Trade Agreements

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 49.

Ceisteanna (80)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

80. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will report on the Mercosur deal; the main remaining barriers; if there are red line issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28121/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

On the evening of Friday 28 June, European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström and Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, announced that political agreement has been reached on a trade deal between the EU and Mercosur countries.

While as a small, open economy, Ireland is supportive of international trade deals, I am very concerned at the potential impact of elements of this particular deal on the beef sector.  

The agreement includes a significant Tariff Rate Quota for South American beef, at a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit.  We have made concerted efforts over the full twenty-year history of these negotiations, working closely with other Member State colleagues and engaging directly with the European Commission, in order to minimise the EU offer in terms of beef. While evidence of these efforts appears to have been reflected in the final offer, I am, nonetheless, deeply concerned at the potential impact on the Irish beef sector.

There may be some opportunity for other agri food sectors such as dairy and for the drinks industry, but we will need to examine the text carefully to assess the full impact. 

It is also worth noting that this agreement will not come fully into effect for some years. It will first go through a process of legal scrubbing, which could take up to two years, before being put before the European Trade Council for ratification by Qualified Majority Vote, and the European Parliament.

If the agreement passes those hurdles, it is expected that the trade elements which fall under the EU Commission's competence, will be phased in over 6 years.

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 49.

Live Exports

Question No. 83 answered with Question No. 49.

Ceisteanna (82)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

82. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he has prepared for adequate lairage at Cherbourg to cater for calf exports in spring 2020 to avoid congestion and to allow the maximum number of calves to be exported in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28201/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

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. My Department facilitates this trade, recognising its importance to the agri-food sector, while placing a strong emphasis on the welfare of all animals being transported.

In 2018, total live exports of cattle increased by over 30% compared to 2017, to 246,000 head. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports already totalling 225,000 up until the week ending the 23rd of June. This is up from 173,000 for the same period in 2018 – a 30% increase.

This increase is in part down to my decision in 2017 to reduce the veterinary inspection fee payable on live exports of calves less than three months of age from €4.80 to €1.20. This has brought greater equity to the inspection fee regime. Since then, there has been continued growth in the export of calves, rising from 102,000 in 2017 to 159,000 in 2018. We have already surpassed this figure in 2019, with 184,000 calves having been exported in the year to date.

With regard to lairage capacity, I would urge the live export sector to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg, or engaging with owners of existing facilities to explore the potential for additional capacity. This has proved possible – as evidenced by the French authorities approving an increase of the holding capacity of the Qualivia lairage in Cherbourg earlier this year. My Department worked closely with the French authorities in this matter. The move provided for additional daily capacity for 400 animals, providing increased capacity of some 1,200 animals per week

In my meetings with live exporters, I have suggested that a representative group be set up to represent their interests with a view to enhancing coordination in relation to the live export trade.  The Deputy will be aware that the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture, Food and the Marine's recent 'Report on the future of the Beef Sector in the context of Food Wise 2025' also makes this recommendation.

Question No. 83 answered with Question No. 49.

Hare Coursing

Ceisteanna (84)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

84. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will consider the suspension of live hare coursing until after the findings of the EU Directive 92/43/EEC report due to be published later in 2019, in view of the questions raised over the status of the Irish hare; if his Department has consulted with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht regarding the effects of coursing on hare population trends; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28123/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Under the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958, the regulation of coursing is chiefly a matter for the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon (BnG).

The ICC has assured my Department that it has systems and practices in place to underpin the welfare of hares and greyhounds involved in coursing. Hares can only be collected for coursing by clubs affiliated to the ICC, in accordance with the terms of two licences granted by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

These licences contain 26 conditions which have been refined over the years, the majority of which are central to hare welfare. These include a variety of measures, including a requirement that a qualified veterinarian attends 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 also attends to the welfare of the hare and undertakes a range of actions to address issues related to health and welfare. Coursing clubs are required to comply 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 Service (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 Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species. Some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types are also targeted for conservation in their own right.

The report of the EU Directive 92/43/EEC is a matter for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht  and the findings will be discussed at the next monitoring committee meeting following its publication.

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 prevalent at all times.

Forest Fires

Ceisteanna (85)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

85. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 60 of 3 October 2017, the overall cost of the fire of Cloosh Valley, County Galway in May 2017; the number of hectares of both forestry and bogland lost; the impact on the flora, fauna and wildlife; the results of investigations carried out by Coillte, his Department or another body; if prosecutions for breach of section 40 of the Wildlife Acts resulted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28200/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The management of the Coillte forest estate is a matter for, and the responsibility of, Coillte as a State Body and they are operationally independent in their remit.

In order to update on the PQ response referred to above, this matter was raised with Coillte. I am advised that the forest fire of May 2017 was fought along three separate fronts - a bog fire, a thicket fire and the most dangerous of all, a tree crown fire.  The fire was tackled for five days by more than 35 Coillte staff and contractors, three helicopters, two fire tenders and as well as 30 army personnel to finally bring it under control.

Cloosh is also home to the Galway Wind Park renewable energy development and contains millions of euro of wind turbines and associated infrastructure.  Through the hard work and dedication of all the firefighters, none of the nationally important wind energy structures were damaged by the fire.

Coillte also advise that subsequent to the fire being brought under control, they completed a detailed and precise inventory of the damage to Cloosh using a combination of Aerial Photography and Ground Survey techniques.  Coillte local management also developed a Forest Management Plan for the area, aimed at categorising the damage and determining the regeneration plan required to re-establish the forest.

Results of this inventory show that the total area in Cloosh that was damaged by fire was 1,213 ha.  Of this figure, 828 ha was categorised as forest, with the balance of 385 ha being classified as non-forest (e.g. Bare, Undeveloped, Swamp, peatlands).

Coillte advise that costs of the forest fires to them are calculated across a variety of different activities required to both bring the fire under control and subsequently to prepare and replant the forest and, of course, the loss of value of the standing timber.  The costs involved can be broken down into the following headings:

Fire-Fighting costs – Direct costs involved in bringing the fire under control;

Clean up costs – these costs are to make the site fit for regeneration or replanting following the fire.  The actual costs will depend on the extent of replanting the forested areas and any offsetting revenue from harvesting the damaged timber;

Regeneration cost – this is the cost to replant the non-productive forest area and is dependent on the level and type of planting that Coillte undertake;

Additional Project costs – the costs of any additional projects that may be required from extra overheads incurred in managing the area;

Depletion cost – this reflects the costs of depleting the total forested area less an area of 67 ha which had been recently felled before the fire.

Overall, the total cost of the Cloosh fire is estimated by Coillte at approximately €3 million. Coillte add that they are not aware of any prosecutions for breach of section 40 of the Wildlife Acts resulting from the fire at Cloosh.  

Finally, I believe that the recommendations of the 2017 Government Task Force report on wildfires informed preparedness and operational responses to wildfire during the very challenging 2018 fire season. Recommendations particularly influenced improvements in respect of air support readiness and military aid to civil power support for firefighting interventions at large scale wildfires. These improvements were readily apparent during the extended firefighting operations in the Slieve Bloom Mountains during July 2018 and at several other large scale incidents across the country at that time.

My Department continues to issue forest fire warnings where appropriate, particularly in advance of high-risk periods such as high temperatures. These include advice on preparedness and appropriate responses and are intended to inform relevant stakeholders and the general public.

Forestry Sector

Questions Nos. 87 and 88 answered with Question No. 49.

Ceisteanna (86)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

86. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide adequate compensation for forestry owners who have suffered losses due to ash die back; if grants will be provided for replacement planting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28202/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

I am well aware of the impact of Ash Dieback on Ireland’s ash plantations.  Indeed, we  have  taken  the lead in Europe in terms of a response to this disease.  In the first place, an exchequer-funded reconstitution scheme was introduced in 2013 to restore affected forests and, since then, over 1,600 hectares have been restored at a cost of €4.4 million.  In addition, the Woodland Improvement Thinning and Tending scheme is available to forest owners in terms of managing the continuing impact of the disease.

While the reconstitution scheme was a reasonable response at the time, it became evident that given the progression and reach of the disease and based on the scientific knowledge available, a review of the scheme was needed. The original aims of the scheme i.e. eradication of the disease from Ireland, were no longer achievable, as the disease is now considered endemic here. Given that the scientific outlook had changed, the scheme was therefore suspended in April 2018, in order that a comprehensive review could be undertaken. However landowners who wished to continue growing their ash forest, where the presence of the disease was low, could continue to be paid their annual premiums.

The review process has included stakeholder and public consultation and detailed field consideration of damage level evaluation together with an examination of a  broader range of silvicultural and management options available to forest owners. Advice from Teagasc and international experts has also been received. Current support schemes were examined  to ensure their continued relevance and that they represent  value for money for both the taxpayer and the forest owner.  It seems that a broader and more responsive range of options will be  needed to assist forest owners in managing affected forests and consideration is currently being given to the financial aspects of this new approach.

I hope to be in a position to announce the full results of the review shortly.

Questions Nos. 87 and 88 answered with Question No. 49.

Sheepmeat Sector

Ceisteanna (89)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

89. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which foreign trade missions in 2019 will benefit the sheep meat sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28079/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The pursuit and development of new markets for Irish agri-food exports is  a constant and central component of the strategic development of the industry, as evidenced by its placement at the centre of Food Wise 2025, the industry’s strategy for development. Food Wise 2025 prioritises the potential for growth in new and emerging markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Gulf region.

Trade Missions play an important role in this market development. I have been very active on this front in 2019, with successful trade missions completed to date to Turkey, China, Japan and Korea.

In May, during the China Trade mission, I met with Zhang Jiwen - Vice Minister of General Administration of Customs in China (GACC) and his officials. After this meeting, I was able to confirm that we have commenced the first steps with regard to market access for sheepmeat to China. Officials from GACC will visit Ireland this August to inspect five sheep meat plants that wish to export to China. 

In June, on the Japanese trade mission, I met both my counterpart, Japanese Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Takamori Yoshikawa and the Vice Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), Masayoshi Shintani. These Ministerial meetings followed detailed technical meetings involving senior officials from both Ministries. At the conclusion of these meetings,  I was delighted to announce that we had reached agreement in principle on market access for Irish sheepmeat. Details will be finalised by an exchange of letters between my Department and the relevant Japanese officials

These achievements are tangible results of the increased focus of my Department on opening and enhancing access to key markets. This success has taken detailed work by our market access experts, audit and inspection visits by competent authorities from international markets, and an intensified agri-food trade mission agenda. This work is informed and supported by Bord Bia’s market insights, strategic marketing and promotion programme.  This intensive work programme reflects our shared Food Wise strategy and represents a fundamental and practical response to the challenges posed by Brexit.

Greyhound Industry

Ceisteanna (90)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

90. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the action he plans to take following the revelations of a programme (details supplied) on the subject of the greyhound industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28228/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department takes any allegations of breaches of animal welfare rules very seriously and will thoroughly investigate and take the necessary enforcement actions to deal with such offences.  In particular, my Department is engaging in a review of the licensing conditions in knackeries, with regard to practices seen on RTÉ. All allegations will be examined to determine the appropriate actions. In addition to its focus on the core business of greyhound racing, Bord na gCon places an emphasis on regulation of the industry and the welfare of greyhounds. It is evident that the successful growth and sustainability of the industry is heavily dependent on public confidence in the integrity of racing.

 It is worth noting that the Greyhound Sector has undergone a series of reforms in recent times and the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 was signed by the President on the 28th May 2019. The drafting of this legislation strengthens the legal basis for the industry, with a view to fortifying the integrity of the greyhound racing sector and improving provision for greyhound traceability. To this end, I welcome the fact that Bord na gCon will continue to invest significant resources into regulation and greyhound welfare.

Under the Act, Bord na gCon may make regulations to require the registration of greyhound owners, the registration of racing greyhounds and the notification by owners, breeders and trainers of greyhounds of many more life events than those currently captured on existing studbook and micro-chipping databases. The regulations will support establishment of a new comprehensive tracing database for racing greyhounds.

In recent days, Bord na gCon has also announced a series of measures that will be implemented:

- The introduction of a greyhound injury support scheme to provide financial assistance to aid injured greyhounds to continue with a healthy life.

- Extending and increasing support for foster care of greyhounds to identify new foster homes within Ireland for greyhounds.

- Revision, in conjunction with the International Greyhound Welfare Forum, of the Code of Practice on the Care and Welfare of the Greyhound to address retirement and transportation of greyhounds.

- Financially incentivise the rehoming of greyhounds in Ireland through the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust (which assisted in the rehoming of 1,021 greyhounds last year).

- Intensify the inspection regime of greyhound establishments (491 inspections were undertaken in 2018).

- Preparation of a statutory instrument to make it a legal requirement that euthanasia of a greyhound must be carried out by a veterinary practitioner. (This is already the standard expected under the IGB Code of Practice for the Care and Welfare of the Greyhound).

- Provision of the Code of Practice to all registered greyhound owners

- Progress the traceability provisions of the Greyhound Act 2019

- Establish a confidential Freephone line to enable reports of welfare breaches to be reported to the IGB for investigation by relevant agencies.

Minister Doyle will be meeting with the Board of Bord na gCon this week to discuss these and any other measures that may be required to bring about comprehensive changes in the sector. For these reasons, an action plan for the industry will be carefully considered and announced by my Department in due course.  

I can assure the Deputy that the practices highlighted in the RTE Prime Time programme will be fully addressed. It is in the interests of the greyhound sector to operate at the highest ethical and welfare standards and that is what the citizens of this country expect.

Fishing Industry

Ceisteanna (91)

Pat the Cope Gallagher

Ceist:

91. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the ongoing talks regarding the fishing grounds surrounding Rockall; if Irish access to these waters will be guaranteed in line with decades of fishing traditions in view of the fact that successive Governments have refused to recognise foreign claims on Rockall; the extent of talks between Ireland and the European Union and the Scottish Government at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28118/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

As the Deputy states, Ireland does not recognise the United Kingdom’s claim to sovereignty over Rockall.  The waters around Rockall, including within 12 nautical miles, are part of the ICES sea area 6b, within which Irish vessels, like those of other EU Member States, have a right of access under the Common Fisheries Policy.

The Irish Government has consistently said this matter should be dealt with through diplomacy and dialogue.  In that context, a process of intense engagement is now under way, led by senior Ministers from both administrations and supported by senior officials.

Our shared aim is to resolve differences over Rockall in a way which benefits both countries, and to develop further an already strong bilateral relationship.

Live Exports

Ceisteanna (92)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

92. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way in which live exports have performed in 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28269/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

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. My Department facilitates this trade, recognising its importance to the agri-food sector, while placing a strong emphasis on the welfare of all animals being transported.

In 2018, total live exports of cattle increased by over 30% compared to 2017, to 246,000 head. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports already totalling 225,000 up until the week ending the 23rd of June. This is up from 173,000 for the same period in 2018 – a 30% increase.

This increase is in part down to my decision to reduce the veterinary inspection fee payable on live exports of calves less than three months of age from €4.80 to €1.20. This has brought greater equity to the inspection fee regime. Since then, there has been continued growth in the export of calves, rising from 102,000 in 2017 to 159,000 in 2018. We have already surpassed this figure in 2019, with 184,000 calves having been exported in the year to date.

My Department continues to prioritise efforts to deepen existing markets and gain access to new third country markets. In early May, my Department hosted a visit by a Turkish technical team, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and ESK (the Turkish Meat and Milk Board). The objective of the visit was to conduct an on-site fact-finding mission to evaluate the technical aspects of live animal and germinal product exports from Ireland to Turkey. This is yet another welcome development as we seek to re-establish our live trade with Turkey. The visit by Turkish officials follows on from my March meeting with my Turkish counterpart, Dr Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister for Agriculture and Forestry.

With regard to other third country markets:

- In April, my Department reached agreement with the Egyptian authorities on three proposed health certificates for the export of fattening, slaughter and breeding cattle.

- Also in April, a departmental Technical Delegation to Algeria reached agreement on three revised and separate health certificates for the export of fattening, slaughter and breeding cattle.  My technical experts moved quickly to oversee the changes to the health certificates and we await Algerian authorities imprimatur prior to the commencement of the revised trade conditions.

- I met with the Kazakh Ambassador in late March to discuss new health certification for the trade of live animals to Kazakhstan. Progress was made in relation to opening the Kazakh market.

With regard to animal welfare, my Department maintains robust oversight of live trade, through a comprehensive legislative framework, and in my meetings with exporters, I have stressed the importance of high animal welfare standards. Irish legislation on sea transport is recognised by the European Commission as being among the most effective and stringent legislation in force on transport by sea. 

As has been the case in recent weeks, with regard to road transport, the Department does not approve journey logs from exporters for any live export where the destination country has an orange or red weather alert in place, or where a significant part of the transit route goes through an orange or red alert area. This is in addition to the annual ban on road transport of livestock to Greece, North Africa and Turkey during the months of July and August.

Furthermore, my Department continues to proactively contribute to efforts to improve animal welfare standards during transport.  My Department is currently providing multiannual funding of €75,000 per year over four years to the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) towards the implementation of the second Action Plan of the OIE Platform on Animal Welfare for Europe, in relation to slaughter and transport, within Europe and between Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.

Departmental Schemes

Ceisteanna (93)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

93. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the future growth loans scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28267/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Future Growth Loan Scheme has been open for loan eligibility applications through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland's (SBCI) website since 17th April. I was pleased to launch the Scheme earlier this year with my colleagues, and I recently attended Bank of Ireland's own launch of the product. Bank of Ireland is open for applications and drawdowns of approved loans. The SBCI continue to engage with other banks on their timetable for the Scheme and additional announcements in this regard are expected shortly.

The Scheme was developed by my Department and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in partnership with the Department of Finance, the SBCI and the European Investment Fund (EIF). It will be delivered through participating finance providers and make up to €300 million of investment loans available to eligible Irish businesses, including farmers and the agri-food & seafood sectors.

The loans will be competitively priced with an initial maximum loan interest rate of 4.5% for loans less than €250,000. The loans are for terms of 8-10 years and unsecured up to €500,000. This type of innovative finance, which has been previously unavailable in the Irish market, will support strategic long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.

A minimum loan amount of €100,000 applies up to a maximum of €3,000,000 per applicant. However, considering the needs of Irish farmers, I have negotiated a specific minimum of €50,000 for them.

This is a long-awaited source of finance for young and new entrant farmers, especially the cohort who do not have high levels of security. It will also serve smaller-scale farmers, who often do not have the leverage to negotiate for more favourable terms with their banking institution.

Food companies have identified long term investment finance of up to ten years as a critical need which is currently unavailable in Ireland.

I am pleased that the Government have been able to deliver this product and its effects will be felt all along the food production chain, from primary producer to processor.

Afforestation Programme

Ceisteanna (94)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

94. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the efforts made to address the failure to meet afforestation targets and to develop a higher proportion of native and broadleaf forestry within the national forest estate; his engagement with Coillte in this regard and with regard to developing community woodlands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28232/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Forests in Ireland have multifunctional benefits and it is for this reason that the State continues to invest heavily in new afforestation. The Government's Climate Action Plan 2019 recognises the key role afforestation has to play in climate change mitigation particularly through carbon sequestration. 

The Climate Action Plan now sets a target of an average of 8,000 hectares of new planting per year. 

While planting rates in recent years have been less than expected, I believe this is due to a number of factors, including competiton for land and increasing land prices in recent years. The role of my Department is to secure an annual budget for new forests and also to act as the planning authority in assessing applications for these new sites. It is worth noting that we have approved an average of 9,000 hectares per annum for afforestation over the last 3 years, but the conversion rate to planting remains on average around 60% of the approval issued.  This means the Irish forestry sector currently has at its disposal almost 10,000 hectares of approved and shovel-ready land which could be planted today. The challenge is to ensure that all the effort that goes into securing and approving new sites results in those sites being planted, if the planting levels are to increase.

In response, my Department has funded a number of new promotion initiatives. We are funding Teagasc to carry out a Forestry Promotion Campaign covering the period 2018 – 2020 specifically aimed at farmers. My Department has also funded a carbon navigator for forestry that will help illustrate to farmers the valuable contribution forestry can make in removing carbon from our atmosphere. This new tool will be launched later this year.  Furthermore,  15 promotion projects around the Country were approved earlier this year, which will roll out initiatives which highlight the multifunctional benefits of forestry, promote planting of more trees and encourage sustainable forest management.

We also introduced higher rates and additional measures under  the midterm review of the Forestry Programme in 2018, aimed particularly at boosting the planting of broadleaves and native woodlands. These measures have paid off and, so far, broadleaf planting has increased from 21% in 2017 to 27% in 2018. There has been an increase in Native Woodlands planted too, with 172 hectares planted so far in 2019, up over 95% compared to the previous year. 

Another interesting development has been the  launch of the Woodland Environmental Fund in September, 2018 This  provides an opportunity for businesses to partner with the Government and Irish landowners and get behind the national effort to plant an additional 5 million native trees between now and 2020.

It is clear that we need all actors to participate in the national afforestation programme, which is why I  very much welcome Coillte's recently announced Coillte Nature initiative. The primary objective of this initiative is to deliver new woodlands which provide species diversity, biodiversity, have carbon sequestration potential and can be used for enjoyment by the public.  We have had active engagement with Coillte on this matter and now  look forward to receiving applications for the conversion of a number of Coillte's commercial forests to native woodland, which  may be funded under the Native Woodland Conservation Scheme. I am aware too that Coillte has started discussions with Bord na Mona in relation to possibilities for a joint venture to increase native forest cover on Bord na Mona lands, something which I am  supportive of and hope will contribute to our afforestation targets. 

My Department also operates a community based woodland scheme called the Neighbourwood scheme. This Scheme is designed to help community groups, in cooperation with local authorities, to develop opportunities for recreation while creating and developing woodlands for the benefit of current and future generations. The scheme is also designed to provide outdoor classrooms for teachers to show children the important contribution forests make to society in terms of social, economic and environmental benefits.

As can be seen, a range of approaches are being taken to address the challenge of increasing planting and  especially the proportion of native and broadleaf planting. We will continue to offer generous grants and premiums to landowners to make the switch to forestry, we will use all avenues to promote and support that change, as well as supporting Coillte's endeavours and we will examine how forestry can be better integrated into the new CAP. I firmly believe that all of these measures will lead to an increase in our forestry land cover.

Beef Environmental Efficiency Scheme Pilot

Ceisteanna (95)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

95. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the roll-out of the beef environmental efficiency pilot; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28270/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Beef Environmental Efficiency Pilot (BEEP) is an Exchequer funded, voluntary initiative of one year's duration.

The objective of BEEP is to further increase economic and environmental efficiency in the suckler herd though improvement in the quantity and quality of performance data that is collected. This will be done through the enhancement of the national herd dataset for genetic evaluations, with a view to supporting the adoption of best practice and more informed decision making at farm level. The Pilot targets the weaning efficiency of suckler cows and calves through the collection of the live weights of cows and progeny in the herd of each participant.

18,834 beef farmers applied to participate in the Pilot, and they will receive payment of up to €40 per eligible calf provided they comply with the requirements to weigh each animal and provide the requisite data to ICBF in accordance with the Terms and Conditions.

ICBF have been registering privately owned scales and accepting weight records from participating beef farmers since the 8th of March.  2,582 privately owned scales have been registered to date and, at the start of May, I welcomed the roll-out of rental scales that participants in the BEEP scheme can use to record cow and calf weights as part of the Pilot.

168 scales are currently available at some 73 locations and, in the coming days, we will see the final batch of scales distributed which will see a total of 400 scales available from Marts and Co Ops across the country. To date, in excess of 50,000 eligible calves have been weighed as part of the Pilot.  Weight records can be submitted online, by dedicated form available from the ICBF or by using specially developed smartphone apps for Android and Apple devices that facilitate the quick and accurate submission of weighing data.

GLAS Administration

Ceisteanna (96)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

96. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will address concerns of farmers on Killery mountain in respect of their participation in GLAS following the 2017 gorse fire; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28119/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Commonages make up approximately 422,000 hectares of the land area in Ireland, of which over 230,000 hectares is supported under GLAS. The aim of the Commonage action within GLAS is to ensure that commonage lands are appropriately grazed and managed and are compliant with eligibility criteria. The scheme requires that management plans are put into place in order to achieve this.

The Spring of 2017 was characterised by a spell of dry weather. It was apparent during the closed season for burning that there was widespread burning of growing vegetation. There were several high-profile fires such as in Killery, which impacted on the lands concerned and the local and wider environment.

The Department, in the administration of the Basic Payment Scheme, contacted 33 farmers in relation to ineligible land due to burning on Killery mountain.  29 of these farmers lodged appeals with my Department on this issue.  Where the applicant provided appropriate evidence that he/she was not involved in the burning of the affected lands, the administrative penalty was waived – however, the burnt land remained ineligible for payment.   

Of the 29 cases that appealed, some 13 farmers submitted a further appeal to the Independent Agriculture Appeals office. Oral hearings were held between October 2018 and February 2019. No decision has been received to date on these appeals.

As per GLAS terms and conditions, farmers admitted to the scheme must submit a payment claim annually within the deadline for the submission of Basic Payment Scheme applications. For the purposes of GLAS, the annual payment claim forms part of the annual Basic Payment Scheme application. In these cases, as the claims have been reduced on the Basic Payment application, the GLAS payment is reduced in turn. As GLAS is a multi-annual scheme, this lower reference is retained for the duration of the GLAS contract. When the position regarding the Basic Payment Scheme is finalised, a decision can then be taken as to their GLAS scheme payments.

GLAS Data

Ceisteanna (97)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

97. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the funding allocation amount for 2019 and actual expenditure to date for GLAS and the knowledge transfer group scheme in each year since it was established under the 2014-2020 RDP. [28226/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

The Green Low Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS) is a measure funded by the Rural Development Programme. GLAS promotes practices to assist the preservation of habitats and species as well as addressing the issues of climate change mitigation and water quality, in support of sustainable Irish agriculture. Since the launch of GLAS tranche 1 in 2015, the Scheme has been extremely successful in terms of uptake with in excess of 50,000 farmers approved into the GLAS scheme over the first three tranches (GLAS 1, 2 and 3). The Rural Development Programme participation target of 50,000 was exceeded almost two years ahead of schedule.  

Payment is then provided for selected actions, generally up to a maximum of €5,000 per annum for five years with provision for up to €7,000 (known as GLAS+) in a limited number of cases where the farmer is required to give exceptional environmental commitments.

In 2019 the allocation for GLAS (including GLAS training) is €203m. The expenditure so far in 2019 is €50.5m in terms of GLAS payments and €357,884 in respect of GLAS training. Currently over 95% of active participants have received their 2018 balancing payment meaning that they are fully up to date with payments. Those with outstanding actions have been advised of their requirements to be completed before they can receive their balancing payment. GLAS payments will continue to issue on a weekly basis as further participants pass the required validation checks. Payments in respect of the 2019 scheme year will commence in mid-November as per previous years.

The Knowledge Transfer Scheme is now in its third year. Under the scheme, participant farmers receive training in a group setting with their peers and subject matter experts in order to up-skill and inform farmers on best practice and new methods of farming to increase productivity and reduce costs etc. These groups are run by trained group facilitators (Agricultural Advisors).

€23m has been allocated to the scheme each calendar year while €20.73m and €18.59m respectively were the expenditure amounts for the initial two years of the scheme. Year 3 payments will commence later in 2019.

Trade Agreements

Ceisteanna (98)

Martin Kenny

Ceist:

98. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position regarding the Mercosur deal; if support for the deal and other such trade deals that threaten the Irish agriculture sector will be withdrawn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28158/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

On the evening of Friday 28 June, European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström and Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, announced that political agreement has been reached on a trade deal between the EU and Mercosur countries.

While as a small, open economy, Ireland is supportive of international trade deals, I am very concerned at the potential impact of elements of this particular deal on the beef sector.  

The agreement includes a significant Tariff Rate Quota for South American beef, at a time when the beef sector in Europe is facing significant uncertainty because of Brexit.  We have made concerted efforts over the full twenty-year history of these negotiations, working closely with other Member State colleagues and engaging directly with the European Commission, in order to minimise the EU offer in terms of beef, and while evidence of these efforts appears to have been reflected in the final offer, I am, nonetheless, deeply concerned at the potential impact on the Irish beef sector. There may be some opportunity for other agri-food sectors such as dairy and for the drinks industry, but we will need to examine the text carefully to assess the full impact. 

It is also worth noting that this agreement will not come fully into effect for some years. It will first go through a process of legal scrubbing, which could take up to two years, before being put before the European Trade Council for ratification by Qualified Majority Vote, and the European Parliament.

If the agreement passes those hurdles, it is expected that the trade elements which fall under the EU Commission's competence, will be phased in over 6 years.

Brexit Staff

Ceisteanna (99)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

99. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of the 116 staff and officials planned to be recruited for SPS and fisheries controls as agreed on 18 September 2018 that are operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28223/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Agriculture)

My Department continues to participate actively in the Whole-of-Government approach to preparedness and contingency planning for Brexit. The Government sanctioned in the region of €4m for the commencement of a phased process for the recruitment of additional staff to carry out increased volumes of import controls and export certification arising from Brexit.

These requirements are significant, and arise in relation to the carrying out of documentary, identity and physical checks on imports of animals, plants, and products of animal and plant origin, as set out in EU legislation. My Department had previously carried out an extensive analysis exercise, based on examination of trade and container movement data, to establish the potential volumes of controls that will need to be carried out. This exercise has been used to guide relevant planning in relation to putting in place the staff that will be required.

Regarding staffing requirements in the run up to potential Brexit deadlines in March and April, my Department sought to use a combination of recruitment, redeployment and temporary flexible solutions where appropriate and as necessary. My Department worked with our recruitment partners, the Public Appointments Service to engage Veterinary Inspectors, Portal Inspectors, Plant Health Inspectors and Administrative support staff. Mechanisms to temporarily redeploy experienced people within my Department were also initiated and the engagement of contracted temporary service arrangements was also progressed to address contingencies.

My Department will have up to 230 staff resources available for deployment across a range of disciplines in both front line control and back up administrative spheres.   

Overall, I remain confident that my Department is in a position to deliver the services required in terms of both imports and exports at the appropriate time.