This is one of the more important debates that will be held in the Chamber during the next 18 months.
The proposals were circulated by the Commissioner yesterday and the European Parliament has spent some time on them. The debate will unfold during the next 12 to 18 months. It is difficult to anticipate whether there will be many changes because agricultural needs within the Community vary considerably from Latvia to Ireland. The original CAP was framed to identify the needs of the developing industry across the Community, particularly in Ireland.
Two points strike me. In the early days, two common phrases in the terminology that was part and parcel of this area in Brussels were “food security” and “Community preference”. Neither is used in these proposals. There has been phenomenal growth in the world’s population. Food production in Europe will need to increase to certain levels to meet these needs. If developing countries have the capacity to import food produced in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany or elsewhere in the EU, we must have an industry that is geared towards meeting the needs of developing markets in Asia, India and so on.
The Minister referred to a key point, that of the age profile in Irish agriculture. The number of people under 35 years of age who are actively involved in farming is low. If we are to get the dynamism, innovation and changes that we need, we must attract young people to the industry. I welcome the proposals in the document to try to address this issue.
What about the interim? The Minister and the Minister for Social Protection are members of the Government that took the decision to raid pension funds to create employment. This objective is commendable in its own way, but some of that money could have been spent on the economy’s primary production sectors wherein national wealth is created. The agriculture industry generates beef, dairy and other exports. Should we not take the opportunity to create jobs in the industry? At a time when nearly 500,000 people are unemployed, agriculture is seen in a different light today than it was two or three years ago. Young people are being drawn towards it. The demand for places in agricultural colleges around the country bears this fact out. There are not enough places. Some colleges are overcrowded with students. There are too many students in them and given the need for mentoring and tuition, having too many in a class creates its own problems. It may well be an area the Minister needs to examine. The Warrenstowns of the world are closed and no longer available.
Next March, many farmers in the country will face a problem with a super-levy. We have had exchanges in the Chamber about this and it will cause huge problems. Young farmers and farmers who are not so young are way over their quota production allowance now and to get to next March will be a job for them. There is a need for clarity on this. Various suggestions are being tossed around and debated and on the previous occasion the Minister indicated the possibility of the butterfat adjustment holding out some prospect. Yesterday, I spoke to a number of people in Brussels and the indications were that prospects exist in this regard but major voices in Europe may not be in favour of it. The need for a diplomatic offensive on this is obvious.