Thursday, 11 April 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Michael Harty (Clare, Independent)
This question refers to threats to our agricultural industry and our agricultural community. There are three threats as I see it. In the short term there is Brexit, as we are all aware. In the medium term there is the potential reduction in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, budget. In the longer term there are challenges presented to the agricultural community by climate change and climate action.
On Brexit, the issues have been well identified and I will not go over them now, but any form of Brexit will have a negative impact, whether it is a soft Brexit via a withdrawal agreement involving the UK staying within the customs union and the Single Market in some form or other, or a harder Brexit where the UK cuts its ties almost completely with the EU. The loss of the UK market will be substantial for the beef and dairy industries. The imposition of tariffs will add to that and the delays in transport across the UK landbridge will be a serious blow to agricultural exports. Farm families need to know from the Tánaiste what level of support will be available from the Government and from Europe to maintain their incomes. I would like the Tánaiste to outline what those supports will be.
The CAP budget is under review and there are fears that this will be reduced substantially, with consequent threats to the beef and dairy sectors, if the UK leaves the European Union. The loss of the financial contribution that the UK makes to the CAP will obviously be a major factor there, so what reassurances can the Tánaiste give to farmers on this? Ireland is the most exposed of the European countries to a CAP reduction.
On the challenge posed by carbon emissions from beef and dairy farming, farmers are very fearful of the narrative that their traditional indigenous industry is being blamed in some quarters as a major damaging contributor to greenhouse gases and the threat to our planet.
An educational guide recently issued to schools by An Taisce recommends a reduction in meat and dairy consumption, equating such consumption with contributing to environmental damage. I believe this is the wrong message to give to our children, who are very impressionable. Excessive intakes of sugar, processed carbohydrates and salt are all contributing to obesity, which is now reaching epidemic proportions. This is the message which should be given to our children and their parents regarding diet while at the same time promoting exercise and sport. We all know that a balanced diet is very important for health and well-being, and the manner in which we process and cook our food is as important as the content of that food. The message should go out that farm families are custodians of our environment and are not contributing to its destruction. The uncertainty in the farming sector regarding Brexit and the CAP budget is being compounded by the narrative that farming damages our planet and provides food that can damage our health. We should ensure educational material does not do that.