Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Select Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Estimates for Public Services 2019
Vote 30 - Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Supplementary)

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

In response to Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's question, I made the point earlier that 426 people have joined or rejoined the Department in 2019 and 215 have retired or moved to other employment. Despite the substantial increase in staff, there is a slight saving on the payroll side of approximately 1% of the allocation. A substantial part of it was in the final third of the year due to an intensive focus on recruitment due to Brexit-related requirements. That is the reason for the saving. It is not an enormous saving, it is only 1%.

There were two schemes in the marine area. One was the marine biodiversity scheme in 2019. Expenditure on that has been slightly lower than anticipated. There was a provision of €2.8 million and there is a saving of approximately €900,000. That is because of a timing issue with contractual commitments under the scheme. The other scheme is that relating to blue growth and marine spatial planning. Expenditure on that amounted to €3.1 million. However, expenditure in 2019 amounts to €1.5 million because many projects in the blue growth and marine spatial planning work programme that are approved span a number of years, which means the drawdown will not all happen before the end of this year.

I dealt with both of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's points. I discussed the matter with the Deputy. I appreciate his concerns. We will pay €78 million to farmers this year under the scheme. We gave a commitment that the scheme would be for farmers not for dealers or anybody else. That is something I stand over. The point the Deputy raises concerns cattle that were sold in a mart and subsequently sold by the purchaser on to a factory within a month. All I can say with regard to the design of the scheme is that no dealer will qualify for that payment. If the cattle were bought by another farmer and sold within a month, then that is another thing, then the farmer who sold them is eligible but no dealer herd number will be eligible for the payment. It is the case that some cattle were bought by dealers and some were bought by other farmers and sold within a month so the entitlement then rests with the final seller, but the dealer will not get the payment.

I dealt with felling licences in some detail earlier. We appreciate that there is a significant challenge and we have been engaged with all of the actors along the chain from contractors, nursery owners and the forestry industry generally in terms of its representative body and various individual actors along the line to hear their concerns at first hand, to explain the challenges we face as a consequence of the licences that were challenged successfully. We had to rebuild our licensing system. I hope the new licences are more robust now, having been constructed to take account of the reasons licences fell in court. In respect of what we are licensing today, in terms of afforestation, it is a very different product and product mix than the forestry many people are exercised and animated about. It is a very different plantation regime now than was in place ten, 15, 20 or 30 years ago. The idea of forestry being built right up to one's back yard or to the edge of a roadway is no longer something that is tolerated. We put a great deal of effort into rebuilding the licensing regime and I hope that it proves to be more robust in terms of the appeals process that some of them are being subjected to now.


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