Live Export Trade: Motion.

Wednesday, 8 October 1997

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 152 No. 3

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Mr. T. Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  I move:

That Seanad Éireann condemns the Government for its failure to open up the live export trade for cattle as promised by its spokesperson in opposition and as part of its election manifesto.

I beg indulgence as this is the first time I have spoken in the House. I welcome Minister of State Davern to the House as a constituency colleague. I am delighted he is here as I move my first motion as spokesman on agriculture. I want this debate to be constructive and useful. I hope the Minister will take on board the points I have to make. [206]

Agriculture is the backbone of the economy and, despite the dwindling number of farmers will continue to be into the next millennium. There are approximately 140,000 people dependent on the land for a living, and thousands more working in related industries. I am sorry to say that Minister Walsh has taken very little interest in the Egyptian market, our single greatest market for live cattle. Deputy Yates had got an agreement in principle to reopen the Egyptian market, but Minister Walsh has completely failed to follow up and finalise the deal. What happened then? The Egyptians demanded £5 million from Ireland to build an abattoir to remove specified risk material when slaughtering Irish cattle. When the Opposition and the farm organisations raised a number of issues about the failure to open the live export trade, Minister Walsh belatedly took steps to do something about it. The Egyptians only agreed to take a trial load of Irish cattle. Furthermore I understand the planned shipment of 2,000 cattle is unlikely to go ahead. This is just another example of PR tactics. Farmers should not be deceived by such antics.

The Coalition Government stands condemned for its failure to date to reopen the vital outlets for live cattle to third countries and European markets. The live shipping trade is crucial to the survival of many thousands of farmers. As a store cattle producer myself, nobody knows better how crucial this sector of farming is to Irish farmers. Many farmers do not have the option of wintering cattle and depend on the autumn sales for the major part of their income. This year that appears to be in tatters with the current price of roughly 83 pence being paid by factories in most of the country. There is a complete contrast between the very easy going approach of Deputy Walsh as Minister for Agriculture and Food and his approach when in Opposition, where his statements could easily have been described as bullish. The delay is costing farmers and the economy money. The autumn disposal of cattle needs all market outlets to be operational. The lack of competition is leading to a slow drop in the price of cattle. We are an exporting economy and 80 per cent of agricultural output must find a market outside of Ireland. It is unacceptable live exports to fellow member states of the EU are not taking place. Furthermore the risk of overrunning our premier quota for ten and 22 months cattle underlines the urgency of supplying high Irish price EU markets with live cattle, particularly in the weaning trade which is so vital to many of our smaller farmers at this time of the year . There is always weak buying when there is lack of competition. Most people will agree with that. The Egyptian market for Irish cattle is vital for the trade at the moment. However, the failure by Minister Walsh to speedily conclude arrangements for live exports to Egypt is a disgrace.

The Minister went on a high profile visit to Cairo, accompanied by the Department secretary and the Chief Veterinary Officer. This exercise failed to open the market and was clearly undertaken [207] for the optics. If the Egyptian market alone were open we could export 100,000 live cattle that could be sold between now and the end of the year. There are 700,000 cattle to be disposed of between now and December 31. The only market is the meal factory.

Through tough negotiation, Deputy Yates secured £75 million for Irish livestock farmers to cushion the blow of 1996. What is Minister Walsh doing to cushion the blow of this year's price disaster? I would like to know, indeed demand, that Minister Walsh, or Minister of State Davern on his behalf, commits himself in this House by getting at least £80 million from the EU for the coming year on top of the existing subsidies to compensate for the price disaster that exists, especially in view of the failure to open up the live cattle trade.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  What about the £50 per head?

Mr. T. Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  Irish farmers are unique in Europe at present, and for the wrong reasons. Cattle farmers are getting 12 to 15 pence per pound less for their finished cattle than our EU partners. So much for the single market. The need to secure changes in intervention buying and the reversal of export refund cuts must be given immediate and serious attention by the Minister, otherwise we will continue to have disastrous cattle prices.

In an autumn where cattle farmers are suffering a severe drop in income there has also been a serious income crisis on our tillage farms. Very low grain yield and a very poor harvest will put many under pressure in meeting loan repayments and tax bills. There is a need for banks to look at each case sympathetically and to take the longer term rather than the short term view. Similarly the Revenue Commissioners must be alerted to the real situation and difficulties on our farms, and the data collected by Teagasc on the tillage losses, which the Minister for Agriculture and Food requested, should be made available to back up the bona fides of those farmers. At the Ploughing Championship last week the Minister of State gave a commitment that the area aid payment would be made by the middle of this month. It is important that it is made speedily and that it is not held up. I welcome this payment and compliment the Minister on it.

The other day I spoke to a tillage farmer from Cashel, County Tipperary, which Minister Davern knows well. He had 55 acres of corn. He bought all his fertilisers, grain and sprays from the local co-operative and, though he had a reasonably good harvest, his total cheque less deductions amounted to £1,800. How could anybody live on that? This underlines the importance of issuing area aid payments and I welcome it.

Good government is about leadership and this autumn we need to see some of this from the Minister, Deputy Walsh. There are great signals of growth from other sectors of the economy. The [208] low level of Exchequer borrowing together with employment growth are attributable to the prudent management of the economy by this and previous Governments. Agriculture must be the target of Government initiatives to reinstil confidence.

Installation aid for younger farmers is a classic example of this, but for Fianna Fáil to promise to retain young farmers' installation aid while in Opposition and to abolish it less than three months in office is not the way to go. Everybody would agree that if one gives young people responsibility, they will respond. No hurdles should be put in the way of encouraging people to stay on the farm and installation aid is one way of helping young farmers.

A sum of £17 million is due to farmers because of currency devaluations. There are many other issues I could raise, but I will to finish by asking the Minister the following questions. When will the Egyptian trade reopen? What will be done for the hard pressed tillage farmers both at EU and national levels? What about installation aid?

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I second the motion.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, and wish him well in his new portfolio. The problems mentioned by Senator Hayes differ considerably from those I encounter in the west. As the Minister will be aware, we have a small farming hinterland and the live export trade is essential for small farmers, especially at this time of the year. They rely specifically on it to pay their bills, to pay for manure and to pay their cooperatives. This is a catastrophe especially for the farmers of the west. I exhort the Government and the Minister to do everything in their power to get the live export market reopened. Farmers on the western seaboard, most importantly, and elsewhere are depending on it.

At present there are roughly 1,000 people per year leaving County Mayo and most of them are small farmers. If that drain continues, County Mayo, the west and the farm sector in general will be so depleted that there will be no way back. It is incumbent on everyone to try to restore this trade. If it cannot be restored in the short term, compensatory measures should be introduced to help alleviate the problem.

Some Senators may never have heard of Erris, County Mayo, but it is a remote, scenic region of considerable size. A natural disaster in August resulted in severe flooding. The farmers of the area have been exhorting the Government and the different Departments for immediate assistance. I introduce that as an aside to this motion because it is important that they receive compensation to tide them over the winter period.

The export of live cattle to Europe and third countries is an indispensable part of the overall livestock trade. At this time of year in particular it is an essential element in the maintenance of a viable and stable price regime for livestock farmers. At present live cattle exports, both weanlings and heavier cattle, to the EU are being frustrated [209] by the unavailability of ships to move cattle in an efficient and humane manner. As the only EU member state without a land link to the continent, this is an intolerable constraint on trade from Ireland and it is incumbent on the Government to act to remove this constraint. I welcome the Minister's announcement last week of the provision of up to £1 million to subsidise a direct ferry service to the continent to try to solve this problem.

On the subject of third country exports, which are crucially important, I note that the Minister is travelling to Egypt later this month to try to reopen trade with that country but this measure comes late in the day. When the Minister assumed office some months ago the reopening of the livestock trade was one of his priorities. His Leader, the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern, said that a Fianna Fáil led Government would do a better job and be far tougher in negotiations and that, as leader of such a Government, he would give the highest priority to the reopening of third country markets which are vital to healthy competition. Such talk is fine in Opposition but when they arrive in Government nothing happens. Indeed, they have reneged on most of their promises in relation to the live export trade. It is crucially important that this trade be reopened.

In the past few weeks I have met farmers who have taken a drop of up to £70 per head on cattle on the price they were getting this time last year. When one adds that up, it comes to a huge sum of money. Most of the farmers cannot sustain such losses and continue in business. I ask the Minister to bring back to his Department a sense of urgency about the need to ensure that this live trade is reopened forthwith.

In the west especially and elsewhere store cattle was the backbone of the local economy, it was the sheet anchor of the economy but this position has been slowly eroded. We are coming to the stage where, because of a lack of industrial employment and adequate compensation to farmers, young people are leaving the land and coming to Dublin. In Dublin there are traffic jams and every kind of congestion while in the west there are wide open spaces and a population which is willing to work if it could receive the monetary compensation to stay.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Dardis): Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I compliment both Senators on their maiden speeches.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

“Seanad Éireann approves the continued efforts of the Government (a) to remove BSE related trade restrictions affecting live cattle exports from Ireland and (b) to secure alternative transport arrangements for live exports to the continent.”[210]

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate the Opposition speakers. I apologise to Senator Hayes for interrupting his first speech, but I do not agree with him or the seconder of this motion. We were in Opposition when Deputy Yates was Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. An example of the best he could do during his tenure of office was the launch of a charter of rights in a blaze of publicity. We now have a Minister who does not seek this. Deputy Yates thought the best thing for him to do as a Minister when abroad was to be photographed, but he did nothing for farmers in trouble.

The price of cattle and winter finishing cattle was referred to. Cattle prices have decreased from this time last year by about £50 to £60 per head. However, they decreased during the previous Minister's term of office. Cattle fetched a higher price last November than they did in February this year. Thus those with winter fatteners dependent on the slaughtering scheme for adequate compensation for wintering cattle were not compensated. I moved a motion last year asking the then Minister, Deputy Yates, to ensure prices would be maintained. They were not and those poor farmers paid the penalty as a result of the inaction of the Minister at the time.

The export of live cattle to Egypt was banned in early January last year. The then Minister, Deputy Yates, went to Egypt in May and stated the Egyptian authorities informed him exports would recommence immediately, but that never happened. It is coincidental the former Minister went to Egypt in May. What was he doing from January until then? The general election was in June and he announced prior to it that exports would recommence. This never happened; it was an election gimmick.

The former Minister also announced there would be a £50 subsidy for any cattle killed between last April and June. He did so in the Red Cow Inn — a place I know well, it being owned by a Limerick man — but did not receive any clearance from Brussels. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, has been successful in obtaining clearance for a £17 million top-up for this £50 per animal subsidy, but it is another example of Deputy Yates' election gimmicks to fool the electorate. He fooled the farmers and that is well known.

The national beef assurance scheme to deal with traceability was announced prematurely last May. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, has had to set up a special division within the Department to ensure the scheme can be put in place. This was another premature announcement by the former Minister and another election gimmick to ensure the rainbow Government would be returned. Deputy Yates' record in Government has been one of false promises and letting down the farming community. It is well known.

Deputy Yates said he had to accept the Russian ban on beef from certain counties. It was very disappointing for the beef industry and beef farmers when such a ban was placed initially on beef [211] from three counties and then extended. The former Minister told the nation on television a gun had been put to his head on this issue at Dublin Airport. However, it was established he was not there at all but in a pub in Enniscorthy. He lied to the nation, but our Minister is doing his best, without telling lies, to ensure the export of live cattle will be recommenced as soon as possible.

I read last week in the Irish Independent that the only thing the former Minister could do was to try to establish a market for live cattle in Gambia through Michael Keating and Peter Bolger, who were involved with a firm called Eringold, and are now suspected of laundering money from drug trafficking. It is a disgrace that the former Minister had to depend—

Acting Chairman (Dr. Henry): Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  They are not Members of this House and should not be alluded to.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I could read from the letter printed in the paper which mentions their names.

Acting Chairman:  The Senator can quote from the letter. However, the Senator is in injury time.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I will read an extract from the letter:

Certainly, Mr. Michael O'Leary of BDO Simpson Xavier, whom I understand is handling major aspects of the management and accountancy aspects of the project, and Mr. Michael Keating, a consultant to the project, are well respected and highly professional and their presence augurs well for the project.

Mr. Peter Bolger is the Managing Director of ERINGOLD Ltd., and I am assured that his commitment to this project and his level of professionalism are second to none.

These are two men of straw upon whom it has been proven that the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry was dependent to get a market for live cattle exports to Gambia. It is a disgrace, he is a disgrace, and we should thank God we have a Minister, Deputy Walsh, and a Minister of State, Deputy Davern, responsible for our agricultural interests now.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara  Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara  I commend Senator Hayes on his motion. This is an important issue which does not lend itself to the political slanging in which some elements appear to indulge. Certain rural communities are in crisis and members of those communities will not thank us for indulging in slanging matches and political ping pong rather than engaging the serious issues at hand.

Whether we like it, this is a political issue with a political background. Those who stood for election attended meetings organised by the IFA in which this was only one of a number of issues pressed and the word “demand” was constantly used. I come to this issue as someone from an agricultural background. I am a farmer's daughter [212] but I am also a consumer. I represent North Tipperary, a constituency in which agriculture is the dominant industry. I am here to represent that industry and that constituency.

I am also concerned about the decline of rural communities. This cannot be simply attributed to the live exports issue. There have been huge changes in agriculture in the past few years and this crisis is only now facing us. There are underlying issues which concern all Members, particularly those from rural communities. However, Members from urban communities should also be concerned by these issues.

Coming after their screaming and shouting in the run up to the general election, there is no doubt that the reaction of the Minister and the Government to the reopening of the live export markets has been desultory, to say the least. I am not going to indulge in a political slanging match but I note the manner in which Deputy Spring was criticised and vilified nationwide by Members of the Government parties for allegedly not doing enough to reopen the live export markets. I am sure the current Minister knows it is not as simple as getting on an aeroplane and flying to Egypt to get the market reopened. He has been 100 days in office and the problem has still not been solved. I know every effort is being made as was the case with the previous Government. However, the situation is urgent.

The cynicism in relation to this issue will not go down well in rural communities. Agriculture is central to the health of both rural and urban Ireland. As Senator Caffrey stated, the Celtic tiger is roaring in the cities and towns but it is barely mewing in parts of rural Ireland. I do not have to state the importance of agriculture. The agriculture, food and forestry sectors account for, approximately, 14 per cent of our gross domestic product. There are 175,000 jobs directly involved in these sectors and many more indirectly. They account for 18 per cent of all exports and 40 per cent of our net foreign exchange earnings.

Live exports have become a thorny and divisive issue and we have not heard the last of it. I am worried that it has become an urban/rural issue and part of the growing urban/rural divide. If one is from the city one is against live exports; if one is from the country one is in favour. It has become an argument between those who are implacably opposed to it versus those who consider it right to have access to third country markets. There has to be a reconciliation between these two views but there is no indication of it yet. This should not be such a divisive issue. I am not saying that the anti live export lobby does not have a right to its point of view. We live in a society in which every view should be respected. I support the concern for the welfare of animals and I hope others do likewise. I do not know any farmer who does not respect the welfare of animals and it annoys me to hear allegations that farmers to not care about this issue.

The live exports issue has been largely dealt with by new EU regulations which were anticipated [213] by the previous Minister, Deputy Yates. These regulations address animal welfare, particularly in transit, in relation to rest periods, journey times, watering requirements and so on. It has been contended that our regulations are among the most stringent in Europe. We should have nothing to worry about as long as these regulations are strictly enforced.

It is not realistic to ban live exports. We are an island and we need to get the animals off the island. Beef is 11 times more important to our economy than to the overall EU economy. While we know these facts, they may need to be restated. Almost nine out of every ten animals produced here must be exported. We consume only 12 per cent of the beef we produce. Unless we suddenly decide to eat far more beef we will have to increase our exports. Ireland has a particularly high dependency on exports compared to non-EU countries. We account for almost 25 per cent of EU beef exports and are the largest net exporter of beef to third country markets. We cannot afford to be without live exports.

On the other hand, I accept the need to develop as much value-added as possible to our primary products at processing level creating much needed jobs. We often hear it said that, instead of exporting cattle on the hoof, we should process them here and send them abroad in plastic bags. However, this is no easy solution for producers. Would it be constructive to have a purely processing industry? This would reduce competition in the beef sector and have long-term detrimental effects.

There are other factors to be taken into account, for instance, the specific demand in many third countries for live beef which can be slaughtered domestically. This demand has been heightened by the BSE crisis. I am sure the Minister and his Department are working hard on this issue but we, in Opposition, wish to again bring to his attention the current crisis, the urgency of the demand and the need to increase his efforts and tell us more of the steps he is taking. He must live up to the promises he made and the expectation he created in the run up to the last election that, once back in Government, a magic wand would be waved and everything would be fixed. We know it is not that simple.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  It is my pleasure to call on the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, who is responsible for areas such as organic farming and cattle breeding. I welcome him to the House on his first visit since his appointment.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Davern): Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  I compliment Senator Hayes on his maiden speech, even though he is no maiden at speech making. I also congratulate Senator Caffrey. It is his first time on the Agriculture Panel.

Senator Hayes was selective in his comments. It was on 5 June that Deputy Yates made his promise — it had no relation to the general election [214] that the Egyptian market was going to reopen. Since taking office it has been a priority of this Government to ensure that BSE related restrictions on our export of live cattle and beef are removed. As regards live cattle, Egypt and Libya are the two markets of importance which have imposed bans on imports from Ireland. A ban was imposed by Egypt in January 1997. A commitment in principle to reopen the market for Irish cattle was communicated on 4 June to the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. However, that agreement in principle was subject to certain conditions. In the first instance, discussions at a technical level on the conditions for the resumption of trade were necessary. These culminated in the visit by two delegations from the Department to Egypt in August. Many of the veterinary requirements for the resumption of trade were agreed and a package of proposals was offered including assistance for the removal of specified risk material. The latter was of importance in terms of allowing the Egyptian authorities to provide the same type of health guarantees as are available to European consumers.

Final agreement on reopening the market was delayed mainly due to increased concerns in Egypt relating to food imports in general. In view of this delay my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, contacted the Egyptian Deputy Premier and Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Wally, and met him in Cairo on 28 September. He also met the Minister for Trade and Supply, Dr. Goweily. As a result of these meetings the Egyptian authorities agreed to consider accepting a trial shipment subject to certain conditions. A detailed proposal for such a shipment is at present being formulated by my Department in conjunction with the Live Cattle Exporters Association for consideration by the Egyptian authorities. We hope that a trial shipment, properly controlled, will convince the Egyptian authorities to reopen the market fully to Irish cattle imports.

It should also be recognised that Egypt is now one of our most important markets for frozen beef with exports having increased substantially this year. The quantity of frozen beef exported in the first half of the year, estimated at 30,000 tonnes or equivalent to almost 100,000 cattle, exceeds the total for 1996. At present a ship destined for Egypt is being loaded at Foynes. This shows increasing acceptance by Egypt not only of the quality of Irish beef but of the controls on its production. The increased demand for frozen beef is, of course, to be welcomed. It represents an adjustment in the type of demand from Egypt and as such is a factor which obviously influences the continuing negotiations in relation to this market. This does not, of course, diminish our resolve to have the restrictions on live cattle removed.

Libya is another important market for live cattle. A ban was imposed on imports from Ireland in March 1996. Shortly after returning to office, the Minister for Agriculture and Food [215] made contact with his Libyan counterpart as a follow-up to the visit to Ireland of a technical delegation from Libya earlier this year. Since then contact continues at diplomatic level and the Minister intends to visit Libya as soon as the appropriate arrangements can be made.

It should be well understood by now that the restrictions were imposed by these countries because of BSE related concerns. A decision to remove these restrictions is a matter for the authorities in the countries concerned. Our job is to convince the authorities of the safety of our product and the strength of our controls. The Government will spare no effort in carrying out this task.

The traditional markets on the continent for live cattle as well as for sheep and pigs have long provided a valuable outlet for our livestock as well as playing an important role in securing adequate returns for Irish farmers. The decision of the principal provider of ferry services to the continent to refuse to carry live animals with effect from 1 August last could, therefore, have posed a very substantial threat to the entire livestock sector in Ireland. I note Senator Hayes did not make reference to the promise by Pandoro that they would continue forever to export, an agreement broken within a short period of the new situation arising. Animals for the continental market have normally been supplied from Ireland by animal transporters on board roll-on/roll-off ferries and it is clear that an alternative ferry service committed to carrying all categories of livestock was immediately required to fill the gap created in the animal transport sector. Indeed, the denial of access by Irish livestock producers to virtually the whole of the EU market which would have resulted but for the Government action which has now been taken, runs wholly contrary to the principles of the EU Single Market.

This Government assistance for the provision of an alternative ferry service has now been made available and a suitable ship, the MV Purbeck, has already been inspected and passed by departmental officials together with independent marine consultants. The Minister has also received a number of business plans from interested parties for the provision of this service and has already decided in favour of a particular proposal. Subject to clearance by the EU Commission of the State aid involved, I am confident that trade in live animals to the continent of whatever category will be able to resume in the very near future.

Live cattle cannot, of course, be considered in isolation from the development of our beef trade. I should, therefore, mention the successful conclusion of recent negotiations between the Minister for Agriculture and Food and a Russian delegation led by the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Scherbak. This resulted in the conclusion of a new Protocol providing for the first easing of the restrictions imposed in November 1996. Russia is a most important market for beef and it is hoped that the process of lifting [216] the restrictions will continue when, as agreed, the Protocol comes up for review again next January. A veterinary agreement was also signed which provides for increased co-operation between the veterinary services of both countries thus representing a strengthening of relations which should be of significant benefit in furthering agricultural trade.

There has been an overall improvement in cattle prices compared with this time last year, although prices still remain below those prevailing before the BSE crisis. Improvement in the balance in the EU beef market combined with an effective intervention system offer good grounds for optimism that cattle prices should at least be maintained for the short term with a mediumterm outlook for gradual improvement.

The Government is committed to ensuring that both the live cattle and beef trade can develop to their full potential to maximise the returns to Irish farmers. This House should compliment the Minister on his achievement in getting a separate roll-on/roll-off service for the continental market from which we were totally cut off by companies which refused to carry live animals.

Senator Hayes also raised the question of area aid. Payments under area aid will commence on 16 October amounting to £90 million. In addition, Teagasc is gathering information for the Department relating to the losses in the cereal sector. This will be assessed and the Minister will make a decision pending the full report from Teagasc regarding not only the grain but the whole horticultural area.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I am glad Senator O'Meara said an urban/rural divide appeared to be opening in relation to the live cattle trade. This is most unfortunate because I know farmers care more for their animals than anybody else. However, this issue has to be addressed. I am glad the Minister said the live cattle trade cannot be looked at in isolation but as part of the whole beef industry which is incredibly important to the country. Pandoro is most unlikely to start shipping live cattle from Ireland because of the protests which have taken place elsewhere. They are cognisant of the rest of their business which they do not wish to damage.

As somebody outside the agricultural industry, it appears that the live cattle trade is a type of safety valve to prevent the exploitation of beef farmers. I do not wish to suggest that there is price fixing in meat factories. The Minister began to address this at the Ploughing Championships. In a television interview he gave the impression that he was about to address this problem. I do not think many people know that we have the lowest beef prices in Europe. This is a reality for our farmers and I do not think people here fully understand this. The live cattle trade is very important to farmers and this should be made known.

One problem about suggesting subsidised ferries for the export of cattle is that urban dwellers [217] will say they do not receive such subsidies for any other exports and they will ask why subsidies should be provided for the beef trade. It is possible to understand the lack of sympathy in the context of Irish Ferries which will close from the end of this month until next spring or summer, laying off a considerable amount of employees and it will be said that people, never mind live cattle, are not being exported to the continent.

The beef trade is of prime importance as is the added-value aspect. The economics of the issue have to be addressed and I am glad the Minister raised this matter. The international regulations from the World Trade Association will come into play by the year 2002. Beef farmers have an enormous number of problems to deal with on the international scene. I will probably be contradicted but beef farmers pay approximately £150 for calves which can be bought for £50 in Australia and New Zealand. It must be extraordinarily difficult to compete with that difference in price for raw material on the international market. As Senator Rory Kiely said, there is also the cost of keeping an animal for two and a half years without, perhaps, making a profit. I understand why people keep talking about the reason the live trade must be opened up. There is also the additional cost of transport because of our location. It costs approximately 5p a kilo to export beef to England and 12p a kilo to export it to Italy. The Swedish market has been opened up and I have no idea what it costs to export beef there. It is a serious problem when trying to compete with other countries. This aspect of the beef industry has not been publicised so the people are not as concerned about it as they should be.

An enormous amount of steer beef is being produced which is being put into intervention, although everyone is looking for heifer beef. I presume artificial insemination has not been able to separate sperm so that only heifer calves are produced.

It would be great if we could deal with the Herod scheme which has upset many people. Well established vets have discussed the state of calves going to some factories in early spring. I remember one vet talking about calves that looked terrible as they came out of a lorry. He examined their stomachs and found they had not been given any milk or food. He suggested that these calves were bought from farmers for the premium and then sold to factories. That causes enormous emotional upset. The policing of such schemes is important.

It would be good if an explanation was given as to why the live cattle trade is considered so important by farmers. The structure of the beef industry makes it difficult for farmers to make a living. Everyone mentioned the importance of added value to the beef industry. Towns where factories work a three day week at the height of the season face serious difficulties.

Mr. O'Brien: Information on Francis O'Brien  Zoom on Francis O'Brien  I compliment the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, and the [218] Department on their continuous efforts to reopen our live markets abroad, especially in Egypt and third countries. However, this has not yet been successful for farmers who continue to accept low prices for their cattle. This is of particular concern as we head into the peak killing period. Beef farmers are once again facing another year of reduced incomes. We must be concerned about our beef farms because they are facing difficult times.

We export beef to over 60 markets world-wide so it is an important industry. The refusal to renew contracts because of BSE is extremely harsh. Many countries are ill-informed about the number of incidents of BSE, which is low, and about the success of our strict controls since 1989. I ask the Minister to continue to emphasise this to our international buyers so that the restrictions on the purchase of Irish beef can be removed as a matter of urgency.

The euphoria surrounding the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, on 4 June was seen as an election gimmick and hopes built up then have since been dashed. It is unfortunate that our international beef exports have been dealt with in this way. Senator Hayes said the former Minister did a good job in May and June. He may have done so then but he did not follow it up. He took his eye off the ball which has left us in this predicament. Had the Minister continued his efforts at that time, it would be a different ball game today. That is the reason the Egyptian market was not reopened. It is not fair to play politics with this serious issue.

I am delighted the MV Purbeck has been inspected by Department officials and independent marine consultants. I hope this leads to the reopening of our export markets.

Export refunds on live cattle were cut by 55 per cent in the past three years. It is important that the EU recognises this serious drop in export refunds. I hope the proposed agreement by the Minister during his recent visit to Cairo leads to a resumption of our live cattle trade and an increase in our beef exports.

Mr. O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  Molaim an rún seo. Déanaim comhgairdeas leis an Seanadóir Mac Aodh as ucht an rún mar is rud an-tábhachtach é don tír agus go mórmhór do fheirmeoirí na tíre.

This is an important motion about which there is consensus in the House. We all agree that the thousands of people involved in farming have a difficult time. They work hard and borrow a lot of money to invest in their farms. They are not like people in other businesses who are guaranteed a return. Farmers in County Louth regularly get letters from the banks if the money is not available to meet their loans. A good farmer is one who borrows and a productive farmer is one who increases his production.

Beef farmers have no market guarantee. Therefore, we are attempting to prove that we have a commodity which is clean in terms of health and BSE and that we have introduced the [219] strictest regulations in the world to protect our food. Everyone agrees that we must do more and the actions of the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry in this regard were excellent. I hope that will continue.

From my own point of view, I am here to listen and learn. I come from an urban background and I do not know very much about agriculture, other than the information I gleaned when attending farmers' meetings in my county. It is important that experts have been elected to the Seanad by local authorities who are in a position to discuss this matter. Senator Hayes' motion is excellent and the contributions from the Government side have been informative. The more often issues of this sort can be placed on the agenda the better in order that we can exert pressure for greater and increased action from public representatives who hold ministerial office.

I look forward to the re-opening of the live cattle trade to the countries referred to earlier. I also look forward to increased attention being paid to the needs of farmers by the Government.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, congratulate him on his appointment and wish him a lengthy period in office.

I do not believe that any Member under-estimates the importance of this issue and the degree of anxiety experienced by the rural community and farmers in general, particularly the degree to which people are concerned about the re-opening of live export markets for our cattle. For competition to operate, it is essential that this happens otherwise people who operate beef factories will take commercial advantage wherever possible. I do not condone the fact that they do so but their motives are understandable.

Why is this debate taking place? Several speakers stated that we should not politicise this matter. We are becoming diffident about being politicians. Nevertheless, this House is a political institution and I see nothing wrong with engaging in political argy-bargy on this matter. In that context, I wish to draw attention to the 130th press release in 1997 from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry which was issued on 6 June. The first thing to remark upon in connection with this press release is that the press officer in the Department must have been very busy because he issued 130 such releases in the space of approximately 180 days. The date on which it was issued will not be lost on Members as it was the day on which the general election took place. This official press release issued by the Government's information services stated:

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Mr Ivan Yates, today announced that he had received written confirmation from Dr. MYoussuf Wally, the Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, that the Egyptian authorities had agreed to allow imports of Irish cattle ready for slaughter. [220]

Imports of live cattle to that market from Ireland have been banned since January of this year.

Details of the implementation of the decision, viz, veterinary certification, will be finalised between the veterinary authorities of the two countries. This will be done as a matter of urgency.

Minister Yates said that he was very pleased at the outcome of the concerted political, diplomatic and technical efforts made to re-open the market. “Egypt is a highly significant Market for live cattle, worth over £120 million per annum. The decision to re-open the market will give a major boost to the Irish cattle and beef sector in the period ahead, especially in regard to the seasonal autumn supplies.”

What the press release does not state is that it would give a significant boost to the former Minister's party in the election held on the same day. However, that is probably coincidental and I should not draw such conclusions.

There is a significant difference between the statement highlighted in that press release and the remarks made by the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, this evening. The Minister of State entered a very important caveat into the debate when he stated that these matters were “Subject to clearance by the EU Commission”. During the term of office of the previous Administration, many debates took place in this House in respect of this issue and I do not recall hearing it said that action was subject to clearance by the EU Commission. We can live or die by the hype but the current Minister, the Minister of State and the Government will be judged by their actions not the hype.

On 2 October 1997, no less an authority than the Farmers' Journal— I must declare an interest in that I work for that publication from time to time but I did not write the article to which I am about to refer — printed an article entitled “Ivan's promises unravelling”. The article began by stating that the then Minister claimed he had received a commitment from Pandoro to ship all Irish cattle, except young cattle, to the continent. I and several other public representatives attended a meeting in the Red Cow Inn on 23 April, which was also attended by hundreds of farmers. A special debate took place in the Dáil on the same day during which the Minister came under pressure. He informed those present at the meeting that he had obtained £17 million in national aid for winter beef finishers. However, the important words to which the Minister of State referred earlier “Subject to clearance by the EU Commission” were not used. I understand that seeking such clearance from the EU Commission is delaying a resolution of this matter. We hope that the said clearance will arrive and finishers will obtain something approaching £50 per head.

The third issue to which the article referred involved the Minister's displeasure with the factories and his commitment to refer the matter to [221] the Competition Authority to resolve the situation. The Minister had every right to write to that authority to ask it to do what he thought it should do but he was not empowered to instruct it in respect of what it should do. As far as I am aware, the Competition Authority falls under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and is an independent body. The article goes on to deal with the national beef quality assurance scheme which, it states, was “the latest to run into the sands”. It further states that:

After the June farm council the Minister said he had won a commitment from the EU Commission that it would look favourably at easing intervention arrangements for the autumn.

The final matter to which the article refers is the press release I read into the record earlier. I return to my point that it is a question of how one acts. I would prefer the understated action of the current Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, to a press release and public hyperbole.

I was one of the young, enthusiastic and misguided individuals who erected a static cattle shed in 1973. It was one of the first such sheds in County Kildare and I thank God that it has lain idle for the past number of years. I would hate to think how much I would need my Seanad salary as my alternative enterprise were it not for that fact that the shed is lying idle. I agree with Senator Hayes in respect of area aid and the person with 50 acres who received £1,800 from his merchant or co-op at the end of the harvest. That individual was fortunate because in many cases people actually owe money to their merchants or co-ops. The Senator is correct — that is the significance of area aid and why we want it put in place as soon as possible. I thank the Minister of State for sending me the first instalment of my oil seed rape area aid during the past week. That is something good to report.

Mr. Davern: Information on Noel Davern  Zoom on Noel Davern  It was nothing personal.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  In the near future, apart from the need to re-open live shipping and trade with Egypt, Libya and Russia, we must concentrate on Agenda 2000 and the world trade agreement which will require major adjustments on the part of the industry. We must remind ourselves that we are dealing with a consumer market. I had believed BSE taught us that lesson but I am not so sure. I believe we continue to regard intervention as the market and that would be wrong.

Standards on ships travelling to the continent must be of the highest order because we operate in a consumer market and that is what people demand. If an accident took place which provided a photo opportunity in respect of compassion in world farming, that is not the issue. What is important is our status as an exporting country. In that context, it is regrettable that scientific work on beet breeding carried out in County Carlow, [222] which was authorised by the Environmental Protection Agency, was sabotaged. If we are to discover the significance of that type of work, we will only do so by conducting experiments of that nature. Such sabotage must be decried. The press referred to Roundup herbicide as a pesticide. Technically, the LD 50, the dose required to kill a certain number of rats, is less than the LD 50 of common salt.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Davern, to the House and I wish him well in his portfolio.

I do not think anyone wants to politicise this issue. I congratulate Senator Hayes on putting this motion before the House and giving us an opportunity to debate it. I accept the points made by Senators, particularly Senator Dardis, when he referred to the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates. However, this Government has been in power since 6 June, which is nearly five months ago, and the live export trade has still not been opened. Tonight's motion is intended to put pressure on the Government and authorities to open trade.

In an ideal world we would not be discussing this matter as all beef leaving this country would be fully processed, so we could benefit in terms of jobs. However, as the beef trade is controlled by so few people, to survive, farmers have no alternative but to get what they can from the live export trade and improve prices.

In the west, the livelihood of the vast majority of farmers depends on the live export cattle trade. It increases the value of beef and the smaller stock and is the basis on which they farm. This is why I support Senator Hayes' motion. Whatever pressure can be exerted on institutions, it is important the live export trade to Libya and Egypt is opened. Whoever wrote the press release to which Senator Dardis referred should be brought to task over why nothing has happened in relation to the Egyptian market.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  The Deputy should not blame the press officer; it is not his fault.

Mr. Burke: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  I do not blame the press officer but we should find out what has happened since the Government came to power.

I agree with Senator Dardis that the highest standards should be applied to transportation. I welcome the Minister's announcement about the MV Purbeck which has been inspected and passed for operation by the Department's officials. I hope it will be in operation as soon as possible. It is important that the Minister and the Government take whatever steps are necessary to solve this problem. If the Minister has to go to Libya in the morning, he should do so. We are approaching the winter and cattle are being taken from the land. Since farmers' incomes could be seriously affected as we approach the Christmas period, it is important the matter be dealt with immediately.

[223]Mr. Chambers: Information on Frank Chambers  Zoom on Frank Chambers  I wish to share my time with Senator Lanigan.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Chambers: Information on Frank Chambers  Zoom on Frank Chambers  I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I oppose the motion on the basis of the information supplied by the Minister for Agriculture and Food and his Minister of State, Deputy Davern; first, on the efforts made by this Government to procure the Libyan and Egyptian markets and, second, on its work in the provision of transportation for the live export trade.

When I was unexpectedly appointed to the Seanad one of the first matters I was asked to do something about was the live export trade. This is important to the people of the west as 60 per cent of farmers there have cow suckler herds and they depend on the live export trade for that type of unfinished cattle.

I welcome the efforts made by the Government in providing money, subject to the sanction of the European Commission, and its genuine interest in setting up a transportation system for the live export trade. I hope the Minister of State's visit to the House will allay some of the fears of those who have invested hugely in the modernisation of the transportation area of this industry and are dependent on it.

We are all part of the Common Agricultural Policy and the GATT negotiations affect us all. It is not a matter of town versus country. In the past, there was criticism of, and tribunals relating to, the development of the meat industry and the procurement of the maximum number of jobs in it. However, an attempt was also made to reduce the maximum number of live export killings in the State. It has been proven that lack of competition between factories in the live export trade results in a considerable reduction of the value of the animal being exported and in the income of the family farm.

Whatever decisions are made in this House, what matters is the price of the animal which carries the farmer's costs. At present, cattle are roughly £1 a kilo and perhaps up to £30 a head over that. It is important this base be sustained and strengthened. A change is taking place in the agricultural sector, on which many families depend. While we are setting out our future position on the development of agriculture and the environment, it is important the live export trade is developed.

I support the Minister and the Minister for State in their work. While there is an element of uncertainty in farming, it is important we sustain the family farms dependent on the live export and I welcome the Government's support of that.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  I support the amendment. No one owes us a living. We are trying to sell to a market which does not want our product because of a sustained attack on us from inside and outside the cattle trade. It has also come from our competitors [224] in the Egyptian market — Australia, Argentina and Britain. Every time statistics appear stating how many incidences of BSE occur in various counties, the British, Australian and Argentinian embassies, who represent our competitors, will have the statistics on the Egyptian market within 12 hours, long before we read them.

We can deal with this matter by trying to eliminate the BSE problem. We must communicate our efforts to the Egyptians and our other customers. The Government is being condemned but what is at issue is the customers who want to buy our beef. The Egyptians like the taste of Irish beef but Egyptian veterinarians are not yet satisfied fully with our product and the industry.

The Government is doing its best. The Minister, Deputy Walsh, went to Egypt and got a commitment that once the Egyptian technical officials are satisfied we can resume exports. Senator Tom Hayes should not try to flog this horse because he might die in the attempt.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  I remind the Senator that we are discussing live cattle.

Mr. T. Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  He thinks he is in Gowran Park.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  Is the Leas-Chathaoirleach suggesting I should discuss dead cattle? One should not flog a dead horse and if Senator Hayes wishes to be his party's spokesperson on agriculture he should not flog us. The motion attempts to flog the cattle industry and his own people in County Tipperary. The Government is doing all it can and I support the amendment to the motion. If Senator Hayes wishes to be re-elected he should get off this hobby horse.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  There would be merit in giving copies of debates on this issue to Members when they change sides of the House. On the last occasion we had a similar debate it was on a motion condemning Deputy Yates, the then Minister. I will not support a motion condemning the present Minister. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I am aware of his commitment to the sector. I was also aware of the commitment shown by Deputy Yates, Deputy Walsh in his previous term as Minister and before him Ray MacSharry. Each time they took decisions as Ministers they were criticised by the parties in Opposition at the time.

Members should consider this trade realistically. I could argue against re-opening the live trade because the people who inform me talk mainly about job losses. However, I agree with the point made by Senator Chambers and others that we need competition in the beef trade. I opposed the abattoirs legislation several years ago in this House. That legislation moved us on from being able to go to the local butcher to buy meat which was slaughtered and sold by the butcher. People knew where the cattle came from and who had reared them. Nowadays there are [225] committees in Europe which have been set up to find systems to trace the origin of beef. We would do well to step back.

We should examine what has happened to the live beef trade in Ireland. We should ask why Kerry plc got out of the red meat sector two years ago. We should ask why the IFA issued a statement calling for more investment incentives for farmers. There is a disincentive to farmers to invest because a person can buy beef on the hoof and sell it to a factory in Egypt in competition with a factory in Kerry, for example, and get a better price.

How has a company like Tara Meats in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath managed to make a success of its operation given the state of the industry? The level of subsidies in the beef trade is impossible to understand and does not make any sense. Farmers are being misled. We have created another monopoly in the beef industry having moved away from it five or six years ago. There is only one buyer of beef in Ireland. It cost us £36 million recently to find out why that should be the case but we are back at that point again.

It is cheap and unnecessary to have a go at the Minister. It is not the Minister's fault and if the Government were to change tomorrow and the Members opposite were back on this side of the House I would make the same point.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  Never again.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Senator Kiely made the same speech as Senator Tom Hayes from this side of the House a few months ago.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I did not.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  He did and his colleagues had a go at me after that debate. They are making speeches tonight which they criticised when they were on this side of the House.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  The Senator has a good memory.

Mr. R. Kiely: Information on Rory Kiely  Zoom on Rory Kiely  I was consistent.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Farmers go on their knees to bank managers to borrow money to buy stock to finish and sell, yet they do not realise that all they must make is a profit. If one buys at 70p and sells at 100p it is the same as buying at 40p and selling at 70p except that one needs to borrow less.

Mr. Lanigan: Information on Mick Lanigan  Zoom on Mick Lanigan  That economic argument does not stand up.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Somebody must be honest enough to explain this simple theory to the farmers — working in a commercial environment is about making a profit. It is not about selling at the highest price but selling at the lowest price. The farmers are being misled and used by all sides.

The importance of the small farm is crucial but we are taking steps to make sure it cannot survive. [226] The Abattoirs Act is a classic example and if I had the time I could give more examples. I recently met a person who deals with most of the imports of Irish meat in Alexandria, Egypt. Farmers in Ireland are working hard to produce meat but there is no competition. The parties on the Government side have often and correctly stressed the importance of competition, but there is no competition in farming at present. That is not a reflection on the farmers who are hardworking and decent.

The subsidy on live cattle for export is about 100 per cent. The motion, however, proposes in effect that we open a market which doubles the price of beef. I agree with Senators on both sides of the House and I agree with the IFA about the importance of the live beef trade in terms of competition — a matter on which I have changed my mind over the past couple of years. However, there must also be internal competition, which is not the case at present. We need to have a broader look at the issues, a full and detailed discussion on the beef sector and how farmers are being used and abused.

The last time we discussed this issue the debate focused on the primacy of the consumer and meeting the consumer's needs. The needs of the consumer, the live export trade and the world beef price all boil down to the same issue. Within six months, one year or three years of this discussion the price of beef in Ireland will also be the world price. It is dishonest not to tell that to farmers. I know that will happen and I am not involved in farming. I have no vested interest but I support farmers making a decent living. I support the people who say let us decide what is a viable size but I will also ask questions. Should we support a farmer who is trying to make a living or should we support people according to the number of acres or on the number of cattle they have? The farming industry is vitally important to this country. When I started school agriculture was the predominant industry. This is not the case anymore, even though the IFA would make a very strong case that it is. Whatever the arguments for and against, it is clear that it is a precious industry on which a huge amount of our social infrastructure is based. It is crucial that the small farmer in the west, or the large farmer in Leinster, can conduct their business in a way that provides them with a future.

There are Members on the Minister's side of the House who agree with the motion. We need to have a very open debate. It is not a matter of criticising the Minister but of working out where this industry will be in five years time. I want to put on the record that the price of beef in this country will also be the world price. There will be a number of difficult years and the people who will lose out will be in the production area. They are the people who will need support. We should invest in those people and give them any subsidy they need to meet the shock of change. The beef industry took two hard hits last year and the year before. Those people need support because they [227] are providing an important service. They are important to all aspects of our industry but they should be told where we will be in five years time. We need to look at this again and people must be very open and honest with each other.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Peter Callanan  Zoom on Peter Callanan  I am pleased to support the amendment and to be associated with the words of welcome to the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. This is my first time speaking in this House. May I express appreciation to the last speaker for the sympathy and understanding he has shown to us farmers and for the clarity with which he spoke? We would do well to reflect on his presentation; I think he meant it and I compliment him.

This amendment is specific and I intend to be likewise. I recall the evening I was elected to the Seanad. I remember saying to an official in the House that I had better get back to my harvesting quickly while the weather was dry. I spent six weeks waiting for fine weather and we did the harvesting on two Sundays in between the bad weather. This is one of the disadvantages from which we suffer but we must contend with this and overcome it. While the beef industry is our biggest single industry, the difficulty is that we now have two disadvantages to overcome. Condemning the Minister will not achieve anything. Recognising the efforts of the Minister, Minister of State and officials might achieve something for us.

The beef industry has come through a very difficult 18 months — since the announcement about BSE on 20 March 1996 in the House of Commons. That was when our problem began. Virtually all the problems which have beset the industry since emanated from that announcement. It led to a dramatic fall in beef consumption in the European Union and to the closure of important markets in third countries.

Fortunately, the situation has improved gradually, particularly in recent months. Beef consumption has returned to close to normal levels in most member states. There is also growing evidence that beef production is beginning to decline in EU member states. Might I refer to what Members said about the urban/rural divide? We do not have an urban/rural divide when it comes to the production and consumption of food. It is up to farmers to produce good quality food and to make sure that our best market is the Irish market. Let us not damage the best industry we have by negative comment.

There is now a significant window of opportunity opening for the Irish beef industry. The major priority for our beef industry is to expand and strengthen our presence in the European market. The second beneficial effect of the improved balance in the EU beef markets is that it will relieve pressure on third country markets. Reference has been made to the next round of the World Trade Organisation discussions. They will impact severely on the markets into third countries. It is important that we recognise that [228] our best market is into Europe; let us develop that market.

While competition in these markets remains strong, there are indications that it is becoming less severe. This is evidenced by a gradual increase in third country prices. I understand, for example, that prices in Russia have increased in recent months. The intervention system will continue to play an important role in supporting a market, temporary though it should be.

The EU Commission has extended the current intervention arrangements to the last quarter of the year. This will permit cattle under the 360 kg weight limit with the important 04 grade to be taken, thus allowing for up to 50 per cent of steers to be eligible for intervention. Trade is continuing normally to a wide range of our international markets, although a number of countries, such as Egypt, have imposed BSE related restrictions on live cattle. I will not deal with the previous Minister's activities. They were adjudicated upon by the electorate in June.

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, visited Egypt on 28 September and met the Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Wally, in Cairo and the Minister for Trade and Supply, Dr. Goweily. It should be recognised that Egypt is now one of our most important markets for frozen beef with exports having increased substantially this year. The quantity of frozen beef exported in the first half of the year, estimated at 30,000 tonnes, equivalent to 100,000 cattle, exceeds the total for last year. Russia remains our most important beef market, although trade was subject to restrictions since November 1996. The recent negotiations with a Russian delegation resulted in the conclusion of a new protocol providing for the first easing of these restrictions.

No restrictions should be applied to the export of livestock from Ireland to the continent. The export of live cattle should be allowed unhindered to EU destinations provided it complies with the strict animal welfare conditions applicable to Ireland, as well as appropriate EU animal health conditions. Government assistance for the provision of an alternative ferry service has now been provided, which is the strongest possible way in which we can show our support for this trade. Those are the words of the Minister and the Minister of State. A vessel suitable for the carriage of livestock has also been inspected and passed by officials of the Department together with independent marine surveyors. Subject to clearance by the EU Commission of the State aid involved, this clears the way for the resumption of this trade. This is a fact and it must be realised that the truth is being told. There is no propaganda; this is the truth and the industry would be better served if our remarks were made in that context.

Under EU regulations it is necessary to obtain the Commission's prior approval for all schemes for agri-monetary compensation whether the funding comes from the EU budget or the national Exchequer. This approval had not been [229] obtained by the then Minister prior to his announcement of the scheme. No effort has been spared by the Minister in pressing this issue and good progress had been made in recent discussions with the EU. As a result of consultations which Minister Walsh has had with Commissioner Fischler, I am hopeful of a satisfactory outcome to this issue in the near future.

The opportunity was taken by the mover of the motion, Senator Hayes, to refer to the serious harvest difficulties. I, too, wish to highlight the matter because of my involvement. I welcome the commitment from the Minister that he will issue area aid payments to farmers commencing on 16 October. I hope that red tape or the innocent incorrect filling of forms or maps will not deprive farmers of the aid they sorely need this year.

A Member of the House thanked Minister of State, Deputy Davern, for ensuring aid was paid to one sector but those in parts of the southern counties suffered the worst in regard to the harvest problem. We are in the greatest need and let nobody say otherwise. Let nobody pretend, or any farming organisation or otherwise say that the problem was national. It was not. It is worst in the southern counties and I appeal to the Minister to issue those payments.

Dr. Fitzpatrick: Information on Dermot Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Dermot Fitzpatrick  One might ask why a representative of Dublin Central has spoken on an agricultural Bill. I have no doubt that when the history of agriculture in the late 20th century has been written the Minister's name will acquire a prominent place. I know his heart is in the welfare of people living on the land and the agricultural sector of society.

Agriculture, particularly when speaking publicly, is far too important an issue to be bandied around or with which to play party politics although we are in a political business. When one thinks of the number of people both in rural and urban Ireland who depend on the good name of Irish produce and the thousands of people whose jobs depend on it we must be careful about what we say and where and how we say it. It was mentioned earlier that we are now fighting in a very difficult world for Irish products. When East Germany joined West Germany some years ago the huge ranches that existed remained intact. They have been privatised and have been converted into huge agricultural production combines. We have to deal with them and fight with them on their economies of scale. Ireland is synonymous abroad with well produced food.

I recall some years ago purchasing what I thought was Kerrygold butter and a litre of milk in the Canary Islands. It was only when I examined the containers I realised there was a German combine in Munster in Germany exporting milk and butter to southern Spain and the Canaries. It plagiarised Irish Kerrygold and other Irish logos. They were as near as possible as to be almost indistinguishable. They were cashing in on our good name for well produced food. Anybody who puts our good name in danger, whether they are [230] using growth promoters or whatever, not only put the industry in grave danger but also the livelihoods of farming families and people working in meat factories. I welcome the recent attitude of the courts on this matter.

I hope I will not be considered sexist or ageist but in the past when a girl was getting married she was told to make a friend of her butcher, the insinuation being that if you had a good local butcher you would not be sold tough meat, but those days are gone. At present a buyer or consumer is king or queen. In Dublin the day of the family butcher is almost gone. The majority of meat products are now sold through supermarkets and consumers will leave behind what does not appeal to them and the products in which they have no quality assurance. It is no accident that this week Marks & Spencer's changed to free range eggs. The days of the battery hen are numbered. These huge supermarket chains have their ears to the ground and know what consumers want and need and are in business to supply them. As I said earlier, Ireland is synonymous with good food, we must guard our good name and we must take steps to see that our good name, which is in the interests of all producers, is well looked after. In that respect I welcome the Minister to the House to give the assurance that the needs of our producers will be attended to by safeguarding the needs and desires of consumers.

Mr. T. Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes  Zoom on Tom Hayes  I am pleased to have listened to such an extremely good debate and delighted with the contributions from both sides of the House and the interest shown. Agriculture is our biggest industry and employer and it is important to have debates on issues concerning it. Some points made by Senators and by the Minister need clarification. In particular, Senator Kiely referred to the charter of rights which was introduced by Deputy Yates in a blaze of glory and which everybody in the farming organisations welcomed. Everybody associated with agriculture accepts the charter was implemented in full and I challenge him to tell me what aspect of it was not implemented. Statements were made that cattle are the same price this year as last year. I heard tonight that cattle were making £1 per kilo. I was in Cashel at a mart yesterday, I was in Thurles on Monday and Tipperary town on Friday and I know that cattle are not making the prices they used to. The price of heifers has been reduced by £30 to £40 a head and bullocks, in some cases, up to £50. In the past few weeks it was difficult to find buyers for some of the plainer Friesian bullocks. Those are the cattle I had in mind when I tabled this motion.

The farmers who speak to me at the marts are constantly asking when the live cattle trade will open up. Senator Chambers said that was one of the first questions he was asked on becoming a Senator. Everybody is concerned that this trade be opened up in order to bring competition back into the industry. This country is receiving 15 per cent less for its beef than any of its European [231] counterparts because of the existence of monopolies. Factories will continue to have a monopoly until such time as the live cattle trade opens up.

I want the Minister of State to convey a message to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh; I know he will do that as he is as interested as anybody else in opening this market. Will the Minister again travel to Egypt as the 2,000 cattle deal he has secured could be sold in any big mart in the south of Ireland in one day's sale?

The Minister of State referred to the fact that the former Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, had secured agreement in principle from the Egyptians. Everybody [232] knows that if one gets agreement in principle, one is on the verge of securing the deal. That is the reality. However, there has been a stalemate since then as the current Minister did not maintain the contacts which were made. That is why the beef trade has not opened up and why farmers are worried. If the Minister fails to travel to Egypt the Taoiseach himself should go; somebody must secure that market for the future, not alone of farmers and those involved in agriculture but of rural Ireland in general. I am delighted to have received such a high level of support for my motion.

Amendment agreed to.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

Bohan, Eddie.
Bonner, Enda.
Callanan, Peter.
Cassidy, Donie.
Chambers, Frank.
Cox, Margaret.
Dardis, John.
Farrell, Willie.
Finneran, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzgerald, Tom.
Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
Gibbons, Jim.
Glynn, Camillus.
Keogh, Helen.
Kett, Tony.
Kiely, Dan.
Kiely, Rory.
Lanigan, Mick.
Leonard, Ann.
Lydon, Don.
McGowan, Patrick.
Mooney, Paschal.
Moylan, Pat.
O'Brien, Francis.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
Ormonde, Ann.
Walsh, Jim.

Burke, Paddy.
Caffrey, Ernie.
Coghlan, Paul.
Coogan, Fintan.
Costello, Joe.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
Doyle, Avril.
Doyle, Joe.
Gallagher, Pat.
Hayes, Tom.
Manning, Maurice.
O'Dowd, Fergus.
O'Meara, Kathleen.
Ridge, Thére se.

Question declared carried.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Cassidy: Information on Donie Cassidy  Zoom on Donie Cassidy  Next Wednesday at 2.30 p.m.


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