Thursday, 18 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
10. Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has a policy to promote the establishment of farmers’ markets and if she is liaising with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in view of the important roles which local authorities can play in supporting local development of agriculture. [29375/04]
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith): Farmers’ markets offer a special route to market for small food and farming entrepreneurs in the valuable learning experience they offer through direct access to consumers. In essence they are a live incubation unit for new food businesses. The potential for growth of the speciality, artisan and local sector extends consumer choice in product range and shopping experience and benefits agriculture and the local economy.
As part of its statutory role in promoting Ireland’s food and drink industry Bord Bia, an agency under my Department, co-operates with other State and local agencies to champion the scope of this route to market as an outlet for food producers. Bord Bia was to the fore in promoting the concept of farmers’ markets in 2002 when it staged Ireland’s largest ever outdoor food market, on the farmers’ market style, for 110 small food producers at its international food symposium in Kinsale. The aim was to support small food producers and to demonstrate what was involved in setting up and running a farmers’ market.
Since then, in partnership with the Office of Public Works, OPW, Bord Bia has run successful markets in Farmleigh in 2003, attracting more than 35,000 visitors, and in 2004. Bord Bia is also in discussion with the OPW about appropriate expansion of farmers’ markets on OPW sites.
The Bord Bia on-line guide to the establishment of farmers’ markets on its website dedicated to farmers’ markets includes a list of some 50 markets established in Ireland. Bord Bia works on a collaborative basis with local authorities and organisations providing valuable experience in support of farmers’ markets in recognition of these local benefits.
Mr. Sargent: Cuirim fáilte roimh an fhreagra sin. Arising from that reply, will the Minister of State speak again to the OPW about the Main Guard building in Clonmel which would suit the development of a farmers’ market? I am not sure what the difficulty has been with that proposal, but it is worth pursuing.
The Minister is familiar with a number of farmers’ markets in Donegal. I had the pleasure of visiting one recently in Letterkenny. However, it was sad to see that the French market in Ballyshannon was closed down by the authorities. This highlights some of the obstacles that remain, notwithstanding the goodwill and work of Bord Bia and others. Are county managers, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Agriculture and Food willing to co-ordinate the type of information that would assist in the development of farmers’ markets? For example, could they provide a list of the traditional market days around the country? Will they make that list available to producers and farmers?
Is there a need for or a possibility of amending, for example, the Public Health Act or the Casual Trading Act to reflect the current needs and modern demand for locally produced food which would be helped by more developments such as farmers’ markets?
Mr. B. Smith: Our Department supports and encourages the expansion of farmers’ markets. I understand Deputy Sargent will be rambling to the south side of the city over the weekend to a new market. I hope he enjoys his afternoon. I know from my colleagues, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, that the local authorities of both Donegal and Wexford have been very supportive of the establishment of successful markets.
The Casual Trading Act is a separate issue. Section 7 of the Casual Trading Act 1995 referred to the acquisition and the extinguishing of market rights. The clause stated that a local authority may acquire any market right or fair in its functional area by agreement or compulsorily. An article appeared in the Irish Farmers Journal about 12 months ago which communicated the impression that market rights would be extinguished in towns if they were not taken up by 2005. There has been some consideration of that, but the situation is unclear. The current situation as far as I know and from what I read in a Bord Bia publication is that two court cases are ongoing and the Casual Trading Act 1995 may have no bearing on the right to a market in towns. The outcome of those cases will determine the exact position.
My experience is that markets throughout the country have been successful and are growing. We do not have as many as we had in 1853. A census held at that time showed there were 348 farmers’ markets. We have approximately 50. It has become clear that there is significant urban support for the farmers’ markets where people can get fresh produce. People in both towns and rural areas support their development. We want to encourage growth in the area.
Mr. Naughten: My first question relates to co-operation with local authorities. It seems that in many parts of the country, town renewal schemes have forced many of the markets out of existence. Will the Minister of State ensure that some mechanism is put in place to encourage the development of markets because local authorities tend to tolerate rather than promote and develop them?
Will he also re-examine the Public Health Act in this regard. Currently only vegetables are sold. The novel food and artisan sectors are restricted because of the Food Safety Authority regulations and the Public Health Act. Will the Minister of State examine that situation?
Dr. Upton: A recent Combat Poverty Agency report indicated that 200,000 people in this country suffer from food poverty. Many of those live in disadvantaged urban areas. Will the Minister of State take on board the need for liaison between local authorities, farmers and others to make readily available nutritious, good value food rather than processed expensive foods that are bad value nutritionally? I would like to see this supported and encouraged. I support the farmers’ markets, but we need to broaden the initiative. The idea of Farmleigh, a nice posh market visited by 35,000 people, is wonderful, but we need to consider another agenda also.
Mr. B. Smith: I accept the arguments made by Deputy Upton. We have enough local statutory agencies to co-ordinate this type of development. The Leader programme and the county development boards have been active in trying to revive markets. I support Deputy Upton that these should not be for the more advantaged areas.
Deputy Naughten was doing some rambling too, with regard to the Public Health Act. Earlier today the Minister, myself and Deputy Browne discussed the issue. The Department is also discussing the issue with regard to the Public Health Act.
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