Written answers

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

TB Eradication Scheme

Photo of Charlie McConalogueCharlie McConalogue (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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175. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will report on the recent spending review of the TB eradication programme carried out by the IGEES; and his views regarding an organisation (details supplied) regarding the review. [45868/19]

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Economics and Planning Division within DAFM carries out Spending Reviews on existing policies in conjunction with the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER). The Spending Review mechanism is a three-year policy evaluation process to improve how Government spending is allocated and maintained. The objective of these reviews is to maximise the impact of Government spending by reprioritising spending from programmes to ensure poorer outcomes are replaced with improved outcomes. This creates a clear link between the programme evaluations carried out across the public sector and the budgetary process. For DAFM, this involves ongoing policy analyses across a range of specific programmes.

The Spending Review on the TB Programme was published on Budget Day. Many of its findings are consistent with previous reviews of the TB Programme and with the Interim Report submitted to me by the Chairman of the TB Stakeholder Forum.

Irish farmers make a significant financial contribution to the TB Programme. Based on 2018 Programme costs, farmers provided approximately 38% of total Programme costs, the State was expected to provide 51% and the EU expected to contribute 11%. However, as a result of consecutive years of deteriorating headline TB herd incidence, the Commission has notified Ireland that it intends to withhold 10% of funding related to 2018 - the equivalent of €1m. Therefore, the EU contribution in respect of 2018 is most likely to be €8.7 million as opposed to the expected €9.7 million.

2019 is likely to be the third consecutive year of increasing TB herd incidence. This will result in a 20% EU funding penalty or €1.6 million reduction in respect of 2019. At present, these funding gaps will have to be met by the Irish taxpayer which further highlights the need for all stakeholders in the TB Programme to show leadership in ensuring TB levels are brought back onto a downward trajectory.

I note the comments from some stakeholders which are seeking increased rates of financial support for farmers who experience a TB restriction. I am acutely aware of the mental and financial challenges that face farmers who experience a TB restriction. While not designed to nor claiming to replace all income foregone related to a TB restriction, it is recognised that relative to other comparable jurisdictions, Ireland has the most supportive suite of financial aids in place for herdowners who experience a TB breakdown. Policy amendments agreed in 2015 to income supplement and hardship grants have also seen expenditure on these supports increase by over 80% at a time when disease trends have seen little change.

Q3 statistics related to the TB Programme were released by my Department in recent weeks. While TB herd incidence remains at relatively low levels, it is of significant concern that 2019 is likely to mark the third consecutive year of deterioration in bovine TB. This means that collectively we have failed to reduce the number of farm families who endure a TB restriction.

My view is that the focus now needs to be on eradication and on policies that will deliver this objective. This represents the greatest potential return on investment to all stakeholders and particularly to Irish farmers.

Reflecting this, I am willing to invest further in measures such as:

- Putting extra staff resources into the team that addresses disease transmission from wildlife;

- Engaging in further research including examining if deer are playing a role in spreading bovine TB;

- Engaging more closely with herdowners in blackspot areas - this reflects successful initiatives in addressing specific problem areas such as the Iveragh Peninsula in 2018 and ongoing challenges in Cavan/Monaghan; and

- Engaging and intervening more closely with herds that have a history of repeated, prolonged or sizeable breakdowns.

These measures can directly impact on TB eradication. The achievement of this objective would mean 4,000 families annually would no longer suffer the hardship and stress of a TB breakdown. The direct savings to farmers alone is estimated at approximately €35 million per annum, and that is before any market or other impacts are factored in. It would be regrettable if the issue of compensation, which has most recently been reviewed in 2015, were to detract from this objective.

I will be launching a renewed TB Strategy in the coming weeks which aims to support farmers in the most effective way - by eradicating bovine TB by 2030.

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