Committee on Finance. - Vote 37: Agriculture (Resumed).

Tuesday, 16 February 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 251 No. 9

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Debate resumed on the following motion:—

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1971, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.

Mr. Keating: Information on Justin Keating  Zoom on Justin Keating  I want to deal today with the matter of farmers' incomes and the policies of the farmers' organisations at the moment. When one is discussing levels of incomes the point has to be made that farmers differ from people in industrial employment because farmers function in a market where every price or practically every price is a controlled price, determined by the Government. There is, for example, very little fluctuation in many of their products. There is, of course, continuing fluctuation in the matter of beef, but the prices are to a very great extent, within the control of the central authority. There is also no built-in periodic adjustment for inflation. If we develop the habit, as is now being urged, of all sorts of balance sheets and industrial reporting, reporting all incomes, not in terms of the going price at the moment but with an adjustment for inflation, then it will be perfectly clearly seen that farmers' incomes are, in fact, going down. The rises granted from time to time are not sufficient to compensate them, firstly, because of inflation, and secondly, because of the fact that while the prices of most of what they sell are fixed the prices of what they purchase, the industrial products, the fuels, [1347] fertilisers, the feeding stuffs, the animal and plant chemicals and so on are not, in fact, fixed but are rising.

There is a persistent impression among urban people that, somehow or other, no matter what happens to costs, farmers can take up the slack and go on living well. This is not the case. If there is increasing well-being it is surely equitable that it should be spread over all sections of the community. In those circumstances any examination of the relative incomes of different sectors of the community made by any unbiased person will indicate an absolutely clear-cut deterioration of the position of farmers relative to other sectors of the community.

This is an undeniable fact on which a great deal of farmer activity for better incomes is based. I do not want to talk about the omissions of the past on this occasion, though they are glaring and we are paying dearly for them and I do not propose now to analyse the activities and some of the policies of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and indicate where I think they are inadequate or, indeed, harmful.

I want to turn now to the campaign for higher incomes for farmers. We have the tragic situation in which farmers do not speak with a unified voice. I know the historical reasons for this but it has to be said over and over that whether a government or the Department of Agriculture intentionally exploit the division or not—if we were feeling charitable we would say that they do not always do so although maybe under pressure on occasions they do—it is asking too much of them to think that they should totally ignore those divisions and that they should never play one section off against another. The reproach is not so much directed at the Department and the responsible Minister for manoeuvring as between two pressure groups, because that is a very predictable and not surprising response, but that those two pressure groups ought to realise that until they speak with a single voice they will never be able to pull the full weight of the farming community [1348] which they represent in the tug-of-war as to who gets the proper share of the available income.

Farmers' organisations will never, as long as they are divided, as long as the possibility of playing off one against the other exists, be able to get the share of the national income for their members which in my view they deserve. I do not think there is any particular wickedness in the present Government in this regard but I feel that governments in general will always take advantage of a situation such as that. They have a job to do and they do it to the best of their ability. If organisations are foolish enough to go in divided into such negotiating situations, to an extent they deserve to get less than they are entitled to. It is their own fault.

I know the animosities, I know the history, I know the sources of continuing confusion but I would urge on both the main farming organisations the vastly greater need of their members, particularly in the current situation, which ought to transcend past divisions and present animosities. I understand also the sense of fury which exists among farmers everywhere and in both the main farming organisations at the continued relative deterioration of their position and their incomes vis-à-vis other sections of the community. I also understand why the current campaigns have been undertaken.

I want, before going on to discuss those current campaigns, to declare my own interest in this context. I am a member of the NFA and in the current campaign to withhold investment I have abided, on the farm in which I am a partner, by the policy of the NFA not to go on with development plans which were in hand both for the housing of livestock and the purchase of machinery. That is not to say that I think the NFA policy is correct in this matter. I will give the reasons in a moment why I think it is mistaken, although I understand the reasons for it. I want, before going on to discuss that, to make it clear that although I do not agree with this as a loyal member of the NFA I have operated it. While there is certainly a need for people to exercise their own judgment [1349] in answer to their own conscience there is also obviously need in any organisation, if it is to be effective, for discipline. I accept the discipline of the NFA in this regard.

The NFA policy is that one should abstain from investment in buildings, and machinery, and, although one is not asked to abstain from the use of artificial fertilisers, there is a campaign against the use of lime. While I have indicated that I understand the fury which has given rise to this campaign, I understand the reasons for the NFA doing it and I am abiding by this myself—I am bound to say I do not think it is well judged at the present time.

Let us tease this out a bit under the three headings. We have throughout the country many people who, either as the proprietors of companies selling farm machinery or as employees in these companies depend for their income on continuing sales. We also have a thing which not, perhaps, in terms of scale or income but in terms of possible outlook for the future is extremely important. We have a nascent industry for the production of farm machinery which may be started by a vigorous, ingenious man here and there. We have it on a larger scale with Pierce's of Wexford. We have other places. We have the excellent example of the Irish Sugar Company with a very fine piece of harvesting machinery which I think is world class: it is a great credit to them.

The big companies who manufacture a lot of machines—whether it be tractors, Ford, Massey-Ferguson, Ransome, ploughs or whatever—will not suffer significantly—one or two per cent—as a result of the ban by Irish farmers but we could murder the little indigenous companies who are trying to get off the ground, who have not big reserves, and who have to face a very difficult economic situation. There are difficulties from the point of view of credit, of how much one has to pay for credit, and there are difficulties for all small, home-grown industries. These difficulties are partly of the Government's [1350] making in my view but if we want to be accurate about it, these difficulties are not entirely of the Goverment's making. Since they declined to set up a separate currency for Ireland, they do not determine the cost of credit and are not able to protect us against international inflation. Therefore, the problem is not entirely of the Government's making.

The campaign about machinery jeopardises jobs in the countryside but not those of farmers. It jeopardises a small, often physically small, Irish industry which is something we ought to protect. It does not jeopardise the big international companies that produce so much of the machinery we use. If we have to put the finger on anybody surely we ought to get at the big international combines and not the little indigenous industries that are dependent on the vigour and energy and the entrepreneurial talent of some small man who has got into the agricultural machinery business.

Very much the same arguments operate in the matter of farm buildings, in regard to the sorts of people who put up such buildings. They are home-grown Irish industrialists. They are employing labour. We have rather advanced and good ideas in this country about modern, simple, cheap, farm buildings: this is a credit to our research workers and others. We erect simple, functional buildings. In Britain and places where the climate is as good as ours, we see how much money they waste on these enormous palaces for stock. We know more about putting up good, cheap, farm buildings in this country. However, we are damaging the employment and we are damaging the people who have the Irish-owned small companies and who, by and large, give this fairly good service to agriculture.

On the question of lime, anybody who farms, such as myself, feels a bit irrational about it. The country has a lime shortage, a fact which was recognised many years ago. It seems to me, almost in a moral sense, awful that, when we have limestone and are able to process it ourselves, when there is a good scheme and a rising level of use, when there is Government help for it [1351] and when it is such an obviously useful thing, that farmers reject it and say they will not use it. I am a bit sad to see that that is so. At Question Time, a few minutes ago, the Minister for Industry and Commerce said he did not know of any evidence which would suggest that our application to join the EEC would not be successful. It occurred to me to ask him where he had been in the past 18 months because I suppose everybody else knows that our application may not be successful. If one were opening a book on it, the chances would be, I think, about fifty-fifty of our getting in—something like that.

The EEC has certainly a lot of small farmers who are inefficient and against whom we would stand up very well in competition. It also has big farmers who are magnificently efficient and against whom we would stand up very badly. Therefore, at this moment, we should be getting ready as fast as we can. I suggest, therefore, that, while the NFA policy is understandable in its genesis, it is not well-considered either in its effect on the farmers themselves who are losing the opportunity of getting ready for the competition of the Community, if we get in or, indeed, for the hardships of fighting our way into a bigger sector of the British market if we do not get into the EEC. Either way, we must increase our productivity, our efficiency and our competitive edge. Increased investment of an intelligent sort in agriculture is continuously necessary—in machinery, buildings, lime and in anything that makes us better able to compete. We have very sensible ideas about how to get protection for stock as cheaply as possible. We are not wasting money on farm buildings.

With regard to the NFA campaign —I do not know if Deputies in different parts of the country find it the same—I think that clearly, the weapon —at a time like this when we have fairly straitened economic circumstances—of withholding purchases, is turning out to be a pretty serious and one might almost use the word a “desperate” weapon. Anybody who talks to people must know that the banks [1352] are being very tough, awkward and ruthless at the moment. There is a liquidity squeeze everywhere. Small business people who got into financial difficulties, through no fault of their own, when the bank strike was over, are starved of cash. In any community, we all know that unemployment or bankruptcy has a sort of multiplying effect. It hits not only the people to whom it happens but it runs through the community. Our inflationary situation was made worse by the Government's messing last year by the sort of Budget we got which was not the one we needed. Inflation is coming through our borders, regardless of what we do at home. We will not be able to stop, for example, the rise in petrol and fuel oil prices that will come from the settlement over the weekend with the Gulf States oil producers. There is nothing we can do about it.

We have a rather precarious international situation. We have a continuing inflation. We have a shortage of liquidity at home. Clearly, the NFA has a very powerful weapon in its hands. It has made the point now— extraordinarily powerfully everywhere —of what a weapon it is. Of course, a farm can continue. You do not see the effects of a cut-back in investment straight away with a farm. The lack of buildings, fertilisers, machinery, and so on, will show up in maybe 18 months or two years time: it will show up in circumstances where we could expand our production and sales rapidly if we had the inputs to take advantage of it.

I understand the anger of farmers but I think they have made their point. I think everybody throughout the country recognises—I hope the Minister, in his reply to this debate, will recognise it also—that the farmers have made their point. This is a powerful weapon. Farmers are angry. Farmers feel excluded. Farmers feel their relative position continuously deteriorating. They have now found a weapon which is powerful and dangerous. They have shown their militancy and discipline. They have shown that a request from a leadership does produce a very marked drop in expenditure [1353] for machinery, buildings, land, and things like that.

It takes strong and courageous men then to show statesmanship and one might even say to show mercy, if that word is acceptable in the current context. It takes a good man to be generous at a moment like this. I simply continue my intervention in this debate to use this rostrum to talk, of course, to my colleagues in the House but, through the House, to the farmers of the country, to say that their anger is justified, their case is a just one, to say indeed to the Minister that I hope he will see fit to recognise their deteriorating position, see fit to recognise the effects of inflation, see fit to recognise that the cost of all their inputs is soaring away in inflation and that the farmers are feeling the pinch very sharply. This is the thing that does not show up as quickly with farmers as it would with wage earners; it is a thing that comes through more slowly but it is there beyond a shadow of doubt. I hope the Minister will be able to find the funds to restore their position.

I should also like to use the occasion for the reasons I have given—I say this as a member of the NFA, maybe I am popular with my colleagues in the NFA, maybe I am popular with farmers—to say what I think has to be said, to ask them on this occasion, having made their point very powerfully, to think again before their argument becomes any more powerful, before the weapon in their hands, which has shown itself to be such an effective one, does in fact do damage to themselves and to others in the community and in my view most importantly of all to the relationship between themselves, or as a farmer I should say between ourselves, and the rest of the community. I want to beg them not to abandon this but simply to pause in this campaign which can be reintroduced at any moment, to see if the professions of good intentions, of goodwill, from the official side have, in fact, any substance at all. Such a pause will be an indication of strength, discipline, responsibility and indeed mercy. It will give the Minister an opportunity to act if he wishes to act [1354] and if he is bluffing it will call his bluff.

All my experience leads me to the conviction that at this time and in this place it was necessary for me to say what I have just said about the NFA campaign. If this seems like weakness, if this seems like a climb-down, I can only say that it is my conviction that it is not. It is my conviction that it is an argument from discipline, from strength. It is an argument by people who have been neglected but who, I hope, will reciprocate by saying: “You have been unmindful of us; you have permitted our position to deteriorate but even in these circumstances we will not behave in a way that forgets national interest and forgets the interests of people who are dependent on the agricultural industry.”

I realise that I have been accused on other occasions of going on too long. I hope I will not inconvenience people who expected that there would be a rather long interval before they got a chance to get into this debate. I simply took this occasion to make that plea and I hope it is a plea that will not be made, from any side of the House, into any sort of political football because it is not offered in the political sense, it is offered, without trying to apportion blame, at a time when difficult circumstances obtain both in industry and agriculture, when there is not a great deal of spare gravy in the country to be distributed to anyone. I will hand the Minister that observation also for what he may choose to make of it. There is not a lot.

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries (Mr. J. Gibbons): Information on James M. Gibbons  Zoom on James M. Gibbons  The only bit of gravy I got.

Mr. Keating: Information on Justin Keating  Zoom on Justin Keating  I would simply urge my colleagues in the NFA, my friends and colleagues in agriculture, at this time to see if it is possible to produce a situation in which fruitful negotiations between the Minister, between the Department and their organisations, might take place.

Mr. Crowley: Information on Florence Crowley  Zoom on Florence Crowley  I shall confine my remarks purely to the academic side of the dairying industry. As the Minister is well aware we have in University College, Cork, the only dairy and [1355] food science department in the country. Over ten years ago the question of the expansion of the staff and facilities in the dairy science faculty at UCC came in for critical appraisal. At about the same time the need for training of personnel and for the expanding of the food industry of this country began to emerge. The logical and indeed least expensive method of dealing with both matters was to incorporate food science and technology into an expanded UCC dairy science faculty. It was obvious that dairy science and food science had so much in common in basic and applied courses and in requirements and general teaching facilities that such a grafting would, as in other countries where dairy science faculties exist, prove a natural and completely successful arrangement.

The question of the siting of the proposed dairy science extension proved a difficult and complex matter and caused many delays before it was finally solved. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the faculty rightly demanded that it remain a part of UCC. Various sites were then proposed before the site for the experimental creamery building was finally decided in 1965. Then about five years ago a very important development took place, a unique development as far as the dairy industry in Ireland was concerned. The Kellogg Foundation became interested in the proposal to develop the food science course in UCC. It was recognised that the moderate amount of additional space needed for a general food technology laboratory could be provided by levelling the site proposed for the new building. This laboratory would then complement the facilities already being planned for the dairy science department and would make the whole thing complete and indeed would make it a second to none dairy and food science training centre at university level. It is known that these proposals were discussed with representatives of the Kellogg Foundation and the faculty. They were also asked to submit a detailed request for support. Work had already begun on the sketch plans and a consultant had been employed about the building extension. Indeed the Department [1356] of Agriculture and Fisheries were also involved in these negotiations. Equipment requirements were also discussed and eventually agreement was reached. Detailed plans were then drawn up about the type of development and the type of format that was necessary in order to comply with the requests of the Kellogg Foundation. In 1968 these were submitted to the Department for approval. At that stage everything appeared to be in order. The experimental creamery was demolished in 1968 and the site was cleared. Some difficulties were encountered in the piling operations. This work was finally completed last June. Tenders for the construction of the building, the electrical and mechanical installations and plumbing had been accepted by the Governing Body of UCC last spring, subject to the approval of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. When piling was completed all work suddenly ceased because, unexpectedly, funds were not made available for further operations. I have been told that the reason for this was that the whole project was being questioned by the Department of Finance. There has been much disquiet about this in UCC and throughout the dairying industry in general. We all know that the longer we delay in completing and implementing the proposals the more the costs of such work will escalate.

While these developments were taking place discussions were continuing with the Kellogg Foundation. The discussions were conducted mainly through the dairy science faculty. It is no secret that the discussions proceeded very smoothly. In 1969 a grant was received to enable a world expert on dairy and food science courses to visit UCC as a consultant. This man made three visits. My information is that he recommended to the Kellogg Foundation that they should give financial assistance to enable dairy and food science curricula at undergraduate and postgraduate levels to be established at UCC and also for retraining existing staff where necessary and for the training of other necessary staff; that financial assistance was also required to provide laboratory and food processing equipment for student-training.

[1357] At that time it was felt that these proposals had every prospect of being favourably received, so long as the absolutely essential building project was proceeding in a satisfactory manner. However, somebody—we do not know who—shouted “Stop”. Perhaps the Minister knows who that was. This order to discontinue the project was given six months ago and unless a date for resumption is made known very soon it is virtually certain that the Kellogg Foundation will withdraw an offer of a grant of 500,000 dollars approximately. If that money is lost to this country, to the university and to the food and dairy industry, someone has much to answer for. It seems impossible to locate the person responsible for the complete hold-up in the implementation of this very desirable development in UCC. We all know that the ultimate losers will be the farmers themselves who benefit greatly from such research in the dairying industry.

About a year ago a sub-committee of the faculty of dairy science, consisting of representatives of the dairying industry, the Department of Agriculture and the faculty itself, unanimously concluded that people with training at diploma level would be required by the Irish dairy industry for the foreseeable future. A number of recommendations were made, including one which would offer a student a university training second to none in the world. There will be serious consequences for us all if we are not prepared to make sure that there is no further hold up in the erection of the buildings at UCC. The sum of 500,000 dollars is a large one. It is hard to obtain money these days but that sum is available to us, to the faculty in UCC and to the industry in general if the proposals which were initiated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries are completed. In my opinion there is no reasonable excuse for delaying the completion of the proposals.

We all know that the Department have been most generous to the dairy science faculty at all times since its establishment. It would now appear that some hidden hand is trying to [1358] interfere. This is not desirable. The Minister should give this matter his immediate attention and investigate exactly what has happened, and find out who is at fault. Having ascertained that, the Minister should go ahead and give permission to UCC to continue with their development. Someone said in Cork that unless this is done this will represent the tombstone of a progressive faculty and of an industry mortally concussed by a hidden bureaucratic hand. We do not want anyone to say that the Irish Government or their officials are at fault because of some lapse or delay in implementing the proposals in UCC.

The dairying industry occupies a very strong position in Irish food processing. The total value of manufactured dairy products is approximately £60,000,000. Roughly one half of that is exported. Some 6,000 workers are employed in dairy plants throughout the country. The dairy industry has its own regulations from the Dairy Products Section in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The industry has its own university education and a research centre at Moore Park, Fermoy. The export marketing of dairy products is organised by An Bord Bainne. Due to the close interdependence of dairying and cattle production dairying assumes even greater significance. Currently there are 152 dairy processing plants and approximately 450 associated milk intake points in the country. Personally, I believe there are too many intake points. We should speed up rationalisation. There will be objections to the closing down of creameries. Many of these units are too small and result in processing inefficiency and inability to tap adequately potentials of product diversification and development. This is quite apart from the most important problem of all, namely, that of quality control.

Some industry rationalisation has occurred but not in relation to most of the dairying countries. For example, in the ten-year period between 1955 and 1965, the number of dairy plants declined by 45 per cent in Germany, 51 per cent in Denmark, 22 per cent in Holland, and 38 per cent in New Zealand. I cannot too strongly urge [1359] the Minister to go ahead with the rationalisation of our creamery structure. The sooner that takes place, the better for all those involved in the dairy industry in Ireland. Of course, the seasonal nature of Irish milk production, with its ratio of 12 to one between maximum and minimum, causes inefficient use of processing plants by necessitating the installation of equipment of sufficient capacity to handle peak supplies and variations in raw materials. This creates a lot of difficulty in the controlling of quality, especially where the more specialised products are concerned.

Because of these constraints it is likely that a certain level of specialised winter milk production will become necessary, and may have to be financed by incentive bonuses of some description. Unfortunately there is a very definite lack of product diversification as exemplified by the excessive industry dependence on milk fat and the relatively little utilisation of other milk constituents and by-products. The manufacture of acid casein and caseinates should provide suitable product outlets for protein utilisation. It is very unfortunate that this country does not produce any such products. The historic dependence of the industry on fat at the expense of solids, non-fats and especially protein content would be most readily overcome by pricing manufacturing milk on a fat cum protein basis. This approach has already been adopted in other countries —the Netherlands is one country that comes to mind—and I would strongly advocate it for this country. As we all know, automated methods of fat and protein testing are now available, and effective and routine quality control of processing operations and resultant products is essential.

Adequate quality control will be expedited by the amalgamation of the smaller creameries and factories into larger units, the putting forward of realistic standards and associated analytical procedures and proper training of laboratory personnel in these techniques, which gets me back again to UCC. With the modern emphasis there is now on hygiene and sanitation, [1360] and the implementation of routine quality control procedures, current standards in relation to dairy products need to be reviewed and new rigorous though realistic standards should be introduced. Such standards should embrace the composition and quality of the milk. In order to do this job properly and to make a proper assessment of the composition and quality of the milk, we need to train quality control personnel for the implementation of these standards.

These standards should be rationalised between the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Department of Health. I would also advocate a greater involvement by the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards. Any proposed new standards should take into account the standards that have been introduced in other countries, thereby facilitating international trading. It is essential that the Irish dairy industry should have adequate and continuing technical representation at international forums engaged on the discussion of these standards which are binding on this country as we all know.

Another inhibiting factor is the Dairy Produce Act, 1924. Our dairy legislation is unnecessarily restrictive compared with our general food legislation. It will be necessary to liberalise our dairy legislation to enable the dairy industry to compete on equal terms with other sectors of the food industry, especially as it integrates with them. The dairy industry should be able to add additives, which the food industry is allowed to do, if a particular application warrants it.

There are also anomalies in dairy legislation between different countries and the Irish dairy industry should not be at a disadvantage in competition with our international competitors because of our restrictive legislation. Of course, as amalgamations occur our factories and our units will become much larger and this will bring about the danger of pollution. At this stage we must take adequate anti-pollution controls. This problem will become critical unless we locate our plants in the proper places. There will be more complete utilisation of dairy by-products, [1361] for example, skim milk, buttermilk and whey. This is an indirect advantage of product diversification, quite apart from the utilisation potential, per se, of such products. Because of the export orientation of the Irish dairying manufacturing industry, future industrial development should be directed towards processes like dehydration which would give flexibility in incorporating milk ingredients into other foods. We all know that dehydration is accepted as a link in the inevitable merger between the food and dairy industries.

Fermentation is also important in that a very wide range of cheese varieties can be manufactured with fermented milk. It is about time that the industry moved away from manufacturing a few cheese products and went into a much wider cheese market. We are necessarily restricted in the type of sales operation we can conduct abroad if our range is too small. We can also use sterilisation by the conventional method and the ultra high temperature method. This would give us products which would be suitable for export.

Future developments in processing technology will entail the greater introduction of mechanisation and ultimately of automation, especially in the more traditional dairy processes such as cheese-making. If we mechanise and automate our units properly we will be able to sell to a very much more diversified market. We will not be depending on the few products we are producing in the cheese industry at the moment to bring up our sales of cheese, but we will be meeting what is, in my opinion, a need in international markets.

Of course, this all goes back to the question of marketing and test marketing and to what type of produce one should put on the market. It is about time we became more sophisticated in that respect also. The lack of test marketing is one of the real stumbling blocks to successful product development. There is no use developing a product unless its market place reception can be guaged. Having gone through the process of developing a product one must know that it will be [1362] saleable. A manufacturer will be more interested in a new product if he has information on what is likely to be its market performance. In this context, I would ask the Minister if he would consider it is time we used the home market as a testing market area. In my opinion, this would be ideal. The home market has tremendous potential in that respect. Currently, there are no organised test marketing facilities available on the home market to the Irish dairy industry. Bord Bainne, as we all know, are confined by statute to export marketing. Serious consideration should be given to the organisation and funding of such an essential facility on the domestic market.

We should have much greater co-operation and co-ordination between the various bodies concerned in the dairy industry, between the Department, Bord Bainne, the creameries, An Foras Talúntais, University College, Cork and other such bodies. I would suggest that a certain percentage, less than 1 per cent, should be screened from the sale of all dairy products and directed towards the funding of further research. A tremendous job is being done at Moore Park, Fermoy, despite the meagre allowance that they receive. They are providing answers that could solve our dairy problems in the years ahead—problems relating to dehydration, fermentation and sterilisation to mention just a few. The allocation of more funds to that type of research development would be a very positive investment.

The whole kernel of the future success of the dairy industry lies in proper rationalisation of the entire creamery industry. This can be an emotive situation since there would be somewhat of a break with tradition. We are becoming a bit more sophisticated in our approach but, of course, we have a lot of opposition to that. As a Deputy who represents a constituency which is made up mainly of small creameries and with very few large creameries, this is probably not the most politically-advantageous point to make, but in the long term interest of the industry we shall all benefit ultimately from the proper rationalisation of the dairy industry.

[1363] I should like to conclude by saying that the Irish dairy industry must be increasingly conscious of the growing potential for the utilisation of milk constituents as ingredients of other foods. If the Minister sees fit to change what I would call the restrictive legislation of the dairy industry, such a trend should be aided and there should be an acceptance of the concept that milk is food and that should result in the integration of the dairy industry with the general food industry.

Sir Anthony Esmonde: Information on Anthony Charles Esmonde  Zoom on Anthony Charles Esmonde  I notice that, in his opening remarks, the Minister covered practically nothing. Perhaps that is understandable since, as he has reminded us, he made a comprehensive statement before Christmas. However, I note the tendency of successive Fianna Fáil Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries when introducing an Estimate or speaking on agriculture to devote most of their remarks to what they are giving to the farmers. They always announce this in a benevolent fashion as much as to say that the Government, as representative of a political party, are being very kind to the farmers. I would think that the up-to-date function of a Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries should be the rationalisation of our agricultural policies. Undoubtedly, there will be very big changes in the outlook here on agriculture if we are to become a member of the EEC but the only real change that has taken place in agricultural policy took place during the term of office of one of the Minister's predecessors, Deputy Blaney, when he introduced the beef incentive scheme. Deputy Blaney introduced this scheme at a time when it was becoming apparent that dairy stocks and the by-products of dairy stocks were not only building up in this country but were also in excess in practically every up-to-date agricultural community in the world. That was a move in the right direction but, at the same time, it created a lot of chaos among the farming community generally because of the fact that the farmers have been encouraged during the years to invest money in the dairy industry. They were given the go-ahead to invest without [1364] restriction in this industry. The result was that many of them found themselves with a very heavy investment in this line of agriculture and were then forced to restrict by virtue of the lack of viable markets.

The Minister knows as well as I that agricultural surpluses vary very much from year to year and from country to country. Eight or nine years ago there were enormous grain surpluses building up in the western world, in Canada and the United States. Then, there was a drought in the southern hemisphere which lasted for about seven years. Crop production fell as a result. There was also the total failure of the agricultural policy of the Comecon which resulted in the total decline there in grain production. Almost overnight the Russians, who could not get the stocks which they used to get from East Germany because the common agricultural policy was failing there too, bought these surplus stocks and disappeared. Shortly afterwards, Communist China came on the scene and bought up the Canadian and American stocks so that the surplus disappeared almost like magic.

That brings me back to the dairy industry. The former Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries considered it necessary, and I think he was right, to encourage the farmer to change largely from dairy produce to beef. It is an inescapable fact that the cattle population has been practically static throughout the century. It has fluctuated upwards and downwards but by and large it has remained virtually the same. No figures which anybody can produce will convince me to the contrary. At present there is an increase, due largely to the beef incentive scheme, but it is totally inadequate to our requirements.

If we are to be serious about entering the Common Market and if we are to derive the full benefits which may accrue we will have to concentrate with all the force at our command on building up our cattle stock. For that purpose, a Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries is faced with a very difficult problem. He has to keep the ratio right between the milk trade, which is vital, apart from the products, and the [1365] breeding of livestock. He has to put into production every available acre for the purpose of rearing livestock for export. It is a truism that over the years the basis of our whole economy has been the sale of livestock produce. Despite all that has been said in the past about doing away with grass it was a New Zealand agricultural expert who some 20 years ago said that one thing the Irish can produce is grass. We can grow grass and with it we produce the best livestock, livestock that comes rapidly to maturity, and we also produce horseflesh which is probably the best in the world. We produce the best bone for horses for chasers. We should concentrate on trying to get a rational balance between beef production, which must go ahead at an increased rate, and dairy produce.

If we become a member of the EEC we stand to gain, as the Minister said, immeasurably. He mentioned a figure in the neighbourhood of £50 millions to £70 millions in live exports. Of course, you can prove anything with figures and you can argue with figures but I prefer to avoid them as far as possible and to talk in generalities. Certainly we can sell, and we will be able to sell, anything we produce. Of course, that poses the question of whether the United Kingdom will become a member of the Common Market. The old argument which is used when this question is raised is: “If they go in, we go in”. Our problem is quite different from Britain's. Our economy has been maintained by what we were able to sell on the British market and our exports of cattle and livestock over the years have been taken up by the British. For the best part of this century they have taken anything we have been able to sell but since the war they have developed a different agricultural policy and they have been paying huge sums to try to cut their bill for imported foodstuffs and we have been the sufferers. That did not happen overnight but developed gradually and we found that we had a dwindling British market for our exports. The actual volume may not have declined very much but what we had to face was continual fluctuation in price. Consequently successive [1366] Fianna Fáil Governments looked to other forms of production. They encouraged farmers to grow wheat. A lot of good land was utilised in growing wheat, a crop which has now been seen to be unsuccessful and unsuited to our climatic conditions. I am sure the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, who has a rural constituency as I have, and other Deputies will have had the same experience as I have had that those who were largely going in for tillage, and for wheat in particular, in 1962, 1963 and 1964, when there were bad harvests, got into debt and have not been able to get out of it yet. This was for the simple reason that they were following the policy advocated by the then Minister that the farmers should grow wheat and grow it as a subsidised product.

At that time anybody who spoke against wheat-growing was supposed to be disloyal to the national interest. Good land was being utilised with negative results. The crop was heavily subsidised. Of all the things we may export we have nothing to gain from wheat if we sell it in the Common Market because the price here for wheat is not an economic price and I speak as a practical farmer. I grow wheat for the simple reason that it does not lie down and destroy my hay-seed underneath. That is why I grow it and for no other reason. It is not an economic product and wheat-growing was a mistaken policy. The Minister must rationalise our agricultural policy. He must give the lead through his instructors, and by public statements, and he must indicate to the farmer what he is to produce and what he stands to gain by entry to the Common Market.

Some people think that we should not go into the Common Market. Some people feel we will not get into the Common Market. It is quite obvious that the British market at present is insufficient to give us the standard of living we require. It did in the past because people were prepared to accept lower standards of living and our exports were able to keep our industries going. Now, however, people are demanding a higher standard of living; the British economy has diminished, [1367] their purchasing power is not as strong as it was and they themselves are in the market as agricultural producers. For that reason we must look further afield.

The inevitable conclusion is that Ireland is a strong applicant and a likely candidate for entry into the Common Market. Therefore, one must ask, what is the position in the livestock trade? As I said, the livestock population has been more or less static. I am sure the Minister will refute this and produce figures which his devoted officials will give him, showing that we are a couple of hundred thousand up in the last year. That is no good. They require to go up a vast amount in order to secure a return to cover the losses we may have in other directions as a member of the EEC.

If we join the EEC we will not continue exporting on the hoof. There may still be a limited export of store cattle to the British market. Trade will be maintained because the nation will have awakened to the fact that we can process our own meat, in other words, use the finished product here and get a more secure market in Europe, and also provide the necessary employment at home. Therefore, if the British want our store cattle they will have to pay an equitable price. The store trade will be maintained but not to the same extent and Britain will not be our major export market. This House is entitled to hear from the Minister what plans the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have for the export of the major portion of our cattle to the EEC, assuming we become a member. Are we going to export it live, are we going to export it on the hoof, or will we do as other sensible people do, namely, kill and cure and process at home and thereby give employment?

This House and the country would be interested to hear from the Minister on this point. The general knowledge and information that has been given relative to the EEC is practically nil. As far as I know, the only people who have tried to inform themselves about the EEC are members of religious orders, who are interested in [1368] all educational matters. Agriculture is of primary importance and the Minister should do all he can to ensure that the farming community are well informed. The implications for this country regarding agriculture are wide — much wider than with regard to the industrial sector.

In my opening remarks I referred to the disappearance of grain surpluses. I am subject to correction on the following point as I have not at my disposal the up-to-date information the Minister has, but my understanding is that there has recently been a considerable decline in butter stocks. There was so much butter in Europe a short time ago that they nearly had to throw it away but this situation is altering rapidly. Other countries have realised that there will be a considerable demand for beef; in fact, throughout the world there is not a surplus in beef nor, I think, in mutton. Other countries have recognised this fact and have rationalised, just as did the Minister's predecessor when he introduced the beef incentive scheme.

It might well be asked what should the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries do. I have been in this House for nearly 20 years and I have tried to give Fianna Fáil sound advice—very little of which they have heeded. At the moment there is much discontent among the farming community. There is no point in my arguing the rights and wrongs of the situation; that would be for those who are actually members of national farmers' organisations. The Irish farmer has to bear a heavy burden by way of rates—the larger the farm the higher the rates. Despite all the talk about the annuities and the freedom and the rights of the Irish farmer, today he has an ever-increasing annuity to bear. Before he makes one penny, the Irish farmer has to pay rates—which we would probably call a land tax in the Common Market— and, in addition, he must pay ever-rising costs. Whenever there is an industrial dispute, the people concerned get an increase in salary but the farmers get nothing. He must be content with statements made by successive Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries that so many millions of pounds are [1369] being given to the farmers.

I wish to make a special plea for the small farmer. He is the person who is in difficulties. Perhaps he is not hit so hard in the charges I have mentioned such as annuities and rates, but it is difficult for him to get off the ground. He has been encouraged to grow wheat and he has tried it. A bad season affects him adversely and he cannot rise up again. It is practically impossible for him to get credit. The Agricultural Credit Corporation is supposed to be for the purpose of financing farmers who need help but it is purely a commercial concern and has as its motto “no advance without security”. There are many small farmers throughout the country and they have gone down due to a slump in cattle, to bad harvests or perhaps disease in their stocks. The only way in which they can get on their feet again is to secure credit and for this reason they go to the ACC. The credit position in this country is very difficult because the banks will not lend any money unless the farmer pledges his farm as security. Irish farmers are conservative and they do not like to pledge something for which they and their forefathers fought so long.

Our country is likely to enter into the EEC. We are likely to get agricultural benefits but the people who constitute the majority of Irish farmers— the small farmers—must be in a position to obtain credit to build up their farms. Beef is an expensive item to produce and unless our farmers have the necessary credit to do this they will be unable to avail of the market that is available for this commodity. This lack of credit is one of the basic causes of discontent among the farming community. The Minister should introduce a scheme of credit for farmers. At the moment they have to pay annuities and rates and, in addition, if they borrow money they are obliged to pay a high rate of interest. The ACC should be given funds which could be used for hardship cases. If these funds could be utilised for farmers below a certain acreage to enable them to build up their farms this would be a most worthwhile exercise. If the Minister approaches the problem from this angle he will remove much of the discontent [1370] that exists. When assistance is granted to farmers it often transpires that the greater part goes to the large farmers. The beef incentive scheme is a worthwhile project and encourages people to increase their stock.

However, most of the benefit of that scheme goes to the big farmer. The big farmers, of which possibly I am one and the Minister is another, can look after themselves. Our real grouse is that we pay absolutely prohibitive rates. My own rates have increased tenfold in the last few years, and they are going up all the time. Small farmers want to be made solvent and to be able to produce. Big farmers and medium-sized farmers want to be in a position to buy from the small farmers at a reasonable price.

The husbandry of a small farmer is to rear so many cattle each year, not necessarily to bring them to maturity. Unless he has 60, 70 or nearly up to 100 acres he has not sufficient land on which to feed his stock. He is the producer of the foundation stock which he then sends on to the bigger farmers who should be in a position to pay an equitable price. Therefore, a balance will have to be kept between the small farmer and the big farmer, and that balance can only be kept by ensuring that the money that is made available by the State is really of assistance to the small farmer. The best way for the Minister to do that is to have a reasonable sum made available for small farmers only to enable them to build up.

In this document produced by the Government in relation to the EEC it is indicated that horticulture in this country will face great difficulties. I do not agree with that. I hold that horticulture has had no proper investment to date and it has had very little encouragement, in spite of the noble efforts of An Foras Talúntais, to expand. The horticultural industry is very beneficial to small farmers. We have here a fairly equitable climate, but many people think that we could not compete with warmer countries like Spain and the Channel Islands. That is a fallacy and a fallacy that is indicated in the Government's White Paper on our agricultural prospects in the [1371] EEC. In these warmer countries fruits such as tomatoes ripen at the one time. We have the advantage of being able to spread our production over a longer period. These are points that ought to be borne in mind.

The amount of money invested in horticulture is negligible. There has been a considerable improvement in the funds that have been made available to An Foras Talúntais but not enough to enable them to foster the industry properly. This industry, as I say, can be extraordinarily beneficial to the small farmers.

The small farmer is the foundation of everything in this country. I sincerely hope that when the Minister comes to formulate his policy—if he is still Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries when it comes to entering the EEC, as we seem likely to do—he will put all sections of the agricultural community into a position to produce whatever they are able to produce to the limit of their financial resources assisted in every way possible by the Government.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  The most surprising aspect of this debate is the sparsity of contributions from Deputies of the Government party which claims to obtain such a great proportion of its electoral support from rural Ireland. To judge by the contributions from that side of the House one would hardly imagine that one-half of the population lived in rural Ireland or that, indeed, one-third of the national work force seeks its livelihood from agriculture. There is need for the social and economic life of rural Ireland to be built up and for balanced development between the urban and rural communities.

At the outset, I wish to thank the Minister for the very comprehensive 50-page document which he circulated to Deputies outlining the main activities of his Department, and for the December bulletin of his Department giving a review of 1970 and the prospects for 1971. These are extraordinarily interesting and give a very clear indication of the current thinking not so much within the Fianna Fáil Party [1372] as among the senior officials of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

As long as I have had any interest in politics I have never known of the framing of any particular policy by the Fianna Fáil Party, apart from whatever may emerge from discussions between the officials and the Minister, which is enshrined as party policy. That has been a particular neglect which has left agriculture in Ireland in a rather weak position and certainly not in the position it should occupy, relatively, among the highly developed agricultural markets of Europe.

As evidence of what I have said, we see in Ireland that as industrial incomes in the urban areas grow and grow quite rapidly, agricultural incomes have dropped further and further behind, notwithstanding the fact that in 1970 an extra £10 million of what we politely call “transfer payments” were transferred from the more wealthy sections of the community to those urgently in need in the agricultural sector. The fabric of community life has continued to be distorted and it is about time an effort was made to create a proper balance.

Successive Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries have had differing political views and varying personal interests. They have been men of very strong character who have tried to stamp forever more the dominance of their own personalities on the Department rather than their own political ideals and as a result the Department has suffered. At present we do not even have a progressive land policy. We have a set of problems in terms of land and produce which are as much sociological and psychological as economic. The only hope is for radical change in our agricultural policy.

It is a tragedy that the problems relating to agriculture tend to be treated and discussed in isolation by both the Department and the Cabinet. When one looks at the clár for the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis next weekend one sees agriculture treated quite separately. In due course, no doubt, Deputy J. Gibbons, provided he is allowed to speak by those who have strong views about his other political involvements in 1970, [1373] will treat rural Ireland as a kind of reservation in which Fianna Fáil has a particular interest.

We must accept that the problems relating to agriculture will only be solved within the framework of a national plan involving social and economic development and at the same time intertwined with policies for industrial development, industrial growth centres and education in particular. It should be pointed out here that the educational system of this country has never recognised the existence of agriculture. We have to get to grips with the problem of the Department itself because if we enter the Common Market a whole new set of marketing problems will arise. I am concerned about the lack of thinking within the Cabinet on this particular aspect.

There is need for a fundamental restructuring of Government Departments in relation to agriculture and a redefinition of the roles of the various departments. Until such time as that occurs I do not see very much hope for implementing national policies. There is also need to separate the policy-making aspects of the Department from the administration of the Department and this, of course, was dealt with in the Devlin Report. Although the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has always played a very special role and had a very special status in public administration it has not been developed as an effective Department. Because of this and the special status accorded to Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries an exclusiveness has developed in relation to the work of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries with other Government Departments. As a trade unions officer, I found this very much in evidence when dealing with the Department and other Government Departments.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries was reluctant to involve agricultural interests in the National Industrial Economic Council but at long last, as a result of a great deal of pressure being put on the Government, agricultural organisations are being brought in to a newly-developed economic [1374] council. This means the Department will be directly involved. When the Second Programme for Economic Expansion was published we were given a separate document on agriculture from the political head of that Department. When the Committee on Industrial Organisation was set up I can remember many reports being produced but there were always separate reports and parallel reports coming from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Such attitudes and actions have tended to aggravate the divisions between rural Ireland and the rest of the country. For these reasons I think a Department of Rural Development —I am not too worried about what it is called—should be established as a matter of urgency. Responsibility for fisheries, agriculture, lands, community development in rural Ireland and the co-ordinating of various physical, social and economic aspects of rural Ireland should all come under the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. On that basis I would abolish the present Department of Lands. Deputy Seán Flanagan goes around this House as Minister for Lands in a euphoria of almost permanent, personal redundancy. I have never seen a Minister believe less in the Department for which he allegedly has Cabinet responsibility.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries is not responsible for that.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I accept that but one of the difficulties in talking about agriculture is that all of us have our own little brown paper parcels and tend to open them up from time to time. I suggest that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries take over the functions of the Department of Lands. The Department should have a senior Minister at its head, and he may even have, as well as his Parliamentary Secretary, one or two junior Ministers under him. The policy-making and administrative roles of the Department should be clearly separated. Policy formation should primarily be the responsibility of the Minister within the [1375] framework of the Cabinet. Too many Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries have spent too much of their time comforting local Fianna Fáil Deputies in the country with personal letters about agricultural plans commencing “Dear Paddy this” and “Dear Joe that”, rather than getting on with the work for which they are there, that is, policy formation and consulting with the farming organisations and the various rural organisations in order to ensure that their views are fully considered and fully recognised by the Department. There is also a necessity to establish within a re-organised Department of Agriculture and Fisheries a formal quasi-statutory system of consultation guaranteed by setting up permanent, official consultative machinery within the Department in relation to the various agricultural representative bodies. I do not think the cursory annual review meetings or emergency meetings between the Minister and the various agricultural representative organisations and bodies is good enough. There should be in operation within the Department, within the Cabinet, in the policy making of the Government, a formalised system of permanent, consultative machinery of a fully representative nature.

This would overcome some of the personality conflicts which have developed from time to time in relation to the Government and the various farming organisations and would also overcome at least the uncertainty which seems to surround all discussions between the Department and the various farming representative organisations. Therefore, I submit that, as a matter of deliberate policy on the part of the Labour Party. If we are ever given the opportunity of putting it into effect—I can assure the Minister that we will—we would probably find as much difficulty convincing some of the senior officers of the Department as we would to convince some other politicians involved. Nevertheless, given the opportunity, the Labour Party will most certainly advance this policy. I do not think our opportunity is that very far away because I certainly do not believe the present Government [1376] will be in office for much longer. A welcome change is more than due in that regard. I hope to see a complete restructuring and re-orientation of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. I am quite sure that, if we do this, at least one of the dynamic elements could be harnessed to give leadership to rural Ireland in the solution of their own problems.

There are two or three other aspects I should like to dwell on in relation to the Minister's Estimate. There is a considerable need, particularly facing imminent Common Market entry, to strengthen very radically and very emphatically, the marketing structure for Irish products in this country. I do not hold with any airy fairy bureaucratic setting up of marketing boards just for the sake of setting them up. However, they must be set up in this country, because there is a fond illusion going around the Fianna Fáil Party at the moment that because there will be enhanced prices for a limited range of products within the EEC— undoubtedly enhanced prices will be obtained in relation to a number of products—there is no great need for an increased sophistication and an increased development on the marketing front in relation to Irish export products. All the price advantages which we could enjoy on the European market for Irish farmers will not be obtained unless those products are marketed in a greatly improved and higher quality setting. Unless far greater vigour is displayed in relation to quality, grading and general presentation on the European market then the so-called bonanza which the Minister and many agricultural pundits tell us will inevitably occur will simply be wiped out, irrespective of the price advantage we may currently enjoy.

I would, therefore, strongly urge that in a number of areas—particularly in the areas of meat, livestock, bacon, pig meat under a revitalised Pigs and Bacon Commission, milk and dairy products under a reorganised Bord Bainne and also in relation to horticulture and food processing—consideration be given to the setting up of marketing boards. These boards should operate on a co-operative basis, having representatives of the Government, the [1377] farmers and other relevant interests, co-opted and nominated to them. The constitution and the setting up of those boards should be enshrined in legislation in order to protect the various interests of farmers. At the moment, when new boards are set up to deal with current policy and production problems within the industry, the emphasis on marketing certainly does not seem to exist in relation to many of their activities.

Bord Bainne could be given a greater shot in the arm. Tremendous work has been done by them with great difficulty, mainly the difficulty of finance. However, Bord Bainne could be given greater co-ordination and responsibility in relation not only to the home market and intervention in the home market but also in relation to the export industry. There is a good case to be made, in relation to the Meat and Livestock Board, for co-ordinating the work of the marts throughout the country, the various co-operatives, the established meat processors and the distributive trade with the various specialist expert advisers available to the meat and livestock export trade. A marketing board for that area could be set up by the Government on a much broader basis to supervise the home and the export trade in fat and store cattle. I am quite certain it could make a very effective contribution to the development of the industry.

I do not believe a case has to be made in relation to the expansion and the development of the Pigs and Bacon Commission. I would prefer to see a general Bacon and Pig Meat Marketing Board set up with similar responsibilities to those I have mentioned in relation to the other marketing boards. There is still a great need for the rationalisation of the bacon processing industry. Not half enough work has been done on the productivity end and a great deal of work still remains to be done on the marketing end for Irish bacon, especially on the selling front in the UK. Co-operative interests could be much more greatly involved in that industry. Many advantages could accrue from a shot in the arm being given by the Minister to that board.

There are other factors and other [1378] boards which one could usefully advance as being worthy of study by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, such as the Cereals Board, but, quite frankly, as I intend to conclude at six o'clock I do not have the time nor do I wish to delay the House in going into much detail in regard to those aspects. They are self-evident to the Minister and to the House generally. An aspect I should like to deal with, however, is in relation to co-operation in this country. Part of the great weakness of Irish agriculture stems from the relatively underdeveloped state of the co-operative movement here. I know all Members of this House give a great deal of general lip service to the movement. One might say the Department is in a state of frozen neutrality in relation to the co-operative movement in this country.

We could do a great deal more to encourage co-operation in Irish agriculture. In 1969, we had some 340 societies with 130,000 members, a capital investment in this country of £20 million and a combined trade turnover of some £210 million. There should be a greater development of the IAOS because some 95 per cent of agricultural societies in Ireland are affiliated to that body. It could bring about greater service to the agricultural community, particularly in the educational and advisory spheres. The IAOS could be of major assistance in rationalising the co-operative structure in this country because many societies are too small and, in terms of size, too inefficient. The work of the IAOS has not, I fear, received sufficient recognition from the Government.

We have only to examine the work being done in the general marketing and distribution of meat and meat products to appreciate the tremendous impact the co-operative movement could have on our export trade. I have often wondered why greater statutory recognition has not been given to the IAOS by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. An annual formal grant-in-aid of a direct or subvention nature should be made to the IAOS without entailing Departmental control.

I welcome the growth in the number [1379] of our cattle marts which has aided considerably the rationalisation of the trade. I have no doubt the co-operative movement in the years ahead will have a spectacular impact in the cattle mart sphere which, in turn, will bring many more benefits to the farming community. Our farmers will then, to a greater degree, participate directly in that industry and exert greater control in relation to sales, distribution and exports. Cattle marts have encouraged a greater consistency in the quality of the animals offered for sale and have eliminated a number of middle-men who derived substantial pickings from the industry until the establishment of the cattle marts. Whether by way of a mini White Paper or a murky document, or whatever it may please the Minister to call it, I urge him to initiate a general review of the work of our cattle marts and particularly how new marts might be developed in appropriate growth centres. There is a need to extend some marts and to establish new ones. Some of the work entailed could be done by the IAOS in conjunction with the Department.

The Minister should keep a sharp eye on foreign control of Irish food processing and manufacture. Strong action must be taken to prevent excessive foreign control of Irish food-processing and food-manufacturing undertakings. Otherwise, when and if we enter the EEC, I am afraid our farmers will find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position. A situation could arise where, due to excessive foreign control over the export undertakings from this country the Irish farmer would be caught at both ends of the candle, extreme distortions could occur and the price increases which would accrue for certain products would automatically go overnight. This is an aspect on which a working paper from the Department in relation to the Common Market would be very welcome and would be reassuring for Irish farmers and it would give the policy formulators in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries some work to do on behalf of the Government.

The fertiliser industry, playing such a crucial and vital role in agriculture, [1380] should be brought progressively under either total State-sponsored co-operative control or under general public control, because I am afraid that, unless that is done and done quite deliberately as a matter of policy by the Government in the national interest, the question of pricing and policy standards and the general import policy in relation to fertilisers will pass out of the realm and influence of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. The State-owned Nítrigin Éireann should be encouraged quite definitely to expand its activities in the interests of the community. In relation to the private sector in operation at the moment either the State should acquire an interest in it or should acquire some controlling involvement in it and should certainly, if necessary, transfer it into co-operative hands so that foreign ownership of this vital industry —it is a national industry—should be ended and that any external links should be subjected to the closest scrutiny. I do not make this proposition from any inverted preoccupation about Irish industry for the Irish people. I simply make it in the belief that, if the farm inputs of fertiliser, lime, agro-chemicals generally, animal feedstuffs, agricultural machinery and fuel oil are to be made available to the Irish farmer at the cheapest possible rates and with the least profit accruing to the private entrepreneurs in these sectors of agriculture, then the role of the Department in regard to these inputs most certainly will have to be quite strong and quite definite to ensure that these sectors are not dominated by private interests. I submit this is of prime importance, particularly when one is considering the entry of Irish agriculture to European markets. Deputy Esmonde spoke of the tremendous Irish natural advantage of grass production. It is a waste of time having a natural advantage if one is also the subject of external exploitation in relation to fertilisers, lime and agro-chemicals. I therefore submit that this is a key aspect in relation to the Government's policy on agriculture. I would strongly recommend that the Minister should keep a very sharp eye on that, particularly as we see, even from [1381] recent newspaper reports that the whole technology of fertilisers has undergone very rapid changes in the recent past and the future relies very much on concentrated and complete fertilisers being available at ever more reasonable prices to Irish farmers for the work they are expected to do on behalf of the nation in future.

May I suggest to the Minister that he should examine—I know we have had reports from the Department before on this aspect—the quite extraordinary degree of dependence of Irish agriculture at the moment on imported agricultural machinery. I am quite certain the House recognises that economics seem to dictate this development, but when one remembers that the Irish Sugar Company were able to develop with very considerable success a home trade and an export trade for highly specialised machinery for the sugar beet industry and for the vegetable industry one feels that the Government should consider developing some specialised lines in the agricultural machinery sector. Not having any great personal knowledge of it, I merely advance it to the Minister as being worthy of consideration.

The House is at a disadvantage— and I have always found it to be completely preposterous—in that if one wants to talk about land policy one has to wait for the Minister for Lands and one can talk about agricultural policy only in the presence of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, as though they were not completely integrated and involved in rural problems and rural development. It is not at all appreciated that the ownership of land by Irish farmers entails a very serious social responsibility to ensure that land is used to the best possible national advantage and that the optimum possible return from that land is given to the whole of the community in terms of marketable produce and employment on the land. It is a matter of very serious concern to this House that there does not seem to be, within the Government at any rate, any real determination to come to grips with the serious land problem within the context of agricultural policy.

I would strongly suggest, having [1382] already pointed out the need to reintegrate the Department of Lands with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, that the present Land Commission should be abolished, should be radically transformed. There is nothing more self-destructive to the future development of a rational land policy than the continued existence of the Irish Land Commission. It has destroyed more than one political party in this country in terms of thinking logically and rationally about the allocation of economic holdings to Irish farmers. If this is done, we can then get down to talking about land transfer problems and land succession problems because these reflect the accumulated results of generations of neglect in this country and a very bad policy in relation to the very structure of the land policy we hope to develop.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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