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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Jun 1976

Vol. 291 No. 9

Vote 39: Agriculture (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That a sum not exceeding £114,361,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1976, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, including certain services administered by that Office and for payment of certain subsidies and sundry grants-in-aid.
—(Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.)

When I reported progress in replying to the debate on the Estimate for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, I had dealt with a number of the more serious points raised by Deputies. There were a number of other points which I was anxious to deal with and I hope to deal briefly with them this morning.

The most important item raised by almost every Deputy was the veterinary dispute. Before I deal with that I should like to deal briefly with a few other points that were raised.

Deputy Callanan referred to what happened in 1974. Indeed, the 1974 period was referred to by most Opposition Deputies. I can understand their concern about the present and the future. What happened to cattle prices in 1974 is unlikely to recur because of developments in the meantime. At that time our processing capacity was totally inadequate. It was not possible to cope with the number of cattle being offered. They were able to hold back on buying and because they were holding back on buying until they got the cattle at the cheapest possible prices, there was no buying of small cattle and the slump went back down along the line. In a situation where you have continuous movement of cattle, where there are so many dealers and middle men coming in dealing with young cattle it is very hard to avoid the man at the end of the line getting the worst possible deal. This is the only country that I know of in Europe where such a system exists. We will have to try to get away from the present system where cattle are moved so often, where there is so much jobbing and dealing in cattle and where all these profits are gained by middle men along the line. We must encourage people wherever cattle are produced to hold on to those cattle and finish them where they are. Otherwise an awful lot of the profits are taken up by these movements. Deputy Callanan suggested that to overcome periods of this kind there should be a fund of some sort set up to take care of such a situation. I raised this sort of possibility in the EEC with Commissioner Lardinois and he had at that time gone into this in detail and he found that to give any sort of a deficiency payment such as the deficiency payments that they had in England on a smaller scale would cost £1,000 million. The question of a fund to take care of that sort of situation in Europe is just not on and there is no way that we can deal with that kind of situation.

I meant that the fund should be collected on the commodities that are going well and put into a fund to cushion against the fall. I did not expect the Community to put up the fund.

Perhaps I misunderstood the Deputy.

The Minister certainly did.

We were confronted with the same slump situation for a short time in the pig industry. I approached producers here about the setting up of such a fund and it was considered by the farming organisations. They came back to me and said that they needed the money themselves and that they would not agree to a levy going on to provide such a fund. Therefore, I think it would not gain acceptance by the producers.

I would not agree with that.

I have tried it in the case of pigs. It could be tried again in the case of cattle but I think it would be rejected by the representative of the farming organisations.

Deputy Gibbons said that the people should be told that they will get a reasonable price for whatever they produce and that stability is what matters. I agree that stability matters but I do not think that in any product, whether in agriculture or industry, you will get a guarantee that you will get a reasonable price at all times and in all circumstances. This would be wonderful if it could be done but it cannot be done. We have surpluses now in so many commodities in Europe that in the last few days I expressed the view that in Europe we seem to be putting out fires all the time. We wait until we are confronted with an enormous mountain of one thing or another and then we have the problem of how to dispose of it and then we get about a dozen measures that would kill that sector of the agricultural industry completely. As Deputy Callanan knows, there is no such thing as stop-go in agriculture. You cannot get in today, out tomorrow and back in the following day. I am afraid that there is a good deal of theory in this whole question of what is possible and what is not possible and only the people close to farming appreciate that you just cannot jump in and out of various operations in farming.

That is what we are being told to do. It cannot be done.

That is true and it is quite right that the EEC is open to a lot of criticism for the failure to take worthwhile and reliable forecasting.

Can we hear the Minister out without interruption?

The nucleus of a unit has been set up now within the EEC and I hope it will develop and that we can in future hope to get more reliable market prospects and forecasting from them.

A number of Deputies referred to the delay in the payment of headage grants. I think Deputy Gibbons said that there should be a certificate of posting. I would welcome such an arrangement because it is distressing for me and for the people concerned when people come and say that they have posted it more than in time to get there and we have no record in the Department and people are deprived of grants because of this. We cannot single out one person and say he is telling the truth and another person is not telling the truth. It would be much more satisfactory if we had such an arrangement. A certificate of posting would be accepted by the Department and people who are concerned about this should do it. There has been no undue delay about the payment of grants where people did their part of the job. There have been complications due to a change of ownership, deaths and all that sort of things and those cases are still outstanding.

The vets dispute has caused a lot of concern and I think it is fair to say that no Minister in any Department, or in any Government, has given as much personal time to a dispute as I have given to this dispute. I am sorry to say that at the end of a very long period I certainly have not made the sort of progress that could find a solution to the present dispute. We have reached a point where we have to make decisions. It is imperative that we get on with the job because we simply will not be able to dispose of our cattle if disease is not eradicated fairly quickly. I have tried to co-operate in every way with the veterinary practitioners and I just do not understand why their co-operation is not forthcoming. If they were to do the work that is now being offered to them, there would certainly be no question of unemployment in the profession. I think they would be over employed as they were when I made the suggestion first about lay technicians being brought in. I have refrained for some time from making public statements on the issues involved in the dispute because I was hoping that the union would see the error of their ways or that the pressure of public opinion would persuade them to take a more reasonable view of their position. They have demonstrated that neither reason nor pressure influenced them to depart in the slightest from their original rigid stance. They have also chosen to forget that I have responsibility and that I must exercise it. This quarrel was certainly not of my making. It had its origins in a situation that existed long before I took up office. At this stage there is no point in apportioning blame but it is necessary to lay the facts on the line because the general public as well as the farmers and veterinary practitioners have a right to know the facts. I have the distasteful obligation to publish these facts. While the immediate problem with the practitioners concerns brucellosis, there is an older problem concerning bovine TB. This country was declared virtually free of bovine TB in 1965, and over the following nine years, up to December, 1974, a controlled programme was maintained in operation with all herds being tested annually and all animals which failed the test being purchased by my Department and resold under contract to meat processing firms.

This activity cost the taxpayers nearly £33 million. This sum included over £16 million paid in fees to veterinary practitioners for testing the cattle. In spite of this vast expenditure I have to say with regret that over this period of nine years there was absolutely no reduction in the incidence of TB. In fact, in some areas there was an increase. Efforts made by my Department to improve the system have not met with any great success.

Is the Minister blaming the vets for that?

Some of them certainly.

I will deal with that as I go along. So far as I can judge, a few practitioners had thrown their professional and ethical standards out of the window, and some farmers whose interest in disease eradication was less than their desire to make money quickly had devised ways and means of defeating the purpose of the testing. I am concerned about these farmers.

That is a disgraceful indictment by the Minister. It is a scandalous statement by a Minister.

I cannot sit and listen to that.

Deputy MacSharry must restrain himself and allow the Minister to make his statement without interruption. If the Deputy feels he is unable to listen to what the Minister is saying, he has a remedy.

Nobody is more concerned about farmers than I am, but I am also concerned when, in some instances, farmers are responsible for the spread of disease, thoughtlessly often, but they are responsible. We all know about the amount of tag switching and card switching which has taken place, and all these things to which we must try to put an end. The taxpayer has to foot the bill. The farmer will be the biggest loser because he will not be able to find a place to sell his cattle in a short time.

The Minister has come a long way since he was trotting back and forward to Earlsfort Terrace.

When I trotted back and forward to Earlsfort Terrace it was for a good purpose. It was not for the purpose of stirring up trouble but trying to settle trouble.

He was stirring up trouble. He has come a long way since.

It would have been easy for me to plaster over the cracks even though our experience was contrary to experience everywhere else. The normal pattern in TB eradication is, according as disease incidence reduces, annual testing gives way to testing every second year and then testing every third year. With us, annual testing could go on forever with no improvement in the situation if the Government were content to have it so. The taxpayers would be obliged to go on paying the bills if our customers abroad were as unconcerned as we seem to be.

Worse than that, however, we embarked on a brucellosis eradication scheme which promised to be even more expensive than the TB scheme and which could last even longer. Contrary to what happens in the case of TB, the actual testing for brucellosis is done in a central laboratory operated by my Department. This does not seem to be understood by many people who should know this is a fact. The blood samples are collected and sent to one central laboratory. The field work consists of taking a sample of blood from each animal to be tested. This work has, unnecessarily in my view, been entrusted to practitioners. In many other countries it has and is being done by trained technicians. That is the position in the North of Ireland. The vets in the North of Ireland, like the vets down here, are all members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. The council of the same Royal College specifically approved some years ago of the employment of trained technicians to take blood samples for the purpose of bruceallosis testing.

In 1974 I decided to introduce technicians for this work but, under pressure from the Irish Veterinary Union, I since retreated step by step from my original intention until all that was left was a proposal to employ about 25 technicians for a trial period of three years. During these three years the work of the technicians was to be monitored by an animal health committee which would be set up and would be independent and would assess their work or otherwise. If at the end of that time they came to me and said: "This is no good" it would be dropped. I have to insist that these people should be employed. Let us try out the system. The union refused this shadow of a change even after they had provided ample evidence that some, at least, of their members were not capable of, or were not interested in, taking the blood samples in the time allotted to them each year. Very often there was a delay of four or five months before the round of testing was completed.

It was this feature of the situation which prompted the Livestock Committee of the IFA in 1973 to suggest trained technicians should be employed to take blood samples. I also agreed earlier this year to a 46 per cent increase in practitioners' fees for TB testing. I do not begrudge them this increase because I am satisfied an increase on this scale was reasonable. At the same time, I have to make the point which is not generally appreciated that, while the vets were agitating for increased fees, the principals of the veterinary practices whom the Department were paying were not themselves testing the cattle in many instances, but were getting the work done by temporary assistants, young vets as well qualified as they are, and were paying these young vets not much more than 50 per cent of what the Department were paying them. They were just taking fees from the Department for work they sub-contracted to any vet who was available. In this way they deprived the farmer of his choice of vet.

That happens in every profession.

That is true. I am just wondering if the fees are so inadequate how could they expect members of their own profession to do the work for half the fee. Although the farming organisations claim choice of vet is important to farmers, over the years many of them have had their cattle tested by whatever assistant the principal could hire at the time. It is natural that established practitioners should resist any change in this system. It was equally natural, I suppose, half a century ago that misguided men should spike the corn fields in an effort to prevent the introduction of reapers and binders. The reapers and binders came and the combine harvesters came later.

Here we have a powerful organisation of professional, well educated and scientifically trained men determined to use every pressure to beat back the tide. The tragedy is that there is work for them all, particularly if equitably shared. As scientific knowledge increases their work will increase. Some spokesmen for the Irish Veterinary Union have made an effort to parade their sufferings for their principles. It should hardly be necessary to remind them that the principle they are fighting for is the age old principle of what we have we hold. That is what they are determined to do.

On a point of order, I want to ask if it is in accordance with the orders and the traditions of this House that a Minister should, in reply to the debate on an Estimate, make an ex parte statement of this sort in a dispute of this sort, when the matter is not in any way relevant to the Estimate for his Department and the expenditure it encompassed?

Might I make the point——

I want to protest.

The Minister is entitled to reply to the debate on his Estimate in his own fashion.

Every Deputy who spoke asked me to deal with this matter in some detail when I was replying. I am simply doing what I was requested to do by many Deputies on the opposite benches.

I want to protest against the ex parte nature of the Minister's statement.

When negotiations have been given a fair trial, the time for decision comes. Now is the time for decision. I have made the decision to separate the two schemes altogether and to make certain other changes in the administration of the schemes. Here are the details. Henceforth every herd owner will make his own arrangements with the veterinary practitioner of his choice to test his cattle annually for TB provided the district veterinary office has been advised beforehand that the test has been arranged and, provided the entire herd is tested, my Department will pay the veterinary practitioner who carries out the test a fee at the rate of payment which I recently offered to the IVU and which represents a 40 per cent increase on existing rates. Payment will depend on the submission by the veterinary practitioner to the district veterinary office of the detailed results of the test made out in the prescribed form and furnished within a stated period after the completion of the test.

Reactors will no longer be bought by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Instead the herd owner will make his own arrangements to sell his reactors to a meat processing plant and a grant will be paid to him by the Department on each reactor animal so delivered to the meat factory. This grant will vary according to the class of animal and the grants will be as follows: cows and in-calf heifers, pedigree £120; non-pedigree £85; other animals, pedigree £80 and non-pedigree £55.

It will not be related to the price received from the factory.

No, in no way for the future. It will mean in some cases the grants will be too high and in other cases they will not be high enough.

I thought so.

But, on the whole, the grants being offered are reasonably good grants and this scheme will do away with this whole question of several visits by inspectors from the Department going out and haggling over the price. It is time we put a stop to this. Farmers, as well as everybody else, were simply fed up with the whole business.

It was, I think, Deputy H. Gibbons who raised the possibility of having this taken care of by some form of insurance scheme. I tried this over a long period and I could get no takers from among all the insurance business people. I even tried the FBD insurance people to come up with proposals or suggestions and they would not take it on.

In-calf heifers must be identifiable as such on post mortem examination at the meat plant. The reason for that is we want to include in-calf heifers with cows from the point of view of the grant. The full amount of the grant will be payable on every reactor, properly documented, delivered to an approved processing premises within four weeks of the reactor being identified and punched. Thereafter the amount of the grant will be reduced by £10 a week or part of a week until the animal has been actually delivered to the factory.

I appreciate fully these arrangements may be less satisfactory than methodical testing on an area basis but in the present circumstances the essential thing is to have TB testing resumed and a further effort made to get away from the stagnation and indifference that have characterised this scheme for the past ten years. Nothing in the new arrangements will preclude my Department from testing any herd with its own authorised staff. We have been doing this in the worst areas, such as Waterford and Kilkenny, in recent times.

As regards brucellosis eradication, I consider I am now left with no alternative but to arrange that compulsory measures will be operated by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries using technicians supervised by its own staff and employing a combination of blood sampling or milk sampling as appropriate. Reactors will be disposed of as in the case of TB reactors. The pre-intensive scheme in the southern counties will continue as heretofore for the present.

Will it be left to the owners of the reactors to make their own deal with the factories?

If the factories refuse or do not give proper co-operation will there be any compulsion?

I think the factories are very anxious to get cattle.

There might be a case where they would not be.

We should hear the Minister out. The Chair will allow relevant questions at the conclusion of the Minister's reply.

This scheme has no hope of getting off the ground and the Minister knows it.

The Deputy who made that remark is a complete exception even to the Members in his own party.

We will see.

The animal health council which has developed from suggestions made during the negotiations will monitor progress under these arrangements and will advise me of any changes it considers desirable to accelerate the eradication programme and I am now arranging to call the council together. I have frequently been criticised for holding up TB testing. Now that these two schemes have been separated there is every reason why farmers should get their cattle tested for TB and no reason why the practitioners should not test them. I would remind farmers there will be increasing difficulties about exporting live cattle if they are not regularly tested and if the incidence of TB is not progressively declining. I have decided to end the wasteful process of buying reactors on farms. The administration costs of this system are growing all the time and the grants I am now offering, plus the factory prices for the animals, should compensate farmers fairly for cattle which will be worth less and less as time goes on.

Does the Minister not see the possibility of factory abuses?

I do not see any such possibility because, in the normal way, factories have to keep their business going.

There were abuses in the past.

A large proportion of the processing is in the hands of the farmers themselves.

Why did the Minister not announce this scheme when introducing the Estimate so that it could be discussed properly? We can only deal with it now by way of question and answer.

Negotiations were still in progress then.

It is bad treatment of the House to announce the scheme now in the course of replying to the debate.

I was not in a position to do it earlier because the negotiations were still in progress and I have announced it now because I was anxious to give the House the earliest possible opportunity of hearing what I had to say on it.

We cannot discuss it now.

If I did what previous Minister did, go down the country and make this speech some place else, I would be criticised for not making it here in the House.

That is not right.

All I am saying is that it is unfair to the House.

May I remind Deputies there is a time limit attached to this debate. The Minister's time is limited. He is due to conclude at 12.23 p.m.

We cannot discuss the scheme, a Cheann Comhairle.

I need hardly remind farmers that the cattle are not the Government's cattle or the taxpayers' cattle and it is up to the farmers themselves to clear their herds of disease and keep them clear. I have no objection and the Government have no objection to providing large sums to help farmers eradicate diseases but we are entitled, in the interests of the taxpayers in general, to insist on results. I am now setting about a complete reorganisation of the brucellosis scheme and it will be my ambition to develop it in such a way that it can progress speedily and efficiently.

We simply cannot afford to have any continuation of what I have just described as the stagnation and indifference which in recent years have characterised the business of disease eradication. There is too much at stake. Already the British have taken action to counteract our failure to make progress in disease eradication. Further restrictions are threatened from the North. Our temporary derogations from the EEC rules will soon be coming up for review and, if we cannot make rapid and sustained progress, the pocket of every farmer who keeps cattle will be affected. At the end of the day it is he who will be the ultimate loser if the job is not done efficiently and well. I thought it necessary to make a detailed statement on the whole dispute that has gone on, as I say, for far too long, a dispute I never wanted because I realise how important it is, if we are to have success, that we should have the complete co-operation of all the people concerned, and that includes the veterinary practitioners, the administrative people in the Department and, above all, the farmers and the people who deal in cattle. There has been a good deal of unscrupulous traffic, I am sorry to say, and it has made the job of efficient eradication extremely difficult for all concerned.

I still want to appeal to the veterinary practitioners, even at this late hour, to decide to co-operate. Too often the veterinary practitioners are regarded by farmers themselves as a fire brigade service. This is a wrong attitude. There should be contractual arrangements set up between groups of farmers and veterinary practitioners to advise the farmers on the best way to keep out disease and not to keep the animal from dying when it is seriously ill from disease.

Deputy Gibbons made the point that the British market was rapidly disappearing for our cattle and beef, that the British were becoming more self-sufficient. That is quite true, but he went on to say that the Department did not seem to be aware of the importance of Europe and the importance of encouraging the European breeds here if we were to sell our cattle in Europe. There is a committee permanently in existence on which all the farming organisations, all the breed societies and all the people who have an input to make to the Department, to advise me on what should be done about the breeding of cattle. What we have done is to make all these breeds available in the AI stations. The fact of the matter is that the demand for these breeds has been disappointingly low. We can do no more than make these breeds available, advise the farmers that, if they want to remain in the beef business and if they want to get the highest possible prices, it is in their own interests to improve the beef quality of cattle, certainly improve it from the point of view of producing the type of lean cattle that are required and that get premium prices in Europe. We cannot do more than make farmers aware of the situation, and they must make their own decisions in the long run.

There was a good deal of comment about the modernisation scheme, and some Deputy over there said he did not like the idea of consigning so many to the limbo of the transitional category because this led to the decay of rural Ireland. The grants being made available to transitional farmers are higher than any grants given before. It is wrong to say that these people are being put out of business. We are trying to do what we can to look after any of them that it is possible to bring up to development status. We are also trying to get Directive No. 159 amended to be more suitable to this country.

I want to keep the maximum number of people on the land, even as part-time farmers. I heard criticism some time ago of the fact that we have 40,000 part-time farmers. I was very pleased to hear there were that number, and provided these 40,000 have worthwhile employment outside the farms, I am anxious to keep them on the land. It will be a poor day for this country if we go on reducing the number of people in farming as has been done in the past. All the evidence we have now indicates that there are fewer people leaving the land than ever before, that more young people have gone into farming in the last year or so than has happened for a very long time.

Is that so?

That is apparently so. The number that left farming in the past year would seem to be the lowest, I think——

There has been a lot of comment to the opposite effect.

The comment is not correct. There is ample evidence to indicate that more young people have gone into farming in the last year or year-and-a-half than have gone into farming in a similar period for many years, and fewer people, one fifth or one sixth of the number, have left the land in the past year. Therefore there must be some prosperity and some happiness, and I think the future was never brighter.

Is the Minister talking about the unemployed graduates who had to go out picking potatoes?


The Minister's time is nearly exhausted.

There seems to be no shortage of money available for development and progress in agriculture both from the banks and the ACC, and the farmers themselves have put a good deal of money into banks in the last year.

The banks can squeeze very quickly.

Deputy Callanan knows this is so. There was a good deal of criticism, too, about the amount of money going into the disadvantaged areas. Millions seem to mean nothing now to the Deputies of this House. Last year £11 million that had never previously gone into the West of Ireland went to that area, and this year both Italy and ourselves got an increase of 10 per cent in the grant. That has been entirely paid out, and the first report I see from one of the farming organisations says "totally inadequate". This is the sort of reaction one gets. There is an extra £1,500,000 going into these areas this year, but those who are critical and saying we are doing nothing for the West of Ireland are not making sense.

If £11 million went to the west, a fair figure must have gone to to the east.

What I am saying is that £11 million that had not been going out previously went in last year.

How much went into the east and the midlands? Do not be always condemning the west for the few shillings they get.

If it is condemning the west to put an extra £12,500,000 into the area—


Other speakers raised the question of the importance of research. The grant for An Foras Talúntais has been increased from £4.7 million last year to £5.6 million this year. That indicates that we are concerned about research, and we are very pleased with the results that have come from agricultural research.

That would only meet the increases in salaries.

It would not even do that.

It is a nice increase. I think it was Deputy Gibbons who said we have become over-reliant on Brussels and the Department. We have to rely on Brussels. We get quite a bit from Brussels, but I think he is perfectly right, and the sooner farmers get down to looking after their own interests and their own job and give up spending so much time talking about, considering and looking for subsidies from here, there and everywhere else, the better for themselves.

What a change was there, my countrymen.

He is perfectly right in saying this.

That is a damnable statement, and I am surprised at the Minister.

The Minister has only a few minutes left.

If farming organisations spent more time organising services for their own people, organising contractor services, organising better use of machinery and equipment, and organising disease eradication in the way it can be organised, it would be better for everybody. If we are to get the best results we must have team work. I should like to thank the farming organisations, and all the other agencies that have an important part to play in agriculture for the co-operation they have given me as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries since I took up that post. It is absolutely essential that we have team work. We must regard ourselves as a team in existence for one purpose, to get the best results possible from our land. That is the only way it can be done and I hope we will continue to get that co-operation.

The Minister has dropped very important players when he dropped the vets. When will the Minister bring those players back?

I dealt adequately with the veterinary situation and I hope now we will settle down to doing a bit of work.

Will the Minister circulate his statement on the vets' dispute to Members before they leave?

It will be in the Official Report and I do not think it is necessary to circulate it. The Official Report will be available in a few days.

Has the Minister concluded?

The Minister's speech concludes the debate but the Chair will allow some brief, relevant questions.

I hope that in view of the unprecedented nature of the Minister's reply that some time will be allowed to us. The Minister has chosen to use the winding up of this debate to introduce a major change in an important scheme in relation to agricultural livestock. He also made a statement on the veterinary dispute which, in my view, can only exacerbate an already difficult situation.

I will allow the Deputy to raise a question—but there can be no question of reopening this debate.

I do not wish to add further to the difficulty. These are schemes which need the full co-operation of the entire agricultural community and all sides of this House. To alienate the farmers further from the people who are responsible for cattle medicine is wrong.

This is not in order. I have allowed the Deputy to raise a question but he is proceeding to make a speech which is not in order.

I do not wish to exacerbate what is a serious situation but the Minister has made a serious indictment; he has issued a one-sided statement. We would have liked to have had the veterinary point of view. How near did they get to what they would accept? We only got one side of the story.

Order. We must have a question.

About 18 months ago I asked the Minister whether in respect of the dispute, disagreement or misunderstanding between himself and the veterinary profession he would agree, as obtains in all other areas of dispute, to the setting up of a tribunal chaired by an independent arbitrator to look at the situation. Is the Minister prepared now to say he will do that?

The Minister must accept that in respect of every other area of organised labour here such machinery exists.

What is the date for the commencement of the new brucellosis testing scheme? How many lay technicians does the Minister intend to employ or does he intend to use the existing staff at district veterinary offices throughout the country? Has the Minister the agreement of the vets concerned who work in his Department and their organisation? Has he consulted with those vets about the scheme? Has the Minister consulted with the staff of the district veterinary offices and their union about this new announcement and if so have they agreed to it?

The new scheme will start as soon as farmers make arrangements with their vets.

Next year?

Why should it be next year?

The Deputy has asked some questions and he ought to be good enough to listen to the reply.

The new scheme will start as soon as the staff are organised to carry it out.

Was there any consultation with the staff the Minister intends using in this new brucellosis scheme? I did not mention TB at all.

The veterinary people in my Department who are paid for advising me have been advising me all along the line. If that is the sort of consultation the Deputy is talking about there has been ample consultation. I have consulted with the people responsible.

The Minister has not consulted with the staff or unions concerned and has not got their agreement.

I should like to protest at the unprecedented action of the Minister in introducing a major scheme such as this at the end of a debate. The scheme should have been the subject of discussion during the debate on the Minister's Estimate. It is scandalous treatment of the House. Can the Minister quantify the cost to the nation's economy of this dispute between himself, the Department and the veterinary profession? Does the Minister agree that that cost far outweighs any savings that might ever be effected by the introduction of lay technicians from now to the year 2000?

I do not agree at all. For nine years we were using the scheme that was in existence with no progress. In fact, there was a deterioration in certain areas and we paid £33 million——

Bovine TB?

No progress?

No progress in some areas. The position deteriorated in some areas over nine years. That answers my concern for something new and for radical changes. A total of £33 million was paid for nothing.

Quantify the loss.

I could not quantify the loss but if we were like Northern Ireland or England we would be testing every two or three years if we had made the progress it was possible to make during those nine years. We made no progress.

What amount will the introduction of lay technicians save?

Substantial savings.

How much?

I cannot give an exact figure.

Insignificant in relation to what you have cost the nation in relation to this dispute.

I understand the farmer must employ his own vet and the Department pay a 40 per cent increase for testing but I should like to know if the Minister is putting this over on the farmer now. If the vets say they will not accept 40 per cent will the farmer have to pay the difference between the 40 per cent and what the vet will charge? Will the farmer be caught all the time? The row is because the vets will not accept the 40 per cent. The farmers must now first get the vets to agree to do the testing. If the vets say they are still on strike and will not test the Minister is handing the strike breaking over to the farmer. If the farmer is charged more than the 40 per cent increase granted he has to pay it. He is the loser all the time.

I have been accused on numerous occasions by Deputies on the Opposition benches of refusing to separate tuberculosis from brucellosis and I have been told that if I separated them they would go ahead and that the vets never refused to continue the TB eradication scheme. That offer is now on the table. They can continue now. The fees are being increased by 40 per cent.

If the vets say they will not accept the 40 per cent increase what happens then?

Then it is between the farmers and the veterinary surgeons because I have done as much as the taxpayers could be expected to do.

It is a harebrained proposal announced in panic.

Will the Minister circulate the statement in relation to the vets' dispute?

It will be in the Official Report.

I am sure the Minister had copies for the Press.

I am not sure about that.

The Minister should have had copies available for Deputies.

That practice was never operated by the Opposition when they were in Government.

We cannot agree to this Estimate since it now contains matter we did not anticipate.

Every Deputy requested it.

Question put and declared carried.

I object to this procedure. If we call for a vote now when will it be taken?

It would be postponed.

Until when?

The division would be postponed to 8.30 on the following Tuesday. The matter has been disposed of. At this stage I am proceeding to No. 17.