Thursday, 8 July 2010
European Economic and Social Committee
I wish to share time with my colleague Deputy Hoctor. We are playing for the Tipperary team tonight. I apologise for not being here earlier as I was not expecting to be called so soon.
Since we joined the EEC in 1973, the farming pillar has had two seats at the European Economic and Social Committee, one held by the IFA and one by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association. I was only a schoolboy in Cahir at that time. The ICMSA is an 18,000-strong farm organisation that particularly represents dairy farmers, while the IFA concentrates more on sheep, beef, tillage and mixed farming.
As the name implies, the EESC is a forum for representatives of the economic and social sectors in the member states to discuss common problems and submit recommendations to the European Commission. Last week, it was announced that there will no longer be two seats at the EESC for the farming pillar. One seat will be kept for the IFA, but the other seat - strangely enough, the dairy farmers' seat - is to be reallocated to BirdWatch Ireland.
I emphasise that I have no problem with BirdWatch Ireland; its members in my own constituency do much good work with regard to nature reserves and so on. However, this decision is totally cuckoo. We had the cuckoo in my area in April, and he is still giving the odd chirp, but what is happening here is bordering on lunacy. The only sector in Ireland that has the potential to build the export business that every economist agrees is the sole hope for rebuilding our economy has been unceremoniously dumped off a vital EU economic forum and replaced with an organisation that represents bird watchers. Goodness gracious.
Is it really wise to remove an expert dairy representative from the EESC and replace that voice with one from BirdWatch Ireland? Is it in the national interest? I say "No". Will economic recovery be helped more by the presence of a representative of the Irish dairy sector - the biggest indigenous exporter we have - or a representative of Ireland's bird-watching community? I do not think many people would have a problem giving the answer to that.
Who exactly does BirdWatch Ireland represent and what is its capacity for economic and social research and analysis? Is this move politically motivated? I believe it is. Is the Green Party putting in place sleepers to maintain their influence in key positions? I believe it is. I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is here. Where was BirdWatch Ireland, and other people, when we were trying to get the Lisbon treaty passed in two referendums? The ICMSA stood steadfast with us. It should be obvious to any reasonable person that this is a ludicrous decision. It must be reversed, or, at least, another seat must be provided to allow for the very important work of the ICMSA to be represented at the committee.
I add my strong voice in support of my colleague, Deputy Mattie McGrath, on this difficult issue for the farming sector and particularly the dairy sector. Like my colleague, I emphasise that I have absolutely no difficulty with BirdWatch Ireland; I acknowledge the good work of this organisation not only in Tipperary but across the country. However, I wish to resolve this issue if at all possible.
According to the EESC:
The EESC has currently 344 Members who are appointed for a term of four years. The current mandate (2006-2010) ends in October 2010. Following the new Lisbon Treaty, from October 2010 onwards, the mandate will be five years. The number of EESC members will remain 344, but the Lisbon Treaty permits the number to grow up to 350 Members with the next EU enlargements.
This area needs to be examined. An extra seat could be provided to meet the needs of the extra environment pillar which has been created in the social partnership structure, to be allocated as appropriate to the sector. I believe the Government should enter into negotiations with EU to secure this extra environmental pillar seat.
In the meantime, I propose that traditional allocation of two seats for the farming sector - that is, the IFA and the ICMSA - be restored. It is important that the ICMSA as well as the IFA be represented on the committee in view of the upcoming reform of CAP, which is crucial for our dairy sector. I acknowledge the work of all the groups that have been mentioned in our speeches tonight.
Michael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies McGrath and Hoctor for their contributions. The European Economic and Social Committee, EESC, plays an important role in the European policy making process and I am delighted with the opportunity to speak on the matter this evening.
The EESC is a consultative body of the European Union and is the prime forum for the representation of organised civil society within the decision European making process. The committee has 344 members, broken down into three groups - employers; employees; and various interests. The various interests group represents a wide variety of organisations, including non-governmental organisations, farmers' organisations, co-operatives, non-profit associations and environmental organisations. Ireland has nine places on the committee and membership is divided equally between the three constituent groups of the committee, with three places for employers, three places for employees and three places for various interests. The Government sought nominations from the social partners in line with long established practice and these were then conveyed by the Government to the Secretariat of the European Council. The business and employers' pillar and trade union pillar both provide three nominees, including one trade union representative from Northern Ireland. For the first time, the various interests group of the committee now includes a representative from the environmental pillar. This change reflects the decision which was taken by Government last year to create a fifth pillar of social partnership to represent environmental concerns. The community and voluntary pillar and the farming pillar each provide one nominee.
The environmental pillar consists of 27 organisations with a diverse range of interests. The Irish Environmental Network provides a secretariat for the pillar. This is the first time that environmental interests have been represented in Ireland's nominations. The EESC is mandated to consider environmental issues. Other countries have long had environmental organisation representatives among their nominees and environmental sustainability is a key focus of European policy. The environmental pillar selected an employee of BirdWatch Ireland as its nominee on the committee. She was selected to represent the pillar as a whole and represents the interests of the 27 organisations in the environmental pillar and environmental interests more generally. It is therefore not accurate to characterise her appointment as a BirdWatch Ireland appointment.
This change to the composition of the Irish representation on the committee does not reflect any diminution of the Government's commitment to the agricultural industry. The farming sector is an extremely important part of the Irish economy and the Government continues to strongly support its development at national and EU level. The prosperity of many rural areas is heavily dependent on the performance of the agri-food sector and we all, Government, farming organisations and the wider agri-business community, need to continue to work together to meet the continued and ongoing challenges ahead. It is also important to note that the farming pillar of social partnership and farming interests continue to be represented on the committee through a representative of the Irish Farmers Association. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of representatives of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, on the EESC, including the most recent ICMSA representative, Mr. Frank Allen who has been an active member since his appointment.
The EESC plays an important role in formulating policy at European level and I would like to wish all of Ireland's nominees the very best for the forthcoming term of the EESC.