Thursday, 18 May 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
165. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will capitalise on the heightened awareness of the potential for direct sales of farm produce following the popular campaign to have farmers and the wider community exercise traditional market rights before 1 May 2006 in towns and villages and some designated crossroads throughout the country; and if she will meet with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to establish a programme of re-establishing such community run farmers’ markets. [18994/06]
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): The Casual Trading Act 1995 gives local authorities responsibility in matters of market rights. Section 7 of the Act provided for a 10 year time-frame within which market rights could be revived, even if these had not been used for some time. Some have been exercised recently.
I do believe that farmers markets represent an important route to market and a real growth opportunity for farmers and small-scale food producers. Farmers Markets initiatives provide producers with direct access to consumers, assist the development of local and regional speciality foods, and present consumers with an alternative retail experience. There are also a variety of indirect benefits in terms of community spirit, increased employment and added value for tourism.
An Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, works closely with other State and local agencies to exploit the growing opportunities for markets. In co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland, they have published a comprehensive information guide on the operation of farmers markets. Bord Bia has a dedicated person in the Small Business Department to assist producers and individuals, and performs a vital support function through the provision of advice and mentoring assistance as well as creating awareness of their potential contribution to the local economy.
Bord Bia established the very successful “Food at Farmleigh” programme which has tens of thousands of visitors each year. This year, the programme will be extended on a one day seasonal basis to five regional Heritage sites in Cork, Wexford, Kildare, Donegal and Laois. This is one example of ways in which food and tourism can be merged at local level. I have been delighted to hear that the first seasonal market at Fota Island Cork, where Bord Bia worked closely with the Office of Public Works and local interests, has stimulated the holding of fortnightly markets in that location.
There are over 100 such markets operating throughout the country at present, with numbers growing each week. I have been invited to officiate at the opening next Saturday, of a Food and Craft Market in Donegal town, which is run by community groups from both Donegal and Strabane and I wish them every success with this very worthwhile project. The diversity in structure of such markets, whether public, private sector or community based, is a measure of their responsiveness to local circumstances. No one template will suit all areas or all crossroads.
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