Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the wonderful people from Limerick. In a few moments they will be able to hear their illustrious Senator Maria Byrne speaking. They should wait for that as loyal Limerick people.

I welcome the Minister. I acknowledge his proactivity in all these areas, how close to the farming community he is and how committed to all this. In a moment of great intergovernmental solidarity, Senator Lombard conceded the Minister is not responsible for the bad weather and I am prepared to go with the Senator on that. That is a huge concession to intergovernmental solidarity. I also congratulate Senator Lombard on one of the best speeches delivered in this House for a long time in terms of content, passion and understanding of the issues.

The Minister said this has been a shocking, long, depressing period of rain, and it has. It has depressed all of us, but particularly the farming community. The Minister was right in identifying the isolated nature of farming sometimes. This needs to be homed in on. The Minister should have a consultation with Teagasc; its director, Frank O'Mara, who has a very good feel for these things; and all the staff to see if something can be done in this sphere.

I am delighted my two local co-operatives, Tirlán and Lakeland Dairies, have paid a hardship bonus on the March milk cheques and I hope other co-ops will follow.

I acknowledge my good neighbour and friend, former chair of the environmental committee of IFA nationally, Thomas Cooney, for the many good conversations I have had with him on this issue and potential solutions to it. He is very committed to the good in this area.

I wanted to acknowledge my local co-ops and say it was great they paid the bonus in March but that needs to go on being paid. The banks need to support farmers in this situation. I would appreciate if the Minister could confirm he is constantly liaising with the banks on this. Flexibility will be needed and surely it is in the interests of the banks themselves. Co-ops will have to be understanding in terms of credit rating.One sector is giving assistance to farmers, namely, small shops and small merchants, which are rooted in the community and give a bit of credit and forbearance to farmers in these circumstances. Will the Minister examine with his civil servants whether something by way of rates remission or otherwise could be done to assist small agri-merchants, who are so supportive of farmers? Could they at least liaise with them to see whether something could be done?

On outstanding moneys due to farmers, I am not au faitwith all the detail here but I gather there are still some. Any money owed to farmers at the moment should be paid as a priority. I do not think the Minister disputes that but I ask him to ensure, through his civil servants, that that is happening.

Inspections are on hold this month, with a moratorium to 20 April. We all pray the Minister is correct about the weather and we want to believe the long-term forecast is accurate, but there is a strong case for extending the moratorium beyond 20 April. I appeal to him to examine a short extension of that moratorium. It is not to create a bad situation but to give people a break in the context of everything we have discussed, such as mental health and money.

Francie Gorman, the president of the IFA, put it well when he said tillage farmers in this country collectively constitute the same number as the populations of Cashel and Midleton. Imagine if the populations of Cashel and Midleton were hit with a crisis. We would all be in uproar. The tillage sector needs support. I acknowledge the €100 per hectare, or €40 per acre, the Minister has provided for. That is good and it is a sign he is proactive. Nevertheless, like colleagues, I have to urge him to go back to Cabinet on this. There is a case for the figure to be increased, so I call on him to increase that figure. That is a great need out there. What is at issue was so graphically described by my party colleague Senator Lombard, and I ask the Minister please to look at it.

TAMS payments need to be expedited. TAMS are so important in the context of agricultural infrastructure, looking after animals, slurry spreading, transport and so on. If we could expedite the payment of TAMS, that would be very helpful.

Given the brevity, I devoted my contribution to some practical suggestions rather than to a graphic description of the weather, of which we are tragically aware.


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