Thursday, 13 July 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
10. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question No. 67 of 25 May 2023, for an update on the work of the wool council; if the €30,000 in departmental funding promised to support the council has been drawn down; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34655/23]
The feasibility study on wool was published in July of last year. One of its many recommendations was to set up a wool council. My question asks for an update on the work of the wool council and whether the €30,000 in departmental funding promised by the Department has been drawn down.
I thank the Deputy for her continued interest in this. The wool sector is an important aspect of the wider agrifood sector. The Irish-grown wool council was officially formed on 5 April 2023. It is an independent stakeholder-led council. Members of the council represent a wide range of different industries and interests from within the wool sector including: farmers, wool merchants, sheep shearers, educators, designers, crafters as well as industry representatives and farming organisations. The diverse membership and all-island composition of the council are particularly welcome and pleasing to see.
I am also encouraged to see the establishment of the Wool Research and Innovation Hub, which is led by the Circular Bioeconomy Cluster South West at Munster Technological University, with members from a number of different higher education institutions involved. The stated purpose of the Wool Research and Innovation Hub is "to bridge the gap between idea and execution through new product research and innovation, enhancing the perceived value of Irish wool and ensuring a fairer return to primary producers and across the entire value chain" which is a goal everyone would like to see achieved.
My Department does not hold a seat on the wool council but we continue to work closely with and support the council. In fact, to date, no requests for the draw down of the pledged €30,000 for initial set up has been received by my Department. I believe that the ambitions and purpose of both the Irish-grown wool council and the Wool Research and Innovation Hub, along with the diverse knowledge and expertise of members of both groups will be the key to unlocking the true potential of Irish wool going forward.
I welcome the setting up of the wool council. I very much welcome the setting up of the Wool Research and Innovation Hub. I am a little concerned. It has been over a year. I am on record as saying that the report was excellent in parts and woolly in others, but that the potential for the wool industry was huge. There is a role for the Government in this. I am concerned that the Department seems to be taking a step back in relation to this rather than a active role. If one thinks of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, here we are with farmers getting very little for their wool and significant potential within the wool industry. I would like to see more engagement from the Department in that regard.
I would like to have an outline of the governance of the wool council and its reporting relationship with the Department. How often has it met? Has the Department been in on those meetings? What is the feedback mechanism and the overall monitoring of that? Has it been formed as a company limited by guarantee?
The recommendation from the feasibility study was that the wool council be established by the sector itself. It was not that the Department or a Minister should guide the work in that regard. That was strongly stated in the recommendation in the feasibility study. That is what has happened. There is wide representation on the council.
I understand the council has met. I do not have a list of its meetings, but certainly it has met a couple of times since 5 April. I have engaged informally at farm events I have been at with some of the members and they seem satisfied with the progress that is being made.
The Department and I would like to see some recommendations and proposals from the council at some stage. The potential, as the Deputy says, is significant for wool. There is already some smaller-scale products coming from the wool sector here and the potential to scale those up should be explored as well. If something is working, maybe there is potential to grow it further.
The report was detailed. There were over hundred pages in it. The report states: "While there are existing bodies and groups all active in the sector, there is a need for a representative body [that is, a wool council], with government support and close links to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine." There were numerous recommendations, some of which apply to the wool council. For example, the report recommended the following but, importantly, did not place the responsibility on the wool council: training to be provided on wool handling, presentation, sorting and grading; data collection, in that there is a significant absence of data; the creation of an apprenticeship for which there is significant potential; determining the feasibility for scouring plant development and for wool testing; co-operatives; external programmes to promote Irish-grown wool; etc. When did all of those recommendations come under the remit of the wool council? Who made that decision or has it been made? Who is monitoring those recommendations?
Will the Minister of State indicate the extent, if any, to which there is ongoing intensive research into alternative and value-added uses for wool, given that it has almost come to a standstill on the market? Has this been investigated to the extent that it should be? To what degree have alternative uses been researched? What were the results, if any, of that research? What is likely to happen in the future?
I thank both Deputies. The council has been established to look at a number of issues. There are more recommendations in the feasibility study, with which we also need to push on. I have been at events where they show farmers how to manage their wool, and how to keep it dag free and increase the value of the wool from that point. We are dealing with research through the wool research and innovation hub through Munster Technological University. There is research to be carried out. Unfortunately, there is not a demand for wool. We need to do research on the different types of wool. I understand that Galway Wool Co-op is giving up to €2.50 per kg for wool from pure-bred Galway sheep. I know there are also opportunities for organic wool. It might be double or treble the price, but it is still double or treble a very low price. The challenge is both to support the farmers and create the market places for the wool. There are small opportunities there, and building on those might be one of the first places to start.