Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Ceisteanna - Questions
I thank the Deputies for the important issues they raised. Deputy Cowen raised the issue of peatland restoration and rewetting, the drawdown of funds and good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC. I do not have the information to hand but I think he is correct in that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will want to clarify the matter in the coming weeks. I will ask for that to be done. On the general issue, I am firmly of the view, which I said when I met the IFA a few weeks ago in Limerick, that we need a better structured dialogue when it comes to climate action and land use in relation to agriculture, involving the Government, farm organisations and environmental NGOs. I will give some consideration to how that might best be done.
We have a model for industrial relations called the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, which involves unions, employers and the Government all trying to work together, making compromises and trying to implement solutions. We do not have that for climate, agriculture and biodiversity but we should. Any such structured dialogue would have to focus on identifying problems, finding workable solutions and implementing them together. No dialogue can be about delaying action on climate or biodiversity loss or enabling us to resile from international or legally-binding commitments.
In regard to nitrates, we will have to work very hard and play very smart to keep the 220kg N/ha derogation. We may be the only country that has a derogation in a few years' time. Other countries see it as a competitive advantage for us that they have to vote for and that puts us in a difficult position politically. We can defend it; our model of grass-based agriculture is different from that of other countries where it is much more intensive and indoor and not as grass-based. Going to 175 kg N/ha would be catastrophic not just for farm incomes but also the wider food industry. We have to remember that it is not just about farmers; it is also about everyone involved in the supply chain, farm-related businesses, the food industry and export revenues for the country. Therefore, there has to be a national effort to make sure that we maintain the 220kg N/ha derogation.
The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and I have jointly invited the Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Mr. Sinkevičius, to Ireland. I do not know if he will be able to go to County Cork but we will suggest that he visit a farm somewhere in the country if we are able to work that into his programme. I am glad he accepted the invitation. I do not want to and, never have, raised expectations as to what is possible but we want to explore any flexibility that might exist in terms of timelines and other matters. I welcome that he will visit.
It is worth pointing out that the Minister probably meets him on a monthly basis at Agriculture and Fisheries Council and other meetings. The idea that he only met him by videoconference is very unfair and does not represent the level of engagement between the Minister and the Commissioner.
Deputy Paul Murphy asked if I have seen "I, Daniel Blake"; I have. I saw it when I was Minister for Social Protection. It is a very good film, by the way, and I would recommend it to anyone. It is, of course, one-sided. All of the characters in the film, or at least all of the people in receipt of benefits in the film, are very genuine and honest people who need help and have done as much as they can for themselves. There are other programmes, like "Benefits Street" and so on which show a very different picture. Of course, as is always the case, the truth lies somewhere in between. That is the real world we live in. In terms of reforming disability payments, we are not going to follow in UK model, which is all about knocking people off benefits. Our model, which is still under development, is about recognising that all disabilities are not the same and that some people need more support than others.