Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 April 2024

1:00 pm

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I echo many of the comments of my colleagues, such as Senator Kyne, in welcoming many of the measures which have been taken heretofore. It has been unprecedented to have had seven months of rain. Farmers are worn out, and there is no question about that. There are still cows in all day and all night in many parts of the country when we all know they should have been out by St. Patrick's Day, so it really has been an exceptional strain on farm families throughout the country, especially in my own area of Waterford. Perhaps we can do more in terms of supporting farmers with some form of helpline or support just to talk about those stresses and strains and to give an outlet. Obviously, they talk to one another in their groups, in the marts and across a cup of tea or coffee, but there needs to be something more than that so they can seriously talk about the issues they are facing.

Tied to that is the inspection regime, which some of my colleagues have referenced. I welcome the fact the Bord Bia inspection has been pushed out but more needs to be done in terms of local authority inspections and Department inspections. My background is in education. I compare what happens in a whole-school inspection to what happens on a farm. In a whole-school inspection, the school is notified that an independent inspector will be coming to the school the following week. If there are issues and items identified during the course of that inspection, the school is given an opportunity to address those issues. That is not the case with farm inspections. Farmers are not given an opportunity to correct even minor errors and, instead, are penalised, with a percentage of their basic payments withheld. A more proactive, helpful and conciliatory approach to the inspections would be welcomed by the entire farming sector, and perhaps it is something the Minister can take away. There is a precedent for that within the education sector.

The issues of storage were referenced by Senator Kyne. While I can understand it, there is a catch-22 with regard to the regulations whereby those who do not have sufficient storage do not qualify for TAMS and those who have sufficient storage qualify. We need to be more innovative in how we address that issue because it has been one of the primary issues raised with me by the IFA on the ground in Waterford. I met the IFA representatives only last month when they were in City Hall and they had a demonstration. Storage was a key point. We need to think outside the box in terms of how we address that issue, although that would be done in line with the existing regulations. I am not saying it is easy but there are inventive ways we can address items. It sometimes takes that lateral thinking outside the box.

I commend the measures that have been taken but we need to do a lot more. I know the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, are committed to that. Collectively, we can have a co-operative approach with farm families throughout the country. That antagonistic manner of inspections which can happen is not helpful, particularly at this time of year and given the challenges that are being faced.I again thank the Minister for being in the House. I look forward to the further measures we can bring forward collectively as a Government.


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