Leaders Questions Tuesday 11th July, Agriculture in Tipperary – Michael Lowry TD

by admin on 12/07/2017

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Yesterday, I dropped into my local mart in mid-Tipperary where I met farmers, a number of whom asked me directly how interested the new Taoiseach was in agricultural matters and how aware he was of the problems in agriculture. I assured them that the Taoiseach has a clear understanding of the significance and importance of agriculture and food to the economy, the value of our exports and the importance of these exports to sustaining and maintaining jobs. I informed them that I would have an opportunity to put their questions directly to the Taoiseach today. Conscious that the British Government has stated the United Kingdom will leave the Single Market and customs union and given that Brexit is the most significant threat facing our critically important farming and food sector, they wanted to know what the Government is doing to keep these issues at the top of the European Union’s Brexit agenda in order that we can maintain access to the UK market and retain the value of that market? Farmers would also like to know what the Government is doing to ensure the budget for the Common Agriculture Policy increases following the UK’s departure from the EU. Such an increase will be necessary to improve farm incomes and deliver a strong, sustainable and competitive agriculture for the benefit of farmers and consumers.

On the proposed aid scheme to support tillage farmers who incurred significant weather related losses in the 2016 harvest, will the Government commit to providing for the maximum of €15,000 permitted under the European Union’s state aid rules?

The Irish Farmers’ Association in Tipperary has highlighted the anomalies, unfairness and, in some cases, injustice in the farm inspection regime. These inspections have led to punitive penalties causing considerable stress and financial loss to many farmers. What measures will the Government take to remove the unacceptable strain on farm families associated with these inspections? Will the Government introduce an appeals process independent of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and with an independent chairman?

 

 

Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I assure the Deputy’s constituents that I am very much aware of the importance of agriculture and the agrifood industry to the economy in terms of the number of jobs supported, its particular importance to the rural economy and the substantial revenue brought into the country as a result of agricultural exports. The Government is very much behind the industry in every way it can be.

Regarding Brexit, it is one of our absolute priorities that we maintain free trade in goods and services between Britain and Ireland, ideally through Britain and the UK staying in the customs union and the Single Market – in light of the election that may even be a possibility again – or, if not, negotiating a free trade agreement that continues to allow for free trade in agricultural and food products after Britain leaves the European Union.

It is something with which we are very engaged. Just yesterday, the Tánaiste met Mr. Michel Barnier and again impressed on him our strong view that we need to retain the closest possible trading relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom. I had phone calls with the Scottish First Minister and the Welsh First Minister, who both articulated to me their view – the view of Scotland and the view of Wales – that, even if Britain does leave the European Union, they should stay in the Single Market and should stay in the customs union. They endeavoured to push that view in Westminster and in London that Britain should stay in the customs union and Single Market. I endeavoured at European level to keep the door open to Britain to stay in the customs union and Single Market. Should it be willing to do so, we will keep that door open. In the absence of that, if Britain insists on leaving the customs union and the Single Market, we will advocate very strongly for a free trade agreement between the EU and the UK that maintains free trade in agricultural products and food products, thus minimising the impact on our farmers and on our food industry.

In terms of tillage, I had a discussion this morning with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this matter. I am very aware that the harvest in 2016 was very poor for our tillage farmers. As a result of that, the Government has decided to set aside €1.5 million, which will be a compensation scheme to be put in place for tillage farmers badly affected by the poor harvest in 2016. The exact detail of that scheme is yet to be worked out. The Minister, Deputy Creed, is very willing to meet the IFA and to discuss the details of that scheme with it—– Some €1.5 million has been allocated by the Government to compensate farmers badly affected.

Michael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
I appreciate the Taoiseach’s response, but will he address the issue of farm inspections and having an independent appeals assessment process with an independent chairman? Farm inspections are a requirement under CAP direct payments. Will the Government give a clear commitment to apply pressure at EU level to have this matter addressed under the CAP simplification review that is under way? The inspection regime is causing a great deal of aggravation, anxiety, stress and financial hardship for many farmers throughout the country, but particularly in my county of Tipperary.

Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
There is an appeal system in place already for applicants who consider that an inspection has not been conducted appropriately. The system involves an appeal to a senior officer within the Department, with the option to appeal further to an independent agriculture appeals office and, ultimately, the Office of the Ombudsman. As per the programme for Government commitment to do so, the Minister, Deputy Creed, and his Department are carrying out a review of the Agriculture Appeals Act 2001. That is to ensure the independence and efficiency of the office dealing with appeals from farmers. A steering committee has been established to oversee the delivery of that programme for Government commitment and the Minister will make a statement on it as soon as there is further progress.

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