Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)


3:05 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú) | Oireachtas source

That is good. I am delighted the Minister is engaged now because it is important that he engages with this debate.

The Government must make sure that the body created by this Bill has teeth. That is really important because we have many State agencies with particular roles in overseeing the implementation of legislation that do not have teeth. The truth of the matter is that the first key element is resources. We can have all of the good laws on the planet but if we do not have the resources necessary to implement them on the ground, then they are not worth a hill of beans. The other important element is independence. The overseeing body must be able to do its job independently of any stakeholders and any pressure they may exert within society. It also must have access to all details and records relating to the functioning of the supply chain. If it does not have access to those records, it will not have full knowledge of what is happening within the sector. It also needs to be able to make unannounced visits to various locations to obtain that information. If we announce visits, then human nature means that those visits will be prepared for. That will stop information being clear and concise in terms of feeding into the system. It is really important that we have clear information in relation to this. We also need to have confidentiality, as mentioned by other Deputies because there is a lack of trust and confidence among farmers in the processes that exist today. When a farmer or a group engages with the system, we need to ensure that there is full confidentiality. There must be full inclusion of all of the input costs for farmers in the sector.

I want to mention a number of issues that have also been mentioned by other Deputies today. The first is the major crisis that is looming in the land market in Ireland. I refer to the potential for vulture funds to come in and acquire large swathes of land in this State. Vulture funds have already completely distorted many markets in Ireland. It is the nature of such funds that they tend to compete in an unbalanced fashion with others in a given market. In the housing sector, we had vulture funds that enjoyed really low interest rates and had access to massive amounts of capital competing on a daily basis with young couples who wanted to buy houses. They have completely changed the nature of that market. They have also been buying up rental properties and they own so much now that they have a had systemic influence on rents payable in the market. All of the alarm bells should be going off now vis-à-visthe Government's plans in this area.

I have heard people say that we must adhere to the EU rules. If this country has made any mistake over the last 20 years, it has been to try to be the best boy in the class when it comes to the EU. Deputy Durkan mentioned that we have gone way beyond what other countries have done in terms of meeting understood EU requirements. The EU is obviously a positive element in the development of this country, particularly in terms of enterprise and trade, but there are costs attached to the EU too. We need to stand up to the EU in terms of those costs sometimes. On the issue of land, Coillte and forestry, we need to tell the EU to back off. We also need to tell the EU to back off in relation to investing in State housing bodies so that we can build houses for our people.

We should have told it to back off the sugar beet sector.

Now we need to tell it to back off in respect of the fishing sector. This is an incredible issue. I have been speaking to Patrick Murphy of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation Limited recently. He has met the Department and been negotiating on behalf of Ireland and fishermen at the EU. What is happening to fishermen and fisherwomen right now is incredible. The EU is seeking to decommission up to half of the boats in the fishing fleet. The loss of those boats, especially in the south west, would devastate those communities. Many of their enterprises and jobs still come from fishing. It is difficult to believe sometimes. The State is going to pay €1.5 million to trash a brand new fishing boat. What is wrong with a society that gets a boat and trashes it for €1.5 million? Why can that boat not at least go into some other enterprise such as tourism or transport in those community areas? I am opposed to the whole process.

We should be fighting to keep the quotas and the industry we have at the moment. It is interesting that the EU is currently negotiating with Norway, a non-EU state, to give Norway greater access to Irish waters for a bigger catch of blue whiting quota in exchange for EU access to Norwegian waters. The idea that a non-EU country would have 18% of the quota for blue whiting in our waters when we only have 3% of the quota in that area is absolutely wrong. It is happening in large part because we have had successive weak Ministers for agriculture who have gone to the European Union but not stood up for our rights in respect of the massive resources that exist in our seas. We have lost tens of billions of euro of our resources as a result of the deals they have made in the context of fishing.

As regards the Bill, I welcome that there is a level of change and oversight, and potentially a regulator, but what I am saying to the Minister is that the regulator must have teeth. It must be able to stand up for farmers. It must be able to equalise the unequal relationship that exists between farmers and two other elements of the supply chain, namely, factories and supermarkets. Those two elements of the supply chain are massively profitable. Supermarkets have a responsibility here too. Supermarkets get off lightly in terms of blame being apportioned in this regard. It is often the case that beside the cash register in supermarkets there is a wonderful big picture of a farmer standing in front of field of crops but the reality is that supermarkets are squeezing the prices being paid to farmers by pushing them down again and again. I say to citizens that we need to use our spending euro to incentivise good behaviour from supermarkets when it comes to the production of food in this country.


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