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 Header Item Garda Vetting Applications (Continued)
 Header Item Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Explanation by Minister under Standing Order 140
 Header Item Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)
 Header Item Beef Industry

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 899 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey] I have undertaken to bring this particular case to the Minister as an example of a case which is taking substantially longer than it possibly should. There will always be some cases that for one reason or other take longer to consider. Each case must receive the attention it requires. The processing time, when considered in the context of the tasks involved, is found to be reasonable and allows An Garda Síochána to take measures to seek to ensure that the most vulnerable in society remain protected.

As already stated, I will undertake to pass on the Deputy's concerns to the Minister who will respond directly.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Before calling Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, who has tabled the next Topical Issue, I call the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, to make a statement under Standing Order 140.

Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015: Explanation by Minister under Standing Order 140

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I wish to request a correction in the text of the Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2015. The Bill was passed by Seanad Éireann and was considered in the Dáil earlier today. It contained a printing error on page 7 in line 31. The words and figures "12 months" should read "6 months". I am requesting the House to instruct the Clerk to the Dáil to make the correction to the Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Topical Issue Debate (Resumed)

Beef Industry

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I am disappointed the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is not here. I understand the Minister is in Africa but I am surprised the Minister of State is not here. We were told that one of the reforms of the Dáil which would take place would be that Ministers or Ministers of State, where relevant, would be present in the House.

A year ago, there was huge concern in the beef industry about the price differential being achieved between British and Irish cattle on the British market. We had farmers outside the factory gates. Eventually, in response to this, the Minister set up the beef forum. A year on, to use an appropriate metaphor considering the Minister is in Africa, the beef forum has turned out to be a toothless tiger. It has had no significant effect on the massive problems that beset the beef trade.

Significant allegations were made by a significant farming organisation during the week. It believes there is a conscious policy by one of the major meat groups that operates not only in this country but also in Britain to try to block the sale of young cattle for finishing in Britain by saying they could not be marketed in Britain as British and would, therefore, have to be significantly discounted. When we look at the price comparisons between this year and last year, it is significant that the price of beef has increased by approximately 70 cent per kilo while the equivalent Irish price has only increased by approximately 10 cent to 15 cent. Last autumn, the price differential was 70 cent. This year it is 110 cent.

The second part to this matter is the total failure of the Department to deal with the price issue relating to vegetables. I thought the Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture, a colleague of the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, would be here today. I have been calling on him to stop standing back and allowing the supermarkets force the horticulture industry into a precarious situation. The supermarkets are, effectively, dumping food onto the market by selling it at absolutely ridiculous prices, prices at which no farmer can produce the produce. This happened in 2013.

There was some co-operation by the Minister's party and the Government last year to try to persuade the various parties that it should not happen again. Will the Minister of State make a public statement today that the Government believes it is unacceptable for any supermarket chain to engage in a similar practice again this year? Will the Government state that the horticulture industry is in important one not only to those involved in it but to Irish people in general because they want an Irish horticulture industry? Will the Government state that it believes it would be wrong of the supermarkets to try to destroy the industry through totally uneconomic pricing?

Will the Minister of State address these issues? I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to speak on them today.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I apologise on behalf of both Ministers who, unfortunately, are unavailable as they are away on State business. As a former Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív will understand there are times when they cannot be here personally. However, I am here to take the Topical Issue and am happy to do so on their behalf.

As Deputy Ó Cuív is well aware, beef prices are matters to be determined between the purchasers and sellers of cattle. Prices are determined by supply and demand dynamics and by a range of different factors, such as consumer preferences, distance to market, consumer confidence, retail promotions, competition with other meats and the overall macroeconomic situation. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, like any other agriculture Minister in the EU, can have no role in influencing commodity prices paid to farmers. I note, however, that 2015 has been a relatively positive year for beef prices in Ireland with the yearly average to date up 8% on last year. Irish beef prices are also 105% of the EU15 average price for 2015.

The divergence in price between Ireland and Britain is a result of the exceptionally strong sterling exchange rates that have been in place for most of the year. It should be noted that, in sterling terms, prices paid to British farmers so far this year are broadly the same as previous years. In other words, British beef farmers are not gaining any more for their output than last year. However, as already noted, Irish farmers are receiving prices on average 8% higher than last year and, therefore, the price difference has narrowed and not widened, if one removes the influence of currency fluctuations.

It must always be remembered that comparisons between Irish and British beef prices have to take into account that we are both primarily selling into the British market where there is a consumer preference for their own British product. This preference for local product is true of almost every beef market in the world. This also means that there is pressure from the British beef sector on retailers to prioritise its produce over imports from abroad, including our Irish beef. This is a significant competitiveness challenge for Irish beef which cannot be overlooked when comparing prices.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the most up-to-date figures from the CSO show that this year, we have exported more than €100 million more beef to Great Britain compared to the same period last year. This is a prime example of the high esteem that Irish beef is held in and I would be confident that in the coming weeks, considering the seasonal trend, we will see sustained trade of beef to Britain.

This has also been a good year for the mart trade as prices for calves are up 20% in the year compared to 2014. Beef breed calves are up 15% alone on 2014 prices and, again, this is a result of Northern Irish buyers using the strong exchange rate to purchase stock from the Republic.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has also made provision for a package of support measures for the beef sector in 2015 worth more than €70 million. This includes the beef data and genomics programme which forms part of Ireland's draft rural development programme. The proposed programme will have a budget of €300 million over a period of six years and is intended to deliver an accelerated improvement in the environmental sustainability of the herd through the application of genomic technology. It will also position Ireland at the global forefront in the application of genomics technology and cement our place as one of the most important export-focused beef producing nations in the world.

As Ireland exports 90% of the beef that it produces, it is vital that we have many diverse markets to sell our product into in order to ensure primary producers here receive the best prices available.

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