Live exports are a critical part of Ireland’s livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. The Department facilitates this trade, recognising its critical importance to the agri-food sector, while ensuring that live animal exports meet the highest welfare standards. In 2018, live exports of cattle increased by over 30% to 246,000 head compared to 2017. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports totalling 58,000 up to early March – a 35% increase on the same period in 2018.
However, I am cognisant of the challenges within the live export trade.
In terms of ferry capacity, my Department officials continue to meet with operators to ensure that the greatest facilitation possible is afforded to livestock exporters - however, ultimately it must be recognised that decisions will be made on a commercial basis. With regard to cancelled crossings on account of inclement weather, this, unfortunately, is outside of my control.
My officials are in on-going communication with Irish exporters with regard to the need for co-operative management between each other to ensure that the lairage capacity at Cherbourg is optimised. The development of additional lairage capacity is a commercial issue. The live export sector may wish to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg, or engaging with owners of existing facilities there to explore the potential for additional capacity.
Notwithstanding this, there has been significant engagement with the French authorities regarding this matter. In September 2018, officials from my Department visited Cherbourg to discuss the capacity issue with the French authorities and local lairage operators. Last month, Bord Bia met with local lairage operators, while Department officials held a meeting with the IFA and French Embassy representatives.
I also raised the issue last month with the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian and last week, I discussed the matter with my French counterpart, Didier Guillaume, at the EU Agrifish Council meeting in Brussels. I should make it clear that the facilitation of the French Ministry relates to the approval of private sector developments.
Following this engagement, I am happy to report that, in recent weeks, the French authorities have approved an increase of the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg. This will provide for additional daily capacity for 400 animals. Based on current ferry sailing schedules, this provides increased capacity of some 1,200 animals per week.
The Deputy can rest assured that I will continue to advocate on behalf of our exporters with regard to this issue.