Dáil Éireann - Volume 481 - 08 October, 1997
Private Members' Business. - Farmers' Incomes: Motion.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: I move:
That Dáil Éireann, recognising the severe threat to many farmers' incomes this year, arising in particular from the collapse of live exports to both the EU and third countries, the continuing Russian ban on exports of carcase beef from seven Irish counties, the failure to secure payment of national compensation of £17 million to beef producers (£50 slaughter premium) and the disastrous grain harvest especially in the south and south-east of the country, condemns the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Government for their inadequate and ineffective stewardship of agriculture since coming into office and calls on them to take immediate and effective action to redress the situation.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Connaughton and Ring. The current Minister for Agriculture and Food, in his then capacity as Opposition  spokesman, introduced a similar motion which was debated in this House on 15 and 16 April. The following month the general election was called and shortly afterwards Deputy Walsh became Minister. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well in the vital position he occupies for Irish agriculture, but I do not have much else good to say about him.
It is very revealing to look at the record of last April's debate and particularly the words of the Minister and his leader, the Taoiseach, who contributed to that debate and whose contribution was an indication of the importance the then Opposition placed on agriculture. Deputy Bertie Ahern stated that agriculture needs a Government prepared to act with energy and to maintain farm incomes. He stated that a Fianna Fáil-led Government would do a better job, would be far tougher in negotiations and that as leader of such a Government he would give the highest priority to reopening third country markets which are vital to healthy competition.
In the same debate the Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, stated that the single most important thing the then Minister could do was to seek to have live export markets reopened. He roundly criticised the Minister for neglecting the real work which needed to be done in Brussels, Cairo, Tripoli, Tehran and Moscow. He referred to the failure to deliver on matching compensation for green pound revaluations. On the EU market Deputy Walsh stated that in regard to cattle prices there was no BSE or animal disease problem but there was a ferry transport problem. He then promised that on return to Government Fianna Fáil would immediately embark on an action programme which would confront all the issues highlighted. He said the first step would be to embark on a tour of capital cities of third countries to reopen beef and live cattle markets. There was a strong implication that not only would the Minister tour those cities but also the Taoiseach, if necessary.
The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, to whom I extend congratulations and good wishes, made a characteristically spirited contribution to that debate, in the course of which he stated that live exports have been the backbone of the cattle industry and that we must have live exports. Deputy O'Keeffe asked what happened the young farmer installation aid and the reason for the delays in that scheme.
I will not take up the time of the House with endless repetition and quotes from the then Opposition — there are many other references which are even more juicy. Replies furnished by Fianna Fáil to the IFA pre-election questionnaire, published in the Irish Farmers' Journal, stated that Fianna Fáil would negotiate the reopening of the vital live cattle trade and beef markets currently closed or restricted. They stated that Fianna Fáil would ensure live cattle exports are always facilitated so that there is a  maximum price competition for cattle at all times. In response to a questionnaire from Macra na Feirme, Fianna Fáil stated in regard to installation aid for young farmers that the party is committed to the continuation of this scheme which is very important not only for young farmers but for the general profile of agriculture.
Against the background of those recent statements and undertakings it is reasonable to ask how the Government is measuring up to the expectations which those statements raised in the minds of farmers. It is precisely because the performance to date has fallen so far short of expectations that my colleagues and I in Opposition felt it incumbent on us to put down, at the first opportunity, this motion of censure and to seek an urgent debate on the serious decline in the incomes of many farmers as well as on the threats and uncertainties surrounding agriculture.
I wish to refer first to the crucial issue of live exports to the European Union and to third countries. The Minister knew in Opposition that the only substantive impediment to the export of live cattle to the European Union is the unavailability of suitable marine transport. Yet it has taken him practically three months to obtain a commitment from his Cabinet colleagues to provide a subsidy for the establishment of a roll-on roll-off ferry, even though the necessity for such a commitment was as evident on the day he took up office as it was in the middle of September. I hope I am wrong, but even now we are not sure if he has negotiated approval from the European Commission for this subsidy, despite the fact that as an island nation without a shipping service for our cattle exports to the EU we are at a serious and continuing trading disadvantage. That is certainly not in the spirit of EU regulations. Furthermore, in the peak season for the export of weanlings and heavier cattle, farmers still do not know whether a ferry service to the Continent will materialise or, if so, when.
There is also a market for the export of heavier cattle to the European Union. It is obvious that a specialist cattle ship rather than a roll-on roll-off ferry would be more suitable than a ferry service for the export of such cattle. There is a proposal to provide such a service through the port of Cork in a Danish registered ship the Caroline which meets all EU regulations, but falls slightly short of a small number of additional Irish regulations. I accept these additional Irish regulations were introduced during the term of the Minister's predecessor but, nonetheless, will the Minister consider relaxing them a little, on a trial basis only, in the light of the current transport crisis?
As of now all exports of live cattle to the European Union are blocked due to the absence of suitable marine transport. Given the Government's stated priorities this position is not good enough and has continued for far too long. Farmers are entitled to demand that such an intolerable imposition on the export of their produce be removed immediately. It is the duty of the Minister to respond without further procrastination or  delay to this entirely reasonable demand and I hope he will do so in his response.
Bearing in mind the high priority afforded to third country exports by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the abject failure to open the Egyptian and other Middle Eastern markets is indefensible. When the Minister finally decided to visit Cairo farmers could have been forgiven for assuming that positive news was at last at hand. However, other than a vague proposal to export a trial batch of 2,000 cattle at some indeterminate date in the future, the visit appears to have been a damp squib. Reading the reported statements of the Taoiseach at the ploughing championship last week, in which he clearly set out to lower expectations, it would appear the trip to Cairo was not as successful as we had hoped.
It is worth contrasting this with the position at the beginning of June when the then Minister, Deputy Yates, received a letter from his counterpart in Cairo on 4 June which stated:
Following our meeting in Cairo during the first week of May, and the letter of Secretary John Malone of May 12, 1997 to Mr. Hassam Salem, the Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland, and our telephone conversation on June 2, I am pleased to inform you that the Egyptian Veterinarian Authority has thoroughly examined the proposal of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry of Ireland concerning exports of live cattle to Egypt. It has been agreed, in principle, to allow imports of live cattle, ready-for-slaughter and not more than two years of age, from herds that were never fed meat and bone meal and from areas declared “Free of BSE” in Ireland.
The details of the implementation of the terms of the proposal, however, should be outlined by the Veterinarian Authorities in both countries as soon as possible.
I accept that was a decision in principle and that some details needed to be followed up, but it is now early October and that market appears to be as tightly shut as it was when Deputy Yates received that letter. I disregard comments that the letter was written in the context of a general election. The Minister for Agriculture in Cairo is not likely to be drawn into an Irish general election. I do not believe it had any significance in that sense, although it was obviously something the then Minister was anxious to produce.
I do not need to outline to the Minister or the Taoiseach the importance of live cattle exports to Ireland. By their own words they have identified this issue as their priority, but what effective action have they taken since coming into office last June? As far as Irish farmers are concerned they have done nothing and that is a severe indictment of the Minister and the Government.
The Russian ban on the export of carcase beef from seven Irish counties continues. While gladly acknowledging the recent reduction from eight to seven counties, it is a minimal return from a Minister  who had invested so much apparent effort and energy in this high priority area for him and the Government. I wish the Minister well in his endeavours on this issue, but farmers expect him to achieve more sooner rather than later. As long as a ban remains in respect of any Irish county, third country exports will be rendered much more difficult. Our competitors are not slow to use the ban to further their ends and to damage exports of Irish live and carcase beef.
The Minister's failure to date to secure payment of national compensation of £17 million to beef producers is inexplicable. That £50 slaughter premium was announced by his predecessor at a meeting in the Red Cow Inn on 23 April last. I understand that at that meeting Deputy Walsh described the payment as much too little and much too late, but five and a half months later not one penny of this national compensation has been paid to hard hit beef producers. I spoke to my colleague, Deputy Yates, about this matter and he is in no doubt that he would have been able to deliver on this commitment if he were still in power. He further stated that he received a personal assurance from the Farm Commissioner, on the margins of the April Council meeting, that the Commissioner would not oppose the payment of national compensation in this case.
In all these circumstances, and given the high priority afforded by the Minister to this issue, it is incumbent on him to negotiate and obtain immediate clearance for the payment of the promised £50 slaughter premium to beef producers, at a cost to the Irish Exchequer of £17 million.
On the issue of installation aid for young farmers, given the unequivocal Fianna Fáil undertaking to Macra na Feirme, to which I have already referred, how can the Minister or his Government maintain any credibility with young farmers? They naturally assumed the Fianna Fáil commitment to the continuation of this scheme meant what it said, but they have been cruelly and cynically deceived. I call on the Minister to try to reverse this disgraceful decision to renege on such a solemn and clear-cut undertaking to young farmers, and to restore this scheme immediately.
The Minister explained some of the reasons for the discontinuation of the aid from 7 August in his reply to my question yesterday. However, it has caused a great deal of cynicism in the minds of young farmers, many of whom I met at the ploughing championship. They cannot believe this Minister, for whom they have a high regard, would cynically remove that scheme, irrespective of the reasons. I ask him to look at that again.
The final subject to which I will refer is the question of support for those grain growers who have experienced such a disastrous harvest this year. This is the issue of which I have most knowledge because of my involvement in that business. However, given the present climate, I emphasise to the Minister that I have no personal interest in what I am asking him to do because I was  extremely fortunate — rather than skilful — in having nothing but winter feed barley which was harvested in July and were, therefore, free of the problems to which I will refer.
Grain growers, especially in Counties Cork, Waterford and Wexford, were devastated by the continuous rain and wind which persisted throughout most of August and much of September. Many crops were badly lodged, sodden, sprouting and, in some cases, totally unharvestable. Ground conditions were appalling, more akin to midwinter than late summer. In the southern counties few can remember such unfavourable conditions. In addition, the prices available to grain growers are way down on last year, in fact, they are the lowest in 20 years.
This double tragedy of a disastrous harvest and rock bottom prices is destroying the livelihoods of many grain farmers, especially those dependent on grain for their sole or main income. It is no exaggeration to describe the situation as a crisis and, furthermore, a crisis outside the control of those suffering the consequences.
In such circumstances, it is the duty of the Government to look with sympathy on the plight of these unfortunate people, especially when a booming economy offers the means to offer some tangible assistance. There are precedents for a sympathetic and practical response to weather made calamities. When disastrous floods struck the west in 1994-5 and again in 1996 in the Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir areas I was directly involved as Minister responsible for the Office of Public Works in obtaining disaster aid from the EU and matching funds from my Government colleagues. That was not easily achieved, especially the EU funding element.
While the present situation is not identical it has clear parallels as the essential cause of all these events is excessive rainfall. I have no hesitation, therefore, in asking the Minister to seek financial assistance, both from the EU and his Cabinet colleagues, for the worst affected grain farmers whose incomes have been demonstrably devastated this year. I am not asking him for a blank cheque but rather a focused and targeted response to those whose incomes have been so damaged as to clearly jeopardise their livelihoods and future viability in farming. Teagasc can easily identify such farmers and focus any funding on those in the most obvious need of support.
In addition to direct financial assistance for the worst hit victims I strongly recommend the following proposals. First, prompt payment of area aid to grain farmers, at least 90 per by mid-October and the balance by the end of October. Second, Government matching funds with EU revaluation aid. This would cost the Government approximately £3.8 million, which in the circumstances of the 1997 harvest is more than justified. Third, the brief to Teagasc should be extended to look at grain growers other than those whose crops were unharvestable. I understand the original instructions to Teagasc were to look at and  concentrate solely on farmers who could not harvest their crops. Some farmers tried desperately to harvest practically unharvestable crops and they should not be outside the net. Finally, the possibility of providing Government subsidised very low interest long-term loans for the worst affected grain growers to get themselves off the floor should be considered. Again, this could be carefully targeted by Teagasc.
These measures when taken together can offer hope and practical assistance to the worst hit grain growers, many of whom without such assistance cannot and will not survive in business. I hope the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to these proposals and I look forward with anticipation to his response.
Farmers need a Government and a Minister who understands and shares their concerns and who will take decisive action on their behalf. Judged on that criteria and on the stated priorities of the Government, the performance of the Minister and the Government has fallen far short of the expectations of farmers. I await with interest the Minister's response to the points made by my colleagues and me in this debate.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: I wish to share my time with Deputy Ring. I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. He is an old hand and I wish him well. I appreciate he is in a difficult position and people who do not understand that do not understand agriculture. I am sure the Minister hopes to be in Government for some time but that does not appear likely today. That is politics, but if the next 100 days are as bad as the first 100 days for the Minister, farmers are in for an awful time. The Minister is not new to his portfolio but since he took office matters have been particularly bad for farmers.
I wish to refer to the atmosphere at the National Ploughing Championships which the Minister attended last week. There was huge anxiety among the 150,000 people who turned up at that event about their futures and the Minister did not escape without being told about it. The current concern revolves around the problems with the Egyptian live trade market. Before the last general election the Minister and other current members of the Cabinet said the then Minister, Deputy Yates, was the only reason live cattle were not on their way to Egypt. The case was made at the time that serious negotiations were under way but the current Minister specifically stated that if he was at the helm, live cattle would be in Cairo. He said he would ensure that was the position as soon as he returned to office.
The Minister has dithered for the past four months and there is no sign of live cattle going to Egypt. Sources in the trade tell me all the Minister took from Cairo last week was a lollipop. He was told there would be a trial shipment. I hope I am wrong but I understand now that even the trial shipment might not work. What has gone wrong? Deputy Coveney outlined the letter which arrived in the Department on election day.  If it was intended for inclusion in the election manifesto, it was pointless receiving it on election day. Obviously, the letter meant what it said. Will the Minister outline why the Egyptians do not want our cattle? Why are we unable to negotiate a deal which is vital to this country?
The Minister has approximately two weeks to resolve this matter before the factories pull the price back to 80p. I am severely critical of what has occurred with regard to the factories. Although the current position is bad, there is no reason every meat processor in this country should not pay a flat price of 85p. As days pass and it is obvious to the factories that the live trade will not operate, I guarantee the price will be reduced to 80p in a fortnight. This is the point the factories want to reach. The only hope of saving farmers from meat processors is to ensure the ships start sailing.
If a man deserves credit, he should receive it and I congratulate the Minister for securing Exchequer funding for the roll-on roll-off service. I hope it will work for that service which is most important to my area in terms of the weanling trade. There is no need to remind the Minister but in my lifetime I have never seen the price of heifers so low. I attended a number of the western marts this week and the prices were deplorable. The only way to change that position is to ensure a live outlet, particularly for weanling heifers.
Regarding the £70 million made available last year from the Exchequer by the former Minister, Deputy Yates, it is one thing to get clearance from the European Union to pay its money but it is a different matter when a pip squeak in Brussels decides that the Exchequer cannot pay money to our farmers. I understand an expert in Brussels stated that the proposed payment of £50 per head was too much. When the collapse occurred in June, there was a difference of almost 10p a pound in prices between one Monday morning and the next. The loss to producers of heifers over a certain weight was £45-£50 per head in mid 1996. It is bad enough that the experts in Brussels should claim the subsidy is too great but what is overlooked is that the same farmers a year later were hit twice as badly and there is no reference to compensation. Will the Minister inform the officials in Brussels that those who suffered a loss of £50 per head in 1996 are losing £70 on their heifers this year. Irrespective of what those officials say the Minister should not accept that the compensation is too great. It is the greatest load of codswallop I have ever heard and this was pointed out by every farmer at the National Ploughing Championship.
On the question of installation aid for young farmers I know the Minister has a soft spot for young farmers as I have seen him in action as Minister for Agriculture in a previous Government. I do not know the reason the Government decided to withdraw this aid. In reply to a question yesterday the Minister said a body was set up to advise him and the previous Minister on  installation aid. He said it became known to this expert group that it did not appear the payment of the installation aid helped the transfer of farms. I would like to know who was the author of that. I cannot understand how the withdrawal of £5,600, at the point where young farmers incur the greatest expenditure in their lifetime, would mean there would be the same level of farm transfers. This is a kick in the teeth to every young farmer at a time when everybody here and in Europe is talking about mechanisms to keep people on the land. If that is our answer to keeping people on the land, God help them.
On the export of cattle, I reiterate what Deputy Coveney has said. I recall being involved when the former Minister introduced the new restrictions and new conditions on ships sailing the high seas with Irish cattle. There was a good reason we should have a high standard since the Compassion in World Farming people were clamouring to close down the whole show. It appears that for short journeys to Europe the vessel, The Caroline, could do the job. While I am not a technical expert I understand there is a problem with the roll of the vessel and while it meets international criteria it does not meet our criteria. Anything the Minister can do on that issue would be welcome.
For the past couple of months I have made a case that where possible, given the plethora of payments, headage, premium, etc. from the Department of Agriculture and Food, an effort should be made, in a year of low cattle prices, bad weather, and when grain farmers were affected, to pay the full amount on the due date. I thank the Minister for doing that and I understand it is his intention to pay the full headage due to farmers in the next couple of weeks. This will help those who are buying cattle and it will improve confidence in the trade.
As to quality assurance, the Minister should ensure that the scheme is farmer friendly and other professions will not make money on the backs of farmers. As spokesman on food I want to be sure the quality of the food placed on the tables of consumers in Ireland and across the world is never in doubt on the basis that it came from Ireland. However, I do not want others piggybacking on the farmers and getting more out of this than the farming community. I call particularly on the Independent Deputies, most of whom come from rural constituencies, to send a message to the Government that not enough is being done for agriculture. They will have an opportunity to do that this evening at 8.30 p.m. The internal squabbling in the Cabinet and the problems that have beset the Government are no reason to crucify farmers. The Minister has much to do. Unless he comes out fighting on behalf of farmers they will judge him harshly.
Mr. Ring Mr. Ring
Mr. Ring: I also wish the Minister the best of luck. I feel sorry for him, having listened to the rumblings of his leader last week when he told farmers to be patient. How much patience does  he think farmers have? The Minister for Finance, Deputy Charlie McCreevey, did not send out a positive message either. I mean no disrespect to the Minister when I say farmers are saying they wish Deputy Yates was back as Minister because at this time we need a strong Minister to get officials here and in Europe working to resolve our problems.
The Minister and the present Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Brian Cowen at public meetings in this city, and my own colleagues at county meetings in Mayo, spoke about what they would do for farmers so, although I was disappointed not to be back in Government after the election, I thought that if Fianna Fáil did only half what they said they would do when they were in Opposition, life would be easy for rural Deputies. We are getting messages from the Taoiseach and from the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, but there is no action on the part of the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Nearly three months passed before the Minister went to Egypt to try to open the Egyptian market, a market that is causing great concern within the farming community. If this market is not opened factories will have a monopoly, and we know what the factories did to farmers, large and small, when they had a monopoly. If this market is not opened the factories will do as they have done during the past few weeks; they will stop killing for a few days to ensure a glut with a resulting drop in the price of cattle. It is time the Minister took on the factories and this very important market in Egypt was opened.
I am aware of the difficulty of the Minister's job. Some Members of the Dáil and other people outside the Dáil tell us they do not want to see the live cattle trade opened. These people have no investment in agriculture. They do not know how hard people in rural Ireland have to work. Our beef is the best in the world and should be sold as organic beef because farmers have responded to what they were asked by Europe and by our Department of Agriculture and Food. If someone invests so hugely in agriculture, it is wrong if, when they come to sell their product, there is not a good price. Farmers tell me that prices now are worse than they were ten years ago and that the industry is nearly dead. That has not happened in any other industry.
Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae tells us that he will be saviour of rural Ireland. I hope he will walk through the lobbies tonight with us in Fine Gael and the other Opposition Deputies and show the Government that we are not happy with what is happening to farmers throughout this State. The Minister should invite the delegations from Egypt, Russia and other markets to return to show them we have the finest beef in the world. I was informed recently by somebody who went to Cairo on holiday that Irish beef received bad publicity. Therefore, we have a PR job to do. If there is one thing politicians and departmental officials are good at it is that they know how to  handle the media and issue press releases. I compliment our judges for not being lenient in dealing with the cowboys who have tried to destroy an industry which we have worked hard to build and on which many people depend. They should be put behind bars.
Each time a new case of BSE was reported — I raised this issue at a committee meeting well before the election — the image of a staggering cow was shown on RTÉ. Following representations RTÉ agreed to remove it. It was bad publicity, this was the image shown on television in Egypt and Russia and on video by those campaigning here against live exports — certain political parties and individuals who have no interest in agriculture. The only piece of grass they have to worry about is the grass they have to cut on a Saturday afternoon.
I compliment the Minister for taking steps to improve the position in relation to the roll-on roll-off ferry. Like Deputy Connaughton, I come from the west where weanling producers are encountering major problems in selling their stock. There is a need to reopen markets to avoid a glut.
When there was severe flooding in the west, particularly in north Mayo, the Minister did not respond well. Whenever there was a crisis during the term of office of the previous Minister, Deputy Yates, he responded. The IFA and other farming organisations did not give him the credit he deserved. They now realise that he was a strong Minister and wish he was still there at what is a crucial time for farmers to fight on their behalf.
Beef producers were promised £17 million from the Exchequer. However, the European Union has instructed us not to pay this money. This is a serious matter. The farming organisations may not like this but major protest marches were organised to this House at times when there was no need to do so. Now is the time, at a time of crisis, that farmers need help and support and a strong Minister to fight on their behalf. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, do not seem to be taking the matter too seriously. Last week the Taoiseach asked farmers to be patient. For how much longer must they be patient? I will watch the Independent Deputies tonight. I will not have them saying in their constituencies that they support rural Ireland when they have an opportunity tonight to vote in support of rural Ireland and farmers. Farmers need support. I will be watching Deputies Healy-Rae, Ó Caoláin and Fox and I will issue a statement on that tomorrow. I hope they will vote with us.
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh) Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh)
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Walsh): I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:
Dáil Éireann, recognising the threat to many farmers' incomes this year, supports the Minister for Agriculture and Food and  the Government in their efforts, since coming into office, to maintain farmers' incomes, to reintroduce live exports to the EU and third countries; to improve access to the Russian market for carcase beef; to secure the approval of the European Commission for the payment of national compensation to beef producers and to seek ways of assisting grain producers who were seriously affected by recent adverse weather conditions.
I acknowledge that the beef industry has gone through a very difficult period over the past 18 months since the announcement in the House of Commons on 20 March 1996. It has been a very sensitive time for An Bord Bia and the food industry as we market beef throughout the world.
Virtually all problems which have beset the industry since have emanated from that announcement, which led to an immediate and dramatic fall in beef consumption in the EU, and in our most important worldwide markets. Fortunately, the situation has improved gradually, particularly among Irish consumers. Beef consumption in Ireland has returned to pre-20 March 1996 levels and it is also recovering in EU States.
A number of measures were introduced by the Council of Ministers last October in the context of mini-reform of the beef sector. The more important measure relates to the two calf slaughter schemes. These were designed to divert one million calves per annum from beef production and recent indications are that these measures will achieve that objective. Approximately one million calves have been slaughtered under the calf slaughtering scheme in the past 12 months while a recent Commission report estimates that the early marketing premium for veal calves will increase the number of calves used for veal production by approximately 300,000 head. Given the nature of beef production in continental Europe, it was always expected that the effect of those measures on beef production would not be seen for approximately 18 months. There is now evidence that beef production in the UK and continental Europe is beginning to decline as a result of these measures. There are expectations in the United Kingdom particularly that the combined effects of the calf slaughtering scheme and the over 30 months scheme which has removed 1.73 million animals since the beginning of the scheme will result in higher beef imports to the UK in 1998. This means that three million animals have been taken out of the system in these schemes.
The combination of the recovery in beef consumption and the decline in beef production has substantially improved the balance in the EU beef market. This is reflected in the substantial decline of sales into intervention in recent months. The vast bulk of beef now sold into intervention comes from two member states: Ireland and Germany. The improved balance in the European market is of dual benefit to the Irish beef industry. First, it creates market opportunities which have not existed since the beginning of the BSE crisis in March 1996. I do not  accept that the renationalisation of the European market since that crisis began makes it more difficult than previously for the Irish beef industry to exploit these market outlets. Nevertheless, there is now a significant opportunity for the Irish beef industry and I have every confidence in the ability of our industry to exploit the situation. Our exports to the EU market are expected to increase by some 40,000 tonnes this year in comparison to 1996 and this represents substantial progress in difficult circumstances. We have a minimal BSE incidence in Ireland but it is there. We have increased exports to the EU, which is the most difficult market in the world. Because of the slaughter schemes which have taken three million calves out of the system, there will be increased opportunities from the beginning of next year. We have the immediate difficulty of getting over this autumn, which we are addressing.
The priority of our beef industry is to expand and strengthen our presence in the European market. It is reasonable to assume that further progress can and will be made in the next year as beef production continues to decline in the EU as a result of the slaughtering schemes.
The second benefit of the improved balance in the EU beef market is that it will relieve pressure on the third country markets on which we are particularly heavily dependent. One negative effect of the BSE crisis in the last 18 months has been the substantial increase in competition between member states for third country markets as they sought to offload their increased surplus on these markets. However, because of the decline in production due to the slaughter schemes, other member states who were in competition with us will not have the same numbers of cattle. The inevitable result of this competition was a sharp fall in prices on third country markets. While competition on these markets remains strong, there are indications that it is becoming less severe, and this is evidenced by the gradual increase in third country prices. Prices in Russia, for example, have increased by $400 per tonne in recent months. Reduced competition on third country markets should also reduce pressure on the GATT ceiling on subsidised exports. That is another problem with which we have to contend, as it makes matters more difficult for us in these important markets. However, we have a further opportunity because of the balance in the EU.
Exports to third country markets are supported strongly by export refunds. For example, prime Irish beef is purchased in Russia and Egypt at 15 and 19 per pound. One would not get beef in Ireland at that price. The balance is made up by substantial export refunds. It was disappointing that the Commission considered it necessary to reduce export refunds last month to dampen down demand for export licences. It was pleasing, however, that the Commission sought to minimise the impact of the decision on Irish beef producers by confining the 10 per cent cut to female  animals and, in so far as it was possible, to beef from female animals. Given that most of our beef exports to third country markets come from steers, the impact of this cut should be minimal on cattle prices. Nevertheless, the reduction in export refunds was unnecessary and I will press the Commission to pursue alternative strategies regarding compliance with GATT limits rather than relying simply on reducing refunds.
Following two years of disuse, the intervention system has become an important element of the market support system since the BSE crisis began in March 1996. It is very likely that it will continue to play an important role in supporting the market, at least until the end of this year. I was pleased that, at a recent meeting of the Beef Management Committee, the Commission extended the current intervention arrangements to the last quarter of this year.
This will permit cattle of up to 360 kg weight limit, with the important O4 grade, to be taken in, thus allowing up to 50 per cent of steers to be eligible for intervention. So far this year the EU has accepted almost 50,000 tonnes of our beef, which is 21 per cent of the EU total. While it is not in our long-term interest to be dependent on intervention, I am satisfied that it is used by the industry only as a last resort and it is necessary for market support, particularly during our peak disposal period. However, there are good grounds for believing that the improved market balance in the EU will significantly reduce the need for intervention next year and that the Irish beef industry will substantially increase its presence on EU markets. This will enable us to put in place the best foundation for further development into the next century: getting out to the marketplace and the consumers. We have sent 40,000 extra tonnes to the EU this year despite being under the cloud of BSE, and this augurs well for the future. It shows that the industry and An Bord Bia are doing excellent promotional work. Other countries with BSE have been kicked out and kept out of various markets. In contrast, Ireland has done relatively well in the important markets world-wide.
While there has been an overall improvement in cattle prices compared to this time last year, prices remain below those which prevailed before the BSE crisis. Bord Bia's Market Monitor of 4 October 1997 compares last week's prices with those of the same week in 1996. Prices for steers — the continental type — Friesians, Herefords, heifers and cows are about 2p to 3p per pound higher this year than they were the same time last year.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
Mr. Connaughton: Are store heifers included in that?
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: I have store cattle prices. Prices for continentals compared to this week last year are plus 5.7 per cent, Friesians are plus 10.6 per cent, Hereford X's are plus 7.3 per cent and Light, 300  to 420 kg are plus 8.3 per cent. Those figures are available in the Market Monitor of 4 October 1997 if Members wish to use it as a reference.
Mr. Farrelly Mr. Farrelly
Mr. Farrelly: The Minister is telling us there is no need for help.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: I will not do what my predecessor did last year. He went around the country, talked down prices and pressurised farmers into selling cattle for less than they were valued.
The lower prices are due to a combination of factors which are well known. The balance in the EU market is beginning to improve. These developments combined with an effective intervention system offer good grounds for optimism that cattle prices should at least be maintained at current levels in the short-term with the medium term outlook for gradual improvement in prices. Prices this autumn are better than would have been predicted a few months ago and current prices are better than at this time last year.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: It is evident the Minister did not attend Bandon mart last week.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: This country exports cattle and beef to 60 countries world-wide. Due to the extremely low incidence of BSE and the effectiveness of our controls trade is continuing normally to a wide range of international markets, although a number of countries have imposed BSE related restrictions. I pay tribute to our inspectorate, departmental officials, assurance schemes and the disciplines in the system for this. The removal of these restrictions is a matter to which I am giving the utmost priority.
Egypt, which was an important market for live cattle, has been closed to imports from Ireland since the beginning of January 1997. A commitment, in principle, was given by the Egyptian authorities, as was stated in the letter from them read by Deputy Coveney. On election day, my predecessor stated clearly that the market would open in a matter of weeks. There was no basis for that statement because as was stated in the letter, the commitment, in principle, was subject to conditions that had to be taken on board. That was not emphasised given that it was election day.
I had to resolve the problem of restrictions. As soon as I came into office, I contacted the Egyptian authorities and as a result, two delegations of senior officials from the Department and veterinary inspectors visited Egypt in August. Members of the delegations voluntarily interrupted their holidays to make those visits during August and I express my appreciation to the officials concerned. During those visits many of the veterinary requirements for the resumption of trade were agreed and a package of proposals was offered, including assistance by the industry here on the removal of specified risk material. The latter was important in terms of allowing the Egyptian authorities to provide the same type of health guarantees  available domestically and to consumers of Irish beef in the EU.
Final agreement on reopening the market was delayed mainly due to increased concerns in Egypt relating to food imports generally, particularly bad press in relation to food and food scares. A number of our publications were photocopied and sent to Egypt which did not do the position of Irish officials or that of our trade any good. Once the technical difficulties had been overcome, I visited Egypt and met the Egyptian Deputy Premier and Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Wally, in Cairo on 28 September. I also met the Minister for Trade and Supply, Dr. Goweily. As a result of my meetings, during which I got a clear understanding of the Egyptian concerns about live cattle imports, the Egyptian authorities agreed to consider accepting a trial shipment subject to certain conditions. A detailed proposal for such a shipment is being formulated by the Department of Agriculture and Food in conjunction with the Live Cattle Exporters Association for consideration by the Egyptian authorities. I hope a trial shipment, properly controlled, will convince the Egyptian authorities to reopen the market fully to live Irish cattle imports.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: The Egyptians should know the quality of Irish beef.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: Egypt is one of our most important markets for beef exports which have increased substantially this year. On my visit to Egypt, the Egyptians said they had stopped importing live cattle since 1 January 1997 but they had increased the amount of beef they were taking from Ireland. They took 30,000 tonnes in 1996 while in the first half of 1997, they took 30,000 tonnes. Some 30,000 tonnes is roughly the equivalent of 100,000 head of cattle. In the remaining six months of this year, they will take a further 30,000 tonnes. In the full year, they will take 200,000 head of cattle. The additional 30,000 tonnes is roughly the equivalent of what they took in live cattle in 1996.
The Egyptians said they were taking our beef because they recognised its quality; they had no difficulty with it and were extremely pleased with it. They said they were taking our beef because it was processed in Irish plants, that they were confident about quality because Irish and EU consumers were eating the same beef and they wanted no less than that available to Irish and EU consumers. However, they were unhappy about live cattle. Their problem with live cattle, which we sought to resolve, is that they contain the risk material associated with BSE which lodges in the brain and the spinal cord. The risk material is taken out in Irish factories so they have no difficulty with beef. We said we would put in equipment in Egyptian factories to take out the risk material, the brain and the spinal cord. They said they had one further difficulty, that when the live cattle come into Egypt, a small number are not included in the system in their  transportation to plants and so on. Therefore, they are concerned that those live cattle would get into their herds, causing them difficulty. Since we had the advantage of processing cattle within the country, having jobs in our factories here, as well as added-value, they could not understand why we would want to transport live cattle, taking the jobs and added-value to Egypt. That is a fairly complex problem to solve. We continue to make the case that live cattle export is vital to competition with the factories. That is the position and the reason we shall continue to do everything possible to ensure that the live trade is reopened and will continue.
It is important to state that Egypt is an enormously important market and takes a considerable amount of beef and live cattle equivalent at present.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: When does the Minister think that market might be reopened?
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: This week we are submitting proposals regarding transshipment. It is like trying to sell any other product. For example, in a supermarket if you want a whole shelf filled with your product, you might never get a market niche there whereas if you took a corner of a shelf, and it is proven that consumers are happy with the product, you would then seek to increase your percentage share of that market. It is our hope and expectation that the same thing will happen in this case. I must emphasise that even if you were only selling a second-hand bicycle, you need to convince a potential purchaser that it is a good bicycle since he or she must take the decision to purchase. Similarly, we seek to sell live cattle to Egypt and those who must take the decision in regard to the contract are the purchasers. We are seeking to convince them in every possible way that they will be getting the best possible product, prime Irish beef. We shall continue to encourage them by providing equipment for the risk material as well as quarantine arrangements. We are literally turning ourselves inside out to encourage them to take that decision. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, to use the old cliché: one can take an animal to water but cannot make it drink — we are dependent on the Egyptian authorities to take the decision.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: That sounds very reasonable but, when the Minister was sitting over here, it did not sound that reasonable when Deputy Yates was explaining the same thing.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: Is the Minister saying that Deputy Yates was not doing the job correctly?
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: I have noted that the stance of Members on both sides of the House changes in emphasis dependent on the subject matter under discussion, which is as it should be. It is very important for Government parties to take action, where necessary, and indicate constraints appertaining  to particular matters and for Opposition to highlight problems, to encourage, perhaps even light a bit of fire under an officeholder to do that bit better.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: Farmers will be very disappointed with that type of reply, it will not go down well with them.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: Another important market for our live cattle exports is Libya, which imposed a ban on our imports in March 1996. Shortly after returning to office I contacted my Libyan counterpart as a follow-up to the visit here of a Libyan technical delegation earlier this year. Since then contact has continued at diplomatic level. I intend to visit Libya as soon as appropriate arrangements can be made.
Deputy Ring referred to people inside and outside this House who were not in favour of the live trade. There are a few people prominent in a number of parties in this House who have expressed publicly their opposition to the live cattle trade. I am in favour of the live cattle trade and am working diligently day and night to have that market reopened, as it is a vital element of our industry. I do not accept the argument of spokespersons and Members of political parties opposed to the live cattle trade who speak out against it.
Russia is another important market. To date this year Russia has taken 40,000 tonnes of beef, the equivalent of approximately 125,000 head of cattle. The Russians imposed restrictions on our beef imports in November 1996. Following a recent delegation, led by its deputy Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Scherbak, I was particularly pleased that the first easing of restrictions on that market was achieved. Anybody who had discussions with the Russian's chief veterinary officer, Dr. Avilov, will be aware that they are quite tough negotiators. The Russians take a considerable quantity of our beef, a percentage I expect to increase.
Contacts with other markets which have imposed BSE-related restrictions continue to be maintained by my Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and An Bord Bia. I am pleased to report also that Qatar indicated recently it will lift its ban on Irish beef, subject to certain conditions. This will mean that all our markets in the Gulf will be open to Irish beef with the exception of Oman. A technical delegation from my Department will be visiting that market next week.
My objective is to ensure that all remaining restrictions are removed. I am confident this can be achieved and that An Bord Bia and the industry will maintain the momentum of its promotional effort in those markets.
I turn now to live exports to the Continent, extremely important to our industry, mentioned by several Members. When I returned to office I had been hearing of and given assurances in  relation to ferry services for the live cattle trade, in particular that P & O Ferries, Pandoro, would continue its service. That has not been the case as that service with the exception of pedigree cattle, was terminated during the summer.
Irish Ferries had been providing a service up to the end of last month which necessitated my having to obtain an alternative service from the beginning of this month. I was happy that the Government accepted my proposal that finance be made available for the provision of this service. Subject to clearance from the European Commission, I have identified a vessel and a proposal for support which clears the way for that vessel to sail, subject to EU approval within a matter of days.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: Is that for the purposes of shipment of store or fat cattle?
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: It is for weanlings and smaller cattle.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: That will not improve the trade in fat cattle.
Ms Coughlan Ms Coughlan
Ms Coughlan: Is that in Deputy Sheehan's constituency?
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: The reopening of the Egyptian market will help that trade.
In relation to European Union approval of national compensation to beef producers, and the reference to the payment of £17 million, I was at the Red Cow Inn on 23 April last and, of course, encouraged my predecessor to have it paid as quickly as possible. On 6 June we had a general election, followed by a change of Government, so that a fair amount of time elapsed, yet that payment still had not been made. Why was it not paid? The answer was that it was subject to EU approval in the case of my predecessor over those months and revolved on me on assuming my present portfolio. Eventually we got the European Union Commission to accept a proposal which must now be endorsed by the relevant Commissioner. I expect those payments to be approved also within a matter of days.
I accept the difficulties experienced with the grain harvest this year and that Deputy Coveney is not engaging in any special pleading on his behalf. I am glad that in his case the harvest was good but there were others who experienced a very bad one. Following my meetings with lending institutions and millers I will seek to help them in their difficulties, in particular those £90 million in area aid.
Mr. Coveney Mr. Coveney
Mr. Coveney: A small number may need some direct help.
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: Yes, we shall do the very best we can for them. In the week beginning 16 October we hope to get the vast bulk of the £90 million paid in area aid on which the people in Hume  House are working morning, noon and night and deserve our support.
I commend the amending motion to the House which, in reality and fairness, is more in touch with the facts and circumstances prevailing.
Mr. Penrose Mr. Penrose
Mr. Penrose: I propose to share a couple of my allotted minutes with Deputy Ó Caoláin.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Penrose Mr. Penrose
Mr. Penrose: I welcome the opportunity to address this issue which concerns an industry of fundamental importance to the Irish economy. I do so from the perspective of being constructive and not engaging in the negative politics which was so pervasive in this Chamber during the period the last Government was in office. I appreciate a certain amount of politicking will be engaged in but when it reaches the absurd it is time to call a halt. I have never engaged in that type of behaviour nor do I intend to do so. This issue is too important to the farming community and the industry must be treated with the respect it deserves.
I recall the discussions held and submissions made by farming organisations when I was a member of the subcommittee on EU legislation of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in relation to the agricultural aspects of the GATT and the implications for Ireland of that agreement. It was clearly stressed that because of the importance of beef to the Irish economy and the dependence of the Irish beef industry on exports, particularly on exports to non-EU countries, the problems arising from this particular agreement were magnified for Ireland. All of us understood that.
Let me illustrate this point. Beef is 11 times more important to Ireland's economy than to the overall EU economy. Only 12 per cent of Irish beef production is consumed in Ireland which means that almost nine out of every ten animals produced here have to be exported. Ireland, therefore, is the most vulnerable of all the EU countries.
Ireland has a particularly high dependence on beef exports to non-EU countries. While this country accounts for less than 7 per cent of total EU beef production, we account for almost one quarter of EU beef exports, and we are the largest net exporter of beef to third country markets in the EU. I make these factual observations to indicate that we were all well aware that the combination of the reformation of the CAP and the new GATT would impact on beef prices, and it was for this reason that the new subsidy regimes were put in place to help compensate for these reductions.
Agriculture remains the most important sector in our economy and it is especially critical to the well-being of rural communities. Agriculture, food and forestry account for approximately 14 per cent of GDP, 175,000 direct jobs or 13.5 per cent of the workforce, and over a third of our net  foreign earnings come from the trade. Farming and related industries are the bedrock of many rural communities. Approximately 85 per cent of total gross agricultural output is derived from livestock which is clearly the highest figure of any member state in the European Union.
We in the Labour Party are deeply committed to maintaining the maximum number of farm families and to do so by providing and securing the necessary supports to facilitate the competitive output of high quality products at farm level and at the processing and marketing levels. We would also support the focusing and targeting of structural and market supports to achieve those aims.
I support the live export trade without ambiguity. I come from a county where dry stock production is the main source of income on 80 per cent of farms. In the past ours was a major winter finishing county with large investments made in shelter accommodation. Over the past two years, however, this has become unprofitable and losses have been incurred. That has had a devastating effect on beef producers and the wider industry. In the midland counties, some winter fatteners saved up to £20,000 last year by not going back into that area. While that is fortunate for the farmers involved it will have a knock on effect down the line, and many people suffered as a result of those decisions.
While it is obviously desirable to have as much value added as possible to our primary products at processing level, and in the process create much needed jobs, it should also be recognised that competition in the beef sector, which is afforded by the live export market, is critical in relation to cattle prices paid to 100,000 Irish cattle producers. It directly improves their income and employment viability and indirectly helps to maintain the fabric of the rural economy in which they live. That issue is very close to my heart and that of my colleague, Deputy McGrath, as we both come from a rural constituency.
Dr. John O'Connell from the Department of Agribusiness and Rural Development at University College Dublin, in a paper prepared for the Irish Livestock Exporters Association, indicated that the price and revenue enhancing effect came about for three main reasons. First, because of increased competition engendered purely by the extra numbers of buyers of cattle when there is a strong live trade. That is the reason my colleagues stated it is critical to reopen the livestock export trade to Egypt over the next two or three weeks, although one mart manager told me that he would fill that trial shipment before 12.30 p.m. I appreciate the Minister is doing his best but I am merely outlining the magnitude of the problem. In the next three weeks we will also have the trough: peak ratio, which is so prevalent and which the Minister knows about coming from the dairy industry. Factories will be waiting to drop cattle prices by 3p and 4p per pound which will start the cycle again and result in a negative impact on farming.
 The second reason given by Dr. O'Connell is a preference in most countries, which has grown stronger since BSE, for beef which is stamped as having been domestically produced. That is another positive effect on the live export trade. The third reason given is the fact that the live trade serves distinct demands in certain countries for home slaughtered fresh beef which cannot be served by the factory sector. The Minister made reference to that also.
The opening of these markets is not simply a matter of getting on an aeroplane, a view echoed by the Minister and some of his colleagues when in Opposition. I did not become involved in the negative aspect of that debate, and my contributions in this House reflected that.
Mr. Sheehan Mr. Sheehan
Mr. Sheehan: It made a good presidential address for the people in west Cork.
Mr. Penrose Mr. Penrose
Mr. Penrose: That was a simplistic view of how these matters operate and clearly indicated that their sole motive was to gain short-term political advantage by embarrassing the efforts of the then Tánaiste, my party leader, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, rather than engage in constructive, co-operative politics where the vital national interest was at stake.
I remember my party leader being vilified in this Chamber and Members did not have any opportunity of redress. I knew he was doing his best at that time because I was with him on those occasions. I have a strong background in farming and agriculture, and thank God some of my constituents recognise that, but I could not understand the reason for some of the detrimental statements made in this House — the Minister referred to those in his contribution. Remarks made in this House or elsewhere may inhibit the Minister as he goes about his work. I appeal to all speakers in this debate to be constructive and to remember that in this age of the Internet, statements made in this House are known in other countries within minutes, and they have an impact.
We do not need platitudes or meaningless gestures to reopen the market but painstaking efforts at a technical level to reassure the relevant authorities in Egypt, Iran, Russia and elsewhere about the safety and quality of Irish beef. I recall the commitment given by the Minister in the Red Cow Inn. I was present and I must admit it was a tough place to be, particularly for a Labour Party Deputy, with 1,000 baying farmers looking for what they thought was their due funds. I answered the questions as they were put to me. I did not shilly-shally. I told the truth and I am proud of that. People in the farming community are discerning and educated. They are not fools and they know when they are being sold a pup.
I congratulate the Minister on his efforts in regard to the roll on/roll off issue which is critical to the weaning end of the beef industry, particularly in the west. An auctioneer told me last  Monday night that if this does not come about, the west will be destroyed. There is a vessel available in Cork, the Caroline, referred to by Deputy Coveney. The Minister's experts will know more about this matter but I understand there is a problem in relation to Statutory Instrument No. 17 of l996, the Disease of Animals (Carriage of Cattle by Sea) Order. Perhaps the Minister might examine that with a view to addressing the problem because heavy cattle must also be shipped out. I appeal to the Minister to instruct his officials to examine chapter 1, section 1, paragraph (h) of that Statutory Instrument in relation to the minimum roll period. I realise we must have the highest standards in regard to the transport of animals but we should examine this order to see if it could facilitate a trial voyage. It would not cost the Exchequer one penny — we are normally looking for money from the Minister.
On the difficulties encountered by grain farmers, I estimate that between 2,500 and 3,000 hectares of grain crop were unharvestable. There are also the high moisture content problems and additional losses associated with the crops which were harvested. This means a gross loss for grain farmers of £20 to £25 million. Thirteen inches of rainfall was recorded in south Leinster and Munster during August. Farmers in counties Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Tipperary were badly hit. While there was also high rainfall in County Westmeath it is not a large grain growing area: we buy much of our grain from the Minister's county. Bringing forward the arable aid payments of £91 million would be a help to grain farmers. The financial institutions could also make a direct contribution to those farmers who have been worst affected. While financial institutions never have a negative return, farmers often have negative returns. It may not be possible under EU law to divert resources from financial institutions in this way but consideration should be given to my proposal.
The Minister dealt with the issue of installation aid at Question Time yesterday. I do not want to politicise this matter but many young farmers are in limbo in this respect. Young farmers who have plans ready to be signed by the agricultural adviser or chief agricultural officer have a legitimate expectation that they will receive aid. If I was in the same position as these farmers I would take the Department to court. One cannot cut off a scheme in mid stream and dash expectations. Under the scheme the maximum grant was £5,600. There are approximately 25 young farmers in County Westmeath affected by this decision. It is important to maintain these farmers in rural areas. Many farmers say they cannot get a son or daughter to take over the farm. Yet these young farmers who have the necessary training and qualifications and have plans ready for signature are being severely hit. I went to college with the brother of the Minister for Finance. He is an agricultural adviser and can tell the Minister exactly what is involved. I would be surprised if  he did not do this as he was always a great man for practicalities.
The Minister in his policy document gave a commitment to ensure support for the highest number of family farms and to achieve a more equitable distribution of support payments by reforming the direct payments scheme. I can see where the Minister is coming from in this matter and I support him 100 per cent. Why should more than 70 per cent of income support payments be directed to fewer than 30 per cent of farmers? There is something wrong with the system and it must be looked at. The Minister should listen to those organisations which make submissions on this matter. We must ensure that these payments are directed to farm families who do not benefit at present. There are approximately 43,000 farmers with ten suckler cows or less. If we want to keep these farmers on the land the level of aid they receive must be trebled. We should tell the EU we can handle our affairs and will distribute the money ourselves. The Minister will have the support of the Labour Party if he does this. The Department has made no effort to address the problem.
A problem which is exercising the minds of farmers and members of local authorities is animal waste management. The relevant legislation in this area is the European Communities (Disposal, Processing and Placement on the Market of Animal By-products) Regulations, 1994, which transpose EC Directive 90/667 into Irish law, and the Diseases of Animals Act (Specified Risk Material) Order, 1997, which was introduced in response to the BSE crisis. The only plant licensed to take specified risk material is Monery By-Products in County Cavan. At present the extra costs have to be recouped from farmers. Westmeath County Council has asked to meet the Minister to explain the problems in this area. If knackeries are forced to close down because of extra costs it will create further problems and lead to illegal dumping etc. I appeal to the Minister to meet the council which will outline the problems to him.
On rural development, we must introduce an integrated strategy which focuses on a rural renewal concept which ensures that the problems of rural areas are addressed in a meaningful way. I have called for the implementation of a rural renewal scheme similar to the urban renewal scheme. Under this scheme special taxation incentives would be granted to entrepreneurs and business people who locate much needed industry in rural areas. To ensure that the drift from rural areas is halted — approximately 5,000 people leave the land every year — we must have a more focused approach which encourages investors and promoters to locate their industries in rural villages and towns. Since we joined the EU in 1973 policies affecting rural areas have been largely determined by EU requirements. In the area of agriculture and rural development we have relied too heavily on EU schemes and have not  developed a vigorous rural development policy suited to our needs.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Under the orders of the House, which continue to baffle and disturb me, two of my parliamentary questions were disallowed. The first question asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on the prospect of the early lifting of the Russian ban on carcase beef from the named seven counties. It is absolutely essential that the Minister secures the lifting of the Russian ban on carcase beef sourced in the named seven counties. It is patently obvious that a new arrangement for Russian veterinary inspection is required. The Russian market accounts for a quarter of all beef exports. If everyone faced up to their responsibilities and pulled together we could substantially increase the 130,000 tonnes of beef sold to that market in 1996. I hope the Minister can give farmers, their families and all those who recognise the central importance of agriculture within the economy an assurance that this ban will be lifted.
My second question asked the Minister to give details of the efforts by him and his Department to date to ensure immediate, full and unrestricted access for full live cattle exports to Egypt and Libya. Previous speakers did not exaggerate when they referred to the level of public concern at the failure of the Government — I believe it is the fault of successive Governments — to reopen the Egyptian market for live cattle exports. Other opportunities would clearly follow if this market was reopened.
The apparently laid back and laconic approach adopted by the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues merits criticism, challenge and continuous prompting. I sign up to all three of these. The efforts by some Deputies this morning to regain the high moral ground in all these matters lacks credibility.
I thank Deputy Penrose for affording me the opportunity to speak and I commend him on his declared positive approach to this problem. We must recognise that all farmers are not fools and we must work together in their interests.
Dáil Éireann 481 Private Members' Business. Farmers' Incomes: Motion.