Dáil Éireann - Volume 548 - 14 February, 2002

Other Questions. - Sheepmeat Regime.

  7. Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will report on the meeting of the farm Ministers Council in December 2001; if he has satisfied himself with its decision to fix the basic ewe premium at €21; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4947/02]

  Mr. Walsh: A Presidency compromise on reform of the sheepmeat regime was adopted by a majority vote at a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 19 December 2001. The final compromise submitted by the Presidency provided for a basic premium of €21 per ewe to be supplemented by a national envelope equivalent to €1.22 approximately per ewe for all producers. In addition, the compromise included a supplementary premium of €7 per ewe for producers in disadvantaged areas. In other words, there is a total of €29 for sheep farmers in disadvantaged areas.

[918]   I saw the proposed reform as giving an opportunity both to redress some of the problems which we have had with the sheepmeat regime over the years and to place the industry on a sound footing for the future. Sheep production falls very much within the European model of agriculture in view of its extensive nature and land use requirements. I made a strong case in the negotiations for the premium to be fixed at a level which ensures that sheepmeat remains a viable farm enterprise.

  The outcome, while not as much as we would like, is reasonable. It provides permanency in the premium, in other words, a fixed premium, and the premium is double the amount paid last year. In addition, sheep farmers and the sheepmeat industry had a record year last year and I hope that situation will continue into the future.

  Mr. Penrose: Will the Minister agree that Ireland was isolated and outvoted in December and found itself in the company of Sweden, a country that opposes any payment? Will he agree that it indicates a hardening of the attitude of the EU Commission towards farmers' payments and that the attitude towards agriculture at EU level, with countries such as Germany and Holland believing payments are too generous, indicates we have lost all support and friends at that level? Does the Minister disagree with the IFA, which claims the outlook for the coming year is not as healthy as it was last year? The IFA believes there will be a fall-off in British demand for sheep once other markets are opened. Is that the Minister's opinion?

  Mr. Walsh: Unfortunately, Deputy Penrose is correct that a number of countries voted against this proposal because it was too generous. We voted against it because we believed it was inadequate. The sheepmeat industry has had a good year. Prices were up by an average of 26% and I believe the buoyancy in prices will continue for the remainder of this year, mainly because of the substantial cull in the UK. The main destination for Irish sheepmeat is the French market so we are benefiting from the gap in the market due to the lack of sheep from the UK. Even though the UK has access to the market as well, it does not have access to the same numbers of sheep.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: As it is now 4.15 p.m., I am obliged to proceed to Private Notice Questions.