and food sector and not confine it to the primary producer. There is the Tourism College, Killybegs, the College of Catering at Cathal Brugha Street and other institutes that have strong departments in food and agricultural science. All of this is important. We should see education for our sector as agriculture and food, not just the person involved in primary production alone.

Ombudsman Report.

Ceisteanna (10)

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

10 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the contact he has had with the Office of the Ombudsman since her report on lost at sea was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11959/10]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

The Ombudsman laid her special report before the Houses of the Oireachtas on Monday, 14 December. Since then, the Ombudsman's special report on the lost at sea scheme of 2001 has been the subject of statements in this House and in Seanad Éireann. I have had no contact with the Office of the Ombudsman about this matter since her special report was published. My position in this matter was set out in detail in the statements made to this House and to Seanad Éireann.

Is the Minister of State aware of the annoyance of the Ombudsman as conveyed by her address to the IPA last Monday?

Deputy McGinley should not bring constitutional officers into the debate. Reference is fine but we should not ascribe views to any constitutional officeholder who is not a Member of the House.

Does the Minister of State agree that the manner in which the Government has dealt with this matter goes to the heart of the relevance of the Ombudsman? The way the Government has treated this report questions the integrity and competence of the Ombudsman. The ombudsman in the UK suggested that if a government treats a report like that it must be because the ombudsman has gone bonkers. With due respect to the Ombudsman, that has certainly not happened. That the report is treated in this way is almost unprecedented. Does the Minister of State agree the way this report was obstructed at every level by the Government is the greatest example of stonewalling since Stonewall Jackson? Are we to take it that the report will be assigned to the dustbin and we will hear no more about it? Will the Minister of State not do the decent thing and implement the recommendations proposed by the Ombudsman in the report for the benefit of the Byrne family, who have suffered so much? I ask the Government to implement the report or at least allow it to go to the committee so that we can examine it line by line and find out if there was a cover-up and whether the Government is trying to cover someone's tracks.

In support of Deputy McGinley's point, will the Government extend an invitation as per the Labour Party request to facilitate the Ombudsman in one of the committees to allow her to present the findings in her report?

Deputy Sargent may have something to add.

The Deputy should not invite other Deputies into the debate.

I assure Members there is no question about the competence and integrity of the Ombudsman. I have the height of regard for the office and the incumbent. I have also read the speech to the IPA on Monday, to which Deputy McGinley referred. I disagree with his claim that the report was obstructed. Every item of information sought by the Ombudsman was supplied by the two or three Departments with responsibility at different times.

The Minister of State does not agree with the findings.

I am obliged to operate within legislation. It was pointed out particularly eloquently in the other House that it is not clear, as the legislation is drafted, what is to happen when a report is referred to the Oireachtas. That is a weakness in the legislation. It is not open to me on behalf of anyone, to extend an invitation to anybody to any committee.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Barr
Roinn