Dáil debates

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Security: Statements

 

5:25 pm

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)

I thank all of the Deputies who contributed to this very constructive and useful debate. The Ministers of State, Deputy Heydon and Senator Hackett, and I are always very willing and open to engaging with Members in the Dáil, the Seanad and at the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We are always available and very keen to ensure that there is enough time to discuss all of these issues. I am happy to come into the House every week, if needs be. Certainly, if there was any challenge around the organisation of a debate, it would have been around the ordering of the Dáil business. There was certainly no lack of availability at my end. Again, where there are any slots available or any potential for debate, I will always be available. I will come in the following week, happily, and would be only delighted to do so. The challenge is with the Business Committee and trying to order all of the business of the Dáil and find space, given that there are only three sitting days per week. I am delighted to be here, as are the Ministers of State, Deputy Heydon and Senator Hackett.

We cannot give enough time in this Chamber and the Oireachtas generally to such an important industry. It is the largest and most important industry in the country, our largest employer and largest source of exports. It deserves all the time it can get. I am glad to be here today.

I will respond to Deputies in reverse order given that some of those who contributed last are still here. Deputy McNamara made a point on low-cost selling. We had low-cost selling in this country until the mid-2000s and it did not really work. The practice was removed because it was found to add red tape and cost to the consumer, while not necessarily protecting the primary producer, which is our objective. As I said at a seminar held last week at the Backweston campus attended by many farming representatives and stakeholders, what we would really like to achieve, although it is not really possible, is a ban on below-cost buying. We want to ensure that when people are buying from the primary producer the latter achieves a margin. We cannot legislate for that but we must try to put in place a structure and system that respects primary producers and ensures they get a margin. This will be the key objective of the office. I am not sure if Deputy McNamara made a submission to the consultation but if not, I am open to any ideas or suggestions he may wish to make in a submission at this stage.

On PGI status, we have tremendous product in this country, namely, grass-fed beef. The idea behind PGI status is to put an identity on it that is recognised internationally and can add value to a product. That is the approach being taken.

On tillage, Deputy McNamara is right that we can only do so much and we cannot change things overnight. We wanted to do as much as we could to support people to do as much as they can. This is why we have introduced a payment of €400 per hectare for additional tillage grown this year. There has been a good response to this measure. I recognise the work of the chairman of the national fodder and food security committee, Mr. Mike Magan, and the role of Teagasc and Dr. Frank O'Mara, on the committee. The committee's assessment is that we are potentially looking at an increase of between 5% and 10%. If that is achieved, it will be a significant increase in one year. We want to try to continue to increase the area under tillage. We will have to look at how we do that in future years but it is certainly an objective.

Deputy Pringle referred to Killybegs and stated that, as a Minister from Donegal with responsibility for the marine, I had not yet made much of a difference. He cannot have been paying much attention because he has obviously missed all the investment in piers and harbours in the county, be it at Greencastle, Killybegs or Rathmullan, and elsewhere across the country.

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