Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

10:30 am

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and wish him an equally long tenure. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the issue of farm safety. While my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, through his responsibility for the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, has primary responsibility for health and safety on farms, I am particularly supportive of the farm safety agenda and improving the safety record on farms. I have seen at first hand the devastation that follows farm accidents and fatalities. Their impact on families and communities is unquantifiable. As Minister, it is my intention to be a vocal advocate for safety and vigilance to ensure our farms are the safest working environments possible.

Accordingly, I take this opportunity to highlight the second UK and Ireland farm safety week, which has been running since Monday. This is a positive addition to the HSA’s own farm safety campaign which ran in April of this year. This farm safety awareness week offers five days of themed, practical farm safety advice and guidance to farmers, urging them to consider the slogan, “Who Would Fill Your Boots”, if they had a farm accident.

Farm safety is a critical issue facing farming today. Statistics show that accidents on farms cause more workplace deaths than all other occupations combined. Between 2004 and 2013, there were 176 fatal farm accidents, a shocking statistic. To date this year, there have been eight fatal farm accidents on farms. These eight fatal farm accidents account for more than 40% of all fatal work accidents so far in 2016, while farming accounts for less than 6% of the workforce. While this is a welcome reduction, the rate of accidents on farms remains high and it is important the focus on farm safety is maintained.

Injuries and fatalities are caused in a several ways but the two highest areas of accidents relate to tractors and machinery and livestock. So far this year, tractors and machinery account for 75% of all fatal farm accidents. It is important farmers maintain all their tractors and machinery in good working order. This is part of being a good farmer. Farmers need to be reminded that accidents with tractors and machinery are the cause of the greatest number of fatal farm accidents. The pattern is being repeated again this year. Machinery and tractor maintenance should be seen as a routine part of farm work and that it is an essential expenditure to ensure a safe and profitable farming enterprise.

Cattle can be unpredictable, particularly cows with newly or recently born calves. A cow with a calf may see the approach of a person as a threat to her calf and may, naturally, take action to defend her calf, particularly if there is a dog present. It is important, therefore, to take great care when approaching or handling a cow and calf to prevent an accident from occurring. It is important to remember all animals can be unpredictable, especially when they are confined or there is poor visibility. Although most animal incidents are not fatal, many men, women and children are needlessly injured every year due to a lack of safety awareness.

Behavioural change is urgently required to minimise risk and prevent future accidents. In support of this, my Department has several ongoing initiatives in farm safety. As part of all of TAMS II, the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, it is mandatory for all applicants to have completed a minimum of a half-day farm safety course before they can claim grant aid. This will ensure a farm safety statement has been completed on all of these farms, while for all of TAMS II, all structures must be completed in accordance with the Department’s building specifications. These specifications set out the minimum standard to which all work must be completed and include safety related requirements, such as ensuring all slurry agitation points are outside a building.

In addition to the grant aid schemes, there is a mandatory health and safety element included in all knowledge transfer groups which I am supporting under the 2014 to 2020 rural development programme. These groups will directly engage with approximately 27,000 farmers with farm safety right across the sectors and, most importantly, in a setting where they are among their farming neighbours and peers. This year, as in the past four years, my Department has issued a farm safety leaflet to more than 130,000 farmers. This was included in the basic payment scheme application pack. This year the leaflet focused on slurry safety and the impact of non-fatal farm accidents.

The aftermath of a farm fatality is a particularly difficult time for those left behind. To support families who have suffered a sudden loss and who may not have experience in dealing with the Department, there is a co-ordinated single point of contact in the Department. This is to assist families in dealing with my Department’s schemes and services to ensure they get the assistance they require. As a further commitment to farm safety, my Department is an active member of the farm safety partnership advisory committee, which brings together all of the industry stakeholders. My officials are in regular contact with the Health and Safety Authority to ensure a co-ordinated approach to farm safety.

In addition, a North-South farm safety group has been established involving my Department, the HSA, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland. This group provides a strong link on farm safety to ensure a co-ordinated approach across the island.

One area around farm safety regularly talked about is the education of children. The HSA has a dedicated section on farm safety for both primary and post-primary schools on its website, including a section on teacher support and resources for the classroom. This website includes safety programmes, videos, games and other publications for teachers and pupils to use. There is also the HSA e-learning website,, which includes a section for primary and secondary schools, along with a wide range of other safety training courses.

Considerable efforts are being made to ensure farm safety and health is embedded at all levels in the area of education from primary to third level. In recent years, all primary schools were given a small stock of the publication Staying Safe on the Farm with Jessy, designed to be read with children explaining the dangers on farms to children in a pleasant way. Also, several initiatives encouraging both children and parents to think about farm safety have been run including colouring competitions to produce a farm safety calendar. A booklet of safety stories, poems, drawings and sketches by children was produced, which materialised in the production of the publication Only a Giant Can Lift a Bull. This latter publication drew on more than 7,500 entries and, again, was widely distributed to all primary schools. In 2014, all national schools were circulated with information on a new e-learning resource which gave an interactive series of online lessons which included a keep safe on the farm module. This can be viewed on the HSA e-learning website.

While there are many risks in farming, farming does not have to be a dangerous occupation. There are plenty of ways to reduce the danger, without spending significant levels of money.Farmers should be encouraged to take time to plan buildings and work. After all, as farmers, they are the ones who will benefit most.

It is important for everyone to highlight continually the need for farmers to put safety first in all tasks they perform, irrespective of the pressure. No individual action or organisation can solve this difficult problem, which impacts so negatively on so many lives each year. Ultimately, farmers must change their own behaviour regarding their farming practices to ensure they and all others remain safe on farms. My Department, in conjunction with the HSA, is doing everything it can to try to bring about this change.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister and welcome him to the Chamber. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him luck. He has inherited an important portfolio at an important time. In this regard, I will not refer again to Brexit.

On farm safety, it is welcome that there has been a 40% reduction in fatalities, from 30 in 2014 to 18 in 2015, but that is scant consolation to the families and friends of the 18 who lost their lives in 2015. As the Minister mentioned, the most important and best way of handling this problem is education. I acknowledge the schemes he mentioned and how he would like to see farm safety become part of the primary and secondary schools curriculums. In achieving this, however, we would miss a generation but it would be a good investment for the future. I would like to see more stringent modules in the curriculum as opposed to the optional use of websites or colouring competitions, for example. I would like to see an initiative similar to the road safety programme of the Road Safety Authority or the green flag initiative to promote environmental awareness. If one learns to ride a bicycle at three or four, one can ride one for life. It is at this early stage that we should teach the dangers and the importance of good practice and safety. This knowledge would remain with the children for life. While all of them may not end up working on farms, they will all visit one at some stage. Unfortunately, the casualty is not always the farmer or worker on the farm; sometimes the casualty is a visitor.

It would be helpful to have a high-profile individual to front the farm safety campaign. This strategy worked for the Road Safety Authority. While I was sceptical initially about the use of Mr. Gay Byrne to front the Road Safety Authority, I believe it worked extremely well. We should consider a high-profile sportsperson, such as a GAA player, or a television presenter who is well got and liked by young people and who could make an impression on them. This worked for the Road Safety Authority.

I welcome the inclusion of an element of farm safety in the knowledge transfer schemes. This could be pursued to a far greater extent. I would go so far as to say there could and should be knowledge transfer schemes specifically on farm safety. The feedback from the knowledge transfer schemes is excellent. Farmers will obtain more information from one another than from an outside body that might be forcing it on them. I would seriously consider a knowledge transfer scheme solely on the issue of safety.

There are other schemes I would like to see introduced. I plead with the Minister to introduce one in particular, the PTO scrappage scheme, which has been mooted and lobbied for. As we all know, the PTO is the cause of many of the accidents on farms. If there were a scrappage scheme, an old, worn, broken or damaged PTO that is being replaced could be returned to the supplier. Not only would a scheme offer a financial incentive, it would mean the old PTO would be taken out of the equation. At present, even a diligent farmer puts the old PTO in the shed when he has replaced it. He scraps it himself until some occasion when, late at night when he is under pressure trying to finish a job or at the weekend when the supplier is closed, he reuses it to complete an hour's work if the new one is worn or broken. It is natural for him to say he will get another hour out of the old one. The scheme I propose would decommission the old PTO. With a small financial incentive, the frequency of replacement could be increased.

A number of measures have been introduced in the interest of farm safety, particularly the road traffic legislation and the measures on trailer haulage and trailer weights. Unfortunately, however, the Minister needs to look into this. There is much confusion among the various bodies. Representatives and others have been in contact with me on this. I have noted two relevant incidents. In the first, a farmer was stopped and summonsed and received penalty points for going inside the yellow line to let traffic by. In the second, an individual was stopped and treated similarly for staying outside the yellow line on the grounds that he should have pulled in. Do the enforcers not know the new laws? I also encountered a case in which an individual was pulled in, summonsed and given penalty points for not displaying a weight plate on a trailer weighing way under 19 tonnes. The weight at which the weight plate is required is 19 tonnes. While the laws are introduced in the best interests of the people and with the best outcomes in mind, they can cause more confusion and become problematic if the enforcers do not understand them.

The bottom line on most issues we discuss is money. One of the easiest and best ways to solve many of the issues concerning farm safety is helping farmers and increasing their margins. If they do not have sufficient disposable income, it is very hard for them to update the machinery or enhance their safety procedures and methods. This is no different from any other walk of life, irrespective of the profession. If the tyres of the car are bald and need to be replaced but disposable income is at a minimum, the replacement will be put on the long finger and bills of a more pressing nature will be accorded priority. Until we can improve the margins of farmers, we will always have a safety problem by virtue of there being insufficient money to spend on addressing it.

Sometimes the mental health of farmers is not mentioned. There were 18 deaths in 2015 from accidents involving machinery or animals. According to the Central Statistics Office, there were 24 agri-related suicides. We ought to be seriously concerned about this and offer support in this area. There is a lot of pressure on farmers in that they are fighting against the weather, prices and everything that could conceivably be fought against on a farm to make ends meet. This leads to a lot of pressure. When we talk about 18 farm accident deaths, we cannot ignore the fact that in the same year, there were 24 deaths from suicide.

What other measures is the Minister considering introducing in this area? As mentioned, I would like to see a PTO scrappage scheme. I would like the Minister to negotiate with the insurance companies so they could give a premium reduction to those who carry out a farm safety audit. This would work in the interest of both the insurance company and farmer. I would like the Minister to consider seriously placing responsibility for farm safety, in particular, and safety in the agri-sector under one body. The Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, is ultimately responsible for the HSA. The Irish Maritime Administration, which is responsible for safety at the fisheries end, falls under the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Could all these areas be under the one body? This would be preferable.

The Minister mentioned the safety of farm buildings. Unfortunately, to qualify in respect of farm buildings, one has to be a young farmer. All deaths so far this year from farm accidents were of farmers over 60. This needs to be addressed.I am pushing my time a small bit.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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In doing my research for today I came across the Seanad Public Consultation Committee report, which the Cathaoirleach, Senator O'Donovan, chaired in May of last year, and the rapporteur was Senator Martin Conway. Everything we need to address is in the report. It was an excellent report, well commissioned and well done, but I hope it is not sitting on a shelf somewhere. If it were brought to fruition, it would go a long way towards solving many of the problems in this area.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I believe he has one of the most important portfolios in Government. Many of our economic ambitions for growth, investment and sustainable jobs all revolve around farming, food and the marine and are set out in Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025. Agriculture is therefore without a doubt the backbone of our economy, employing so many people, and when the sector is broken down into the production units or powerhouses that drive the production and growth that we hope for and envisage, we are talking about farms and farm families. It is therefore very appropriate that we consider farm safety and its impact on families, especially in light of the statistics that show, notwithstanding the welcome reduction in the past couple of years in the number of tragedies on farms, that they are nonetheless too numerous. They basically take somebody out of a family.

The beauty of farming in our country is it is very much focused and driven by and around farm families. Not only is that good for the economy, but it is also good for rural Ireland. They are the heartbeat of rural Ireland. The social and economic infrastructure requires farmers and farm families. We know, as we have become more advanced and there is more emphasis on production and efficiency and so on, that the methods of farming have changed. Farming has become more mechanised and the way we handle animals has also changed. Farming is in the unique situation whereby it is a question, for the most part, of people whose family homes are also on a farm. One's home is therefore in the workplace, and this gives rise to particular problems or risks for families, especially given that there are now technology and machines that are high-powered and need a certain skill when being handled. That is why a farm safety week is so important. It is important that people are briefed on and apprised and made aware of risks they are taking, whether through bad habits or lack of information, and how they can be avoided with certain measures and steps. I welcome all the initiatives that the Minister has outlined to that end. As I said, farm machinery is more powerful. The Minister mentioned a cow and a calf and how the cow might feel about somebody approaching her with a calf. The reality, however, is that years ago people handled animals a lot more. Animals nowadays are put out into a field and they have very little human contact and are half-wild.

Years ago it was manure, but now that we have become more sophisticated the issue is slurry, its handling and the noxious gases that come from it. A farmer on his farm explained to me that if one is standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, one can be so overwhelmed by the fumes, that they can cause a fatality, and that is without actually coming into contact with it at all. It is therefore important that all these aspects are brought to mind and that we have this safety week initiative. I particularly welcome under the TAMS 2 scheme, the farm safety scheme, the half-day farm safety course because sometimes everybody is busy with their work and their families and they need maybe to stand still. Having that as a prerequisite to claiming grant aid is an important step, as are all the other measures, including bringing children along, because children are being brought up on farms and they can sometimes point things out to adults. In view of this I endorse and welcome the week that is in it.

I note one interesting proposal by the president of the ICSA, Patrick Kent, that a VAT refund be given to farmers purchasing protective safety gear or equipment. We all know that commodity prices are depressed in many fields. This is an extra expense on hard-pressed farmers and this refund would be a way to make sure it is not an undue financial burden by considering allowing them a VAT rebate when they go about taking steps and measures to protect themselves and their families. I ask the Minister to consider this.

A final issue I would like to raise with the Minister are complaints I have been receiving from farmers that the meat factories are unfairly pulling the price of meat on account of the Brexit vote. The argument is that there is currency volatility on account of the drop in the value of sterling. I understand that market supply means that there is not as much meat readily available in either Britain or Ireland and that actually the price in the UK is 2p more per kilogram. The suggestion and the complaint of farmers - they are feeling it in their pockets - seems to be that there is some sort of concerted practice to take advantage of this situation. A beef forum meeting is scheduled in a couple of weeks but I ask that the Minister examine this issue. There is such an emphasis on quality meat and checks and balances and systems that is places a great responsibility on those concerned and it also places an onerous responsibility on farmers who produce meat. We would like to see them get a fair crack of the whip when it comes to a price for their commodity and that there is not anything untoward going on with the factories. I look forward to the Minister's response-----

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator is straying from the motion. I am sure the Minister will not be briefed on that issue.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I look forward to his response.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I had asked the Leader, Senator Buttimer, to make allowance to deal with comments made by the German Vice Chancellor about significantly reducing funding for the CAP. I understood that the Leader was to facilitate some feedback in this regard. He gave such an assurance here yesterday, so I will touch on that briefly later but I will now focus on the main subject.

Farming remains an integral and most important sector in the Irish economy. The agri-food sector contributes more than €24 billion to the Irish economy, accounting for almost 10% of Ireland's exports and providing 7.7% of Ireland's national employment. Including all inputs, such as processing and marketing, employment in the economy in the agri-food sector is as high as 10%. In economic terms, the agri-food sector contributes 7% of the total GDP of primary agriculture-related activities, accounting for up to 2.5% of GDP. These are all statistics from Teagasc.

In this week of farm safety, and after recognising the importance of the agri-sector to the Irish economy, we also need to be cognisant of the fact that the agri-sector, particularly primary farming activities, also contributes a series of harrowing statistics. Given its contribution of 7% to the GDP of Ireland's economy, we need to seriously question, investigate and resolve together how the sector accounts for a disproportionately high number of workplace-related deaths in comparison to other sectors. I and my party acknowledge that farming is a career choice - not really a career choice, but rather a vocation - and involves an often dangerous working environment with any amount of workplace hazards to contend with on a daily basis in order to provide an income for farming families and rural communities throughout the island of Ireland.

That said, with farm-place deaths accounting for 55% of workplace deaths in 2014, 32% in 2015 and that trend continuing this year at 41%, we still need to look at ways of improving farm safety as legislators, stakeholders and society in general. Exploring the trends related to these farm-place deaths, we also need to consider why both the very old and very young make up a significant proportion of deaths. Within the farming sector, the improvement in standards over recent years in the areas of risk assessment, safety statements, hazard identification and other interventions should be acknowledged.All these improvements have certainly contributed to a safer workplace environment. Undoubtedly, lives have been saved and accidents prevented as a result. There remains, however, an onus on all interested parties and contributors to that agri-sector to continue this work, to keep developing, to improve standards, to devise new processes and to have modern safety methods to complete farming-related activities in a safer and less hazardous working environment.

Recognising the extremely high number of fatalities that occur every year, we must also be very aware of the non-fatal accidents that also occur. Again, the figure is disproportionately high when farming is compared with other sectors, with 51 accidents per 1,000 workers in 2015. This figure was compiled by the Health and Safety Authority and provides further evidence that farming is an extremely choice of work and considerably dangerous for those who choose farming.

Looking at the vast improvements that have been made to reduce road deaths, reducing drink driving levels, seatbelt wearing, etc., we have proven, as a country, that we can make positive change when enough emphasis is placed on a problem. Culturally, it takes time and I guess, as Irish people, we are sometimes resistant to change. As I mentioned in respect of road safety, if enough emphasis is directed at a problem, then positive change can happen.

Apart from resources, the biggest factor needed to contribute positively to improve farm safety is education. While researching information on farm safety in preparation for this week's event, I was struck by the technological resources that are aimed at younger members of farming families. Given that we live in a technological age, its importance in modern day education and the obsession of the younger generation with technology, I welcome and encourage the development and utilisation of all of these resources towards improving farm safety standards. I believe that this type of resources should be rolled out and form part of the curriculum for primary, second and third level education, specifically in rural areas, and they should be part of courses that are associated with agriculture. I am confident that multi-media attractions developed by many stakeholders, including Teagasc, the IFA and others, open up new avenues for younger people towards educating themselves about farm safety.

I note the statement made by the ICSA President, Mr. Patrick Kent. He has said that all farmers should be able to claim back VAT on essential farm safety equipment and clothing, such as PTO shafts, protective clothing, gloves for spraying and protective equipment for optimising safety when using chainsaws. He pointed out that we do not want to see farmers skimping on these or other safety essentials but we must be realistic that they are expensive for farmers who are under pressure due to low commodity prices. The ICSA has called on the Minister and the Government to consider granting a VAT refund for flat-rate farmers in this regard. I believe the Minister should explore the proposal with his colleague, the Minister for Finance.

It would be remiss of me to neglect to mention the potential effects that Brexit will have on farm safety. Farm incomes will suffer as a result of Brexit, of that there is no doubt. Weakening sterling, fewer sales in an anticipated weakening market along with, perhaps, a potential weakening euro will undoubtedly require more hours, harder work and an extended week for farmers. It is at these times of stress and when bodies are tired that accidents are most likely to occur. I take this opportunity to request the Minister to outline the Government's strategy for assisting the farming community and protecting their interests that are clearly threatened by the Brexit vote. In particular, I ask the Minister and the Taoiseach to immediately rebuff the suggestion made by the German Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, that CAP should be cut substantially. I believe we need to vigorously defend Irish interests in this regard.

I wish to highlight the current concerns of the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers' Association. The group seeks equality across the board in terms of the sheep scheme and measures made available to farmers. The association has highlighted that their members have very poor financial returns due to higher implementation costs and as such has requested a 50% top-up for hill farmers to makes these measures viable. It further requested that there is flexibility in reference to the years being used for the sheep scheme for farmers who have to adjust sheep numbers as a result of complying with a commonage management plan and also for young farmers who have not yet reached their optimum stocking rates.

I wish to draw attention to the main issues that affect Irish farming today. Incomes continue to be volatile and little has been done to raise incomes for average sized farm families. Their incomes have haemorrhaged over the past four years and have dropped by 20%. Small farming families and, indeed, local rural economies around Ireland need decent sustainable incomes to grow local communities. EU subsidies also need to be maintained and they are recognised as providing badly needed profit for most families. Without subsidies these families would have loss-making businesses.

I will wrap up by saying that the Minister is aware of the issues that concern various representative organisations. They are connected and I ask him to address them. In particular, I ask him to outline his strategy. The Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation has outlined a strategy in response to Brexit and I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to do the same in terms of how his Department proposes to respond. Finally, we need an all-Ireland forum of farming organisations to come together to address these issues on an all-Ireland basis.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his long overdue promotion. He has been a very good political mentor to me and for that I am grateful. It is appropriate for him to be here during national farm safety week because too many people have lost their lives in this country as a result of farm accidents. I note that my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, has direct responsibility for the Health and Safety Authority. However, I believe that this Minister and his Department have significant responsibilities when it comes to health and safety and I know that he will agree with my analysis in that regard.

This House, under the stewardship of the Cathaoirleach and the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, initiated a report on farm safety of which I was fortunate to be the rapporteur. The report gained quite an amount of public coverage at the time in the media at national and local level. One day I proposed, during the Order of Business, that the SPCC should carry out a report on farm safety following a number of tragic accidents in my constituency of County Clare. We advertised for public submissions and received numerous submissions. On one Monday in March 2015, we took over the Seanad Chamber. On that occasion we had positive interaction with people who had great ideas on what could be done to help reduce the number of farm accidents. We heard from people who had suffered farm accidents but survived them. We heard from families of people who, unfortunately, did not survive. We heard from the farming organisations. We heard from a 16-year old young man, Mr. Duffy, who invented a farm safety game. We also heard from a GAA club in west Cork that ran successful awareness campaigns as part of its reaction and response to a tragic farm accident that occurred in their area.

I believe that farm safety awareness has increased significantly and that we have reduced the number of lives lost as a result of farm accidents. At this stage, I offer my condolences to the families of the eight people who have lost their lives this year so far. The tragedies must be very raw and difficult for the bereaved. No words spoken here can compensate them for their loss but we have a responsibility to do what we can.

I welcome the significant involvement by farm organisations in this area. The ICSA has made some very good suggestions. A VAT refund for equipment that is deemed necessary from a safety perspective is a logical and prudent suggestion. The proposal should be considered in terms of the next budget in October. The proposals that emanated from the farm safety report produced in this House are worthy of consideration. One of our recommendations, in particular, was very powerful. I refer to the call for the Department to sponsor the provision of a farm safety officer in the GAA headquarters to ensure farm safety training and events are held in GAA clubs located in rural Ireland. The GAA is a national organisation that has a presence in every community and parish in the country. We recommended that the Department and the GAA would work in partnership and use the GAA's good offices to help improve farm safety. I ask the Minister to update the House on the discussions that have taken place with the GAA in regard to that recommendation. Ultimately, responsibility for safety lies with everybody.

I note the Minister's comments on educating young people.As the Cathaoirleach knows well, people from schools in various parts of the country contacted us following our farm safety report. I highlight a school in Mayo which wrote its own farm safety report. There were initiatives such as the books like the good lady in Meath wrote in the language of small children that were distributed - I think there were a number of publications. They were absolutely super because if young people are educated they have a funny way of educating older people.

We are at the start of this. The objective of us all is to have no farm accidents. We really need to keep the pressure on to reduce the number of people who lose their lives or receive lifelong injuries as a result of farm accidents.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Before inviting Senator Landy to speak, I welcome to the Gallery Councillor Kathleen Shanagher from Roscommon, who has good Cork and Tipperary connections.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. I believe this is his first time here. As has already been said, his apprenticeship has well been served. I wish him well in his new post. I will not repeat what has been said, but I will try to add some extra pieces.

Last year's report by you, a Chathaoirligh, on which Senator Conway was rapporteur, was an excellent report. We had a long debate on that report in the House over a year ago.

Sometimes people not involved in farming just see men on tractors behind ditches ploughing fields, saving hay or making silage and they do not think any more of it. However, 400,000 people live on farms, which is almost 10% of the population. It is a substantial number of people living or working on farms. Their job is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. It can often be from 6 a.m. to midnight, particularly at this time of year. I live in a rural area and I hear tractors on the go when I get up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. This is the time when, if the weather is right, they have to make hay and save silage. In the coming weeks they will be dealing with corn.

It is a hands-on job that requires all the family to help. Sometimes we forget that boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Despite the amount of safety signs and instructions around the farm, young people are living in their own world when they might be sent out to do a job at home and they can forget the rules that are laid out in front of them. Against that backdrop, we need to be aware that the workplace of the farmer is not like the workplace of most other people.

We have a very bad record in terms of the number of people who die on farm accidents. The statistics that have been set out already. In 2014, 30 out of 55 fatal accidents in workplaces happened on farms. That is a terrible percentage. Despite that between 2012 and 2014, the level of farm inspections reduced by 55%.

The statistics I have are two years old; I ask the Minister to indicate if the budgets for farm safety inspections have been reinstated. Nobody likes to be inspected for anything given that it stops a day's work on the farm, but it is absolutely essential. According to the Health and Safety Authority, in 90% of cases following inspections, instructions were issued to carry out further safety improvements, in the other 10% of cases, prosecutions were initiated. That is a clear indication that we need regular inspection. It is only by inspection that people will take note. I do not like saying that, but it is the truth.

We all take shortcuts in our daily work. We do not read the full script we are handed and then we might be asked a question on the last two paragraphs and we are caught. We do not carry out enough research on what we are to talk about and then we might be caught. In the case of the farmer, they might not do all the checks; they might do two or three of them and then they are caught. However, the difference with them is, first, they work alone generally and, second, we are talking about risks to their lives.

Much has been said about the report initiated by Senator Conway from a group chaired by the Cathaoirleach. I was a member of the agriculture committee and was here for much of that debate. The people who were here that day opened my eyes. There is considerable positivity towards improving farm safety from Teagasc right up to the Health and Safety Authority, and also including ordinary farmers and sportspeople who want to get involved. With a proactive and positive approach to this, the figures will reduce.

I ask the Minister to outline the funding for inspections, which is key to the whole thing.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming my former colleague, Councillor Kathleen Shanagher, to the Chamber today. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Creed, to the Seanad and I wish him every success in his new role.

The farming sector is crucial to Ireland's economy and agrifood is our most important indigenous sector. Farm safety is a critical issue today and is of serious concern. Some 30 people lost their lives in farm accidents in 2014; there were 18 in 2015 and eight to date this year. This is in addition to the many who are living with disability as a result of farm accidents.

Farming is a very diverse and dynamic environment. Owing to the increasing cost of inputs and the reducing value of outputs such as cattle, sheep, milk and cereals, farmers continually strive to reduce costs. When the fertiliser spreader breaks, they take on the role of welder and mechanic. When the water trough leaks, they take on the role of plumber. When the infra-red lamp over the weak lamb does not work, they take on the role of electrician. When the galvanised sheeting is flapping on the roof, they take on the role of roofer. This means our farmers must be highly skilled in many disciplines, but it also means they are exposed to a diverse set of hazards.

If a family loses a loved one or is left with a disability due to a farm accident, the impact is profound. Having worked as an occupational therapist, I know at first hand the huge number of farmers presenting at accident and emergency departments with severe trauma. Until it reaches our door or the door of a loved one, it is difficult to fully appreciate the impact of life with a disability, including reduced mobility, hand injury, chronic pain, fatigue, adaptation of homes and cars, medical bills and family stress. The impact is enormous and it can be very difficult to cope.

Farm-related accidents in the seven-year period from 2005 to 2011 accounted for 677 bed-days in Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar according to a study carried out by Professor Kevin Barry, a consultant surgeon in the hospital. This is a stark statistic. It is very important for us to gather better data on GP attendances and accident and emergency department attendances in order to capture more details on farm-related accidents. This will allow us to emphasise further the seriousness, the implications of farm accidents and the need to be vigilant and to allow for a greater change of attitude for the better.

Many farmers visited the Beef 2016 event yesterday. They went to learn about the increasing use of quality grass and breeding more efficient animals using the best methods of managing disease.One of the most important exhibits was on the topic of farmer health and farm safety presented by the Health and Safety Authority, the Department, Teagasc and many of the farmer organisations.

This is really positive progress in terms of putting farm safety to the fore. It should take priority over farm efficiency. The campaign this week is, "Who would fill your boots in the event of a farm accident?" It is important that we keep the message of farm safety to the forefront of our minds. Without the farmer, there is no farm.

I very much welcome the new farm safety scheme under TAMS II. It is important in encouraging farmers to prioritise farm safety as an area for investment. I also very much support other initiatives, the VAT rebate on specific farm safety items and the scrappage schemes for PTO shafts, as proposed by farmer organisations which have a lot of merit.

The most important element of increasing farm safety is training and education. It is key to a change of mindset. I very much welcome the focus on ensuring that education on farm safety is embedded from a very young age. It is important that published material on farm safety is deliver to schools. It is important to take advantage of e-learning tools. We need to embed safety training in our schools and homes.

It is everybody's responsibility to prioritise safety as the first action. Farmers and farm families are exposed to a wide range of hazards on a daily basis, combined with increased pressures and stress. We need to emphasise the importance of taking time to ensure they are doing our job correctly and not taking shortcuts.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I thank the Minister, Deputy Creed, for coming to the Chamber. I will take a different tack. The use of the chemical glyphosate as a herbicide is a matter of extreme importance to farm safety.

Glyphosate is probably the most prevalent chemical in the world that is used as a herbicide weedkiller. It is most commonly available in Monsanto's product Roundup. As Members are no doubt aware, the European Commission decided last week to re-authorise the use of glyphosate for an 18-month period. Member states have leeway in restricting its use and so far there is no indication the Government has any intention of doing this. I ask the Minister to indicate what he will do about this.

Several EU countries do not permit the use of herbicides such as Roundup before harvest time or any use near playgrounds, schools or public parks, yet we have unrestricted sale and use of it in Ireland. I would like to see this changed immediately. Through a resolution in the European Parliament, MEPs have urged the Commission to authorise its use for a short seven years and only then for professional use. The World Health Organization has conducted a study that identifies glyphosates as a probable carcinogenic, so it is probably cancer causing. In parts of South America rates of birth defects and miscarriages have increased in areas where pregnant women are living close to fields sprayed with glyphosates and they have been contaminated.

A 2015 study carried out by the University of California, San Francisco, found glyphosates in the urine of some 93% of Americans tested and a 2013 study in Europe found traces of glyphosates in the urine of individuals from all 18 countries tested. Chemicals such as glyphosates not only present a major risk to the health of humans, they also disrupt the ecosystem by contributing to the mortality of wildlife, particularly of insects such as bees on which we depend to pollinate our crops and control other pests. This is massively damaging to food security.

I consider the use of glyphosates to be a farm health, wellbeing and safety issue. Only last week we saw that the ozone layer is healing again. In the 1980s we stopped the use of chlorofluorocarbons, different chemicals that had negative impacts on ozone and on human health. I believe if we stop using glyphosates we will force companies to stop producing them and thereby help the health and wellbeing of not only our farming communities but all the communities in Ireland and Europe.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Go raibh maith agat. Senator Maria Byrne has five minutes.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his brief. I thank him for coming to the Seanad today.

Agriculture has long been one of the cornerstones of the Irish economy and provides many people with a livelihood throughout this country. Today agriculture is actually smaller than the other two main sectors of the economy - manufacturing and services. However, the Health and Safety Authority notes that a larger proportion of workplace fatalities occur in agriculture despite the smaller numbers employed. This is surely a cause for major concern which needs to be addressed.

One of the core duties of all employers is to ensure that their employees are safe and secure in their workplace. As farmers are self-employed the onus must be on the Government to ensure that farm safety laws are constantly reviewed and updated to keep those involved in agriculture safe as they earn a living. Unfortunately the level of farm-related accidents both fatal and non-fatal is far too high.

I know the figures have been referred to already but during the period 2006-15, 194 people died in Ireland due to agricultural accidents. In 2015, 18 people died on Irish farms. Those 18 families will never see their loved ones return from farming the land. Farming remains a labour-intensive and sometimes dangerous occupation. Each year farm fatalities reach double figures and more than 1,000 injuries occur on farms. Statistics shows that many people have been crushed, struck by their vehicle as it moved or overturned, or have fallen from the vehicle.

Given all the technological innovation in agriculture in recent times this number is far too high. We must ask ourselves why this continues to happen and why we let this happen. It is clear the Government must do more to ensure safe practices are observed on Irish farms, especially in relation to farm vehicles.

The Irish Farmers' Journalhas noted, "The majority of farm injuries occur on the farmyard, although injuries also occur in farm buildings and on farmland." The age profile of those killed is of serious concern. The old and the young are exceptionally vulnerable to death and injury on Irish farms.

Between 2006 and 2015, 24 children were killed on Irish farms. This is truly a shocking statistic. The loss of so many young lives clearly indicates that we must prioritise farm safety for children. Each loss of life is more than likely preventable, especially the loss of children.

We must also not forget that the elderly farmer who has worked hard all his or her life is also vulnerable to accidents on the farm. From 2006 to 2015, 67 older farmers lost their lives on farms for a variety of reasons. Government must seek to ensure that farming families and all engaged in agriculture are protected as they continue their way of life and strive to reduce accidents.

Workplace safety has for many years been given a high priority by Government, the Health and Safety Authority and many State and voluntary organisations. Very extensive advertising campaigns and courses and lectures have been used.

Farm Safety Week 2016 takes place from 4 to 8 July. Each day focuses on a different theme – falls, machinery, livestock, transport and children on farms. There has been some success - farm fatalities were down by 40% in 2015, with 18 deaths reported compared with 30 in 2014. There were four child fatalities.

We have very extensive legislation governing workplace safety. Accidents are fully investigated. Legislation and recommended practices are reviewed and updated as deemed necessary. I do not think that further legislation is the solution. We need to concentrate on implementing existing legislation and keep educating all concerned about safety procedures and the absolute need to observe them and protect themselves.Previously in this Chamber and after the survey to which Senator Martin Conway referred, it was suggested that farm safety should be taught in primary schools. That may be something that is looked at for the future. I note that videos are available in schools as it stands. The Health and Safety Authority has a key role in the investigation of accidents and inspecting as many workplaces as possible. Teagasc and the farming organisations have done a great deal of good work in this area and must continue to try to reach everyone involved in agriculture. The HSE has published a number of guidelines on the supervision of children, the need to keep children away from machinery and tractors, keeping children at a safe distance from livestock, preventing falls and keeping buildings, fences and gates in a good and safe condition. All concerned must strive to continue improving farm safety.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the Chamber and wish him well in his role. When it comes to farm safety, it is said that it is often the simple things that can make the difference between life and death. That was a message that came out of an all-island farm safety conference held in Monaghan last year. One farmer explained how he had lost his leg after a piece of his overalls got entangled in a diet feeder. It will never happen to me is an old adage that is often said when it comes to accidents but we know too well that it might. When it comes to participation in farm safety events, however, it is the farmers who are not in the room who are the ones we need to target. The typical Irish attitude that it will not happen to oneself must be put aside once and for all. The statistics are frightening. I have some before me. Of deaths on farms in the first five months to the end of 2015, 80% were associated with farm vehicles and machinery. Over the past five months of this year, five people have lost their lives in farm accidents. Over the last ten years, 75% of fatal accidents involving children were associated with tractors, 17% with falls or collapses and 85 with drowning.

A huge amount of farm work is done by individuals working alone from early morning to late at night. It is unique and would not happen on any other industrial site. The farmer ends up being the Jack of all trades. Where a machine is broken down and the weather is threatening, he or she rolls up his or her sleeves and gets stuck in to fix it instantly. The image of the family farm is not generally one associated with death and injury but perhaps it should be. The farm continues to be the most dangerous workplace. Agriculture is unique in many ways. Unlike any other sector, accidents generally involve family members, including children and the elderly. The rate of fatal farm accidents per 100,000 farmers is 60% higher in Ireland than it is in the UK and double that of some other EU countries. That too is a startling statistic. More than 50% of fatal accidents in the Irish workplace in 2014 occurred on farms despite the fact that only 5% of the Irish workforce is engaged in agriculture. In addition, in excess of 3,000 individuals are injured in farm accidents annually. There is no comfort in these figures and no rose tinted glasses can hide the facts.

Death and injury on our farms is first and foremost a tragedy for all involved and their families. Many farm families in Ireland have experienced traumatic and life-changing accidents. They will live with that reminder for the rest of their lives. They stay on the site forever and every morning they wake, there is a constant reminder of what happened. Year-on-year statistics clearly show that age is also a major contributory factor in farm accidents in Ireland with the average age of an Irish farmer now standing at 57 and rising. Recent research by Teagasc shows that the age profile of families on Irish farms is changing. Older farmers face higher risks of farm occupational death than younger farmers and for the foreseeable future, the profile of Irish farmers will get older. Older farmers are less likely to have received any formal training on health and safety and are less likely to attend courses on farm safety. These are the people we need to target. Farm families contribute a great deal to the health of our economy and to the social cohesion of rural Ireland. Farmers must be assisted and encouraged to implement the changes that can minimise the risks to those who live on farms and assist farm families to cope with the consequences of accidents.

The challenge here is to strike a balance between the considerable financial and regulatory obligations on farmers and fostering the behavioural change required to reduce farm accidents and fatalities. Prioritising education on farm safety at primary school level is important as children are often good policemen and policewomen when it comes to reminding Daddy and Mammy about safety. The focus must continue at post-primary level where the exam-focused nature of education often leaves such initiatives trailing. There are no easy answers but more needs to be done to bring fatality levels down, at the very least, to those seen in Europe and the UK. Clearly, we have a job of work to do. I welcome the proposals the Minister has outlined today and look forward to us addressing this issue collectively to get the figures down to a level we can somehow call acceptable.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Creed, to the Chamber. It is great to see him here. He comes from the heartland of the dairy industry in Macroom. He has a great knowledge of the industry and I am sure he will be an excellent Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I am interested in and look forward to working with him over the next few months and years. The Minister and his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Pat Breen, have a shared brief on this issue to a degree. It is a very important issue for the agriculture industry but also for rural Ireland itself. Unfortunately, every one of us in the room knows of a person in our parish who was, unfortunately, affected by a farm accident. It might not have been a fatal farm accident but it was a farm accident. It scars the community. Unfortunately, rural communities deal with this issue on a yearly basis. Farm safety awareness week is an important one in the agricultural calendar and, as politicians and members of the agriculture community, we must make it one of the most important weeks of the year. It is key for us as an industry and a community that we engage with stakeholders to improve our workplaces.

Farming has changed from what it was in my father's time to what it is now. Units have got bigger and one is out there by oneself. In many ways, the most significant safety device on the farm is one's mobile phone. When one runs into an issue, it gives one the opportunity to contact someone. That is where the industry has gone. Before if one was milking 70 cows, one probably had a man to assist. Now, one is milking 100 cows by oneself while dealing with all of the attendant stress and workload. One is in the workplace for 14 hours a day by oneself. One could be in a situation for a long time with no one else being there. It is important as an industry that we change. One of the most frightening figures was mentioned by Senator Maria Byrne and it is that 24 children have been killed in a nine-year period. That is an unfortunate issue and a terrible scar for communities. We have all heard of incidents like that in our own counties over the last number of years. How we deal with that will be key. Education is key. Young farmers who are fathers must realise that there is probably no place for a child on a tractor. Realistically, it is a workplace. Would one take one's child out to Novartis or Pfizer? I think the answer is "No".

Realistically, we must look at where we are as farmers and what we do. There is probably a change in mindset that we have to take on board. Until we, as farmers and legislators, take that on board, the figures will not, unfortunately, change. It is up to us in the industry to make that major move. When one looks at us as an industry, we put everything on the long finger. As we know, we are experiencing cashflow issues and things like farm safety will be pushed back further and further. They will not be seen as a priority. Under TAMS II, there is a farm safety aspect and it is important that the works which have been improved by the Department are actually delivered and not just put back because of cashflow issues. That is a real fact when one talks to farmers. They are saying they might do it next year but can they wait?Can they allow farm safety requirements not to be addressed on their farms? If they do not address them, who knows what could happen? These issues are important for farmers and the community generally.

I hope the initiatives outlined by the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, and the promotion, in particular, of Farm Safety Week will help to bring about change. The Teagasc-run event held in County Meath yesterday was a fantastic success. There will be an event every day during Farm Safety Week. I hope we can break down the barriers and that people will take the farm safety message on board and make the changes required on farms.

On the unfortunate loss of children's lives in farm accidents, there is a need for a change of mindset among farmers. A farm is a workplace. It is not the place for a farmer to have his little boy or girl on a tractor or milking cows with him or her. We should not promote such behaviour. If anything, we should say a farm is not the location for such behaviour and that farmers should not do this.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister to the debate. It is timely that Farm Safety Week is the second week of July because many farm accidents occur during the school holidays and involve children, including grandchildren visiting their grandparents. I express the solidarity of the House with all those families who have been bereaved and all those who have been injured in farm accidents. As we discuss this issue, I am mindful of the fact that there are people who have had direct experience of such accidents. While many of them were avoidable, there were many that were not, regardless of what anybody might have done. Community education programmes could make an important contribution in creating an awareness of the need for farm safety, particularly among younger people and children but also across the board.

Farm safety measures need to be incorporated into environmental schemes, including the green, low-carbon, agri-environment scheme, GLAS, previously the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, notwithstanding the fact that the farm safety scheme is separate from them. There is a direct correlation between accidents and decreasing farm incomes, particularly in the west, in the same way as young fishermen have lost their lives in taking risks to try to increase their incomes. Farmers working long hours and the issue of affordability have an impact on farm safety.

I welcome the changes to the farm assist scheme that I heard the Minister mention yesterday and look forward to hearing the details of the changes he has in mind. He knows that farm assist payments were eroded twice during the term of office of the previous Government, which resulted in a dramatic loss of income for those dependent on them.

I take the opportunity to ask the Minister to consider the soil sampling deadline of 31 March under the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, and the fact that there is no flexibility in that regard. Even though soil samples were taken prior to 31 March, in a number of cases people have been excluded from the scheme because it took a number of days for the soil samples to be submitted.

The Minister might come back into the House to enable us to have a full discussion on the review of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, particularly on the issues of eligibility, GLAS, designations and the impact of Brexit. I look forward to discussing all of these issues with him on another day.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I thank all of the Senators who contributed to the debate which was very well informed. In many respects, it is unfortunate that the reach of a debate such as this is relatively limited, but it serves to highlight the importance of having a week such as this to focus intently on specific issues. Several Members referred to the fact that every community, if not every family, is aware of the graphic consequences of a fatal accident or a significant injury on a farm. The core message of Farm Safety Week is "Who will fill your boots?". It is a catchy phrase that serves to concentrate the mind, but, unfortunately, I am personally aware of the impact of such incidents as I have seen it at close quarters. I am also aware of the impact on local communities. Reference was made to the use of power take-off, PTO, shafts, something of which I am personally very much aware. I appreciate the sentiments behind the points raised.

I am loath to load issues onto the education system, something that is proposed, even though it is well intentioned, in many debates. There is the notion that the education system must solve everything for us, but if we were to go down that road - there have been many bolt-ons to the curriculum - one would wonder where we would stop. I salute the initiative of local schools, particularly in rural areas, that are attuned to this debate, perhaps spurred on by local incidents. In this regard, reference was made to GAA clubs which have also reacted. We need to get to a situation where we will not be reacting, where we will be in control of the agenda and setting the template to have an accident-free farming environment. That is the ambition of all the players involved.

Reference has been made to the fact that this issue crosses many agencies and Departments, as it does when one stops to think about it. In many respects, that is a good aspect. The statutory approach, Departments and agencies can achieve a certain amount, but the harmony achieved with a buy-in by voluntary organisations gives us a more holistic approach. This is evident in the Farm Safety Council where a great number of stakeholders are represented, resulting in a better reach and a better community buy-in as regards what the State and everybody else is trying to achieve. That is probably the best template there is.

Senator Maura Hopkins made a very telling contribution about the farmer being a Jack of all trades. I do not mean that in a pejorative sense, but very often he or she has to be the plumber, the electrician and the welder, as well as the farmer. In an environment in which he or she often works alone, this brings a great many additional pressures. We need to get the message across that farmers need to be gentler with themselves. Several Members alluded to the financial pressures farmers were under, but it would not be a good message to send that we should boil down safety issues to the equivalent of financial circumstances. If one was to stand in the boots of families who have been in this space and suffered, at the end of the day it is not really about money. We need to acknowledge separately the financial difficulties being experienced in farming - I am acutely conscious of them in the context of commodity prices - but the need for farm safety is above and beyond all of them. We need to be uncompromising in sending the message that we need to create an awareness of the need for farm safety and we need to assist farmers in so far as we can. Sometimes that will be in the form of financial assistance and there is such assistance available, but we need to create an awareness of the fact that having a safe working environment is in a farmer's best interests. The consequences of not having a safe working environment on a farm are horrendous.

Reference was made to many other issues in the context of Brexit and commodity prices. I did not receive any notification that these matters would be raised, but I want to make two specific observations. The first is that in the context of Brexit, we need to be extremely careful that we do not exacerbate what is a significant challenge for us. In terms of media commentary, well intentioned as it may be, we run the risk of talking ourselves into a bigger crisis than what we are facing. We need to be acutely conscious of this.With respect to Senator Mac Lochlainn's point on the CAP budget, the situation is very clear. The CAP budget is committed under the current CAP arrangements up to 2020. Notwithstanding commentaries about remarks in other states about the CAP budget, that is the legal situation. Farmers are under enough pressure, and raising questions about whether their CAP entitlements are secure does not help the situation.

Some Members referred to the knowledge transfer groups, which are being funded under the rural development programme, and proposed that there should be a specific knowledge transfer initiative in the area of farm safety. I am not so sure about that. We are reaching about 27,000 farmers through knowledge transfers, and that is across a range of different farming initiatives including the areas of beef, sheep, dairy, tillage, poultry and pigs. Farm safety requirements are at the heart of all of those enterprises and the fact they are included as a module in all those specific disciplines illustrates the attractiveness of it.

Senator Paul Daly made a very telling observation on the issue of farmers' mental health and I acknowledge it is a serious issue having regard to the isolation of farmers. One of the great benefits of the knowledge transfer groups is that it brings farmers together. Those groups result in ten, 12 or 14 farmers getting together and a problem shared is a problem halved. They get benefits in terms of learning about new technologies and of the adaptation of them to their farms, they get the farm safety module and they also have an avenue to tackle the issue of the isolation that farming involves. That is a very significant issue. I am very aware, as all Members are, of mental health issues generally and the specific issues around rural isolation. Bringing farmers together is one of the great gains of the knowledge transfer groups.

I want to take up the point raised by Senator Grace O'Sullivan in respect of glyphosate. We can ill afford an àla carteapproach to science. I am not an expert in this area but I take the advice of experts. No flags have been raised by the Food Safety Authority or the European Food Safety Authority on the use of glyphosate. That approval of glyphosate now comes with additional terms and conditions and those are the terms and conditions to which we will adhere.

I note the Senator made reference to glyphosate as a possible carcinogenic probably causing cancer, but that is not a scientific analysis. We need to make sure that science-based, peer-reviewed studies are at the heart of the decisions we make. I would certainly be led and said in that regard on the glyphosate issue, as well as on a whole range of other areas. We could have a very interesting debate on climate change but we need to accept the science on that as well. The Senator made reference to the ozone layer. Informed decision-making must be based on peer-reviewed science. If one Googles any topic, one can get reports to fit one's purpose. When we are making critical decisions we need to use peer-reviewed science. That was at the heart of the decision on glyphosate.

I very much have enjoyed the debate. It has been extremely informative. Many opinions were expressed and a range of points were made. Previous speakers also alluded to the Grange open day organised by Teagasc yesterday. In the context of farm accidents, that open day had a dual purpose. One purpose was to focus on Farm Safety Week and the other was to focus on new initiatives in the beef area.

One of the interesting companies that I came across yesterday was one based in Tipperary, the name of which escapes me momentarily. It was developing a prototype of a monitoring system on safety associated with the agitation of slurry and the gases associated with it. As Members know, numerous farm deaths have been attributed to this. This ties into Senator Lombard's point about mobile phones being a critical part of one's farm safety toolkit. The system being developed by this company links the detection of gas to sending a message to a series of preset numbers that would alert others to the fact that gas levels had reached a certain level in one's working environment. That company is hoping to develop the prototype of that monitoring system and indicated that hopefully it would be bringing it to fruition by the time of the National Ploughing Championships later in the year. It is a very innovative project and I hope it gets off the ground. For a relatively small amount of money, this would be a critical device in terms of delivering practical solutions to farm safety issues.

I thank all the Members for their contributions. I acknowledge the role the Seanad played in previous reports it produced on this area, and role played by the rapporteur, Senator Conway, on these matters.

Sitting suspended at 3.50 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.