Wednesday, 27 May 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Power: As I indicated earlier, I am sharing my time with Deputy Leonard. On behalf of the sheep farmers in Leinster, who are under strong pressure at the moment because of falling lamb prices, I particularly want to congratulate the Minister for achieving an increase of 150 — making a total of 500 — in the number of ewes in respect of which premium can be paid outside the disadvantaged areas. Also, the concession that bigger farmers with more than 500 ewes will be able to get 50 per cent of the premium is a major concession and the Minister is to be congratulated on this.
The performance of the Minister in last week's negotiations has been intelligent, effective and forceful. Most thinking people, including many of his critics, have been forced to acknowledge that progress has been achieved and a good deal secured. The Minister has had a most enterprising and productive first 100 days and if as John Gummer says, Commissioner Ray MacSharry gets a full chapter in history when the history of the Common Agricultural Policy is written, I have no doubt that Minister Joe Walsh will figure prominently in that book, too.
Mr. Leonard: I would like to congratulate the Minister, the Minister of State, their officials and all those involved in the very successful negotiations. I would also like to congratulate Commissioner MacSharry. About nine months ago a number of us, members of a British-Irish parliamentary body, met the Commissioner in Brussels and had a lengthy discussion on Common Agricultural Policy, GATT, etc. He gave us an assurance that the family type farm would be safe as far as he was concerned. We took him at his word. We had confidence in him and in our negotiating team and we thank them sincerely for their work.
We must realise that never before was there as much criticism in advance of proposals from every area, from foreign bodies, from Teagasc, from agri-economists right across the board, crying for the last nine to 12 months. They got their answer in the most effective way in Brussels during the past week.
There are two points I would like to comment on which were made here earlier in the debate, one, by Deputy Deasy, about our ability to sell our products. I could not agree with him on that issue. It is generally accepted that we have the best agricultural products of any country in Europe. The area I come from produces two products, namely, poultry and mushrooms which are not within the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy but these producers have given their answer in the form of having increased their market share on an on-going basis over the past couple of years and by breaking into the export market for poultry, something that was unheard of up to four or five years ago. The poultry  producers are yielding £41 million this year from that one product alone.
Mr. Leonard: One of the points related to our ability to sell while another related to the flight from the land. I believe in this case that there will be ample opportunities to provide extra jobs on the land and in processing plants. In relation to the beef sector, since we joined the EC we have failed to penetrate the Community market. However we will now have an opportunity to do so. In addition we have been faced with the problem of seasonality, particularly at our processing and slaughter plants, of which there is a number in my own constituency. Year after year men have worked for three or four months of the year, for anything up to 18 or 19 hours a day. They are then let go for the remainder of the year. While the system is unbalanced so far as the workers are concerned, it is balanced in the eyes of the State in that they are making contributions to the State and are in receipt of a substantial sum in overtime. We are confronted with the same problem in the dairy industry which I hope will be resolved.
In relation to the milk sector, initially the Commission proposed a 10 per cent reduction in the quota but following negotiations it has been agreed that there should be a reduction of 2.5 per cent over a two-year period. We will not be affected in 1992. In addition before any reduction may be imposed in 1993 and 1994 market conditions will have to be taken into account.
The important point should be made that the subsidy will be paid to the primary producer. We have claimed down the years rightly so, that about 80 per cent of EC funding goes to only 20 per cent of producers and that small producers are denied funding. However, primary producers will now be in a position to avail of funding while processors and traders can work in the knowledge that they will receive the product between January and April and that there will not  be a glut in the autumn as was the case in other years.
Mr. Connor: I am delighted to have this opportunity to comment on the Common Agricultural Policy reform. I cannot share the laudatory comments made by Deputy Leonard and his colleague about Commissioner MacSharry because when the Commissioner was a Deputy in this House he said that if the Common Agricultural Policy was interfered with we should leave the Community. That is what he said in this House.
We must remember that all the fear about this package was generated by Commissioner MacSharry although it was he who put forward the proposals. I am afraid therefore that I cannot agree with the self-congratulatory comments made by the Minister that he used his influence to have the proposals modified because if one reads any journal published outside this country or indeed many of those published here in relation to the progress made during the negotiations, one will find that it was the French, the Spanish, the Germans and others who exerted most influence on Commissioner MacSharry to modify his extreme proposals which would have led to the agriculture industry being almost dismantled as a major component of our economy. I am sorry that the Minister is not in the House to hear me say this but he should not make self-congratulatory  comments or accept all these congratulations for the changes which were by no means all his own doing. While I agree that he exerted some influence, I submit that this led to some very minor changes.
The Minister has acknowledged that there will be a cut of 15 per cent in the intervention price for beef over the next number of years but he failed to tell us that there will also be a significant reduction in the volume of beef allowed into intervention. It will be halved in the four year period 1993 to 1997 — from a figure of 750,000 tonnes in 1993 to 350,000 tonnes in 1997. I submit that this will depress the price of beef but this has not been acknowledged. All the experts agree that when the increased subsidies, the price reduction and market conditions — and one can accurately predict what these will be over the next three or four years — are taken into account beef farmers will only be compensated for 75 per cent of their losses. That will put an additional strain on that sector of agriculture.
According to a recent NESC report, 36 per cent of farmers are at risk of poverty. This was confirmed by the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in their pre-budget submissions over the last three years. The farmers most affected are dry stock farmers and farmers in the west. These farmers find that their economic status and wellbeing are under attack. A small farmer in the west is twice as likely to be poor as any self-employed person and six times more likely to be poor than any employed person. We have heard laudatory and glowing comments about what the new reformed Common Agricultural Policy will do for this country, but these are the facts.
The Minister also conveniently forgot to mention that heifers make up 20 per cent of the beef produced in Ireland and that all these subsidies will be payable in respect of male animals. Indeed the figure is higher than 20 per cent in certain parts of the area I come from. Does this not amount to a betrayal?
The Minister mentioned, again in a  self-congratulatory way, that there will be no quotas this year. However, next year the market balance will be looked at strictly and if it is out of joint by even the smallest amount, quotas will be the answer according to Commissioner MacSharry. Therefore we need not congratulate ourselves.
It is also a great pity that Ireland will receive only a small portion of the total budget devoted to the Common Agricultural Policy, about 27 billion ECUs in the current year; this figure will rise in the coming years, probably as high as 34 billion ECUs by about 1995 and then start to dip fairly sharply.
In relation to reorientation — the buzz word used by the Minister tonight — this means that funding will be reoriented from the major producers, who were able to avail of guaranteed prices, towards small producers but the amount of money that will be available under this heading is absolutely ridiculous. At present grants are available for alternative farming, deer farming, agri-tourism etc. However a circular, No. 26 of 1992, on the grant aid available for alternative enterprises was issued by the Minister's Department on 16 May, which said to all the staff operating it that “due to the budgetary position, it is now decided to suspend all these schemes.” Is not that a scandal, that this range of schemes which were meant to last from 1989 to 1993 are the subject of cancellation in the first half of 1992 on the part of the Minister for Agriculture and Food because he simply failed to negotiate enough money to fund them to the end of their term? I submit that that is a disgrace and a scandal.
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