Thursday, 19 January 2023
Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I listened to Deputy Cairns's contribution. She has put a lot of detailed work into the Bill, which I commend. Like any Bill, I have no doubt it can be improved. I hope that as the Bill goes through the House, the Minister will be open to suggestions for building on the basis of the Bill to see how it can be improved. On the other hand, it is time we moved ahead and brought in the Bill. The House must be more adaptive generally. If there are flaws in a Bill, and issues arise fairly rapidly with all new legislation, it should not take ten years to bring in the necessary amendments. I have seen that occur with a number of Bills over the years. It is a bad habit.
I always have a conflicted view on the word "independent", or not so much a conflicted view but a view that there needs to be a balance. We want everything to be independent. I know where people are coming from but when they get what they ask for, they are often frustrated. When one says "independent", that often means independent of the Oireachtas, the Minister and the people. The relationship between a Department and any agency is a delicate one. We must recognise that no matter what structures are put in place, humans will always find a way of doing it very well, not so well or sometimes very badly. It is very important that we do not wind up in the farcical situation, which I seem to hit against every week, where those asking questions of a Minister are told the matter is one for the National Transport Authority, NTA, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, or the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and has nothing to do with the Minister. I asked a simple question today about whether it was intended, as was done with rural broadband, to put piped water into every house, rather than people having to depend on wells. About 10% of houses need piped water. I was told that was a matter for the CRU. It is not; it is a matter for the Oireachtas. It is important that the right balance is struck between the Minister and the powers and right of the regulator to get on with the job and do so efficiently. As I said, it must be debated in detail and that debate must be balanced.
While the situation is not analogous because it did not involve a regulator, with regard to the Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill, although I could not tell Údarás na Gaeltachta to put a factory in a particular spot, I could say I wanted certain industrial policies pursued in the Gaeltacht. I did that, for example, with regard to the most indigenous resource in the Gaeltacht, the language, when I instructed that 30% of funding was to go to language-based industries. I could not say where or set out the details. I had it written into the Act that I could give any general instruction I wanted. I would be answerable to the House at the time if I abused that. The issue of not putting it so far away from the Oireachtas that the people no longer have a say is something we need to get right.
I welcome this Bill. I first suggested this in 2014 when I was the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on agriculture. I looked at this vexed question and the agriculture committee at the time did a lot of work on it. I had raised in the committee the question of where the villains were. There are major issues in the supply chain in terms of pricing, cartels and all sorts of arrangements. I asked whether the big multiples were really dictating the price or if it was the processors. I visited the European Union a number of times. We did a lot of research and I received good help at the time. It became clear, for example, that the French were well ahead of us in at least analysing where the problem was. One cannot solve any problem if one does not know where to get the information. It became obvious that they were well ahead in legislative terms in getting and forcing the information. It can have a chastening effect on people if they know they are being watched. It is like CCTV cameras - if people know they are being watched, it can have quite a good effect. For this reason, I welcome the Bill. Más mall is mithid.
It is very late coming, but I hope it has an effect.
I concur with what Deputy Cairns said about the big boats. It is a scandal the way the fishing industry is organised. What we are doing in our society generally across the board is corporatising everything: the ownership of houses, the ownership of the boats and now ownership of the land for forestry. We are corporatising our society very fast. I do not know where the influence is coming from and whether it is the European influence or whatever else. I am still old-fashioned enough to believe that if we want a stable society, we must have diffuse ownership so that as many people as possible own something. It is the way to economic and social stability in society. It might not give the exponential growth, but it will give what is much more important in any human society, which is stability. Therefore, it is important that there would be a clear philosophy as part of this. What we want to do is keep the basic structures of Irish farming viable and to have a diffuse ownership of land rather than a few corporates slowly but surely holding more and more large tracts of land. As I stated in the Dáil yesterday, we took a long time to break that down and we do not want to go back to where we started.