Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
It goes without saying that farming on the Cooley Peninsula was gutted by the foot and mouth outbreak and the subsequent cull of livestock. Sheep and cattle were removed for slaughter and farmers were shell-shocked and devastated by the necessary emergency measures. I raised this matter to deal with the serious discontent there is with the level of compensation being offered. Farmers now face a long period without any cashflow because, quite simply, they have no livestock to sell. They also face a potentially high replacement cost later in the year. The extensive cull there means lamb prices in Britain are very high and that will be reflected in the cost of replacement breeding stock for the Cooley farmers. Other measures proposed are inadequate to deal with the financial plight of many farmers and I appeal to the Minister to urgently re-examine the level of compensation offered to the depopu lated farmers of the Cooley Peninsula. Their future existence is at stake.
I know most of the farmers personally and they are hard working, decent, diligent people who only seek a fair deal. Unless compensation levels are increased their chances of getting back into sheep production in the short term are in very serious doubt. I appeal to the Minister and his Department to sympathetically and urgently consider the points I have made. They are a reflection of the constituency pressures I, as a public representative, find myself under. They also reflect the pressures the farmers themselves are under.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Éamon Ó Cuív): Tá áthas orm deis a bheith agam soiléiriú a thabhairt ar an gceist seo. I am pleased to have the opportunity to deal with this issue.
I have been very much aware of the difficulties experienced by farmers on the Cooley Peninsula, and elsewhere in the country, throughout the foot and mouth disease crisis. Those difficulties have been particularly acute for the farmers of Cooley who have experienced at first hand what it means to have a confirmed case of the disease in a locality. It is clearly a traumatic experience for farmers and farm families to see entire herds and flocks slaughtered in one fell swoop. While the experience of Cooley was particularly intense, sacrifices were also made by the farming community throughout the country, by sporting and commercial organisations, by many businesses and by the general public, many of whom had no connection whatsoever with the agriculture sector. Happily, it now appears that these sacrifices are paying off and I am certain that no one in this House will question the absolute necessity or appropriateness of the control measures put in place since we were first confronted with the threat on 21 February last.
It is now 62 days since the only case in this jurisdiction was confirmed on 22 March and on or about 21 June, provided there are no further cases before then, this country will regain its white listed status under World Animal Health Organisation criteria. We can then begin to consider an appropriate timescale in which to allow restocking to commence in Cooley, taking into account the varying risks on infected land and associated land parcels, on commonages, on lowland farms to which sheep were moved from commonages and on other lowland farms in the area. This exercise will be conducted on the basis of the best available veterinary advice and in a phased and controlled manner. Above all, we do not want to rush into restocking in a manner which puts the livelihoods of farmers and others at risk if the virus is still present on the peninsula. Were there to be another foot and mouth outbreak, we would be forced to reimpose in full the  restrictions which have been eased in recent weeks.
I now turn to the question of compensation for sheep farmers in the Cooley area whose flocks were culled as a precautionary measure against foot and mouth disease. The policy of my Department in such cases is to pay the market value of the flock, as is legally provided for. However, following representations from the IFA when the cull in Cooley was at an advanced stage, my Department accepted that certain sheep farmers appeared to have a case for review of their valuations. The Department made a commitment that it would conduct such a review along lines which were generally understood. The basis of such a review was a perceived inequity in the valuations of flocks culled, particularly those dealt with early in the process relative to those culled at a later date. In line with its commitment, the Department carried out a detailed review of such cases and concluded the exercise on 14 May. The review comprised an examination of valuations on 286 files, followed by a further investigation of 182 cases where it was established that this was warranted. Valuers were requested to re-examine these files and supplementary payments totalling £415,000, and ranging between an additional £80 and an additional £23,500, were recommended. These recommendations were accepted by the Department.
It is unfortunate it was necessary to conduct this exercise at all, but I am sure Deputies appreciate that, in the context of the emergency which faced my Department and the speed with which it was required to act in these cases, it was inevitable that there would be some anomalies. I am obviously concerned with ensuring the farmers of Cooley are dealt with fairly and the response is evidence of my disposition in that regard.
A commitment to fair treatment does not, however, imply that my Department should yield to every and any demand which is made in relation to valuations, however unrealistic or excessive. The focus and parameters of the exercise was the market value of the animals which were actually culled and it is important that all concerned recognise this fact. Demands which could not be justified on that basis were from the outset clearly outside the scope of the exercise and it is important that this reality is also recognised. I am satisfied that the valuation review in relation to the Cooley flocks was conducted in a fair, detailed, professional and speedy manner and I now consider this matter closed.
On Thursday last, 17 May, three days after the review had been completed, officials of my Department met with an IFA delegation and outlined to them the outcome in general terms. Letters are now being prepared for issue in the coming days to each flock owner whose case was  reviewed, informing him or her of the outcome in their own particular case. Arrangements are also being made for issue of the recommended payments to those flock owners in respect of whom supplementary payments were recommended and these cheques will also issue within days. Many, and I hope most, of the flock owners in question will appreciate the way in which the Department responded in this instance to the case made on their behalf for a review.
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