Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

2:02 pm

Photo of Michael MoynihanMichael Moynihan (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture; and when it is next due to meet. [48297/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture will next meet. [54409/21]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture; and when it is next due to meet. [54209/21]

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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19. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture will next meet. [54506/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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20. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture; and when it is next due to meet. [54562/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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21. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture; and when it is next due to meet. [54565/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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22. To ask the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with agriculture; and when it is next due to meet. [54652/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 to 22, inclusive, together.

Issues relevant to agriculture are discussed, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees, including the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment, which last met on 30 September and will next meet on 22 November, and the Cabinet Committee on Environment and Climate Change, which last met on 3 November 2021.

The agriculture sector is the largest indigenous industry in the country and has a key role to play in the economic and social vibrancy of our towns, villages and rural communities, as well as in achieving our decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050. The Government works closely with all stakeholders in the sector on key challenges facing the agriculture sector.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 to 22, inclusive, together.

Issues relevant to agriculture are discussed, as required, at a number of Cabinet committees, including the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Investment, which last met on 30 September and will next meet on 22 November, and the Cabinet Committee on Environment and Climate Change, which last met on 3 November 2021.

The agriculture sector is the largest indigenous industry in the country and has a key role to play in the economic and social vibrancy of our towns, villages and rural communities, as well as in achieving our decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050. The Government works closely with all stakeholders in the sector on key challenges facing the agriculture sector.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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Afforestation will play a key role in climate change mitigation; the Minister has acknowledged this. It has been a huge cost for us to have missed our afforestation targets in Ireland in recent years. Over the past five years, we have missed planting targets by more than 15,000 ha. Had this area been afforested, these forests had the potential to remove 5.4 million tonnes of carbon. This is a major missed opportunity.

Furthermore, afforestation for 2021 will be approximately 2,000 ha, which is well below where we should be. Simply put, as the Taoiseach knows, not enough licences are being granted to plant land and increase our current record low levels of afforestation. The Taoiseach also knows we are now in the planting season. Last week, forestry workers were outside the gates of Leinster House protesting because they want to get to work. I stand in solidarity with them. If the Department can only administer a 2,000 ha programme, what changes will we see to immediately address the licensing crisis to ensure future targets are reached? How will farmer confidence be restored and meaningful afforestation be incentivised?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will return to the matter of the Mercosur deal. Despite recent protestations by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the deal, it is worth reminding ourselves that the Government agreed to the negotiating mandate for that deal, which included beef. Throughout the negotiations Sinn Féin called repeatedly for beef to be taken out of the negotiating mandate but no action was taken by the Government on that. We warned consistently that this deal was incompatible with the EU's climate action commitment. In fact, the outworking of some of this deal would be utterly destructive to the planet and to climate.

When the deal was done, we again called on the Government and the Opposition to reject together this deal outright. Fianna Fáil agreed with us at the time, yet the position articulated by the Taoiseach was not reflected in the programme for Government agreed with Fine Gael. The only reference to the deal is an economic and sustainability assessment. Last week, the Taoiseach told us that the Mercosur deal is not reconcilable with the climate objectives of the European Union. As that is absolutely the case, my question is straightforward. Has the Taoiseach or the Government informed the EU Commission of Ireland's opposition to Mercosur?

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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It is essential that forestry, particularly afforestation, is incorporated into the new environmental scheme proposed under Pillar 2 in the next five-year Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, programme. Last time around, participants in the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, were prohibited from planting their land during the five-year programme. If we are to have availability of land in the next five years of the CAP forestry programme, it is essential that the environmental scheme formulated in the next CAP provides farmers with afforestation measures that will allow them to qualify for that scheme. We have only reached 25% of our afforestation targets this year. Land available for afforestation has to be part of this new environmental scheme.

I also ask that the requirement for a thinning licence should be removed from the legislative process. Thinning is just a tool to get a crop to reach its correct maturity. It is ridiculous to have a requirement for a thinning licence. It is holding up the issuing of licences and further clogging a licensing system that is under pressure.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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In the past ten days or so, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of the attempt by Coillte, the State forestry company, to sell off Killegar forest in Enniskerry. Despite-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has done well there.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We have done well. I am glad to say I got a call from Coillte yesterday informing me it had decided to abandon the sale. Coillte tried to suggest that the sale was not finalised. I will inform the House that there were for sale signs all around the forest when I went there. Killegar forest was being advertised on an estate agent's website so Coillte had planned to sell it. Intervention and public outcry stopped it.

When Coillte phoned me, I was told it was considering selling because access problems were impeding the Killegar's commercial viability. That points to one of the big problems with forestry in this country, which is that Coillte's mandate is all wrong. It is linked to commercial viability rather than the expansion and protection of the forest estate, issues such as biodiversity and supporting farmers in developing afforestation as a viable livelihood rather than a problem for them. The Government should consider revisiting the Act governing Coillte and changing Coillte's mandate in that context.

2:12 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Despite signing a pledge to cut global methane emissions by 30%, the Taoiseach has made it clear that he aims to cut them here by a mere 10%. He has indicated that he aims to make up for the shortfall in methane cuts by delivering instead on carbon cuts. Does the Taoiseach accept that he is not comparing like with like? Methane breaks down in the atmosphere more quickly than carbon and methane cuts, therefore, have added value from the point of view of combating climate change. Does the Taoiseach further accept that his low methane reduction targets for this State represent a blow to this country's climate change ambitions and are effectively a surrender to the agribusiness lobby and the big dairy farmers?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There were a number of questions there. Deputies Kelly and Cahill raised the issue of afforestation and issues with the licensing of forestry operations because of changes to the appropriate assessment procedure, due to European Court of Justice and Irish law rulings relating to environmental regulation. We are addressing these issues robustly. I am not happy with the low level of planting over the last decade. It is not where we should have been and we are not where we should be today. In the context of what Deputy Boyd Barrett said, I think we do need commercial forestries but, in parallel with that, we also need native woodlands to be planted and policies and incentives that would facilitate the growth of native woodland. Those policies need to be developed and will be developed. I am very taken by Deputy Cahill's point about the environmental schemes, such as the new Pillar 2 environmental scheme, and that we would look at the aspect of forestry in that context. Obviously it will have to be sustainable and in the context of an environmental scheme. We have to move much more comprehensively, faster and more flexibly on the growing of trees in this country than we currently are doing. That is the bottom line.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Taoiseach should look at Coillte's mandate in that regard.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Coillte also has a strong agenda in terms of biodiversity and we will be engaging with Coillte in that respect. There is a legitimate argument about the nature of the trees that have been grown over the years but we have to follow through on commitments made. One of the difficulties is that many involved in farming have lost confidence in the programme because of the series of objections and the difficulties in felling and getting licences and so on. The system has to be overhauled. Additional resources have been put into the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, including ecologists, forestry inspectors and additional administrative staff. A team of 27 ecologists has been recruited to deal with licensing, which is an increase from only two 18 months ago. There were only two ecologists dealing with this 18 months ago and there are 27 now. Licensing this year will be significantly up on 2020. We have issued more licences to date this year than in the whole of 2020, with 3,045 this year compared to 2,592 for all of 2020. Some €723 million of carbon tax funding will be allocated to a flagship agri-environmental climate measure. That is in addition to the Pillar 2 scheme to encourage farmers to farm in a greener, more sustainable way. That is carbon tax funding that Deputy McDonald is against. I do not know how we are supposed to do all these things if we do not have some funding. Deputy Boyd Barrett and Deputy Barry are against it-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Against what?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Are you against the carbon tax?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am against carbon tax-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is my point. About €723 million has been allocated-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----on people. Put it on the corporations.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----which will help us deal more effectively, and with capacity, with the agenda around climate change. There is a lot of either delusional thinking or just pure politics at play-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Tax the data centres.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----in people's attitudes to this agenda because we cannot do it without this. First, the science tells us we should do it. The scientists say it is the right way to go but we also need that funding to change direction in areas like forestry, agri-environment schemes and so on.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Tax the data centres.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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In terms of the requirement for a licence for thinning, that is a fair point. I will discuss that with the Minister in response to what is required. As I said earlier, we are looking at measures that might facilitate low-level planting and low-volume planting without having the same bureaucratic necessity that is currently there.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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That is badly needed.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, are looking at that and whether amendments can be brought forward to facilitate that on farmland as well. I am very impatient and intolerant of this whole area because Ireland is a place where we can and should be growing far more trees than we are growing. Doing so creates a carbon sink, ultimately. It is probably the ultimate guarantor we have in terms of emissions and getting Ireland's contribution to climate change right. I take the overall point that the mandate of Coillte has to be a very clear one. In addition to its work on the commercial side, it has a strong mandate and it must now be part of the solution to climate change by addressing that issue through land use strategies and through the forestry sector. That is something we are very committed to.

Deputy McDonald raised the Mercosur agreement. I have articulated at European Council level Ireland's position on Mercosur because of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon region by the Brazilian Government. I have made that clear. As the Deputy knows, the European Union conducts trade negotiations on behalf of the European Union. Individual states do not. I am intrigued by the Deputy's constant invocation of Mercosur. I understand why she is doing that. For me, it is not compatible with climate change. Of late, the Commission and the European Council are saying that trade agreements more generally have to be in line with the climate change objectives of the European Union. One of the biggest issues on the agenda of the European Union is climate change and that will manifest itself in the Fit for 55 package. There will be a lot of negotiations around that. Challenging issues will arise out of this in the fullness of time but we have made very clear, and I have made it consistently clear at EU Council meetings, our position on Mercosur. Other countries want Mercosur to happen. I believe generally in trade. That is why I supported the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, that is, the Canadian treaty, which Deputy McDonald opposed. She continues to oppose it, as do other Deputies in the House. Yet, CETA has led to a massive increase in the growth of exports from Ireland, from small to medium-sized Irish companies to the Canadian market. I do not know why people are against it or why people oppose-----

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Then you have not been listening.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I think you are wrong.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Well I think you are wrong.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Through the Chair, it is an extraordinarily anti-enterprise strategy that would deny Irish companies the opportunity to export such goods and services to Canada and generate jobs at home in so doing.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Mercosur-----

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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From an enterprise perspective, the level of opposition to CETA borders on the illiterate at times.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Illiterate.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Opposition needs to be called out from time to time on its anti-enterprise strategies.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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There is nothing wrong with our literacy.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thought the Taoiseach said I must have done a good leaving certificate.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did. What I meant by that was that even though the subject matter or the title of the essay might change, you would still write a very relevant essay.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Sitting suspended at 2.18 p.m. and resumed at 3.18 p.m.