Nitrates Directive: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 23 June 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 587 No. 6

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Timmins on Tuesday, 22 June 2004:

—condemns the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government for its incompetence and mismanagement in its handling of the nitrates directive;

—denounces this Government for its failure to take any action on implementing [1613]this directive from 1997 to date, and for failing to build on the 1996 Code of Agricultural Practice to Protect Water from Pollution by Nitrates;

—recognises that this directive will place severe financial burdens on farmers in its implementation, estimated to be over €1 billion annually; and

—expresses its concern that this Directive will threaten the continued livelihood of Ireland’s most productive and efficient farmers due to the storage and stocking densities, which will result from this directive;

calls on the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government to:

—explain the scientific basis underlying the current Government proposals for nitrogen levels and storage periods; and

—seek an increased nitrogen level of 210 kg/hectare and derogations up to 250 kg/hectare on a countrywide basis.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

“—endorses the Government’s policy of securing the optimal and least cost arrangements for compliance with the nitrates directive, thus protecting the interests both of the Government and of those Irish farmers whose activities would be affected;

—notes the range of measures which have been taken by the Government to address the costs at farm level which arise from the directive;

—recognises the extensive consultations with farming interests which have taken place, and will continue, in relation to the implementation of the national nitrates action programme;

—notes the connection between the early finalisation of Ireland’s nitrates management regime and the application, for the benefit of Irish farmers, of the new EU agricultural support arrangements; and

—supports the Government’s proposal to use the flexibility in the Directive to secure European Commission approval for limits of up to 250 kg/hectare per annum, on the basis agreed with the Farming Pillar under Sustaining Progress.”

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I wish to share my time with Deputies Cregan, Brady, Kelleher, Michael Moynihan and Nolan.

[1614]Acting Chairman: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  Is that agreed? Agreed.

  7 o’clock

Mr. Walsh: Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  I will concentrate on the agriculture dimension of this directive. Before I do I will outline a number of inescapable facts. First, there is a legal obligation on this country to put into effect an action programme under the EU nitrates directive, which dates from 1991. Second, the European Court of Justice, in a judgment against Ireland on 11 March 2004, held that we had not fulfilled our obligations under the nitrates directive because we had not established and implemented an action programme. The court on the application of the European Commission could impose substantial fines against Ireland if early action is not taken to give full effect to the directive. To use the modern jargon, “we simply do not want to go there”.

While much of the debate has been about science and the specific limit of 170 kg per hectare, there is a stark legal context to this issue. EU directives have the force of law and there are plenty of precedents in regard to the consequences of their not being implemented. There are other special aspects in regard to not implementing this directive which would serve to concentrate our minds.

The Commission has, for example, made it clear to us that continued co-funding of four major schemes — REPS, disadvantaged areas compensatory allowances, early retirement and forestry — is conditional on satisfactory implementation of the nitrates directive. The EU-funded element of these schemes is up to 75%. The Commission insisted that the current CAP rural development plan, under which these four measures are approved, include a commitment to identify and designate nitrate vulnerable zones by the end of 2001. As we had not been in a position to deliver on this, they held up an important amendment to the disadvantaged areas payments scheme in early 2002 until they were given very specific undertakings as to when we would act to implement the directive.

Furthermore, compliance with the nitrates directive is one of the conditions set down for farmers’ participation in the single payment scheme, which comes into effect in January next. This scheme will be 100% funded by the EU. There has been too much scare-mongering on this issue and I will not indulge in the same. However, it is clear that we could push our luck too far with the Commission. If we have not acted to implement the nitrates directive by next January in a way that the Commission considers acceptable, there will be possible implications not only for payments to individual farmers but for EU funding of the scheme. Given that this scheme will involve payments of more than €1.3 billion per annum, the implications of even a small percentage disallowance are very serious and neither I, nor the Government, can ignore them.

Recent decisions by the European Court of Justice have not made life any easier and mean [1615]we have to put forward an action programme that provides for a general limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. This is an unfortunate consequence of the court decision. We have some 10,000 farmers operating above that level at present, and clearly there would be serious implications for those farmers if they had to come down to 170 kg per hectare. However, that limit is only part of the story and it is most unfortunate that a misleading impression came from some quarters that it is the whole story. The directive allows member states to set higher limits, with the Commission’s approval, if those higher limits can be justified according to certain criteria and do not pose a risk to the achievement of the directive’s objective of protecting water quality. This is achieved by way of a derogation from the general limit. The Commission has made it clear that Ireland’s prospects of securing such a derogation are extremely good, and the Government is committed to pursuing it.

Implementation of the nitrates directive does not have to impact negatively on the continued development of commercial farming in Ireland. I assure the House that the unique characteristics of Irish agriculture will be recognised in the proposals to implement the nitrates directive. I have every intention of ensuring that we can go forward in a manner that underpins the future of our commercial farming sector and that farmers, through the de-coupling system, have the freedom to farm and gain from the possibilities that will flow from the single farm payment.

I am satisfied, on the basis of all the advice I am receiving from my Department, Teagasc and other quarters that Irish conditions can support farming at a level of up to 250 kg per hectare with no risk to water quality. Under Sustaining Progress, for example, the Government undertook to seek Commission approval for a derogation up to 250 kg. Therefore, the difference of views is not one of substance but rather one of tactics.

The Government and the farming organisations share the same objective; the only divergence is on the means of achieving that objective. The present position is that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, together with my Department, is engaged in putting together a revised draft of the action programme which should be available before the end of the month. There will be further consultations with the farming organisations before this document is finalised and submitted to the European Commission.

I hope the farming organisations will approach this exercise in a constructive and realistic spirit and accept that by submitting an action plan we are not selling out on the scientific argument. The action programme must stipulate a general limit of 170 kg to the hectare, but we will notify the Commission formally that we are also looking for a derogation up to 250 kg. My Department, in consultation with Teagasc, is currently working [1616]on a detailed, scientific case for this derogation. The objective will be that those farmers who need to operate above 170 kg will be able to avail of the derogation without unreasonable or unrealistic conditions attached and all scientific arguments will be marshalled to support that case.

Concerns have also been expressed about the requirements relating to the storage and land spreading of organic fertilisers. The nitrates directive requires a minimum period of storage capacity for animal manure and this minimum period must exceed the longest period during which land application is prohibited in a particular area. However, the directive also states that a lesser period will suffice where it can be shown that any quantity of animal manure in excess of the available storage can and will be used in a manner that will not cause environmental pollution. It is my firm intention to ensure that farmers can avail of this flexibility to the greatest possible extent.

As well as referring to the 250 kg limit on organic nitrogen, Sustaining Progress also includes other commitments to measures that would assist farmers in meeting these obligations under the nitrates directive. One of these was an undertaking to secure significantly higher rates of payment under REPS. I introduced an amended REP scheme on foot of that commitment, including payment rates that will give farmers an average increase of 28% from 1 March this year. I am pleased to tell the House that I have today secured the Commission’s formal approval for these changes, which will be retrospective to 1 March this year.

The REPS is a good scheme. Since 1994, €1.3 billion has been expended under the scheme. I look forward to increased uptake, which should reach approximately 60,000 farmers by 2006. In 2003, spending on REPS amounted to €182 million. The provision for this year is €260 million, an increase of 40%, of which I hope an increasing number of farmers will avail. Farmers can avail of a payment under REPS for 55 hectares up to an average of €8,500 per annum, which is substantial. I would encourage farmers to avail of this worthwhile scheme. The Government increased substantially payments under the waste management scheme. There was an increase of 60% in the allocation this year under the scheme. In a historical context, some €320 million has been spent under farm waste and pollution control measures, the equivalent of a total investment cost of approximately €1 billion since 1995.

I have implemented the undertakings in Sustaining Progress, ensuring that the vast majority of Irish farmers will now be able to avail of grant aid as the income ceiling limits have been increased in regard to farm waste management and dairy hygiene. In addition, increases have also been applied to the standard costs used to calculate grant aid under the scheme, while the Government saw fit to extend the scheme of capital allowances for expenditure on farm pollution control. REPS, farm waste management, dairy [1617]hygiene and capital allowances have done a lot to help farmers meet the requirements of the directive.

As this directive has been around for some time, the question is what we should do now. I suggest we need to take some of the heat and emotion out of the debate. We need to stop going around in ever decreasing circles on the 170 kg limit. Making a political football of the issue will not make the directive go away. As I said, the main difference is one of tactics where we feel there is no avoiding an action plan. If we considered that submitting a higher figure under the action plan was a realistic proposition we would do so. What the Opposition and farming organisations are seeking is a derogation by another name. The real issue for individual farmers is what will be implemented on the ground and will they be able to farm commercially with a stocking rate of at least one cow to the acre. That is the nub of the whole thing which we want to happen. That will be determined by our case for a derogation and the strength of our scientific arguments. That is where Teagasc and the other scientific experts should come into their own. I strongly suggest that is where our focus should be.

I believe our agricultural systems, soils, grass growth and climate will support our case for higher organic nitrogen usage limits within the legal framework of the nitrates directive, without undue bureaucracy or conditionality. This has to be our approach and it is the only avenue open to us if we are to progress and resolve the major issues facing us. As we move into the new era of farm supports under the single payment scheme and become involved in negotiating funding for CAP measures post-2006, it is crucial that we finally sort out the nitrates directive and put the issue behind us. Working together with the farming interests, we can achieve a satisfactory and acceptable outcome to the matter.

Mr. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  I am pleased to have an opportunity to make a brief contribution on this important matter. As we are aware, the nitrates directive relates to the protection of waters against pollution by agriculture. We are also aware that the European Court of Justice delivered a judgment on 11 March 2004 that Ireland is non-compliant. It is important to remember that compliance with the directive is not optional.

The directive requires a general landspreading limit of 170 kg per hectare for organic nitrogen, but allows for derogations in certain cases and subject to certain conditions. The financial consequences for Ireland, and for Irish agriculture, of remaining at the 170 kg limit are potentially devastating if we do not respond adequately. From speaking to the Minister and his officials in the past 24 hours, I believe there is only one way we can go forward, namely, by seeking a derogation for the whole of our territory. This derogation must be acceptable to everyone to ensure [1618]that dairy farmers can continue to farm intensively at a rate of one cow per acre.

In finalising the programme, the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture and Food are taking on board the submissions received from farm bodies and others involved in the consultative process on the draft programme. It is important to maintain a balance in this area. On the one hand, we must protect the environment but, on the other, we must protect the incomes of farmers. One should not outweigh the other but, if this were to happen, I would come down on the side of farm incomes.

Last night the Minister, Deputy Cullen, stated:

He said that the Government’s objective is exactly the same as that of the IFA, but we are trying to achieve it in different ways. However, from what I have now learned, perhaps there is only one way of achieving our objective, namely, by way of derogation. I believe the climate and soil conditions on most Irish grassland will justify limits of up to 250 kg. per hectare.

Reference was made to pollution caused by farmers. The vast majority of farmers operate good farming practice. Only a small minority would choose to pollute our waters. When we talk about farmers polluting ground water, we must remember that these farmers, including their neighbours and friends, must use this water. We must point out the responsibility of the farming community in protecting their ground water.

Recent judgments of the European Court of Justice have made it clear that a member state cannot simply set the higher limit of its own accord, it must present the detailed scientific evidence to the European Commission and must secure the approval of the Commission for what is proposed. The court has removed several ambiguities which previously existed regarding the interpretation of the directive. We now know it is simply not permissible for a member state, acting [1619]on its own discretion, to set a general limit above 170 kg.

I compliment the Minister on appointing an independent consultant who will take on board the views of all sides and examine the recommendations and submissions brought to the Minister. Ultimately, we will have agreement on this issue and achieve our objective. The only way ahead is through derogation.

Mr. J. Brady: Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  The nitrates directive is an issue of concern, particularly to commercial farmers. These are the full-time farmers whose livelihoods depend entirely on agriculture and farmers whose sons or daughters have stayed on the land to make a living from it. The capacity of farmers to compete using Ireland’s natural advantage, which is the production of livestock from grass, is vital. For this reason, it is important that the nitrates directive does not prohibit expansion in the future.

Agriculture is one of Ireland’s major economic activities and the backbone of the rural economy. Our farmers appreciate the need to protect our water quality. There has been a high level of investment by farmers in waste storage facilities and other pollution prevention measures. If farmers were not taking their responsibilities seriously, we would not have water of such high quality. Research shows that the climate and conditions on most farms in Ireland can justify limits of up to 250 kg per hectare. The Government also subscribes to that view.

There is a need to ensure that the use of nitrates is properly managed. The majority of farmers are operating within the lower limit but we must ensure that our most modern and progressive farmers are not unnecessarily restricted. A special derogation of up to 250 kg is warranted and can be secured. I have no doubt that the unique characteristics of Irish agriculture will fully justify the higher limit. The Government has at all times acted in a responsible manner in the implementation of the nitrates directive and will continue to do so. The objective is to ensure that no unnecessary cost burden or restriction is imposed on Irish farmers.

The overwhelming majority of Irish farmers will have no difficulty complying with the directive. Much of what is involved is already practised by farmers who are in the REP scheme. There has also been a substantial increase in REPS funding this year. Not implementing the directive will have serious implications for the €1.7 billion in payments for farmers. Furthermore, the Government could be subject to fines of up to €50,000 per day if no action is taken. This is the reality we face. An action plan for implementation of the directive must soon be submitted to the European Union.

[1620]We have always believed in a partnership approach to this issue. The Departments, farming organisations and Teagasc must come together to progress it. We believe in seeking a derogation for a limit of 250 kg per hectare, as agreed in the Sustaining Progress partnership agreement. The best way forward is a united effort based on proper scientific evidence. We have until December this year to negotiate the derogation. If there is purposeful cohesion among all stakeholders, there is sufficient time to resolve the outstanding issue to everybody’s satisfaction.

Mr. Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Everybody accepts that we have a legal obligation to bring forward an action plan on foot of the EU directive. I welcome the Minister’s statement this evening and that of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in which they acknowledged the seriousness of this issue. Commercial farmers, in particular, have major concerns. People believe that if there is no derogation or if the directive is implemented as it stands on foot of the court judgment, there will be profound cost implications for commercial farmers.

I welcome the fact that we will use our negotiating skills to the best of our ability to seek a derogation to the maximum limit of 250 kg. We must ensure that as little pressure as possible is put on commercial farmers, who are already having difficulties in certain areas. Overall, however, we must accept a number of facts. First, we have a legal obligation in this regard. Second, we have a duty to ensure that we protect commercial farmers who are the backbone of the dairy industry and the broader agriculture industry in this country.

If we are serious about ensuring continued rural development and having a vibrant agriculture industry, the derogation will be essential. Members have been lobbied by farming representatives who have put forward their arguments. We have listened to them and the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have acknowledged that they have legitimate concerns.

I wish the Minister well. It is an onerous task but it is incumbent on us to protect commercial farming and to ensure there is a proper derogation in place with a long lead-in time. We do not wish to put any further pressures on what is already a delicate industry. We will put forward scientific arguments. Given the expertise available in the Civil Service, Teagasc and other groups, they will be able to put forward a coherent argument that will stand up to scientific scrutiny. I wish the Ministers well and hope they will return with a positive result on a derogation.

Mr. M. Moynihan: Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the nitrates [1621]directive. Farmers and farming organisations tend to feel threatened by the prospect of EU directives and the court judgment of 11 March probably spurred them into further action.

There is a legal obligation on Ireland to implement the nitrates directive. I have no doubt that the negotiating skills of both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food will secure the derogation. It is the only way forward. Everybody needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet on this important issue for the future of Irish agriculture. The commercial farmers who are most threatened by this directive will be the backbone of the future agriculture industry in this country. If they are lost from the sector, it will be detrimental to the future of the industry. The derogation limit of 250 kg is achievable and we should strive to attain it. We are willing to give the Government any assistance in achieving it.

Another issue is the cost of storage, particularly for farmers with small and medium-sized farms. The length of time storage will be required and its cost will be a significant issue for them. Extra funding has been put in place but we should not lose sight of this problem. It is one of the issues that will have to be dealt with in the future. We have no choice but to implement the directive but we should do so in the best interests of Irish agriculture, particularly commercial farmers. Serious consideration must be given to the cost of storage on farms.

Mr. Nolan: Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  I wish both the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture and Food success in making Ireland’s case for a derogation to the Commission. The importance of agriculture to this country is acknowledged by all. It is crucial to secure a derogation for the 10,000 Irish farmers who are currently above the 170 kg per hectare limit.

Every Member of the House has been lobbied by farming organisations and by individual farmers about this directive. There is genuine concern about the effect it will have on Irish agriculture. Both Ministers are well aware of this. The Government must work within legal limits. Recent judgments of the European Court of Justice have made it clear that a member state cannot simply set the higher limits of its own accord. The submission we make to Brussels must take account of that judgment.

There is not a farm in any county that is not affected by this. My county has been severely affected by it. We can only secure the Commission’s agreement to a derogation by making a valid and good case. The evidence and facts are available about what is happening in this country. I offer my support to both Ministers in their [1622]endeavours to ensure a reasonable and fair case is made for Irish farmers and Irish agriculture.

Dr. Cowley: Information on Jerry Cowley  Zoom on Jerry Cowley  I wish to share my time with Deputies McHugh, Harkin, Sargent and Ferris.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Dr. Cowley: Information on Jerry Cowley  Zoom on Jerry Cowley  I warmly welcome Deputy Marian Harkin, MEP, back to the House.

I strongly support this motion and call for a change in the Minister’s proposals. In my own rural area thousands of farmers have left the land in recent years. Farmers have been the custodians of the land for generations, have taken their responsibilities seriously and have cherished the sacred earth on behalf of their ancestors. Their challenge has been to stay on the land and they have fought the tyranny of landlords and occupation to do so. Now, however, there is a new danger.

Farmers have always been environmentally aware. How could they not be? They depend on the land. They have been involved in setting up group water schemes in recent years with little help from Government, although that has changed since the creation of the rural water programme. Farmers have a vested interest in ensuring a top quality rural environment and clean water. They have done this even when it was not easy to do so. They have always taken their obligations seriously and met all standards that were imposed upon them. They have always recognised the dangers of over-fertilisation and have reacted appropriately. They have always taken the prevailing advice about fertilisation of the land.

There is a limit to how far our farmers can go. They are being pushed over the edge with the proposed limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. Such a limit is not supported by scientific research into the impact of farming on water quality under Irish conditions. Research by Teagasc shows there is no damage to groundwater at organic nitrogen levels of 250 kg per hectare. Why are we reducing the limit to 170 kg per hectare? This has serious implications for anyone engaged in commercial farming. The reduction of stocking levels to 0.8 units per acre is not sustainable. Would it not be more logical to establish a limit of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare and allow stocking levels to rise to 1.2 units per acre?

If this higher limit is not allowed, we will hear the death knell of farming. If farmers cannot continue to produce the grass needed, the cattle will have to stay indoors. If they are indoors for twice the current length of time, that creates its own problems. Keeping cattle indoors for half the year or more will double the slurry storage requirement that already exists and will also double the amount of slurry to be disposed of. There are also [1623]strict rules for slurry disposal. There are great dangers associated with the spreading of slurry. We all know the damage that can be done to groundwater and fish stocks. Keeping cattle indoors for longer means this problem will be increased.

Why are we going down this road? Why is the Minister giving this final insult to farmers? Why is he ensuring that our farmers will not be able to stay on the land? We need to consider this seriously. I support the motion and I urge the Government to act in the interest not only of farmers but of those who depend on them, namely, the people of rural Ireland.

Mr. McHugh: Information on Paddy McHugh  Zoom on Paddy McHugh  I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss this issue. The nitrates directive is one of the most important issues facing farmers at present. There is no need to establish a rigorous regime such as that proposed in the draft action programme. Underlining the approach taken in this programme is an assumption that farmers have no regard for the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. No recognition has been given to the changes that have occurred in farming or that farmers generally follow the advice they receive, especially concerning the use of fertiliser. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the use of nitrogen and phosphorus in recent years. The use of phosphorus has fallen from a high of 90,000 tonnes in 1970 to 40,000 tonnes today.

Neither has recognition been given to the fact that Irish farming is grass-based livestock farming, unlike that of other European member states which consists of highly concentrated arable and livestock production systems. No recognition is being given to the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency reports on drinking water quality in this country reflect the excellent quality of our surface and groundwater. The same EPA reports indicate that the limits included in the nitrates directive are being complied with under the current regime and in farming practices.

I know of no scientific research which demands a limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare on the basis that the higher limit sought by farmers would affect water quality. There is no scientific research to back up the argument for the 170 kg limit under Irish farming conditions. Research carried out by Teagasc shows there is no damage to groundwater at organic nitrogen levels of 220 kg per hectare. Many scientists believe that a level of 250 kg per hectare is safe and acceptable under Ireland’s growing conditions. Teagasc could be more helpful by clearly setting out its assessment of the Government’s proposals and explaining the damage these proposals will cause to Irish farming.

It is estimated that the overall cost to Irish farmers of complying with the measures con[1624]tained in the draft action programme will be €1 billion. Only half that bill will be carried by the 40,000 large commercial dairy and beef farmers. The remainder of the cost will be borne by the less intensive producers. The bottom line is that farming will be adversely affected by these proposals. The tragedy is that they are unnecessary because there is no evidence that any further improvement in water quality will result. Will the Minister reflect on the proposals in the draft action programme before further unnecessary damage is done to Irish farming?

Ms Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin  Zoom on Marian Harkin  I am delighted to have the opportunity to support this Private Members’ motion. In recent months on the election trail, the issue of the nitrates directive and its implementation in this country was a constant source of grave concern to many farmers and farming organisations. The Minister spoke earlier of the possibility of fines being levied on this country. As he said, we do not want to go there. However, the reality is that he should have gone there a long time ago.

This is a typical example of how Irish implementation of European directives has been seriously flawed. The directive has been on the table for many years, yet this Government and others have ignored it in the hope that it might go away. This has continued until our backs are to the wall and we are faced with massive fines. As a result of Government inaction, we must now seek a derogation instead of putting forward an application based on sound scientific evidence that would allow Irish farmers to farm efficiently and cost-effectively while meeting sound environmental requirements.

The central problem is that the limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare bears no relation to scientific principles or practical agriculture. No proper scientific baseline studies were undertaken prior to establishing these limits. These studies should have taken place over recent years. Now, belatedly, the EU agricultural directorate is discussing a study of groundwater quality with the European environmental agency. In this context, we must ensure there is a module applicable to each country and its climatic and soil characteristics. The limit of 170 kg per hectare takes no account of the fact that 91% of the agricultural area of this country is devoted to grass, silage, hay and rough grazing. Ireland has the natural advantage of being able to produce grass over a much longer grazing season than the rest of the European Union, which advantage must be maintained in the future.

The second issue is practical agriculture and the day-to-day management of farms. Initially, some documents from the Department of Agriculture and Food contained references to the fact that slurry could not be spread at weekends or on bank holidays. These did not see the light of day but give some indication of the kind of bureau[1625]cratic thinking that lies behind the implementation of this directive. This directive is too inflexible because it could allow a farmer to spread slurry at the worst possible time, thereby causing problems to the groundwater supply. There must be greater flexibility to allow farmers to make decisions based on rainfall, climatic conditions and so on so that the impact of this directive will be positive rather than negative.

The costs involved for farmers may simply be unsustainable. I urge the Minister, even at this late stage, to ensure there is greater flexibility in the implementation of this directive and that any implementation is based on accurate scientific evidence.

Mr. Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  This Government, and all Governments going back to 1991, is effectively in the dock tonight. The nitrates directive of 1991 has been subject to a nod and a wink over the years as if it was not going to have any significant impact. We know from Teagasc research that it does not impact on most farmers. We are here tonight to examine how to address the concerns of the farmers who are affected.

According to Teagasc, there are 130,000 people in farming. Of those, 40,000 are in REPS. It is estimated that 78,000 more could be in REPS as they are under the stocking limit. Perhaps the Minister might refer to how that could be encouraged as a step forward. A total of 7,000 people are within 170 kg. to 210 kg. per hectare category; 2,444 are within 210 kg. to 280 kg. per hectare; and 2,100 of that 2,444 are dairy farmers. We are, therefore, talking about quite a small number but it still behoves the Minister to address the concerns of those farmers that are affected, whether it is 2% or slightly more as Teagasc would estimate.

Teagasc produced its code of good farming practice in 1996. It has been a blueprint for the draft action plan to protect water from nitrates. The 2001 code has copper-fastened the 1996 code. We have received so many warnings about this issue that it is amazing we are at this juncture tonight. Whereas we could not support the level of derogation that Fine Gael is proposing, there is a need for flexibility. Based on scientific reality that flexibility is feasible.

We seek greater investment in education to promote good farming practice to reduce nitrate leachate into waterways in particular. We also seek grants for farmers to put in infrastructure for adequate storage of slurry and for more biodigesters to be set up on many farms. We would encourage farmers to grow crops in rotation that have a high nitrogen uptake, such as stubble turnips, winter rye, Westerwold ryegrass, mustard, phacelia and forage rape. We promote energy crops such as oilseed rape that absorb nitrates. We would also promote the planting of cover [1626]crops over winter to reduce nitrate losses and soil erosion.

We acknowledge that it is too simplistic to apply figures such as 210 kg. per hectare across the board. It is much more important to take notice of soil type and weather conditions and set limits accordingly. Wet, heavy clay in Cavan or Monaghan cannot absorb 170 kg. of nitrates per hectare whereas free draining loam soils could cope with 250 kg per hectare. In other words, nitrates limits should vary regionally and it is feasible to do that. It is not feasible, however, to prohibit the spreading of slurry according to the calendar. Slurry spreading should not be allowed before or during rain or if the soil is frozen. Preferably injection or dribble bar methods should be used for spreading. In water catchment areas and along river banks buffer zones should be created and planted with nitrate absorbing crops such as willow.

There are many measures the Government should be taking to address the issue of nitrates. There is a huge amount at stake here. If we do not come to terms with the requirements of the nitrates directive in what is called the national envelope and deal with it with the Government taking the lead, there is no point in saying we will lose the money for REPS, for example. It is very important that the Government give leadership. I raised this in the Dáil by way of questions last month and on the last occasion when parliamentary questions on agriculture were dealt with. It seems the Minister is wringing his hands on the issue. Leadership is needed from the Minister so that all farmers are able to comply with the directive.

Mr. Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  One of the main issues this debate highlights is the lack of real input from this State into decisions made at EU level. Once again people in this State are expected to comply with a regulation made without consultation with local stakeholders and with no specific research into local conditions.

The fault in the case of the nitrates directive rests with successive Irish Governments since 1991. There are numerous other examples of Irish farmers being faced with a fait accompli and only afterwards discovering the numerous problems that might have been addressed if Irish officials had paid closer attention to what was going on and, crucially, had listened to the sector involved.

Another recent example was the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. While I supported the general thrust of the package agreed, I am also aware from having visited Brussels last May that many contentious issues appear to have been agreed without much input from the Irish side. My party and a number of farming bodies identified areas where changes might have been made that would have favoured Irish farmers but these were not made.

[1627]Deputy Mulcahy has recently drawn attention to another issue, genetically modified food, in respect of which Irish officials have agreed to lift the embargo on certain products with no consultation here and no account taken of consumer preferences or the effects this might have on our food market. A common theme in all of these cases appears to be an attitude of going along with EU initiatives without considering in full where the best interests of this country lie.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, stated last night that all member states, including Ireland, will have to present detailed scientific arguments in support of a claim for derogation above the 170 kg. per hectare limit. Why has it taken until now to do so? Is it not the case that the ability to present that type of argument has been damaged by the cutbacks in agricultural research over the past number of years. As Deputy Upton pointed out last night, Teagasc has indicated that the preparation of the case that is required is still not complete. In response, the Minister stated that Teagasc had accepted an invitation to appear before the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government to discuss the directive. That this is happening only now highlights the lack of urgency with which the issue has been treated.

What the controversy over this issue proves is the clear need for local research into the manner in which the directive should be applied based on local conditions. There is no agreement on a number of issues, including the relationship between current nitrates use and water pollution levels, and the manner in which the restrictions on spreading will be applied in different parts of the country. Unfortunately the ability to conduct such research has been hampered by the cutbacks in Teagasc. To give one example, it is clear that the closure of Ballinamore Farm will mean the loss of valuable research into soil conditions in the north-west. Such facilities are vital to the provision of up-to-date knowledge regarding farm production systems which, in the case of Ballinamore Farm, could make a contribution to the future survival of dairying in that part of the country.

The points on how the implementation of the directive will impair the future of many dairy farmers are quite correct. It will affect stocking levels on intensive farms and will put all to the expense of providing extra storage facilities. This will have a particularly adverse affect on smaller producers with poorer quality land.

This would be bad enough in itself but it comes at a time when small to medium dairy farmers are under increasing constraints. The full ramifications of decoupling as it applies to dairying have yet to be realised. It is clear it will be increasingly difficult for them to survive in the [1628]face of falling milk prices and the raising of the level of quota necessary in order to remain viable. The Prospectus report published last year made it clear there will be major structural change within dairying over the next number of years. It foresaw a situation where the average quota will rise to 100,000 gallons with the processing sector dominated by one large-scale operator.

I tabled a number of questions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food regarding the report. He seems to be of the opinion that such structural change is inevitable. Perhaps it is but I wonder are small to medium producers aware of this. What steps are being taken to prepare them for such changes in the sector?

It is clear from all of this on top of the nitrates directive that diary farmers are facing a challenging period ahead. That makes it all the more important that the Government gets this one right and presents a case that will ensure that we secure the best possible outcome. I support the motion.

Mr. Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words on this debate. The importance of a good quality environment for all our citizens cannot be over emphasised. Farmers are committed to a good quality environment and have proved that in past with the take-up of the REP scheme. They are also committed to it from a tourism point of view. Many part-time farmers are now involved in tourism as a way of life. They are involved in fishing. They are committed to the rural environment and that cannot be overstated.

No other subject has created such debate in recent months as the nitrates directive. Many farmers are greatly concerned, particularly our commercial farmers. Commercial farmers will not be able to continue in business despite the fact that they are the backbone of this country. Towns and villages across the country depend on commercial farmers who spend their money in their communities. The impact of this directive on these people cannot be over estimated. More involvement in the REP scheme is what is needed, not this nitrates directive. Those who have been involved in REPS have developed good environmental practices as a result. This has happened despite the fact that the Government has been slow in renegotiating the new REP scheme which I think has just been announced. We should not be slow in implementing this scheme. Farmers have led by example and if politicians are to do the same, the Government should have cleared this up a long time ago.

I heard tonight from Government backbenchers that independent consultants are to be appointed. I dread to think that the Government is even considering appointing an independent consultant. The truth is that Ireland is not suited to this directive. We need to stand up to the bureaucrats in Brussels to fight for change. There [1629]are many crazy issues such as the storage period for slurry spreading. The climate changes in Ireland. We can have fine and dry months in the close period and the directive does not allow for that. That is the craziest section in the whole directive. Our weather periods have changed so much.

Many farmers will be affected by this, but dairy farmers will be affected most. A small dairy farmer with 40 cows on a 50 acre farm would have to cut back on 10% of his stock to live within the rules as proposed. These rules would drive such a farmer out of business and that is the fear I have with this directive. It is the fear the Government has not stood up against. The Government will drive more and more people off the land. That is what is happening and the Minister has not stood up to it. He has allowed a decimation of our agricultural communities to occur. In recent weeks as we canvassed around the country, we saw closed up farms over which the Minister presides. If the Government does not stand up to this nitrates directive, there will be more “For Sale” signs and closed gates right across the country. The Minister must get tough. He must forget the consultants, get down to business and fight our case in Europe.

  8 o’clock

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  The Government must take the blame for the nitrates directive debacle. Through the inaction of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Government has made a hames of the whole thing. A fundamental mistake has been made in so far as Ireland is concerned and the only people who will have to pay an unfair price will be the top 10% of Irish farmers, mostly dairy farmers and pig farmers. However, every single farmer, whether he be in the wetlands of Connacht or in the best lands in the Golden Vale, will all be affected by this directive. Thousands of others will be caught up in this daft scheme as innocent bystanders even though they do not think they will be involved. The message I have for them is that they would want to catch on to this immediately because they will be subsumed into the whole system.

The fundamental principle behind the Government’s blinkered approach to the nitrates directive is the flawed logic that every acre of land in Ireland is the same quality, that every region gets the same rainfall every season and that the growing season starts and finishes at the same time every year countrywide. We all know that does not happen. It just cannot be possible that a farmer in Clonakilty in County Cork, who can have cows out grazing in the second week of February every year will be treated, environmentally speaking, in the same way as a farmer in the wetland areas of the west of Ireland, who may not be able to graze his grass until mid-April every year. Irish farmers always answered the environmental call. We only need to look at the [1630]40,000 farmers who are participating in REPS, myself included, with thousands more lining up to join.

For farmers with stocking rates above the REPS level, and they are mostly dairy farmers, there is no problem whatever with a nutrient waste management plan provided that this does not turn into a culture for greasing the paw of environmentalists, scientists, agents and advisers. The innocent bystanders I mentioned earlier will not escape untouched by this nitrates directive. Every farmer, in REPS or otherwise, will have to prove to the Department that the farm is within the nitrates directive framework before they will get a cheque under the single farm payment scheme in 2005. This is what the Minister calls cross-compliance and I can see a whole new industry being created for the bureaucratic armies of professionals whom some innocent commentators believed would be unemployed when the single payment scheme kicked in. They will be reborn and this is manna from heaven for them. It is all because the Minister did not get down to business to do the job he and the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government were paid to do in Brussels in recent years.

Farmers are notoriously suspicious of what both Ministers are trying to do. What genius put pen to paper and suggested that slurry should not be spread on a Saturday, on a Sunday or a Bank Holiday? Maybe we will arrive at the stage where we ask the cows to do you-know-what four days a week. Our dairy industry is gradually being concentrated into a relatively small number of top class professionals. The existing pressure of falling milk prices and of increasing costs has driven some great farmers out of milk production. If the top dairy farmers cannot get grass to grow early and late every year, which incidentally reduces the amount of slurry to be spread on land anyway, and given that most of this farmland is the best in Europe and that they farm environmentally, why try to put them out of business with a blanket ban? Dairy farmers with a restriction of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare will not be able to be able to stay in business because it is not physically possible to stay within that restriction.

The directive also deals with the storage period for slurry containment. For six months of the year slurry cannot be spread on the land. That may be appropriate to parts of west Donegal which have a fair amount of wet land. How does one tell a progressive farmer in the Finn Valley in which some of the best land in Ireland is located that he or she can only spread slurry on land for six months of the year?

The same applies in Galway. One cannot compare the land in Athenry, the finest land in Ireland, with land in Connemara. How can a blanket ban be applied which suits all types of land? This directive is daft in the extreme. The Minister for Agriculture and Food is treating the farmers of Ireland with contempt and is, in effect, penalising them. He is putting them all under one [1631]umbrella where everybody will lose for no reason other than that he does not care.

Mr. Deenihan: Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  We all realise this directive has major implications for the farming community and especially for north Kerry which is a prime dairying area. Approximately 10% of holdings in the area will meet the requirements of the proposed directive action plan. When it is implemented, it will result in a rush of people from the land. As pointed out by several speakers, destocking will result to the level of approximately 1.25 acres per cow. Currently the north Kerry plain is densely stocked at a level of one acre per cow.

The issue of storage has not been considered. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spoke of supportive and generous grants for farmers. I accept that. However, there is no comparison between current costings and those of five years ago. The price of steel increased considerably during the past year. I recently spoke to a farmer and complimented him on the installation of a new slatted unit on his farm. The man concerned is a progressive farmer whose son will hopefully take over the farm. He said the grant he received was of little assistance to him. Many of the grants are not adequate.

Farmers who are unable to spread slurry from September to January will have to increase their storage capacity by expanding or extending their storage facilities and that will be expensive. The movement of cattle sheds and so on will be destructive and inconvenient to many farmyards. Most farmers with whom I am familiar, and I am familiar with most farmyards in north Kerry, have storage capacity for approximately eight to ten weeks of slurry. Farmers will be out on 15 January spreading slurry on land which is not suitable for it. The finest months of the year are usually October and November when we experience our great Indian summers. Under this directive farmers in Kerry will not be permitted to spread slurry during those months.

This is a difficult issue with which the Minister and Government must deal. Those responsible for drawing up this directive did so without the full knowledge of farming conditions in Ireland. As I said in the past, directives come through Brussels without scrutiny. It is only when they impact on Ireland that people get excited about them. That is true of officials, organisations and so on. The farming community is becoming aware of the impact of this directive on Ireland. It is a fait accompli. I suggest that the Minister, when seeking a derogation, consults on the matter with farming organisations and the main co-operatives. This is one of the main challenges facing the Irish agricultural industry. It is time for action at all levels, including right across the political spectrum.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  The Department of Agriculture and Food should deal with agricultural matters. Pre[1632]viously, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was involved in matters concerned with special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas and sent its officials to negotiate in that regard. That is not good enough.

The Department of Agriculture and Food and not the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should deal with agricultural matters, given the obvious conflict of interest. The Minister is responsible for matters relating to the farming community. He and his officials should deal with directives from Europe in relation to farming. The Minister is the protector of farmers.

This directive was devised by officials in Brussels. If they are good for anything in Brussels, they are good for thinking up of ways of putting pressure on farmers and trying to put them out of business, something they have been doing for the past 20 years. We pay them a great deal of money to do a job, yet all they do is create more problems for farmers in Ireland.

Deputy Connaughton is correct in saying that the day will come when farmers in Ireland will have to put their cows into their homes from Monday to Friday and put them out on the land on Saturday. Perhaps, if the departmental officials are on overtime, they will visit farmers on Sunday to see if everything is in order. The Minister must put a stop to this ridiculous situation. We are losing more farmers every week. Elderly farmers want to pass on the land to their sons and daughters but they do not want to take them on because farms are over-regulated by the Department and Brussels.

Most farmers have taken up the rural environment protection scheme. However, officials from the Department of Agriculture and Food apply a 100% penalty to farmers if there is a stone missing from a wall. Farmers and organisations must then such penalties in places such as Wexford and so on. Those employed to consider such appeals are paid to do so and often receive travel expenses when they must investigate the scene involved in the appeal. The farmers of Ireland have endured enough.

I listened to what was said on the doorstep during the campaign for the local and European elections. Farmers in urban and rural areas are over-regulated. We have too many civil servants, all of whom will receive a cheque at the end of the week while the poor farmer and the self employed struggle to earn a living. We are over-regulated by Europe. There has been much talk of a European constitution. The farmers of Ireland are not interested. They have had enough directives from Europe for the past 20 years. Now that officials in Europe have completed this directive, they are probably thinking up new ways of trying to force people out of agriculture.

The Minister let them down. The Department of Agriculture and Food let them down. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not know anything about farmers and does not give two damns about them. [1633]All he wants is to try to get rid of as many farmers as possible to get them out of business.

I care about farmers and rural Ireland, since that is where I come from. I see to it daily that the sons and daughters of farmers have enough. This kind of directive——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  I am reluctant to interrupt the Deputy but his time is concluded.

Mr. Ring: Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  I am sorry about that, since I had a little more to say, but I will leave it at that.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Treacy): Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the implementation of the nitrates directive in Ireland. Despite all the heat generated on this issue, the reality is that there is little of substance between the position of the Government and that of the farming organisations.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  That is not what they are saying.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  I did not interrupt Deputy
Connaughton. We listened to him for a long time and he should take it easy.

The aim of the nitrates directive is to protect our water quality from pollution. Farmers have repeatedly said that they, of all people, must ensure they have unpolluted water. On the other side, the farming organisations seek the highest possible limits for the spreading of organic nitrogen in a manner which does not cause pollution. That is also what the Government wishes to achieve.

There is an appreciation that we must achieve our aims in a way that avoids imposing unnecessary burdens, costs or restrictions on the agriculture sector across the country. In particular, the recent debate has focused on the land spreading base limits of 170 kg per hectare. Again, the objective of the Government is exactly the same as that of the farm organisations. We believe that the climate and soil conditions on most Irish grassland will justify limits of up to 250 kg per hectare. However, to obtain those limits, Ireland must present detailed scientific evidence to the European Commission and secure its approval for what we propose for Ireland. The issue is about how we secure the appropriate limit.

As agreed with the farming organisations in Sustaining Progress, the Government will work to secure the best outcome for Irish farming consistent with proper environmental protection. I was glad to hear last night from my Government colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, that it is proposed that the ongoing contact between the farming organisations and both Government Departments involved in the issue should continue. The Ministers, Deputies Cullen and Walsh, propose to meet the farming organisations shortly to discuss the issue again and it is proposed to set [1634]up new structures to seek as much agreement as possible in the implementation of the directive.

While the debate on nitrates has hit the headlines only recently, the nitrates directive was adopted in 1991 and implemented at an early date regarding the monitoring of waters and the promotion of good agricultural practice. An extensive range of measures was put in place to promote and support good agricultural practice. For example, in 1996 the code of good agricultural practice to protect waters from pollution by nitrates was jointly developed by the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture and Food in consultation with the farming organisations. However, ongoing monitoring of our waters showed that further action was required to address the issue and it was clear that the agriculture sector would have to play its part in that process.

It is important that I acknowledge and commend the responsible approach to the environment adopted by the vast majority of farmers. Tangible evidence is provided by the high level of investment by farmers in waste storage facilities and other infrastructure for pollution prevention. We simply would not have the high level of water quality that we now enjoy if farmers generally were not acting responsibly.

Ireland has a very good case for a derogation of up to 250 kg. In line with the directive, member states may fix higher limits provided that the overall objectives of the directive are maintained by us all over Ireland. There is not the slightest doubt that Ireland’s climate and soil conditions satisfy the conditions for a higher limit in the areas where it is necessary. There are serious implications for Ireland if we do not meet our obligations under the directive. Not only could we face daily fines, we would also lose out on CAP support for Irish farming, which would be much more damaging to all farmers.

Compliance with the nitrates directive is not optional. However, the Government believes we can ensure compliance in a way which meets both our important objectives, namely, to protect water quality while also protecting the interests of Irish agriculture. The Government is working to achieve an equitable outcome which should meet both those objectives. With positive co-operation Ireland and its people will be the beneficiaries when final agreement is reached.

[1635]Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  I wish to share time with Deputy Timmins.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this motion. I listened with interest last night to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s contribution. For the first time in the last three months, while this topic has been developing into a burning issue for farmers and farming families, I got the impression that the Government might rethink and, one hopes, rewrite its nitrates action plan. The Minister, Deputy Cullen, seems to have changed his tune entirely. A few weeks ago he was reported as calling for the full implementation of the draft plan.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I never said that.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  That is what was reported.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Allow the Deputy without interruption.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  The Minister never denied it. Perhaps this is an early example of the new listening and caring Government about which we have been told since the election results.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I have been listening and caring for two years.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  It is not before time on the nitrates issue. It is about time the Government listened. Government representatives did not even turn up to the vast majority of nitrates meetings during the election campaign in the South constituency, one of which happened in the Minister for Agriculture and Food’s constituency. Between 2,000 and 3,000 farmers gathered at Bandon mart.

A nitrates action plan is of course necessary to fulfil obligations under the nitrates directive, which is now 13 years old. Drinking water must be the absolute priority of any plan proposed. We must deal with the risks of nitrate levels in water. The challenge for Government and the reason for Fine Gael to bring forward this motion is to achieve a result that will allow commercial farming to continue while, at the same time, protecting waterways. The draft Government nitrates action plan does not achieve that, albeit difficult, balance and must be renegotiated fundamentally bearing in mind the practicalities of modern farming.

I wish to take up several issues with the two Ministers regarding what they have said. Time and time again, we have been told by the Government that Ireland is required by the nitrates directive to impose a general maximum organic nitrates limit of 170 kg per hectare on the entire country and that the only exceptions to that restriction will be granted through what is called a derogation, for which the Government will [1636]make a case to the Commission. I do not accept that rationale for two reasons. First, if the Government believes, based on scientific research, that this directive is not appropriate to Ireland it should fight that case initially at Commission level but it should go to court if necessary. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the wording in the directive itself specifically allows Ireland to make a case based on science to increase our general organic nitrates restriction well above 170 kg per hectare.

It states that member states may fix different amounts from those referred to above. These amounts must be fixed so as not to prejudice the achievement of the objectives specified in Article 1 and must be justified on the basis of objective criteria, for example, long growing seasons, crops with high nitrogen uptake, high net precipitation in the vulnerable zone and so on. To be fair, as the Minister has pointed out, those examples sum up Ireland and our growing conditions. However, Fine Gael and I differ with the Government on what is meant by a derogation.

In my view, the directive’s wording allows Ireland to make a case for an increase in the general limit well above 170 kg per hectare. If an increase in the general limits to above 170 kg per hectare, that is, between 220 kg and 250 kg, for the entire country is what the Minister means by a derogation, then more power to him. Let him bring it on and we will support that. However, my understanding of a derogation is different and it has not been clarified by either Minister to date, even though we asked for that last night.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  What is not?

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  My understanding of what is meant by a derogation and the implication for farmers is that it may only be granted on a case by case basis to individual farmers and is only temporary. For example, in Denmark their derogation is about to run out. It will require farmers to put together nutrient management plans on a field by field basis and there will be a significant increase in the bureaucracy and monitoring for farmers with no financial support in this regard. The other problem, from my understanding of a derogation, is that each field will be measured separately in terms of the amount of nitrogen or the stocking rate allowed on it. This will make practical dairy farming as it exists almost impossible.

The Minister for Agriculture and Food will know that on a normal dairy farm the fields surrounding the yard or dairy unit will have a much higher stocking rate than those farther away for obvious reasons, that is, to keep the cattle close to the dairy. If an individual farm gets a derogation to have higher stocking rates, it will mean the same stocking rate in every field, which will require a fundamental change in farming practice. I believe this will be unworkable on many farms. The bottom line is that the concept of derogations frightens farmers because of the constant moni[1637]toring and bureaucracy involved on a monthly basis. If the Minister is forced down the derogation route, farmers need to be reassured in this area. There is great fear.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  I do not disagree with the Deputy. I have spent much time with farmers.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Unfortunately, the Minister has not told the House what is meant by a derogation. We need to define exactly what it means and the implications. The basis for any nitrates action plan must be scientific. The basis of any case that the Minister may take to the Commission must be based on independent scientific research. This is where the role of Teagasc is important.

I welcome the announcement that Teagasc has agreed to come before a committee of the House to discuss the issue as soon as possible. However, what concerns me is the agency’s refusal to release or publish the advice and research that it has provided to the Government before the draft action plan was compiled. I call on Teagasc to provide that information so that we can all have the same data and contribute to what I hope will be a constructive debate and reach some agreement on a practical nitrates action plan that may be brought to the Commission. All the research and recommendations as to what level of nitrates can safely be spread on land need to be out in the open. If these figures are bad news for farmers, so be it. We must face down that bad news, if necessary. I suspect it is not bad news.

I want to finish by referring to three key issues in the draft action plan, which I believe must be changed. The first I have already referred to, namely, the organic nitrate limit of 170 kg per hectare. It must be revised upwards.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  We do not have——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Deputy Coveney must be allowed to speak.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  The Minister agrees with me on that and that is fine. The implications of not achieving it will render commercial farms unviable in future and, in effect, put the entire country into the rural environment protection scheme. That is a crude way to put it, but a farmer has said that to me and I believe it has some accuracy.

The second issue is about slurry spreading closure periods. Unlike the 170 kg limit, this is fully in the Government’s hands. The nitrates action plan only requires us to have a closure period. The length of the closure period is up to the Government and three and half months is a ridiculous time limit on an island that has ten or 11 months of the year as a growing period. It is madness. Even from an environmental point of view, if farmers are not allowed to spread slurry for the months of October, November, December and the first half of January, there will be a massive glut of slurry spreading in the second half of January, hail, rain or snow, because they will have [1638]to get it out of storage at that stage. That makes no environmental sense, quite apart from farm management sense.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  We are in full agreement.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Allow Deputy Coveney to speak.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Why then has the Minister produced a draft report with a three and half month closure period? As a consequence of the closure period, the financial investment for slurry storage for farmers is also unacceptable. This is about the future of people living on farms in Munster and throughout the country, and young people who want to make full-time careers out of farming. If we do not achieve the right result for them, farming as we know it in Ireland will change in an unacceptable way.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Is it not a sign of the times that the Ministers are left in the House on their own for a Private Members’ motion on agriculture and we do not have the usual quorum of Fianna Fáil Deputies in the background? I am looking at the three Ministers who look like three individuals facing the firing squad. They faced the firing squad of the electorate a few weeks ago.

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  We are facing pea shooters

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  It is all doom and gloom. Last night, as I laid out the arguments in favour of our motion, I had one question to put. It was to ask if any speaker could demonstrate how a level of 210 kg per hectare could impact negatively on the quality of our water. I asked this of speakers on all sides of the House. No one has indicated to me how that could be the case. I am at a loss, having examined our motion and listened to the Government speakers, to see why they bothered to table an amendment to it. Most of what they have said has been in agreement with the motion we tabled.

The first issue in the motion condemned the Government for its incompetence and mismanagement in its handling of the nitrates directive which was introduced in 1991. I spoke with Deputy English today about where he was in 1991. He was contemplating going into secondary school. He was in the primary school in Navan at the time. He is in the Dáil today and nothing has happened as regards this nitrates directive, with the exception of the 1996 code of practice brought in by the then Ministers, Deputies Yeats and Howlin. With respect to the Government delay, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, stated that this directive has existed for some time and should have been fully implemented sooner. He said: “We have largely avoided its consequences for 13 years.” In fairness to the Minister, he has been straightforward in admitting how the Government managed to sidestep this issue.

[1639]There is no disagreement about the potential cost and the likely impact it will have on the livelihood of a number of farmers. I would dispute the figure. The Minister referred to 10,000 but I believe it is closer to 13,000 or 14,000.

We asked two important questions in our motion. We asked for the scientific basis underlying the current proposals to be explained. That is why this debate has been something of a farce. We have not seen the scientific evidence. I receive messages from the Minister’s Department saying, in effect, that it is examining the issue and will develop the scientific evidence. This has been taking place for a long period and should have been produced for the House by now. As some Deputies said, this definitely should not be a “one size fits all” directive. The same soil or temperature conditions do not exist throughout Europe, so there has been no explanation as to why it should be the case that there is this type of directive.

With respect to the 210 kg figure and the derogation of 250 kg, we are hiding behind the European Court of Justice decision. I want to take up the issue about which Deputy Coveney spoke. Why not go back to the European Commission and make a case based on the scientific evidence? The Minister gives a strong impression that there should be no difficulty in getting a 250 kg derogation for a large number of farmers. Why cannot he make a case for the 210 kg limit countrywide? I have heard no explanation for that.

There has certainly been a sea-change in the attitude of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  One of many.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  He has indicated he will appoint an independent adviser. That is a clear indication that he has lost confidence in the officials in his Department who have been driving this directive for the past few months. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, sat idly by — to use the phrase of a fellow countryman of his [1640]— during the period when the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was making the running on this. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Cullen, for sidelining his officials and getting the independent adviser. I hope he or she does a good job. However, we still have some questions for which we want answers.

The Minister, Deputy Walsh, says he wants derogations without unreasonable or unrealistic conditions attached. What are we talking about? Who will pick up the cost of these? Will they be done on the basis of individual farms?

With regard to the impact of the single farm payment the Minister said that he does not want to indulge in scaremongering, but he went on to say, “It is clear that we could push our luck too far with the Commission.” The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, stated, “Not only could we face daily fines, we would also lose out on CAP support for Irish farming.”

Mr. Treacy: Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  That is factual.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  The Government is scaremongering in respect of this matter.

We agree about the importance of water quality, on which farmers have spent €1.5 billion over the past 15 years. It is important to realise that the directive discriminates against those who practice grassland farming in Ireland. As I argued last night, it would be inherently unfair and unjust if the ability of a farmer to earn a living was to be restricted by a directive that cannot be scientifically justified. That is the nub of this issue.

I thank those who spoke in favour of the motion. I hope Government Members will vote in line with the content of their speeches.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  That will be the day.

Ms Enright: Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  It will never happen.

Mr. Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I commend the motion to the House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Amendment put.

[1639]The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 51.

Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel. Information on Liam Aylward  Zoom on Liam Aylward  Aylward, Liam.
Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny. Information on Martin Brady  Zoom on Martin Brady  Brady, Martin.
Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  Brennan, Séamus. Information on Joe Callanan  Zoom on Joe Callanan  Callanan, Joe.
Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat. Information on John Carty  Zoom on John Carty  Carty, John.
Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Cassidy, Donie. Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary.
Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John. Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin.
Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John. Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  Davern, Noel.
Information on Tony Dempsey  Zoom on Tony Dempsey  Dempsey, Tony. Information on John Dennehy  Zoom on John Dennehy  Dennehy, John.
Information on Jimmy Devins  Zoom on Jimmy Devins  Devins, Jimmy. Information on John Ellis  Zoom on John Ellis  Ellis, John.
Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Fahey, Frank. Information on Michael Finneran  Zoom on Michael Finneran  Finneran, Michael.
Information on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Dermot. Information on Jim Glennon  Zoom on Jim Glennon  Glennon, Jim.
Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel. Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Jacob, Joe. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter.
Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  Killeen, Tony. Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Séamus.
Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor. Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  McDowell, Michael.
Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  [1641]McEllistrim, Thomas. Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John.
Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Moloney, John. Information on Donal Moynihan  Zoom on Donal Moynihan  Moynihan, Donal.
Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael. Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael.
Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M.J. Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie.
Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie. Information on Liz O'Donnell  Zoom on Liz O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Liz.
Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis. Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt.
Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  O’Malley, Fiona. Information on Tim O'Malley  Zoom on Tim O'Malley  O’Malley, Tim.
Information on Tom Parlon  Zoom on Tom Parlon  Parlon, Tom. Information on Peter Power  Zoom on Peter Power  Power, Peter.
Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán. Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Roche, Dick.
Information on Mae Sexton  Zoom on Mae Sexton  Sexton, Mae. Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan.
Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Smith, Michael. Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel.
Information on Dan Wallace  Zoom on Dan Wallace  Wallace, Dan. Information on Joe Walsh  Zoom on Joe Walsh  Walsh, Joe.
Information on Ollie Wilkinson  Zoom on Ollie Wilkinson  Wilkinson, Ollie. Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.

Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat. Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P.
Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  Bruton, John. Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul.
Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  Connolly, Paudge. Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  Costello, Joe.
Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon. Information on Jerry Cowley  Zoom on Jerry Cowley  Cowley, Jerry.
Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour. Information on Sean Crowe  Zoom on Sean Crowe  Crowe, Seán.
Information on John Deasy  Zoom on John Deasy  Deasy, John. Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy.
Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J. Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn.
Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin. Information on Mildred Fox  Zoom on Mildred Fox  Fox, Mildred.
Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Gilmore, Eamon. Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Gogarty, Paul.
Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  Gormley, John. Information on Marian Harkin  Zoom on Marian Harkin  Harkin, Marian.
Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Hayes, Tom. Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  Healy, Seamus.
Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul. Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda.
Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Paul McGrath  Zoom on Paul McGrath  McGrath, Paul.
Information on Paddy McHugh  Zoom on Paddy McHugh  McHugh, Paddy. Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  McManus, Liz.
Information on Gay Mitchell  Zoom on Gay Mitchell  Mitchell, Gay. Information on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Zoom on Breeda Moynihan-Cronin  Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Information on Gerard Murphy  Zoom on Gerard Murphy  Murphy, Gerard. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín. Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  O’Shea, Brian.
Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan. Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Pattison, Seamus.
Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie. Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael.
Information on Eamon Ryan  Zoom on Eamon Ryan  Ryan, Eamon. Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Ryan, Seán.
Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor. Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  Sherlock, Joe.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David.
Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Timmins, Billy. Information on Mary Upton  Zoom on Mary Upton  Upton, Mary.
Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack.  

[1641]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Durkan and Broughan.

[1641]Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

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