Thursday, 3 March 2022
Animal Health and Welfare and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, are out of order as they represent a potential charge on the Revenue. The amendments in question are Nos. 4, 5 and 6, as tabled by Senators Boylan, Gavan, Ó Donnghaile and Warfield; Nos. 5a, 5c and 5d, as tabled by Senator Higgins; and No. 5b, as tabled by Senators Crowe and Casey.
If the Senator wants to speak to section 7, she can do so. She has already mentioned that she might want to bring the amendment back on Report Stage. We have moved on from section 4, to which amendment No. 3 applied.
The points I hoped to make were made by Senator Gavan during our previous debate on this issue. When we initially raised concerns around the Control of Dogs Act and the Animal Health and Welfare Act, we were told it was strictly to do with fur farming.We were then able to bring in amendments to deal with forestry, so if the scope of the Bill has been expanded, I do not understand why it cannot be expanded further to allow for the introduction of amendments to deal with other areas of animal welfare. That is fine if it was addressed by Senator Gavan. I want to put on record that I do not understand why it was ruled out of order.
Notwithstanding that all of the amendments have been ruled out of order because they impose a charge on the State, very similar amendments were presented to the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, when we last sat. I cannot speak for everybody, but when we suspended that day, the Minister of State told us that she would come back and provide a response to the spirit of what the Members were trying to relay that day. We are waiting on that response. The spirit of what we are trying to say is that the State is closing down these businesses. We all get why it is and we probably do not dispute that it is closing them down. What is a real concern to all of us is, first, proper compensation must be provided for the livelihoods of the farmers. We hear today there have not even been negotiations, discussions or informed consent with the farmers involved. More importantly, the two weeks' statutory redundancy that was offered some weeks ago for the 35 or so people who earn their living working on these farms does not sit well with any one of us.
The State is responsible for making these people lose their jobs. It needs to stand up and say it knows what it is doing is for the right reasons but it is making sure the measures it puts in place will look after the people's livelihoods. That goes so far as making sure the Intreo offices look after the people to retrain and reskill them. Last week, Senator Gavan suggested we should put up a special fund and that was rejected. As a former Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, I know it is something Intreo offices do as a matter of course. I would like to know the reason it is not being done here. There is still an outstanding issue with regard to the compensation package that is being offered to the farmers. From their communication with us, they do not agree with it, but more egregiously wrong is the way they have been treated in negotiations in recent months. It is not what we would consider acceptable. I would like to hear a response from the Minister before we decide if we agree to section 7.
I agree with the Leader. We had a long protracted debate, and the Minister was not here. I know he is a reasonable and fair person. I thank him for the Grant Thornton report that eventually came. To give the Minister an idea of what went on, it was nearly impossible to get this report. The farmers could not even get it. We got it. We are discussing primary legislation. We are the Upper House and we had to make a case. We were told we would have it the next day, but it did not come the next day. We had to keep asking. It suggests there is a reluctance to engage with people.
As the Minister well knows, I am on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and when I played back the deliberations of that meeting, if there was anyone rigorous and tough in the questioning of the farmers, it was me. There is a subtle difference between questioning and being rigorous and fair. I raised a number of issues about the welfare of the animals. I also wanted there to be a heavy emphasis on the employees of the farmers, because they too are losing out. I thank the Minister, as the primary Minister in the Department, for coming to engage with us. As I said to the Minister of State on the previous occasion the Bill was discussed in the House, the reality is this activity is legal today. By right, those people would be preparing for a breeding programme. The Oireachtas has made no final decision. The issue is about compensation for the workers and the farmers. These farmers represent rural constituencies. I have spoken to them, and I know of their attempts to have meaningful engagement and dialogue with their public representatives, and it is very disappointing. I know there are few of them, which does not help their case. There are three farms in question here. However, we must be fair. If the Government were to take a decision tomorrow to close down turkey production, the farmers involved would rightly demand fair play and justice.
We talk about a just transition and how the Government would not be found wanting in that regard in rural communities. We also talk about sustainable communities, rural Ireland and a town centre first approach, and building up the very fabric, economy and community in rural communities. We hear all sorts of whispers that there will be this or that and these farmers will not get X, Y or Z. Even at this late stage, I beg the Minister, who is a fair man and represents a rural constituency, to sit down with these farmers. They are entrepreneurs and I admire entrepreneurs. They are risk takers and business people - everything the Government talks about supporting. They must get a decent package of compensation. It is fundamentally wrong when the Government issues a decree to close down any legitimate, legal business that is operating within the law and complying with the requirements of commercial life, paying income tax and appropriate fees.
I do not live in any of the constituencies involved and I do not know any of these individual farmers. I do not know anyone who knows any of these farmers, but in terms of the section, it is not too late. Let us be fair to people. Let us give them a decent package. All I want is the right sum. I am not setting myself up to be somebody, but I want to advocate strongly for fairness. The Minister and his officials should perhaps take this legislation away and take ten or 15 days, fewer if possible, and sit down and get some sort of consensus and be fair to the people involved but, more importantly, to their rural communities, who expect and believe they have the support of the Government for rural communities, agriculture and farming communities. It is unfair the way they have been treated and I hope it is not too late. I hope common sense will prevail. I also hope the Minister will agree to mediate or appoint a mediator to put together a fair package before he comes back to the House.
No, but they have been rejected. As a Government party Senator, it takes a lot for me to table amendments to a Bill. It is a very unusual process. In fact, this is my first time in the Seanad to have done so. I have no skin in this game. The people involved are not from my part of the world at all, but I thought we needed fairness regarding the decision itself. I spoke at length in the previous debate about trying to get fairness for community, society and for these people who will be out of business because of a Government agreement. We spoke about a just transition when it comes to other issues and a whole-of-government approach, but it appears we had not joined up the dots on a just transition for the 35 workers involved in the sector. That is a significant issue.
The previous speaker is correct. These people are working within the law and, for no reason bar a change in the law, they will be unemployed. The people involved live in remote rural areas. There is no Internet or Facebook there. We need to find how we are going to sustain these people going forward so that they have a quality of life and the communities around them can survive. It is very important we get clarity within the Bill that the process can be protected. Otherwise, we are failing society itself and I would be deeply concerned about that.
Another issue on which I tabled an amendment that was also ruled out of order was about how we can work with the Department and the family farms involved to get a fair package so they can move on to their next enterprise, whatever that will be. It is not about mink farming. This is about what happens to the next entity. This is enabling legislation. That is the real issue here. We do not know what will happen in the next decade or so regarding other issues in agriculture. This is a dramatic sea change in the past year.I do not know where this is going to stop. We need to put in place a fair process whereby everyone has the ability to work together. Realistically, the Department holds all the cards here. Realistically, the Department has the ability to draft legislation and, on the other side, to negotiate what it wants. A fairer approach with some kind of mediation process would be much more appropriate. You cannot draft legislation and mediate at the same time. It just does not make logical sense. As I said, it is very rare I would table an amendment, and I have tabled two to this Bill because we need to get clarity on this. Even though there are small numbers involved here, I am fighting for the principle of the issue.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy McConalogue. I thank him again for his help on this issue, both now and previously.
From my own point of view, this is a controversial topic. The Government is taking a rather extraordinary step to enforce the end of the sector. That is fine and probably many people welcome it. As been outlined by other Senators, however, at the end of the day, we are shutting down the sector. It is essential this is done in a manner that leaves those who have made this sector their work for all their lives feeling respected and that they were treated with fairness. That word “fairness” has been used by all Members in the House today.
I have been a Member of this House for nearly two years. I have never previously tabled an amendment to a Government Bill. In that regard, I want to highlight in particular that the current approach would see only redundancy being provided for all statutory levels. Obviously, this is the bare minimum. We demand and encourage private companies to provide, where possible, additional redundancy that reflects the commitment their staff have given. This will have a massive impact on 40 members of staff and 40 families. Therefore, for the Department’s proposal to cover only statutory redundancy seems to me to be a mistake. I ask the Minister to consider this matter. I have no doubt the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, will.
To put this into the context of a human point of view, I, no more than other Senators, met the families last week and spoke to them at length. That was the first occasion on which I met the people. I know from my own experience of running a business about what is right and what is wrong. The point that hit home to me while hearing about the 40 families was that, in one of those cases, I was told people would move from the village in which they currently live. As a result, there would be one and possibly two fewer pupils going to the national school. There were tears in those people’s eyes while they told me that national schools would lose a teacher as a result. This is the impact this is having on rural Ireland. I do not think that should happen.
No more than Senator Boyhan and other Senators in the House, when I spoke to the families, I had done a bit of research on the matter. In terms how the compensation is calculated, I believe the proposal of the five-year term needs to be reviewed. Certainly, as I said, I know from my own experience in business that there are periods when everything is going well and when business is going well. There are also periods when that is not the case. I think a five-year term is too minimal and needs to be broadened. There is a clear and evident trend that this industry has rises, peaks and falls. A longer term over ten years would be fairer to all, for those affected and for the Department. I would provide that it would be a fair reflection and I would welcome the Minister's thoughts on this.
I would also like to see more communication with the three farmers affected, regardless of whether an agreement can be reached in all topics. It would be beneficial to have open lines of communication, as the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, has said. There should be close contact so that both the farmers and the Department can have a better understanding of where each side is coming from. I will leave it at that for now. I thank the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, again for his time today.
The Minister is very welcome. I acknowledge the fact we have people from the industry here in the Chamber this afternoon. We have Michael from west Kerry, who has worked in the industry for 37 years. We have Una from Stradbally as well. It is important to note they have taken the time to come up here again today.
Let me be clear, my concern, as Senator Lombard has said, and he made a very strong point on it on the previous day, is for a just transition for these workers. That is the issue at heart here. I am surprised, particularly as the Minister comes from rural Ireland. Just to be clear, I am from Limerick and I have no direct interest in this apart from justice for these workers. Industries close all the time. When I was a trade union official, unfortunately, you would break the bad news to the workers and then you would go into a negotiation and you negotiate a package in the best way you can to enable those people to move on. I find it shocking and entirely unacceptable that, right now, we are looking at a Bill that will offer these workers statutory redundancy. I do not know about the Minister but I do not believe I could sleep at night if I were to say to a worker who had given 37 years’ service and say, “You know what, you're just getting statutory redundancy. That's it. Good luck.” The Government is sending that message, and I believe everyone in this Chamber - I am not being party political about this - is saying to the Minister that is not right.
I am asking the Minister, and this echoes what others have said, to negotiate a package with these people. It can be done very quickly. It is done week in, week out in this country because, as we know, sometimes businesses close. The Government is closing this business. We need to come up to the mark. We cannot turn our backs on these people. Just to be clear, and I mean this respectfully, the Minister has the power and the responsibility to deal with this. Please engage with these people to ensure they can move on with their lives and to ensure those words “just transition” have real meaning for these people, their communities and their livelihoods.
As most Members of the House will know, I am a big advocate of fairly massive change in order that we deal with the climate crisis. I believe we have a few years of very significant change ahead of us. We will see sectors that will end or change. How we do it really matters. That is where it is about finding the commonality that is coming through, the idea of just transition, and what we do to bring that into effect. Just transition is not simply about certain areas or regions. It is around certain principles of how we approach the changes. In some cases, it may be that for sectors that will have to make really huge changes, we will end up with something almost like the workplace subsidy schemes that we have had in the past, where we will have to have sectors supported by the State through a major transition in terms of reimagining what they do. In other cases, as in this case, we will have areas where a sector will effectively end what it does. We have to do that right. There are three companies and 38 workers, as I understand it, but why people are working so hard to try to get it right and why the Minister is hearing this across the Chamber is because we know it sets as well a message for how we do things.
I tabled four amendments to this section. I submitted three different approaches to how the issue could be addressed, all of which, unfortunately, were ruled out of order because they are amendments the Minister and the Department need to come forward with. Looking at the amendments others have put forward and mine, one is in relation to including those redundancy and ex gratiapayments that recognise terms of service and where someone puts his or her life, as a worker, into an industry. We often talk about company owners, but workers put their lives into industries. They use their best years in working for an industry, and that needs to be recognised, not simply that they are unemployed tomorrow and they have the statutory redundancy, but the fact of what they have invested. That is where payments that recognise terms of service are so important.
I tabled another amendment that suggested there should be redundancy payments negotiated between the licensee and the workers, so if a company negotiates fair redundancy with its workers, that would be included in the compensation package set out in this Bill.In another approach, I gave entire discretion to the Minister to decide such further redundancy payments beyond the statutory minimum as the Minister may deem appropriate.
We are trying to problem solve. These are various approaches to try to address the same issue, which is fundamentally that we have to ensure those who have worked in the industry are properly supported as the industry comes to an end and they are not simply left with a minimum and best of luck for the future. I welcome the amendments tabled by Sinn Féin on particular employment and reskilling schemes. These are practical proposals being brought forward from throughout the House.
My other amendment to the section proposed to address a potential perverse consequence, which would be in line with all of our international obligations and our policies on demolition. As it stands, the Bill allows for compensation in respect of demolition where repurposing is not possible, but it does not allow for compensation in respect of repurposing. We know from an embodied energy perspective we want to avoid demolition wherever we can. The sensible thing is not to say compensation is only for knocking down a building but also that there is compensation if the building is adapted and put to a new purpose. It is very important we do not create an incentive whereby people feel they have to knock down a building to get money. This does not serve any of us.
I want to emphasise this is important as a point of principle, as people have said, in terms of how we move forward on just transition. It needs to be fast and fair. It is also important at a practical level. There are practical solutions. Given all our amendments have been ruled out of order, I hope the Minister tables Government amendments to address this issue.
I welcome the Minister to the House. The debate has moved on from mink farming and it is about what happens as a result of the closure of a business. Senator Higgins alluded to it. We do not know where we are going. We do not know what sector might be closed in another 15 or 20 years. I want to speak about people in family businesses and who have spent the past 30 years building up those business. If I were in their shoes, how would I feel? I would have serious concerns about my own viability. I would be more concerned about the 30 or 40 people I have employed for the past 30 years. Where will their future lie? What substitute employment will be put in place for them? If I had put my life into my business and was told that business would no longer exist, not because of what I had done but because of a change in Government policy, would I be happy with what is on the table today? Honestly, I probably would not. This is the most honest answer I can give.
I have many reservations about what is in the legislation relating employers. I also have concerns about future activities. I say this with regard to planning and trying to get planning permission in a rural area when something is demolished. Something has to be worked out as to what can substitute for the existing buildings. As soon as people get funding to demolish the buildings, are they guaranteed planning permission for a substitute business? No, they are not. I do not see this anywhere in the Bill. Anyone from a rural area knows how difficult it is to get planning permission for a one-off house, never mind for an industry. What will we substitute this industry with? We do not know. I hope the Minister will sit down and negotiate these issues, if at all possible. I am imagining what it would be like if my business was taken from me tomorrow morning, not because of what I did but because of a change in Government policy. How would I feel? Hand on heart, I do not believe there has been enough negotiation or consultation. We need to sit down again. I hope the Minister can extend such an invitation.
I do not know whether it is because spring is in the air but this week in the House we have agreed on many issues, such as offering solidarity to Ukraine and today with Linda Ervine. The Minister can hear there is a united front on addressing concerns for workers and farmers and the compensation scheme. He can also hear from everybody who is speaking that we are all desperately trying to put forward credible solutions. They have all been ruled out of order. Everybody has engaged in the process and has tried to be constructive and table various measures the Minister could avail of to help these workers and farmers.
For example, we tabled a suggestion on the environmental impact assessment. We fear there is low-balling on the cost of demolition and, as Senator Higgins said, on refurbishment. The lowest carbon building is the one already in existence. We tabled concerns about the compensation scheme. Senator Crowe spoke about this. There is a five-year calculation rather than what happens in other jurisdictions, which is a ten-year calculation. We are an outlier with other jurisdictions that have already done this. The five-year period seems to coincide with a downturn in the industry. Is this convenient? I would like to hear why the Minister is choosing a five-year period and not a ten-year period when it is the standard as to how this is done.
We have issues with specified assets. Another amendment we tabled was on the training scheme. My colleague, Deputy Carthy, and I are very familiar with the EU globalisation funds put in place. When big multinational corporations moved from one jurisdiction in the EU to others, this funding was put in place to train workers and upskill them. Why can this not be done on a much smaller scale through SOLAS? I do not understand why this cannot be accepted as a credible proposal.
To get to the crux of it, I am climate activist. I engage with the Committee on the Environment and Climate Action. We have fought very hard to get legally binding targets. I am very concerned that many people in government speak about a just transition but they do not really understand what a just transition is. If we are to fall now at the first hurdle, which is with a handful of workers, when it comes to the scale of change the State is facing in reaching our carbon emission targets, I am not just concerned for the workers we are speaking about today and for the farmers in the Chamber but also I am very concerned we are going to lose the public on this. Whatever about Senator Gavan being from Limerick, I am from Tallaght. We definitely do not have fur farmers there.
How can an elected representative go into rural Ireland and say this is how the Government views a just transition but not even talk to the workers? They will be offered statutory redundancy. The Government will make sure the compensation comes in at the lowest possible nomination. I would not like to be the Minister going into any rural community trying to sell a just transition if that is what it means to the Government. I urge the Minister to listen to people in the House who are genuinely concerned for the workers and farmers here today and about the message it sends out to all of the other communities and sectors that will have to make radical changes if we are to meet our carbon emission targets and our carbon budgets in the very short window we have to do so. I urge the Minister to sit down with the workers and negotiate a package that is fair and just.
It was helpful to listen to the consistency of message and approach throughout the House. I acknowledge the Minister is in a coalition government with the Green Party and Fine Gael. I acknowledge the Green Party has set out to close down the mink farming industry.That is the price to be paid for going into a coalition government. One party does not get everything the way it wants it and neither does any other party to the coalition. That is the difficulty. I also acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, came into this House and talked about just transition. He was doing the devil and all in terms of just transition, saying they would stay with rural Ireland and with rural farming, farmers and communities, yet the gap is becoming wider and wider. It is not only three farmers who are affected.
I acknowledge that Michael from Waterville, County Kerry is here as well as Una from Stradbally, County Laois. They have linked in with their public representatives and have shared with me, and no doubt with my fellow Senators, the difficulties they are encountering. Ms Norma Moriarty, a Fianna Fáil councillor from Waterville, County Kerry, said to me on the phone last that all they were looking for, and all she was looking for as a public representative and a member of the Minister's party, was fair play and a just settlement. Let us have a negotiated settlement with these mink farmers. That is not unreasonable.
I am opposed to mink farming in Ireland. I welcome the fact the end of the mink farming industry for a number of reasons but that is not the issue here. We have all moved on. The farmers have moved on from the point of whether they can have a mink farm; they are not arguing to retain their mink farms or their livelihoods. However, they have a long tradition in this business. They have given their working lives, they have brought up their families and that is the principal income that has sustained them. In many ways some of these are generational issues. They have gone on a long time. They have a particularly keen eye and skill for the breeding of mink. They know their industry well and they have survived through difficult times in the past. Over the past ten years a substantial number of years have been good years. In the past two years with Covid-19 most people's businesses have suffered a little. It is about being just, being fair and standing in solidarity with rural communities that the Minister knows well and has served exceptionally well. With that, I echo Councillor Norma Moriarty's call for a negotiated settlement and a fair deal. That is not too much to ask for. I hope in his response he will share with us some of those ideas on those themes.
I thank Senators for their contributions. There is a clear recognition that the State has decided to close down this industry and as a result of that is impacting on three farms and the livelihoods of those farmers as well as their employees. The objective has always been to be fair and reasonable in recognition of the impact of what we are doing. There has been ongoing engagement with fur farmers in that regard. We also commissioned Grant Thornton Ireland to put together an independent assessment of the processes and procedures and reasonable ways to compensate for closing down businesses to inform how we go about it. We have to have a verifiable process and evidential system for making decisions on what is appropriate compensation for the farmers and what is appropriate expenditure on behalf of the State. That is important. It has to be evidential. It cannot be what a view is or a subjective opinion; we have to have an evidential basis on which to do it. That is why we commissioned Grant Thornton Ireland to do that.
This is a big decision. It is a very significant one for the fur farmers. I welcome the two representatives here today. The third farm, which is not represented here, is based in my own county, in Glenties. It is very challenging. This is something that is no fault of theirs. They have run their businesses entirely in accordance with the law. They established their businesses in most instances very much with the encouragement and backing of the State, as a new industry back in the 1960s or 1970s when it first kicked off. It was a much more significant industry over those years. The number is now down to just three farms but there were many more farms in the past. This is a Fianna Fáil policy. It is not happening because of the Green Party. I put it in my manifesto before the public in the most recent general election. Fine Gael may have had the same policy, although I am not sure. The Green party had that policy. This is agreed among the three Government parties and is a reflection of the fact that this is an industry that has moved on and is now no longer appropriate to the times we live in. That is no reflection on the farmers at all because they have run their establishments and their farms to the highest standards that were always required and requested of them, and, indeed, provided employment to rural communities as well.
The objective here is to ensure that we are fair in what we do. We have to have an objective and evidential basis for how we proceed. I met with the farmers and their representatives three or four weeks ago regarding the outstanding issues. I asked that there would be further engagement between the farmers and my officials, and agreed that I would meet them further to that as well. I will do that because the regulations that this legislation will enable us to put the finer detail in place. That finer detail is not inserted in primary legislation. It is a matter for regulation and that is what the legislation provides for.
In regard to the amendments, one of the amendments for example talks about repurposing buildings instead of demolishing them, which is eminently sensible. The focus of the legislation as it stands in this area has been on demolition and clean-up costs for buildings that do not have a further use but repurposing those buildings can provide them with a future use. This suggestion is being made to my Department, and I am satisfied that it is possible, to use the demolition cost heading for repurposing instead if that is the wish of the businesses concerned and provides for a future use. I will address this in the regulations. Costs for repurposing a building that do not exceed the possible costs for demolition will be covered in the regulations. That is what I will do. This level of detail is not appropriate for primary legislation so I do not propose to accept the amendment. It has been ruled out of order but it is entirely sensible. If a building can be turned into something useful instead of spending money on tearing it, the same money can be used to repurpose it, which makes entire sense. I will provide for that in the regulations.
The other issue I have been reflecting on during our deliberations is support for employees because a number of employees on the three farms will be impacted. A number of Senators have raised this issue and a number of Deputies raised it in the Dáil as well. It is a matter which is to be finalised as part of the regulation. I discussed this with the farmers when I met with them three or four weeks ago and I have reflected further on it. The legislation provides for statutory redundancy. That is what the law of the State provides for but there is capacity within the regulations to reflect other costs and the impact on employees. I will reflect this in the regulations and take it into account. I will engage further with fur farmers on this but the legislation provides for that to be accommodated under the regulations. I am very conscious of the issue. These are employees in rural Ireland who will no longer have the jobs they have worked at. It is something I will engage further on and provide for additional financial supports for the employees as appropriate in the regulations. I will engage with the fur farmers directly on that as well.
Where there are other issues that Senators want to bring to my attention and want to have considered, I will consider them. My core objective is to be fair and reasonable, and to properly reflect what we are doing and the impact it will have on the farmers and on their employees. We also must be prudent and reasonable in how we spend public money but it has to be fair to the farmers as well. There will be further engagement between my officials, the farmers and their representatives. As I said to them when I met them recently, I will meet them again to discuss it further. I received a letter after the latest meeting from the fur farmers who were not particularly happy with the meeting that we had. I felt it was a productive meeting. We did not agree, but the fact we did not agree on issues did not mean that the meeting was not useful. What I said that day was that there would be further engagement with officials and I would meet with the farmers again. I made that very clear. I fully respect the position the farmers are in. I want to ensure the final outcome is fair to them and I want to ensure that is accommodated in the regulation as well. There will be further engagement on it. As I have said, it is about balancing what is appropriate, fair and reasonable for the farmers - and we have different views on that with regard to the negotiations so far - with what is prudent from the point of view of the State. The appropriate way to do that is through finalising the regulations after further engagement between me, as Minister, and the farmers with a view to being fair to them, which is the outcome I have wanted to ensure from the outset. That is the way in which we are doing the legislation. It will enable those regulations to be finalised.
It is appropriate that there be engagement between myself, as Minister and on behalf of the Department and the State as public money is spent, and the farmers themselves. It is important that we do not do this in a way that puts the Seanad or the Dáil in the middle of those negotiations and where every detail of the ultimate outcome of those negotiations is reflected in legislation. If that were the case, you would have the Minister negotiating with the Oireachtas and asking whether something is enough and whether other things should be included and the Seanad or Dáil being the forum for negotiation. While many people would like to be in the middle of negotiations and making those final decisions, the appropriate place for that to happen is in engagements between me and the farmers, with the results to be finalised in regulation.
With regard to engaging further with Senators and taking on board their views, I am happy to do that. I will certainly also have further meetings with the farmers. I very much acknowledge the responsibility I have as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to try to get the right and fair outcome on behalf of the State. A balance has to be struck. It is an important balance. It is a big responsibility, particularly with regard to being fair to those who are to be affected and whose livelihoods will no longer be available to them after we pass the legislation and introduce the regulations to make fur farming illegal.
I thank the Minister for his constructive engagement. He is right, there are parts of this that it is not appropriate for us to be involved in but there are also parts where our involvement, as legislators, is appropriate. Given that our job in this House is to provide the Minister with legislation, including legislation that gives him the power to make regulations, it is important that we make sure it is as clear as possible with regard to what we include. It is useful that, even after Committee Stage, we still have Report Stage to go through. I am not asking the Minister to come back to us to lay out his proposals and tell us how the negotiations are going but I encourage him to come back to us with amendments that reflect the regulations and the elements we have discussed.
I am concerned. I appreciate the Minister having taken on board the sensible point, which is complementary to Senator Casey's point, with regard to the difference between planning and starting a whole new thing and repurposing something. I recognise the need for a cost limit and the issue of that being equivalent to the cost of demolition. That is a sensible provision. However, I am worried about the existing wording. I am a stickler for wording. It currently only refers to "demolition and clean-up costs in respect of the removal of any buildings [...] that cannot reasonably be used for any other purpose". The regulations do not directly empower the Minister to give compensatory payment in respect of repurposing. A change in the language is required to do that rather than saying we interpret the provisions in a certain way. In fact, that is explicitly precluded because demolition compensation may only be paid in respect of buildings that cannot reasonably be used for any other purpose. We want to allow for compensation in respect of buildings that can reasonably be used for another purpose. Again, this is aimed at strengthening the Minister's hand as he makes the regulations and at giving him the mandate he needs to deliver the very sensible solution he outlined. I am concerned that the legislation, as currently drafted, does not include that among the matters he may make regulation in respect of. In fact, it explicitly precludes that. I do not want the Minister, or some other Minister, to come up against that as a concern when he has goodwill. We want to give him the right mandate.
Similarly, the matters for which the Minister is being mandated by this legislation to make compensatory payments includes statutory redundancy in light of section 19 of the Redundancy Payments Act 1967. With regard to my own amendments, although I am sure others were tabled, I did not try to specify what the outcome should be. I referred to "such further redundancy payments as may be negotiated" and "such further redundancy payments beyond the statutory minimum as the Minister may deem appropriate". I was not trying to say what the outcome would be but to ensure that, if this legislation passes this House, the Minister will have a mandate and the full list of topics included in the legislation he will need to deliver the kind of positive outcomes he has discussed.
The Minister has mentioned engagement with the farmers multiple times. That is really good and important. However, it is important that he hear from this House that it is not just about engagement with the farmers but also engagement with the workers. Even though there has been very good solidarity between the farmers and the workers on this issue, at the end of the day, the farmers are not the representatives of the workers. It is a limited number, 38, and it would be very useful if the Minister were to engage directly with them so that he has a sense of their needs. I know there is common purpose in that regard but engagement with farmers is only one piece. The other big stakeholder is the workers and a little bit of direct engagement may be required. I thank the Minister for his constructive engagement with us. He can hear that, as a House, we are very interested in constructive engagement but we might need to strengthen the legislation as well as bringing those matters into the more discretionary space of regulations.
I thank the Minister for his response but I have absolutely no interest in being involved in negotiations and I am sure nobody else here does. We are certainly not going to do so in this House, in the Dáil or in a committee room. However, I do acknowledge that there are workers who do not think what is being offered to them is fair. We also have three farmers who absolutely refute the contention that they have been treated fairly. I totally understand that the statutory redundancy legislation ties the Minister's hand and limits him to two weeks but, as Senator Higgins has said, we can absolutely make provisions in regulations. It is only fair for the Minister to let us know what his anticipated plans are so that we can constructively proceed with the legislation to make sure it is passed so that the regulations can be drafted. However, if we do not know what is going to be in them, it makes it very onerous for us to say whether we agree with sections of the Bill.
I completely concur with the Minister regarding the fact that he needs a verifiable process and that the three years was moved to five years. I know colleagues here have suggested that we go to ten but I understand why the Minister does not want to go to ten and the precedent that it might set. Senator Boylan is right. We have a long road ahead of us and other businesses will be forced to close by the State's actions but we need to recognise that there are people here who cannot earn a living anymore. We have people who have spent millions of their own euros investing in and improving their farms because the State and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine made them do so over recent years and they are going to get absolutely zero compensation. Regardless of the language used, I cannot think how anybody could think that is morally responsible or ethical. It is not. I understand the Minister wants this legislation passed. So do we. However, we absolutely need to know what his anticipated plans are for compensation for the workers and for fair compensation for these farmers, or at least reimbursement of some of the money they have spent on their land over recent years. What is on offer today is absolutely not fair. We genuinely need to be fair to the workers and the farmers. Any understanding of a just transition, regardless of one's party, must include compensating people when we take their ability to earn a living away from them.
I will be brief on this. I waited for the Minister's response and I have taken into account what everybody else has said and it is really important that we get a fair deal for the three farmers involved and for their employees. As Senator Higgins has said, there is a constructive way forward. In his reply, the Minister said twice publicly that he will meet the farmers again. It is really important and positive that we take that step forward.
I know some people did not like it but, if you look up our last election manifesto, you will see that it was Fianna Fáil policy to get rid of fur farming. I know that not everybody agreed with it but that was our policy. I was a Deputy at the time and, in our discussions on that, we made it quite clear that there would have to be proper compensation for the farmers and their employees. Everybody is of one mind on that. How we progress is the important thing. However, the Minister has made it quite clear today that he is going to meet these people. I know they were not happy with the last meeting. The Minister has acknowledged that.Maybe with another meeting or two we can make some worthwhile progress to get a proper solution to this, so those people are happy. As Senator Doherty said, these people have paid their taxes, their employees have paid their taxes and they have contributed to the State. This is happening because of changes to Government and EU policy. I agree that we must look after these people when they are suffering because of a change in policy.
I thank the Minister for his response. It would be helpful if the Minister was to give a commitment to sit down with the farmers and the workers next week. We are back in here to debate again next week and it would just give substance to the debate. Chatting to colleagues from the industry, I am hearing the concern that there is nothing tangible here at the moment. The Bill is not adequate on the compensation, and in fairness, the Minister has acknowledged that. I want to acknowledge that the Minister has acknowledged that.
I put it to the Minister that this is not rocket science. If the Minister could give a commitment that he and his Department will engage constructively in the next week on this issue, and will sit down to meet with the workers and the farmers in the next week, this would build confidence. We would then be able to see a process on the way to fix the concerns that we have.
I acknowledge the Minister's contribution, and also those contributions from Members of the Seanad. I look at this process and I just wonder. At the moment we are bringing legislation through and then we will have a regulation coming afterwards. I understand that process, but I believe that the spirit of my amendment, which was to have a mediator, is a pragmatic approach. It is very hard to bring the legislation through and then on the other side be the person who is going to debate what the compensation package will be, which in effect is what the Department is going to do. I feel that the Minister and the Department have tied one arm behind the farmers' backs. They will have no control and no ability. They will have only a minor negotiation and if they are not happy they are not happy and that will be it.
When one considers what it is we are talking about, it is about the principle. We are closing down an industry, rightly or wrongly, because of Government policy. That Government policy is a huge step because there could be other changes in Government policy going forward and we could have more industries closed down. Look at where these areas are and the lack of a just transition fund. Other Members said that schools might even close. That would be a significant issue.
We need to see, if we possibly could, how a just transition package could be put in place with these three communities that are affected. There does not seem to be anything in this Bill about that. We have continually heard the terminology of "a just transition" in other areas, but I believe this is the first time it has come to the Seanad in a piece of legislation that one would say there needs to be an acknowledgement of a just transition. I do not believe we are seeing this in the Bill. I am deeply concerned about that.
We all know that the changes to come in agriculture are going to be severe. We all know the changes will have a huge impact on our communities. If we fail at the first item, which is the first piece of legislation coming forward, then I am very concerned about the entire agricultural industry going forward. As other Senators have stated, we will see significant changes in agriculture in the next 20 to 30 years. I cannot tell what those changes will be but they will have an impact on rural Ireland. We need to get this first step right and we need to get the principles behind it right. If we can do that, then hopefully we can move forward and the communities affected by these closures can be protected. It is key. We need to protect these communities if we possibly can.
I remind Members that we are to adjourn after 60 minutes. There are three minutes left and three Senators indicating. I will take Senators Boyhan, Crowe and Casey, in that order, but if Senator Boyhan is still talking in three minutes-----
I thank the Minister for coming to the House, and I really do appreciate his very genuine offer of engagement with the farmers. It is important. I also concur with the comments of the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty. Senator Doherty has previously spoken about leverage. I do not like using that word in politics, and especially in a constructive Chamber such as this. We do, however, have some sort of leverage at the moment, which is that we are a House of legislation. We are trying to perfect this and ensure that the best possible arrangements fall out of this legislation that we are comfortable with and can stand over. Senator Lombard said that it is important for our rural communities, but it is about a negotiated settlement. I do not believe this is unfair. Hopefully, as a result of the Minister's input, we will be in a very much better place next week.
I thank the Minister. The only request I would make is for face-to-face meetings with the families and the officials. I welcome the fact that the Minister wants to meet the families on the second occasion. The Minister has shown leadership across the State, visiting every mart in every county. The Minister knows the issues on the ground. My point is that there is a human side to the impact and that the officials would have face-to-face meetings with the families to understand the issues that I have heard about. That would be very welcome. I compliment the Minister. The second meeting is in place and progress has been made. I thank the Minister for his leadership on the issue.
I will briefly focus on the verifiable evidence. I will go back to my own situation. If the Minister was to come to me and say that he was going to base my compensation on the past five years of my business, but 40% of that time was two years of the worst years experienced in my business, I would not accept it. If it was five normal years of business I might have a better understanding of it.
If the Minister was shutting me down tomorrow morning, and going through what my industry went through the in past two years, which were the two worst years in the history of the hospitality sector, and if the Minister is asking that 40% of the compensation is to be made up based on including two of the worst years in the history of the industry, I would have reservations about this.
I thank the Acting Chairman and I thank all of the Senators for their contributions. Some of the issues included the repurposing. I have clearly said that this would be dealt with. I will deal with this as part of the regulation, for which I have the capacity. My clear advice is that I have the capacity, as it stands, to be able to do that.
Likewise, with regard to additional financial assistance for the workers and employees and the impact on them, this is something I will deal with as part of the regulation. I have given a clear commitment on that.
I was taken aback when coming here today and I realised that we were only in for one hour and were adjourning for the day at 3.45 p.m. We must work our way through this legislation and finalise it.
The breeding season is due to start normally around now. The onus is on me and the responsibility is on me as the Minister, on behalf of the Government, to engage with the farmers to bring this to a conclusion. I cannot stand over a situation where I am doing that with the Seanad in the middle of that negotiation where that negotiation must be represented to the very fine detail in the primary legislation, or where we need to know the anticipated plans, or to come back next week with something tangible.
The executive role for me as the Minister is to be fair, to work off the principles of the legislation that is there, and to finalise that agreement with the farmers directly on the basis of the legislation that is provided here. That is the situation we are in.
There is an urgency around bringing this to a conclusion. I will be meeting with the farmers again after the further engagement between the farmers and my officials. We do, however, need to bring the legislation to a conclusion to enable the implementation of the Government policy. As I have said very clearly, I absolutely accept the onus is on me as the Minister to ensure that there is a fair conclusion here and a fair outcome that reflects the implications and impact of what it is we are doing.