Thursday, 26 September 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter, which deals with the appointment by the Minister of new agricultural attachés in the Irish embassy network, and I welcome the Minister. It has been a difficult time for agriculture and for the Minister, given the current Brexit situation. More than 50% of Irish beef is exported to the UK. Irrespective of the outcome of Brexit and its impact, we will have to develop new markets for beef, as well as for other meat and the wider agricultural sector. Reductions in the volume of beef exports are inevitable as a result of Brexit. While it is great to have a market in the United Kingdom, there is an over-reliance on it. Any reduction in the size of the market and the sale of beef will affect the farm gate, that is, family farm income and the people involved directly or indirectly in the beef sector, as all Senators will agree.
Rural communities and farmers in recent times have felt threatened and vulnerable as a result of the beef crisis, which was demonstrated when they picketed. We hope the action is now permanently suspended and I thank all the people who were involved. I welcome the establishment of a producers' organisation, which is important, and I acknowledge the role of the Minister, his officials and his Department. It has not been an easy time for anyone working in agriculture. It is important for everyone involved in the industry to move on, but to do so on the basis that we recognise there must be a fair distribution, and value for the family farm and the primary producers of beef.
It is important that wherever beef is sold, whether in Beijing or Ireland, the product of Irish beef has a great reputation. We have traceability, as the Minister knows. The integrity of Bord Bia is critical to the overall strategy for marketing beef internationally. The number of people who contacted me during the dispute about the repackaging of beef in England was disturbing. We must never compromise the Bord Bia brand. The breaking of seals, or repackaging or rebranding, poses questions. I do not suggest that it is the only issue but people want to maintain the integrity of the Bord Bia brand. We know about the traceability of Irish beef, the integrity of the brand of Bord Bia, and that the animals are primarily grass fed, which is critical. I welcome any initiative that brings together the North and South. The island of Ireland can work pragmatically together to promote agriculture and, primarily, the beef sector because it is so important. As we move forward in our political maturity, we need to wake up to the fact we have a unique selling point on the island of Ireland in marketing Irish produce and beef.
That brings me to my question for the Minister. What is his vision for the attachés and their role? I am aware he intends to reappoint people but that he will also expand the presence of such attachés in places as far away as Mexico.That is all positive news, but it is really important that we remain focused. We need to develop new markets for agricultural products so that ultimately we can improve the income of family farms. When responding, the Minister might set out who is going to be appointed and the countries in which they will be based and also his strategy for the expansion and development of new markets for Irish agriculture, particularly beef.