Former cabinet minister Alan Kelly has criticised the Department of Agriculture for a lack of overall willingness to engage with growing rural Ireland’s economy.

The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) report was set up in 2012, with the purpose of carrying out consultation on the future economic potential of rural Ireland.

During this time Alan Kelly was Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government.

The report involved both his Department and the Department of Agriculture, and was coordinated by Teagasc.

Speaking on Thursday at the Public Accounts Committee, the Labour TD for Tipperary said he found that “the lack of engagement, lack of funding and overall lack of will in this area has been astounding.”

“I don’t think your Department has much interest in anything that goes on outside the farm gate. I would encourage you to change your attitude towards it immediately.

“I say this as a former minister whose Department was responsible for this,” he added.

“I found the Department of Agriculture in relation to this whole area quite unwilling to progress it to the scale which was necessary.”

“The Department needs to realign itself given the challenges we are faced as a country.”

Farm safety

He also called on the Department to double and refocus its effort when it comes to farm safety and provide more funding.

“It’s unfortunate than expenditure is lower than expected but there are more farm deaths. Progress isn’t happening.”

“Farming is intergenerational and there needs to be more done involving mobile devices and apps surrounding farm safety.”

Aidan O’Driscoll, the Secretary General for the Department of Agriculture was before the PAC, along with other officials from the Department.

On the continuing issue of late payments, he said the IT systems for GLAS are fully running, however there is no date for when the Department expects payments to be made.

He added that it is “inevitable that some of the people waiting will never be paid. Of the 7,000 still to be paid there must be a significant number who will not qualify for one reason or another.

“Some are claiming low-emission slurry spreading but 300 have been identified as having not submitted the necessary evidence. They have indicated they are claiming at but they haven’t submitted it.”

Trade post-Brexit

Following a question from David Cullinane on downturn in the dairy industry, the Secretary General admitted the Department did not foresee the drop in demand for dairy produce following the abolition of milk quotas.

Aidan O’Driscoll added that the Department is currently holding discussions with Northern Ireland, the UK, the Commission and other member states to discuss Ireland’s position on the forthcoming Brexit.

“We have put forward our demand that is we retain unfettered access to the UK no matter what happens and we keep it as a valuable market in the future.”

The Department also came under significant pressure from committee members over funding for Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board, which has not published accounts since 2014 and receives approximately €260,000 a week in funding.

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