Hare Coursing Regulation

Ceisteanna (41)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he is examining or has examined the possibility of prohibiting live hare coursing; if not, if a consultation process will be opened on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47213/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

First, I would like to recall the major improvements in animal welfare that have taken place in recent years. You will recall that my colleague Simon Coveney brought forward major legislative reform in the form of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2103, replacing legislation going back over a hundred years. This legislation enshrined the Five Freedoms concept and introduced mandatory standards to provide for positive welfare for animals. I myself launched a new draft strategy on animal welfare in September. The strategy has recently undergone a public consultation and the responses which are currently being examined have been very positive.

As the Deputy will also be aware, Coursing is regulated under the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 chiefly by the Irish Coursing Club (ICC), subject to the general control of Bord na gCon.

The ICC is committed to maintaining high standards in the sport of coursing, and it actively promotes the protection and conservation of the Irish hare. The ICC has assured my Department that it has extensive systems and practices in place to underpin the welfare of hares and greyhounds involved in coursing and also that it goes to great lengths to ensure the highest standards of welfare are adhered to.

Coursing operates in a highly regulated environment coupled with a comprehensive set of rules directly applied by the ICC. It operates under a licence from the Minister of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, issued annually with a total of 25 conditions. These include a variety of measures, including a requirement that a qualified veterinarian attends at all coursing meetings to report on the health of the hares, a prohibition on the coursing of hares more than once in the same day, a prohibition on the coursing of sick or pregnant hares and a requirement that hares be released back into the wild during daylight hours.

The ICC undertakes a range of actions to address issues related to health and welfare. Coursing clubs are required to comply fully with directives, instructions and guidance notes issued by the ICC in all matters relating to the capture, keeping in captivity, tagging, marking, coursing and release of hares, and the muzzling of greyhounds.

A monitoring committee on coursing is in place, comprising officials from my Department, the ICC and the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS), to monitor developments in coursing and in that regard the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is run in a well controlled and responsible manner in the interests of both hares and greyhounds.

The committee meets after each coursing season to review the outcome of all coursing meetings, having particular regard to hare and greyhound welfare.

I believe that it is critically important that those involved in coursing operate in accordance with the regulatory framework and that the welfare of both hares and greyhounds is at the forefront at all times.

I have no plans at present to alter this arrangement.

Trade Missions

Ceisteanna (42)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

42. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress in securing new markets for Irish agrifood products in 2018; and the details of his recent trade missions to Indonesia. [51193/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In 2018 my Department continued to open new markets and deepen trade within existing markets for Irish agri-food exporters, the highlight of which was probably the decision of the Chinese authorities to open their market to Irish beef imports by listing a number of approved Irish beef establishments. Other notable achievements were agreements with Qatar and Kuwait which allowed for the importation of Irish beef, sheepmeat and poultry to their markets.

Against the backdrop of EU-agreed trade deals such as those completed with Canada, Japan and Mexico, my Department continues to prioritise efforts to gain access to new third country markets and, equally importantly, to deepen existing markets for Irish dairy products.

We have also had success with exports to emerging markets. The value of exports to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central/South America stood at almost €2.8 billion in 2017. The value of trade to these markets increased by 159% since 2009. These markets now account for over 20% of total agri-food exports. Growth to emerging markets has been led by Asia, with exports of €1.6 billion in 2017, of which just under €1 billion went to China. Exports to other Asian markets grew by 85% since 2012 to €659 million in 2017. Trade to Africa has also grown to €606 million, while exports to the Middle East have also grown significantly, to reach €370 million.

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is of course an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agri-food sector, as evidenced by its placement right at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development over the coming years. Food Wise 2025 outlines the huge potential for growth in agri-food exports to new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region. This is where our efforts will be focused for the foreseeable future, particularly given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our reliance on traditional destinations such as the UK.

In October, I opened Bord Bia dairy conferences in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, which were focused on raising awareness of Ireland as a location for sustainable dairy production, as well as enhancing the Irish Industry’s understanding of the Indonesian and Malaysian market. They were followed by business meetings between Irish dairy companies and potential partners. The conferences hosted 140 Indonesian and Malaysian dairy buyers, importers and foodservice operators.

These were excellent opportunities to bring targeted retail buyers, suppliers and consumers together. Having our own Irish dairy companies there working together to promote Irish dairy in general, as well as their own particular brands, was an excellent chance to showcase the best of Irish dairy, based on our excellent food safety and controls systems, to a wider audience.

My Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am ready to respond as appropriate to other opportunities that may arise.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Ceisteanna (43)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

43. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps his Department is taking to help to meet Ireland's carbon emission targets. [51074/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department is actively engaged as part of the whole of Government approach to transitioning to a low-carbon, competitive, sustainable and climate resilient economy and society.

A key part of this cross-government approach has been the development of the National Mitigation Plan (NMP) to which my Department contributed a series of mitigation actions and measures for the agriculture and land use sector including forestry. These measures not only focus on the mitigation of greenhouse gases and improving resource efficiency but are also aimed at restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to building resilience of agricultural production systems (i.e. adaptation)

The long term vision for the agricultural sector is an approach to carbon neutrality which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. Our policy approach is based on three principles:

i. Reducing agricultural emissions;

ii. Increasing carbon sequestration; and

iii. Displacing and substituting fossil fuel and energy intensive materials.

As part of my Department’s ongoing commitment, a number of additional measures and actions have been developed for the sector. By way of example, the recently announced Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot aims to improve the efficiency of production within the national beef herd. Other initiatives include Forestry Knowledge Transfer Groups; the Woodland Environmental Fund and the Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot.

In terms of sequestration, €106 million has been made available in 2018 under the Forestry Programme to support afforestation and other forest initiatives with significant improvements in grant and premium rates under the agroforestry and forestry for fibre options. Afforestation and forests also play a key role in replacing energy intensive materials and providing sustainable renewable biomass to the energy sector.

Higher ambition on environmental and climate action are part of the new CAP, post 2020, and it is expected that 40% of the overall CAP budget will contribute to climate action. This will require farmers to achieve a higher level of environmental ambition through both mandatory and incentive-based measures.

Whilst the mitigation potential for agriculture is indeed limited, agriculture is also part of the solution and can and must play a key role in contributing to Ireland's climate change and energy targets in the year ahead.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (44)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

44. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to protect farmers in Border counties from a hard Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50980/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The agri-food sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development of rural Ireland in particular. As such, Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on farmers and on the agri-food sector throughout Ireland, including farmers in the border counties.

The Government has, from the outset, been seeking to minimise the impact of Brexit through a negotiated outcome which permits trade along the border regions to continue without impediment. Crucially, I can confirm that the backstop arrangements in the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland contained in the draft Withdrawal agreement recently signed off by the European Council guarantee that there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland in any circumstances. The Government hopes that the backstop will never be used and will continue to work closely with the EU during the negotiations on a future agreement that establishes alternative arrangements.

In terms of practical supports, and following the range of initiatives that I introduced through Budget 2017 and Budget 2018, I announced a €78m Brexit package in Budget 2019 for farmers, fishermen and food SMEs. This includes €44m in direct aid to farmers through increased spending on areas of natural constraint, the introduction of a Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot Scheme and additional funding for the horticulture sector.

I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government remains very focused on supporting farmers and the agri-food industry through the challenges ahead, whether they are based in the border region or in any other part of the country.

Sheep Census

Ceisteanna (45)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

45. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider developing the Agfood.ie site to allow sheep farmers record and view sheep movements and census figures in order not to have to rely on hard copy sheep registers and dispatch dockets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51165/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

There is currently a facility on the Agfood.ie site for farmers to submit their annual sheep and goat census figures to the Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) database and to view their historical sheep and goat census data. Furthermore there is a facility on the website for farmers to order books of personalised sheep dispatch/movement document books and to view their order history for these books including the range of individual serial numbers that were printed on each book.

The Agfood.ie website and the AIM database are being developed and enhanced on an ongoing basis and it is intended to add further facilities to the sheep module in the future. My Department will be examining the feasibility of providing access to sheep movement information and an electronic flock register template which can be used by sheep farmers to maintain their records.

Under the EU sheep identification regulations there will continue to be a requirement for batches of sheep moving off holding to be accompanied by a hard copy dispatch/movement document. However, the changes to the National Sheep Identification System associated with the extension of EID to all sheep, which I announced recently, will mean that from 1 June 2019 farmers will only be required to fill out minimal information on these documents. From 1 June 2019 when sending sheep to a factory or mart that is approved as a Central Point of Recording there will be no requirement for farmers to record all of the individual tag numbers on the dispatch/movement document as the Central Point of Recording will scan all of the tags in the consignment and will provide the farmer with a list of printed tag numbers for their records.

Harness Racing Industry

Ceisteanna (46)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

46. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has reviewed the five year strategy document from an association (details supplied); his plans to act upon it and a company's report on the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51163/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

In March 2018, my Department agreed to fund the preparation and development of a Five Year Strategic Plan for the Irish Harness Racing Association and the sector. The report was recently received and Department officials are currently examining its contents.

My Department had previously funded the Indecon Report of the Irish Harness Racing Sector, which was published on 1st November 2017. This report provides the sport with a road map for its potential development and I supported the recommendations within my Department's remit from the outset.

My Department have also offered the sector supports from the following sources:

- In 2016, the Irish Harness Racing Association received grants totalling €21,704 under the Equine Infrastructure grant scheme.

- In 2017 grants totalling €40,020 were paid to the Irish Harness Racing Association under the Equine Technical Support Scheme.

- In 2018, €24,823 in grants were also approved under this Scheme.

- In 2017, support valued in excess of €25,000 for 'Road Racing Education Programme' were issued.

I would like to highlight that in addition to the funding already provided, I have committed to continuing and expanding the pilot integration programme in 2018, which will also be funded by my Department. With a view to raising awareness of the critical importance of good horse welfare amongst road racing sulky participants and the owners and keepers of trotting horses, my Department awarded a tender to carry out an education programme Horse Welfare course for Road-Racing Sulky Drivers and owners. The first course was run in the Dublin region in May 2018. A second course is currently under way in Tipperary. A third course began at the end of September in Cork and has a high level of engagement with participants in the north of the county. The demand for a fourth course is currently being assessed in other areas.

The level of expenditure provided by my Department and my support for the pilot integration programme clearly shows that the Government is underpinning this sector in a targeted way.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme

Ceisteanna (47)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

47. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the new appeal system will be operational for townlands deemed not eligible for the 2019 ANC scheme. [51168/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation) Member States are required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. To date my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.

From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:

- Low temperature

- Dryness

- Excess soil moisture

- Limited soil drainage

- Unfavourable texture and stoniness

- Shallow rooting depth

- Poor chemical properties

- Steep slope

This process has now been completed and in recent weeks I have published details in relation to the outcome and have completed a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders.

The outcome of the review project can be summarised as follows. The vast majority of land that was eligible under the existing Scheme will remain eligible under the new approach. Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible are not eligible under the new designation. Farmers impacted financially by this change will receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020. Over 2,000 townlands will now be eligible under the new approach and will be eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.

An independent appeals process is now being put in place for any farmers who wish to appeal the status of a particular townland following this process. Farmers who hold land in townlands that are no longer eligible in 2019 have been written to, and included in this letter is an application form to begin the process of an appeal should they wish to take up this option. This form is also available on the Department's website. The appeals committee will be chaired independently, and will also have an independent technical expert on it. The details in this regard are currently being finalised.

Pesticide Use

Ceisteanna (48)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

48. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to reduce the use of pesticides in the agriculture sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51174/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The EU regulatory process used in Ireland for authorising plant protection products is widely acknowledged to be one of the most robust chemical regulatory systems in the world. Pesticide active substances to be used in plant protection products (PPPs) can only be approved in the EU if a rigorous scientific assessment clearly shows that their use would not be expected to have any harmful effects on human and animal health or the environment. Plant protection products themselves can only be placed on the market of a Member State if it is deemed safe to do so, by both the European Food Safety Authority and the competent authorities of the Member States.

In parallel with the registration process, Directive 128/2009 on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides provides a framework which reduces the risks associated with their use, at farm level, amateur level and municipal level. This framework includes mandatory training and certification for professional users (farmers, landscapers etc.), distributors and advisors. The framework also makes it obligatory to have pesticide application equipment tested periodically. In addition, it is compulsory for users to apply the general principles of Integrated Pest Management. These principles ensure that sustainable crop protection strategies are utilised and that farmers only resort to chemical pest control if there is no viable alternative. In line with obligations under Directive 128/2009, my Department has produced documents/guides related to the use of pesticides in the context of Integrated Pest Management and has funded a number of research projects in relation to Integrated Pest Management practices at farm level. Detailed records of use are maintained at end user level and these records are examined during the farm inspection program carried out by my Department. Finally, there are restrictions on pesticide use in certain sensitive areas of the country such as around water courses and ground water vulnerable areas.

Overall, Eurostat statistics show that Ireland has among the lowest plant protection product sales and use in the EU. The 2014 figures show that PPP sales in Ireland were less than 0.6 kg/ha of utilisable agricultural area, the second lowest in the EU. Harmonised risk indicators are currently being agreed at EU level and will provide a standardised basis for assessing progress in reducing impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (49)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

49. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to prepare the agrifood industry for the impact of a possible disorderly Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51147/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department’s Brexit planning, guided by recent Government decisions, is well advanced and from an agrifood perspective, I welcome the endorsement by the European Council of the Withdrawal Agreement, and approval of the Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship.

My officials are working closely with their counterparts in other Departments, with a focus on the staffing, infrastructural and IT requirements that will arise in the context of the implementation of import controls at ports and airports on an East-West basis under the central case scenario. This envisages no hard border on the island of Ireland, a transition period to 31 December 2020, and a future free trade agreement between the UK and the EU.

Notwithstanding the current focus on preparation for this scenario, contingency planning for a disorderly Brexit in the event of the UK exiting on 30 March 2019 is also continuing. The primary focus in this regard is on ensuring that my Department and its agencies are prepared to fulfil their legal obligations as efficiently as possible, while also continuing to facilitate trade. Similar to the work alreadyundertaken in relation to the central case scenario, the Department will continue to work closely with other Departments in making progress on these arrangements as required over the coming period.

My Department has also been active in getting the agri-food industry Brexit-ready through an extensive programme of stakeholder consultation, through participation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-led preparedness communications campaign under the banner "Getting Ireland Brexit Ready", and working with Revenue on information seminars for businesses.

All of these activities complement and expand upon the range of Brexit support measures that I have announced over the last three Budgets, as well as the market diversification work that I and my officials continue to engage in so that the agri-food sector's exposure to the UK market can be reduced.

Live Exports

Ceisteanna (50)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

50. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which live exports have performed to date in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51191/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Live exports play a vital role in stimulating price competition and provide an alternative market outlet for farmers. The on-going search for new markets is a priority for my Department, particularly in the context of Brexit.

In 2018, up to 10 November over 227,000 head of cattle were exported. This is a 30% increase on the period last year.

Exports to other EU countries significantly increased this year over the same period last year (January to 10 November). The largest export market for cattle was Spain with exports of 84,000 head (up from 49,000), followed by the Netherlands at 48,000 (41,000 in 2017) and Italy at 23, 000 (up from 19,000).

Live exports to third countries have decreased this year, due in part to severe currency fluctuations in Turkey. Nevertheless, nearly 13, 000 head of cattle were exported to Turkey to date this year.

My Department last week reached agreement with the Libyan authorities on veterinary health certs for the export of breeding, fattening and slaughter cattle. Having an agreed health cert for breeding cattle provides much more clarity for exporters, as previously exports of breeding cattle to Libya had to be agreed on a load by load basis. Agreement was reached on an increase in the age of cattle that can be exported to Libya, from 24 to 30 months – this increases opportunities for exporters to export a wider range of cattle. Live exports to Libya more than doubled (from 1,830 to 4, 489) this year to date compared to the same period last year.

The agreement on these certs followed a successful visit by an official Libyan delegation to Ireland last August, at the invitation of my Department. During their visit here, my officials accompanied the delegation on visits to a beef farm, a dairy farm, and to a slaughter plant, where the high standards of the operators and the official controls applied by my Department were demonstrated.

The prospects for live cattle exports remain very good and my Department continues to engage with third countries and to seek out new markets for live exports.

With regard to animal welfare, inspections by my Department ensure that the highest animal welfare standards are strictly complied with during transport of live cattle.

DAFM have put additional controls on calf exports to ensure the highest welfare standards for unweaned calves. Departmental officials visited control posts in Cherbourg in September in this regard and are engaging with live exporters. DAFM officials have met with the ferry companies in relation to calf exports.

Currently, 3 dedicated livestock carriers are approved: mv Sarah, mv Alondra, and the mv Holstein Express. My officials are in the process of completing inspections of 2 further vessels.

Fishery Harbour Centres

Ceisteanna (51)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

51. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the scoping report and assessment of disposal options for the silt at Howth Harbour; when the dredging programme will be undertaken at this working fishery harbour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50977/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is one of the six designated Fishery Harbour Centres which are owned, managed and maintained by my Department under Statute.

Siltation at Howth FHC is recognised as an issue that will require attention and preparation work for a possible dredging project has been underway for some time. A report from site investigation works, which was commissioned in 2015, was received by my Department in March 2016. The report included vital information on the nature of the material to be dredged in any future dredging project. The information revealed from the Site Investigation Report indicated that some of the dredge material would not be suitable for conventional disposal at sea, which would add to the overall cost of a project.

In June 2016, a firm of consulting engineers were engaged to prepare a report to include scoping the project, various disposal options for the dredged material at Howth and permitting requirements. Following receipt of the consulting engineers report in late October 2017, my Department’s Engineers met with Fingal County Council, to review possible operational and permitting requirements. In addition, a further meeting was held between Department Engineers and the consulting engineers on 5 December 2017 to consider all disposal options and implications.

I wish to reaffirm my Department’s commitment to progressing the dredging project for Howth Harbour and the €100,000 allocated in this year's capital programme is for further detailed studies, including scoping, shore based re-use of dredge material and land-use layout options. This is a complex undertaking and the planning, tendering and contract award phase of this project could take at least two years. A variety of factors will impact on the final cost of a potential dredging project including the disposal options, overall scale of the project, and market factors. At this point no overall estimation of cost has been established. While the final scope and costs remain to be set, it is likely that the overall cost will exceed €20M and therefore a cost benefit analysis will also be required.

The project will require Planning Permission, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and a Waste License. The Department went to tender on 3 October 2018 for a Consulting Engineering practice to bring the project through the planning, environmental permitting and design phase. The tenders have been adjudicated and it is expected to announce the successful bidder in early December.

As is the case for all developments in the six Fishery Harbour Centres, any future decision with regard to initiating a full dredging works project in Howth will only be considered on the basis of available exchequer funding and competing national priorities.

Fisheries Protection

Ceisteanna (52)

Hildegarde Naughton

Ceist:

52. Deputy Hildegarde Naughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts being made to safeguard the fishing sector in the context of Brexit. [51195/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Overall, Ireland’s and the EU27’s basic position has always been and remains to be to protect our fishing communities. While all parties would like higher quota shares, the way to achieve that is to grow the fish stocks through sustainable management for the benefit of all. Managing fisheries sustainably and fairly must be an integral and inseparable part of the overall future EU/UK relationship.

In recent months, I have continued to have positive, regular meetings with my European colleagues, especially those from the group of 8 Member States whose fisheries are most impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I am also working closely with key stakeholders in the Irish fishing industry and am pleased at the level of unity on these key issues. The results of Ireland's engagement with the Barnier Task Force, are evident in the agreed EU position on fisheries.

The Government has introduced a range of measures to deal with the short-term impacts of Brexit. In terms of dealing with Competitiveness issues, my Department introduced a €150m low-cost loan scheme and increased funding under the Rural Development and Seafood Development Programmes in the 2017 Budget. In Budget 2018, I, along with my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, introduced a new €300m “Brexit Loan Scheme” to provide affordable, flexible financing to Irish businesses that are either currently impacted by Brexit or who will be in the future - at least 40% of which will be available to seafood businesses.

I have followed up these measures with further initiatives as part of Budget 2019, which contains a €78m Brexit package for farmers, fishermen, food SMEs and to cover additional costs in my Department.

If this withdrawal deal goes through, from a fisheries perspective, we have clarity that there will be no changes to the status quo on fisheries for the duration of the transition period. The transition period will last at least until the end of December 2020 but could be extended. Within this timeframe and within the context of the overall economic partnership, the EU and UK will work to establish a new fisheries agreement to be in place after transition.

As is set down in the draft Political Declaration, negotiations on fisheries will take place in the context of the overall future economic relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. In other words, fisheries will not be dealt with in isolation.

I will continue to work closely with the Tánaiste, the Commission, relevant Member States and the fishing industry to ensure the best outcome for Irelands’ fishing communities.

Regulation of Hunting

Ceisteanna (53)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

53. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has engaged with an association (details supplied) to ensure there will not be a repeat of the incident that happened in Macroom in which a hunt entered a residential area endangering public safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51047/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

During the summer officials of my Department met with the Hunting Association of Ireland to discuss the incident in Macroom. The need to strengthen the existing Code of Practice in order to avoid such incidents where hounds entered housing estates was discussed. This matter is being further pursued with them. In the meantime, the Association has committed to avoiding any re-occurrence of incidents such as this.

Agriculture Scheme Payments

Ceisteanna (54)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

54. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to ensure that farmers experience no unnecessary delays in direct payments crucial to agribusinesses (details supplied); if a modernised advance payment system will be introduced to assist farmers in situations in which the delays are caused by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51042/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am very aware of the significance to farmers, agri-business, and the wider rural economy, of the payments that issue to farmers from my Department under schemes such as the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), GLAS, TAMS, the Sheep Welfare Scheme, and the Knowledge Transfer (KT) programme.

Payments under the 2018 ANC scheme commenced, on schedule, during the week commencing 17th September 2018 with 77,000 farmers being paid €185.6 million. This was an increase of 2,000 farmers and €25 million on the first tranche of payments in September 2017. Regular pay runs are in place to pay farmers as they fulfil the Scheme's eligibility requirements, and to date €219.2m has issued to some 91,190 farmers under the 2018 Scheme.

In relation to the 2018 BPS, the European Commission agreed to my request for a higher advance payment of 70% under the 2018 Scheme. This is an increase on the standard 50% rate allowed for under the EU regulations. Payments under 2018 BPS and Greening commenced on schedule on 16 October with payments worth €732 million issuing to 113,000 farmers.

This represented an increase over the 111,000 farmers paid at the same stage in 2017, and some 93% of eligible applicants for the BPS were paid in this first tranche. The success of our move to full online applications this year has helped us to deliver further efficiencies in the processing of payments which are of direct benefit to farmers.

The balancing payments for BPS and Greening also commenced on schedule on 3 December, bringing the total paid under BPS and Greening to €1.2bn to 121,000 farmers. Payments under the 2018 National Reserve and the Young Farmers Scheme have also commenced alongside payment of the 2018 BPS balancing payment.

The European Commission also agreed to my request for an increase to 85% advance payment rates under a number of CAP Pillar II Rural Development schemes. This increased rate applies to GLAS and the Sheep Welfare Scheme.

To date, 39,665 GLAS participants have received their 2018 advance payment. This amounts to almost €140m paid since payments commenced on 14 November and equates to 96% of eligible cases paid. The majority of outstanding payments require action on behalf of the GLAS participants or their advisor such as the submission of a Commonage Management Plan or Nutrient Management Plan, the completion of GLAS training or another form of documentation. My Department is working closely with GLAS farmers and their advisors to ensure that outstanding payments issue as quickly as possible when these requirements are met. I would urge all participants to contact their advisors to ensure that their application can pass through validations. GLAS payments will continue to issue on a weekly basis.

Advance payment for the Sheep Welfare Scheme also issued on time at the end of November with €15.1 million paid to 18,600 participants.

Payments in respect of year 2 of the Knowledge Transfer programme commenced in October 2018 in line with the Farmers Charter commitment, with almost €10 million now issued to over 15,000 farmers. Facilitator payments also commenced in late November.

Payments under the Beef Data and Genomics Programme, the Organic Farming Scheme and the Protein Aid scheme are all also due to commence in December.

Applications for payment for work done under the TAMS II investment Scheme are made via the online application system. Provided that all the required supporting material is provided with the application for payment there are no delays with processing the claims for payment in the Department.

To date €94.8m has been paid in respect of 6,503 TAMS II payment claims. Claims continue to be processed on an ongoing basis.

My Department continues to process payments under these schemes as a matter of priority, to ensure that these vital supports are delivered to farmers in the most timely and efficient manner possible.

Sheep Welfare Scheme Data

Ceisteanna (55)

Hildegarde Naughton

Ceist:

55. Deputy Hildegarde Naughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which the amount of financial support sheep farmers have received is measured; and the payments made to date under the sheep welfare scheme. [51196/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am very conscious of the important role that the sheep sector plays in relation to the continued growth and development of our agri-food sector. For example, in 2017 some 63,000 tonnes of Irish sheep meat worth €311 million was exported, with diversification evident from our traditional primary markets of France and the UK.

I have therefore ensured that my Department has put in place a range of supports for the sheep sector in recent years across a number of schemes. In relation to Pillar 1 supports under the Common Agricultural Policy, sheep farmers continue to benefit from the direct income support available under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

In addition, Ireland’s Rural Development Programme (RDP), 2014-2020, contains a number of support schemes which offer direct financial benefit to Irish sheep farmers. Sheep farmers continue to benefit from the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) Scheme and from GLAS in large numbers, as well as from capital investment support under TAMS. The RDP also includes specific provision for sheep farmers within the Knowledge Transfer Programme, which has helped to build on the existing knowledge base and skills set in the sector in a way which will help to ensure continued sustainable development in the sector.

I also introduced the Sheep Welfare Scheme as an amendment to the RDP. Under this scheme, farmers are required to choose from a menu of actions which aim to improve the overall welfare of their flock. These actions must be completed over a 12 month period, and in return the farmer receives a payment of €10 per breeding ewe.

This important support was introduced for a period of four scheme years, and over €18.4 million issued to sheep farmers in respect of Year 1 of the Scheme.

Advance payments under year 2 of the Scheme have also issued in November this year with €15.1 million paid to 18,600 participants.

Taking the range of available schemes together, over €617.5 million was paid in direct financial supports to sheep farmers in 2017. The corresponding figure for 2016 was €601.6 million.

I will continue to ensure that these vital supports are prioritised for farmers. For example, some €219.2 million has already been paid out to farmers under the 2018 ANC Scheme which commenced payment in September. The balancing payment under the BPS and Greening also issued this week brining total payments under these scheme to €1.2bn to 121,000 farmers.

In addition, I have also announced a once-off support measure of up to €100 per keeper to assist with the costs incurred by sheep farmers in meeting the requirements placed on them by the extension of electronic identification to all sheep. This payment will be related to the first purchase of electronic tags between 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019 with a cost of up to €3.6 million. The first payments under this measure will issue in early 2019.

I am committed to ensuring that my Department continues to work to underpin the development of the sheep sector.

Food Exports

Ceisteanna (56)

Kevin O'Keeffe

Ceist:

56. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on the recent decision of a company (details supplied) to enter the American market with its own butter product; if his attention has been drawn to the fact producers have voiced concerns that this may undermine a premium quality butter brand which is already well established in the American market. [51045/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Deputy has raised an issue in relation to a commercial decision by an individual company. I as Minister cannot have a role in dictating the commercial decisions made by any business. However, I would like to see that the best interests of the Irish dairy sector as a whole are at the core of any decisions made by Irish dairy companies. I would hope that both parties in this instance will endeavour to ensure the best outcome for the Irish dairy sector as a whole.

In 2017, Ireland exported dairy products, including dairy powders to 147 countries totalling over €4.6 billion worth of produce, an increase of over 17% compared to 2016, representing high-quality value-added produce. The US was the sixth largest market for Irish Dairy in 2017, and exports have grown by over 60% since 2012-13. Irish dairy products have a highly rated and hard earned reputation in terms of quality, safety and sustainability, and this gives them a competitive edge in markets over the world.

The long-term fundamentals of the global dairy market are strong, with growing global demand projected from fast developing countries with increasing middle classes and more westernised diets. Whilst significant challenges have continued throughout recent years, in particular price volatility, there is confidence that the Irish and EU dairy sector is well placed to gain from the opportunity presented by expanding global demand. Growing consumer demands for assurance about the standard of food products they consume is another important factor.

Whilst hugely important, these demand led factors will not of themselves underpin the success of our efforts if we are not best in class in terms of the quality of the products that we supply. By best in class we mean quality products, safely, securely and sustainably produced, and being able to verify these criteria objectively, credibly and most importantly, to the satisfaction of international customers.

My Department and I, in conjunction with other stakeholders, including the Irish dairy companies and agencies such as Bord Bia, will continue to play a key role in building the market opportunities for Irish dairy.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (57)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

57. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts he is making to seek new markets in the context of Brexit; and the efforts being made by the State agencies under his remit to provide support to agrifood business. [51194/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is an ongoing and central component of the strategic development of the agri-food sector, as evidenced by its placement right at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development over the coming years. Indeed, this is all the more relevant after the UK’s decision to leave the EU, which presents significant new challenges for the agri-food sector in particular.

Looking beyond Europe, Food Wise 2025 outlines the huge potential for growth in agri-food exports to new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region. This is where our efforts will be focused for the foreseeable future, particularly given the need to diversify our markets and to reduce our reliance on traditional destinations such as the UK.

Trade Missions play an important role in this regard, and I have been very active on this front in recent years as we strive to gain, and then develop, a presence in as many global markets as possible. I have led very successful missions to the Gulf Region, the US, Mexico, Japan and Korea in 2017, and to the US, Canada, China, Indonesia and Malaysia 2018. These missions included participants from across the agri-food sector and featured extensive trade contacts as well as high-level political discussions. These and the other missions that my Department is planning for the first half of 2019 will serve to enhance and improve our existing levels of market access in these destinations.

At my request, Bord Bia recently completed a market prioritisation exercise that identified opportunities in new and more mature markets, and will provide valuable market intelligence both for industry operators and policy makers.

Since the UK referendum I have increased Bord Bia’s funding by a total of €19.5 million, including a further €5 million that has been allocated in Budget 2019. That funding has been put to very good use on initiatives such as its Brexit Barometer, which has been helping companies to assess and improve their preparedness for Brexit, and its Market Prioritisation reports, which are informing its own and my Department’s work in relation to market diversification. Bord Bia has also been very active in engaging with companies in relation to issues such as supply chain management, customs processes, customer relationships and market diversification.

In addition, Bord Bia, along with officials from my Department, has been participating in the recent series of public outreach events being co-ordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under the banner Getting Ireland Brexit Ready. This information campaign is designed to help businesses and companies understand some of the challenges posed by Brexit and the supports available to them.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to seek out and identify new markets, and I am ready to respond as appropriate to any opportunities that may arise.

Skills Shortages

Ceisteanna (58)

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

58. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he is taking to address the labour and skills shortages in the agricultural sector; and the way in which this deficit will be met in order to reach Foods Wise 2025 targets. [51187/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am acutely aware of the shortage of labour that exists in some parts of the agri-food sector. It should be noted that the sector accounts for 7.9% of total employment, or approximately 174,000 jobs. As most of these jobs are based outside of our cities, they are crucial to the rural economy.

Food Wise 2025 highlighted the need for the attraction, retention and development of skills and talent right along the food supply chain. Investment in people is crucial for the success of Food Wise 2025 and the success of the sector as a whole. The human capital recommendations contained in the Strategy are more relevant than ever, as we see skills and labour shortages developing.

My Department has hosted two Food Wise 2025 skills workshops, involving all relevant stakeholders, to look at skills gaps and needs both at farm and at food & beverage industry levels. This process of stakeholder engagement has led to two important reports:

- the report on 'Future Skills Needs in the Food and Drink Sector' published last year; and

- the 'People in Dairy Action Plan', which I launched in June of this year. This incorporates a total of 29 specific actions which are organised into six key initiatives.

The specific recommendations in both reports are in the process of being implemented and progress will be reported periodically to the Food Wise High Level Implementation Committee, which I chair.

Labour supply issues have been most acute in meat processing and on-farm in the horticulture and dairy sectors, although I am aware that some other parts of the industry are also beginning to face the same issue. While some potential exists to recruit labour from within the domestic and European labour markets, it became apparent in recent times that this will be insufficient to meet the demand and therefore, I and my officials have had extensive engagement with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys and her Department in relation to employment permits for non-European Economic Area nationals.

I welcomed the announcement by Minister Humphreys of an initial pilot quota of employment permits for the horticulture, dairy and meat processing sectors in May, with a further allocation for meat processing in August. While the number of permits allocated is relatively modest (500 for horticulture workers, 50 for dairy farm assistants and 750 for meat processor operatives), it is addressing the immediate shortage of labour.

Alongside the dedicated pilot scheme for the agri-food sector, an overarching review of the broader employment permit system has been carried out by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. My colleague Minister Humphreys published the report on this review in September and my Department, having actively participated in the review, is now on an inter-departmental group tasked with implementing the recommendations. I am confident that this exercise will lead to a permit regime that is more flexible and adaptable to the labour needs of the agri-food sector, particularly for seasonal employment.

I said at the time of the announcement of these permits that they were just one piece of the jigsaw in addressing labour supply and that the sector must also continue and intensify its efforts to source labour from both the domestic and EU markets. In this regard, my officials have been working closely with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) to assist in these efforts. That Department has hosted a series of information sessions and meetings with representatives from across the agri-food sector on the range of initiatives and supports available.

It is clear however that there is no ‘quick-fix’ to address these issues. Instead, we must take a multi-faceted approach and my Department will continue to progress initiatives in this regard.

Organic Farming Scheme

Ceisteanna (59)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

59. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to reopen the organic farming scheme with particular reference to the market demand for organically produced food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51154/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The new Organic Farming Scheme under the current Rural Development Programme has proved extremely successful, attracting more new applicants than any scheme previously, and encouraging a significant number of Irish farmers to convert to organic farming systems. Latest figures indicate that there are now some 72,000 hectares under organic production, an increase of nearly 50% on the position at the start of the Programme in 2014.

The Organic Sector Strategy Group, which was established earlier this year, was tasked with assessing the justification for a targeting reopening of the Organic Farming Scheme, looking to best economic and environmental outcomes, in accordance with the Group’s terms of reference.

Based on this assessment, the Group considered that there is sufficient market demand to justify the reopening of the Organic Farming Scheme on a targeted basis focussing on areas that are in deficit and where market demand is growing. In addition, the reopening of the Scheme is perceived as one of the most important steps in the future direction and development of the Sector. The Group unanimously agreed that the areas to be targeted should be organic horticulture, cereals and dairy.

Having spoken to the various organic stakeholders I fully believe that opportunities exist for Irish organic produce both at home and abroad. With regard to horticulture for example, according to Bord Bia research in 2017, sales of organic fruit and vegetables make up 34pc of the Irish organic market. There are clearly opportunities for Irish producers to substitute imports, both for established growers and new entrants to the sector as we import almost 70pc of organic fruit and vegetables sold.

Accordingly the Organic Farming Scheme was re-opened on 19 November this year. An allocation of €1.25m has been provided to facilitate the re-opening of the Scheme and this comes from savings within the Organic Scheme budget. Applications for the scheme must be made online, but there will be no requirement to use an Agricultural Advisor to make the applications. The closing date for submission of completed on-line applications is 19 December 2018.

All registered organic farmers are eligible to apply for the Organic Farming Scheme. Priority will be given to those areas deemed to be in deficit i.e. horticulture, tillage and dairy. The size of the holdings and the enterprise type in each case will determine the number of farmers accepted into the scheme.

Finally, I can inform that the Organic Sector Strategy Group is very close to finalising its work and I expect to receive its report before the end of the year after which it will be published.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (60)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

60. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of negotiations regarding access to fishing rights here post-Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51118/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Overall, Ireland’s and the EU27’s basic position has always been and remains to be to protect our fishing communities. While all parties would like higher quota shares, the way to achieve that is to grow the fish stocks through sustainable management for the benefit of all. Managing fisheries sustainably and fairly must be an integral and inseparable part of the overall future EU/UK relationship.

In recent months, I have continued to have positive, regular meetings with my European colleagues, especially those from the group of 8 Member States whose fisheries are most impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I am also working closely with key stakeholders in the Irish fishing industry and am pleased at the level of unity on these key issues. The results of Ireland's engagement with the Barnier Task Force, are evident in the agreed EU position on fisheries.

If this withdrawal deal goes through, from a fisheries perspective, we have clarity that there will be no changes to the status quo on fisheries for the duration of the transition period. The transition period will last at least until the end of December 2020 but could be extended. Within this timeframe and within the context of the overall economic partnership, the EU and UK will work to establish a new fisheries agreement to be in place after transition.

As is set down in the draft Political Declaration, negotiations on fisheries will take place in the context of the overall future economic relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. In other words, fisheries will not be dealt with in isolation.

I will continue to work closely with the Tánaiste, the Commission, relevant Member States and the fishing industry to ensure the best outcome for Irelands’ fishing communities.

Areas of Natural Constraint Scheme Eligibility

Ceisteanna (61)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

61. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the details and criteria for the new ANC scheme; the way in which additional funding will be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51204/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the current Rural Development Regulation (and subsequent amendments under the Omnibus Regulation) Member States are required to change the approach to the designation of land under the Areas of Natural Constraints Scheme. To date my Department had been identifying eligible areas using a range of socio economic indicators such as family farm income, population density, percentage of working population engaged in agriculture, and stocking density.

From 2019, eligible areas must instead be designated using the following list of bio-physical criteria:

- Low temperature

- Dryness

- Excess soil moisture

- Limited soil drainage

- Unfavourable texture and stoniness

- Shallow rooting depth

- Poor chemical properties

- Steep slope

This process has now been completed and in recent weeks I have published details in relation to the outcome and have completed a series of consultation meetings with key stakeholders.

The outcome of the review project can be summarised as follows. The vast majority of land that was eligible under the existing Scheme will remain eligible under the new approach. Some 700 townlands that would have previously been eligible are not eligible under the new designation. Farmers impacted financially by this change will receive a degressive phasing out payment in 2019 and 2020. Over 2,000 townlands will now be eligible under the new approach and will be eligible to receive a payment for the first time in 2019.

These changes to the 2019 require a formal amendment to Ireland's Rural Development Programme, and this process is now underway to allow the 2019 ANC Scheme to open for applications early next year.

In parallel to these changes to the 2019 Scheme, an additional €23m has been added to the Scheme budget for 2019. Approximately €12m of this money will be allocated to newly eligible lands in 2019, with approximately €1m being allocated to the phasing out payments in respect of lands no longer eligible from 2019. The remaining approximately €10m will be allocated as increased payment rates across all categories of land in the scheme. These increases will be targeted so as to deliver higher increases to those lands with the highest level of constraint.

All these changes require a formal amendment to the Rural Development Programme, and this process is now underway to ensure that the Scheme can open for application early in 2019.