Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Financial Resolutions 2020 - Financial Resolution No. 7: General (Resumed)


2:30 pm

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I wish to share time with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, and Deputy Higgins. As Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for new market development, farm safety and research and innovation I welcome the measures that have come about this week in budget 2021.

Given that fatal incidents on farms account for almost 50% of all workplace fatal incidents every year but agriculture accounts for only 6% of the overall workforce, it is simply not good enough to carry on as we have done to now. As the first Minister of State with specific responsibility for farm safety I want to put safety at the heart of our farms and I want farmers to be centrally involved in how we do that.

3 o’clock

Specific provision within the 2021 budgetary allocation for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will allow me to launch a call under the locally led European innovation partnership model that will be dedicated to farm safety. This will see the provision of €1 million in funding supports in a competitive locally led call for farm safety initiatives. I see this as a significant step to driving a cultural change among farmers and I look forward to seeing the positive proposals that will drive that cultural change. I am delighted with a €14 million allocation for this project and to be able to announce that farm safety training will be an integral part of it. The project will reach up to 50,000 farmers in the coming years. The training will cover farm safety initiatives as well as the area of biodiversity. This programme will be of a great benefit and will build on the 14,600 farmers who have already received significant farm safety training as part of their applications for support under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS.

I also particularly welcome the provision of €18 million for TAMS, which will allow the delivery of commitments made under the scheme, including for specific farm safety measures such as: external agitation points for slurry tanks, sliding doors, handling equipment, rewiring and safety cages. It should be remembered that the construction of new farm buildings also leads to improvements in farm safety in the farmyard as a wide range of safety measures must be incorporated while building a new animal house. These include individual access to pens, securing pens and good ventilation and lighting, to name but a few. Our farms and farmyards are working environments and we must continue to work together to make them safer. Reductions in the rates of fatal and serious incidents on farms will only happen through changing behaviours, increasing awareness, training and investment in key farm safety measures.

In addition, I welcome the increased budget allocation for the continued operation of the Department's competitive research funding programmes. This will help to build and maintain research capacity and capability in research performing institutions, thereby enabling them to marshal the multidisciplinary expertise needed to undertake collaborative projects aimed at generating technology to tackle the climate, biodiversity and other challenges facing the agrifood and fisheries sector at this time. The Department's research funding programme also plays a vital role in mobilising the expertise and skills needed to build Ireland's emerging bioeconomy to develop innovative bio-based alternatives to fossil derived products, often from waste products and by-products from conventional agriculture. We will hear much more about that next week during Bioeconomy Ireland Week, in which I intend to play a central part because this is such a critical area which has major opportunities for the economy and the agriculture sector.

I am announcing an increased allocation to Teagasc, the State agency providing research, advisory services and education on agriculture, horticulture, food and rural development. The extra €4 million for Teagasc will enable it to develop and roll out research to ensure our farmers are ready to answer the challenges of tomorrow's food markets. That brings the total supports for Teagasc to €147 million in 2021. These increases bring the combined investment in research and innovation by the Department, Teagasc and the Marine Institute to over €60 million annually, underlining the investment this Government is making in the future of the agrifood industry.

I also highlight the provisions that have been made to tackle the challenges of Brexit, climate change and farm safety. With the threat of Brexit hanging over everything, this budget provides the funding to enable us to further invest in the State agencies which support our agrifood industry, while also delivering for farm safety and allowing for extensive research into how we can best meet the challenges of biodiversity and the farm to fork strategy. Food and beverage exports are worth €14.5 billion annually to our economy. They are a key driver of our agriculture sector and underpin our wider rural community and economy. However, further and future success will depend on delivering premium markets in which we can build on our reputation for innovation, food safety and sustainability measures. I am announcing an additional €4 million for Bord Bia, which will bring its total grant to €52.25 million. We must continue to invest in establishing a premium position for our food and beverages in all markets across the world, as well as in the UK and Europe. My ministerial colleagues and I are only too aware that we cannot currently travel to meet potential buyers but that extra allocation to Bord Bia will ensure we can continue to focus on gaining new market access for our key exports, as well as enhancing and retaining access to existing international markets.

I will touch on the broad section of the Vote for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, for which my colleagues, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, have fought. In particular, I mention the €96 million allocation for Horse Racing Ireland and Rásaíocht Con Éireann, driving badly needed investment into key employers throughout rural Ireland. There will also be significant welfare measures, and the funding will address the significant impact that Covid-19 and Brexit have had on the horse and greyhound sectors. I welcome the €1.5 million for the Irish Equine Centre, which badly needs an upgrade. This was a commitment in the programme for Government. I welcome the 25% increase in funding for Horse Sport Ireland, bringing the total allocation to €5 million.

I join my colleague, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, in congratulating the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, on budgetary allocation secured for 2021. Together, we will tackle the challenges that we expect 2021 will bring by investing in our future and in ourselves and by strengthening our export markets, all while preparing for a new Common Agricultural Policy and a greener future. I commend this budget to the House.


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