Live exports are a critical part of Ireland's livestock industry. They play a significant role in stimulating price competition and in providing an alternative market outlet for farmers. My Department facilitates this trade, recognising its importance to the agrifood sector, while placing a strong emphasis at all times on the welfare of all animals being transported. In 2018, total live exports of cattle, including calves, increased by over 30% compared to 2017, to 246,000 head. This growth trend has continued into 2019, with live exports already totalling 266,000 up until the week ending 19 October. This is up from 221,000 for the same period in 2018, a 20% increase. This increase is in part due 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 194,000 calves having been exported in the year to 19 October.
The transport of calves poses some additional challenges associated with journey times and feeding requirements, which require the use of lairage facilities at Cherbourg. The Deputy will appreciate the development of additional lairage capacity in Cherbourg is a commercial matter for the export sector. However, officials from my Department met their French counterparts in the summer of 2019 in Cherbourg and, during these discussions, the French authorities indicated they would be willing to consider applications submitted for additional lairage capacity should they arise. Officials from my Department are in ongoing communication with Irish exporters on the need for co-operative management between each other to ensure the lairage capacity at Cherbourg is optimised. I have urged the live export sector to consider developing an additional lairage in Cherbourg or to engage with the 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. This move provided for additional daily capacity for 400 calves.