Dáil Éireann - Volume 552 - 18 April, 2002

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Livestock Sales

[682]   4. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason he is preventing calves being sold at traditional fairs and markets; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that such activity was deemed to be acceptable when the relevant legislation was being debated in Dáil Éireann in 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12111/02]

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The 2001 foot and mouth disease crisis, both here and in other EU member states, has resulted in a clearer appreciation of the potential for frequent and unregulated animal movements to spread diseases. The critical importance of full traceability has also been highlighted, not just in the context of consumer protection but also to facilitate the tracking of animal movements and contacts in the event that a disease outbreak occurs.

  As I have said on a number of occasions, there are certain aspects of Irish agricultural life that may not be the same again. While certain activities and practices may have been regarded as traditional, it does not necessarily follow that they are consistent with current and prospective requirements in relation to animal health, disease prevention, traceability and other key concerns.

  The BSE and, latterly, FMD experiences and animal disease outbreaks in other EU member states have highlighted the need to critically question and, where necessary, alter traditional approaches to various aspects of the livestock trade in the interests of ensuring that the sector can have a secure and viable future. Traditional fairs and markets can be no more exempt from this necessary reappraisal than any other feature of the livestock trade.

  It should be noted that the sale by auction of livestock must be conducted only in a licensed mart premises, as provided for under the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, as amended.

  Mr. Connaughton: I am extremely sorry that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is not here this evening. In March 2001 he gave a commitment when the legislation was going through the House. At that time I specifically asked the Minister whether a dealer from the west who bought calves in the south and brought them back to Mountbellew, Athenry or Ballinasloe would be allowed to sell them under the strict regime that was then laid down. The Minister's exact reply was as follows: “Agents in my own part of the country are an important feature of small farming and I see no reason why they would not be allowed to do their traditional business, provided that it met the requirements of the legislation we are putting through”. This is an about-turn. One would have thought that the Minister of State, above all people, would at least be pro-rural.

  There is no scientific evidence that can prove one way or the other that bringing calves from [683] the south poses a risk. Such dealing is a necessary trade, although it is not carried out to the same degree as it used to be. It is terribly important for the west, as the Minister of State should know because he is looking after a western constituency. What are the precise disease implications under those conditions for registered dealers whose premises are licensed and who comply with all the requirements? What is to prevent them from selling calves as they always did? Will the Minister of State answer that question for the information of farmers?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I refer the Deputy—

  Mr. Connaughton: I want him to specifically address the health issue.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I refer the Deputy to his own question.

  (Interruptions.)

  Acting Chairman (Mrs. Barnes): Deputy Connaughton should allow the Minister of State to reply.

  Mr. Connaughton: The Minister of State should address the health issue.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I will come to that, if I can manage to get in two words without interruption.

  Mr. Connaughton: The Minister of State was always a good hand at interrupting.

  Acting Chairman: Please, Deputy Connaughton.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: If the Deputy has finished interrupting, the question he asked was in relation to traditional fairs and markets.

  (Interruptions.)

  Acting Chairman: Order please, Deputy Connaughton.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The Deputy's question was “To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason he is preventing calves from being sold at traditional fairs and markets”. What I am saying on behalf of the Minister is quite clear. The selling of animals at traditional fairs and markets, because of traceability and the mixing of animals in an unrecorded manner—

  Mr. Connaughton: It is not unrecorded. Does the Minister of State think we are fools?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: It is amazing—

  (Interruptions.)[684]

  Acting Chairman: Will Deputy Connaughton please observe the rules of the House?

  Mr. Connaughton: The Minister of State is not answering my question.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Of course I will answer if I am allowed an opportunity.

  (Interruptions.)

  Acting Chairman: Time is running out on this question. Deputy Connaughton should allow the Minister of State to respond.

  (Interruptions.)

  Acting Chairman: Deputy Connaughton is wasting his own time. Time is running out.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: We will come back to the point. As the Deputy is aware, farm sales and mart sales are allowed. I recently had representations from the mart people in County Galway who argued that the only safe way to sell calves is through the marts.

  Mr. Dukes: Is the Minister of State saying there is no problem in selling calves through the marts?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: There is no problem in selling anything through the marts.

  Mr. Dukes: Is the Minister of State saying there is no problem for agents with regard to selling calves through the marts?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I did not refer to agents. I am referring to farmers selling at marts.

  (Interruptions.)

  Acting Chairman: The time is up for this question.

  Mr. Connaughton: We will leave it to the farmers to decide.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The Deputy should phrase his question properly next time.

  Mr. Dukes: The Minister of State should produce an answer next time.

  Acting Chairman: In fairness to other Deputies, we will now move on from priority questions. I ask the Deputies to make the most of their time.