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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 17 Jun 1976

Vol. 291 No. 9

National Stud Bill, 1976: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of the Bill is to increase the share capital of the National Stud Company who were formed in 1945 to operate the National Stud at Tully, County Kildare. Over the years the company have made a very significant contribution to the development of the Irish bloodstock industry. With increasing demands on their services and the growing popularity of the stud as a centre of tourist interest they now wish to buy extra bloodstock and to make further improvements in the stud amenities. It is, therefore, necessary to improve the company's access to capital for investment.

The company have seven stallions at Tully. The stallions are available to breeders throughout Ireland for the service of approved mares at fees ranging from £100 for Linacre bought in 1965 to £2,000 each for their more recent acquisitions, Sallust and African Sky. All fees are charged with "no foal no fee" and "live foal" concessions. The company also have seven mares for breeding whose progeny are sold as yearlings.

The entire stud farm comprises 850 acres. To maximise their returns the company are endeavouring to increase the output of cattle and crops on the farm. They now produce almost their entire fodder requirements and, by careful planning, they hope to show a substantial profit on the farm in the years ahead.

Education and research have become an important function at the stud. The company conduct a six-month training course in stud management each year for boys and girls in the age group 18-25. Many students from abroad have taken these courses and the demand for places far exceeds the supply. The company also conduct short refresher courses for stud farm employees, and seminars and open-days for horsebreeders. In addition, there are regular conducted tours throughout the week for visitors from Ireland and abroad. The company also engage in research into stud management and disease control and co-operate with the Agricultural Institute and other bodies in various areas of equine research.

The company provided the site and buildings for the Racing Apprentice Centre of Education—the training centre for jockeys at Tully—and help in the organisation of courses and the provision of lectures. Finally, the company have responsibility for the Japanese Gardens which attracted 27,000 visitors in 1975.

The company maintain close liaison with the other semi-State bodies associated with horses, that is the Racing Board and Bord na gCapall whose main functions are to promote horse racing and show jumping respectively.

The company are devoting increasing attention to financial planning and cost control, desiring to provide a first-class service to the horse industry while maintaining a close watch on ever-increasing costs. They have formulated a five-year development programme which envisages an increase in the number of stallions at the stud, extra stabling, laboratory and research facilities, a museum of the Irish horse and possibly a health farm for horses. They also hope to extend their educational and training programmes. Discussions are being held with the company about the details of the programme and its implications.

Turning to the bloodstock industry generally, it continues to occupy an important place in the economy. The capital value of the industry is estimated at £100 million. The number of horses competing in Irish races in 1975 reached the record figure of 3,300. Total attendance at race meetings exceeded one million. Total exports of horses in 1975 exceeded £6 million— £5.1 million bloodstock and £1 million other horses.

In promoting this Bill the Government are showing their confidence in the future of the industry and in the magnificent work of the National Stud Company. Those of us who have visited the stud are well aware that it has become a very worthy showplace for the Irish horse. We also relish the many tributes which are paid to the stud by countless visitors from home and abroad. I would like to thank the board of directors and the staff for their excellent work and wish them well in their plans for the future.

I now turn to the details of the Bill. Section 1 contains the usual definitions. Section 2 increases the share capital of the company to £5 million from the existing £2 million which was fixed by the 1969 Act. The shares will be taken up by the Minister for Finance from time to time for the purpose of financing approved programmes. In keeping with the increase in share capital it has been decided to increase the company's borrowing limits. Section 3 increases the maximum amount which may be borrowed by the company from £0.2 million to £0.5 million.

Section 4 relates to the pay of the company's chief officer. As part of general policy on remuneration in the public service, it is desired to avail of this legislation to bring the chief officer's pay under ministerial control. Similar provisions have been made in recent legislation affecting other State-sponsored bodies. Section 5 relates to the accounts to be kept by the company, the auditing of accounts and the submission of accounts and annual reports to the Minister for presentation to each House of the Oireachtas. A modern text replaces provisions which were included in the 1945 and 1953 Acts.

Section 6 is another modernising provision. It has become standard practice to provide that where a member of the board of a State-sponsored body is nominated as a member of Seanad Éireann or nominated for election to either House of the Oireachtas, he shall cease to be a member of the board. Similarly, sitting members of either House may not become members or employees of the board. Employees of a State-sponsored body stand seconded from their employment from the date of nomination if nominated as members of Seanad Éireann or nominated for election to either House. There are no such provisions in the National Stud Acts. Section 6 corrects this omission.

As Members are aware, the Government have approved the transfer of direct responsibility for certain State-sponsored bodies from the Minister for Finance to other Ministers. One of these bodies is the National Stud Company for which the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will in future have primary responsibility. This involves some textual changes which are set out in section 7. Section 8 repeals the accounting provisions in the 1945 Act and repeals the 1953 and 1969 Acts in full. I recommend the Bill for the approval of the House.

The National Stud have performed very useful functions in the past, some of which have been detailed by the Minister. The most important function the stud have performed is to make available to smaller breeders the opportunities which would not be within their financial range of competence if the stud did not exist. I am no expert in the field covered by the National Stud and some of my colleagues who have a greater knowledge of this matter will be contributing to this debate. There are one or two points I want to raise.

The first was adverted to by the Minister almost at the end of his speech when he acknowledged that it has been announced that the responsibility for the National Stud is to be transferred to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries from the Minister for Finance. The impression given by the announcement made by the Government was that this had been done. Now the Minister says that it is to be done and has not yet been done. Even when it is done, according to what the Minister says and according to the terms of section 7, the Minister for Finance will still retain responsibility. He might spell out precisely what is proposed to be done and what the effect of the transfer to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will be.

For instance, if there is a further Bill of this kind needed in the future in order to increase the share capital of the National Stud, will the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries or the Minister for Finance be responsible for the passage of that legislation through the House? The position at the moment seems quite unclear and it does not appear to me that the terms of section 7 would have such effect as to transfer responsibility in that regard to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. If that is so it is not clear what was the point of the announcement by the Government in relation to the transfer of responsibility for the National Stud from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. The terms of section 4, relating to the remuneration of the chief officer of the company, are in accordance with provisions made in a number of Bills from time to time. I have never been quite clear why it is not possible to cover this kind of provision in a blanket Bill and why it has to await the introduction of legislation dealing with the particular State body—in some cases that may not happen for a few years—in order to effect what is provided in section 4.

I do not wish to widen unduly the scope of this discussion but the bringing of the remuneration of the chief officer of this company and of other State bodies within the control effectively of the Minister for the Public Service can be a matter of vital importance in the whole question of remuneration in the public sector pay and could affect the negotiations for national pay agreements. It is not clear therefore why this kind of provision must await the somewhat fortuitous introduction of Bills of this kind in relation to various companies.

The Minister says in regard to section 5, which relates to the keeping and production of accounts by the company, that a modern text replaces provisions which were included in the 1945 and 1953 Acts. When replying the Minister might specify the actual practical differences brought about by section 5 as against the existing provisions if any such practical alterations are being effected. The provision in section 6 is also a common one introduced in relation to Bills of this kind as they come up for consideration by the Oireachtas. I know there are differing views on the question of whether or not nomination of a director of a State company for election to either House of the Oireachtas should automatically exclude him from membership of the board concerned. That question has been argued at considerable length in the past and I agree with the provisions of section 6 in regard to this and other State companies.

I should like the Minister to explain precisely what is involved in the proposed transfer of responsibility from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in relation to the National Stud and I would ask him to specify what practical changes, if any, are being effected by section 5.

Subject to those rather technical queries the question of the actual financial provision in this Bill, the general principle of increasing the availability of capital to the company, is one with which we agree but whether the amounts involved and the relationship between those provided for in sections 2 and 3 is correct is another matter. My colleagues will have something to say on these matters and it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say in reply.

The introduction of this legislation presents us with the opportunity of looking at one of our very important national institutions and examining its performance, considering its policies and looking at the contribution it is making to agriculture in the first instance and to the economy in general.

I suppose it is not necessary to emphasise the fundamental national importance of our bloodstock breeding industry. The Minister very succinctly mentioned that importance but I think it is important that I and my colleagues should take the opportunity to re-emphasise to all concerned the fundamentally important place our bloodstock breeding industry occupies in the economy. It is a very important industry from the point of view of the contribution it makes in a material sense to our agricultural output, in the contribution it makes to employment. Bloodstock breeding provides first-class employment in many areas where it would be impossible to provide employment of a similar calibre in any other way. A well-managed and well-run stud farm is the equivalent of a reasonably-sized factory as regards employment but the contribution bloodstock breeding makes does not stop there. It enhances our countryside in many ways; it can, and should be a very valuable element in our tourist industry. It can make a very important contribution to the general status of the country internationally; it can make a valuable contribution to our balance of payments and it is a necessary basis for our racing industry, which is also a great employer, and in addition, it is a very considerable tourist attraction. It would be impossible to over-emphasise its importance in our national affairs. Therefore, so far as the National Stud is an integral part of our bloodstock breeding industry, the measure before us deserves far greater attention than, perhaps, many Deputies would be inclined to afford it and the Minister in his approach would seem to indicate that he awards it.

I should like to reiterate what Deputy Colley has said about the transfer situation. The present situation is a most unhappy one. Nothing is worse than to have an important State body in a sort of limbo situation where responsibility for it is divided between two different Ministers. As Deputy Colley said, that is very much the position prevailing in regard to the National Stud at present. There was an announcement which seemed to indicate that the responsibility was to be transferred to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. That would seem to be a very natural and logical step but it is clear from the way this Bill is coming before us, from what the Minister has said and from the provisions of the Bill that the transfer is more apparent than real and that the principal person concerned with the National Stud is still going to be the Minister for Finance. I am quite clear in my own mind that the Minister for Finance is not particularly interested in the National Stud. I know that from the quality of this speech which he has made introducing this Bill, from the length of the speech, from its contents, and indeed from the way in which he galloped through the speech here this morning. I am not going to castigate the Minister for Finance——

It sounds very like it, with all due respect.

I am not going to castigate him personally. The Minister for Finance has enormous and onerous responsibility. No Minister of the Government has the same pressures on him as the Minister for Finance has, and it is understandable and natural that in the situation in which the Minister for Finance finds himself, particularly this Minister for Finance, he would not be giving all the attention to the affairs of the National Stud that some of us would like to see him give.

Let us then, for goodness sake, come to some positive decision about this matter. Let the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries become fully and totally responsible for the National Stud. Let him formulate a policy for it. Let him appreciate its importance, and go on from there. I want to reiterate my belief in the important role that the National Stud can play in our bloodstock breeding industry, in our racing industry, and indeed in the entire field of the Irish horse.

I am going to be egotistical enough to quote something I said when I was establishing the survey team on the horse-breeding industry when I was Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. I said to the team at the first meeting:

I believe we should concentrate on what we are good at, and nobody has ever questioned our ability to breed and raise good horses of every kind.

Even though I said that myself, I think it is a very sound statement. In this country we have to undertake many forms of economic activity, some of which we are at a considerable and natural disadvantage in undertaking, but this is something that does not apply in the horse industry. We should aim to make Ireland the premier bloodstock-breeding country in the world. That should be our target in so far as bloodstock breeding is concerned. We have everything that is necessary to achieve that target. We have all the necessary ingredients, all the natural advantages, the climate, the soil, the tradition, the accumulated knowledge, the experience, the basic structure, and the people. We have everything available to us that can ensure that we do become the bloodstock centre of the world. That is what I want to see established as firm Government policy.

I believe that we are well on the way towards the achievement of that objective. I believe that the Fianna Fáil Government of which Deputy Colley and myself were members made a very important, significant contribution towards the elaboration of that policy in the first instance and towards its achievement, secondly. I admit—"admit" is perhaps the wrong word—I acknowledge that this Government have also made an important contribution in carrying on the general line of the policy we laid down in that regard. I believe some measures the Minister himself has taken as Minister for Finance have been very detrimental, but by and large nothing has happened that need interfere with or impair our efforts towards the achievement of what I regard as an important national objective.

That brings me, then, to the role that the National Stud might play in that situation. It seems to me that in developing our bloodstock breeding industry and our horse industry in general there are three separate aspects to be considered. First of all there is the question of producing the animals, the horses, the yearlings. Then there is the question of selling them at the best possible advantage, and there is the whole area of racing, because the racing industry in this country is an integral, necessary part of our bloodstock breeding industry. It is essential on the one hand that we breed the horses to race and secondly that we have a completely adequate racing structure to provide the necessary outlet for the horses that we breed. So I would look at our bloodstock breeding industry under those three separate headings: production, selling and racing.

In so far as the National Stud is concerned it is on the production side that it has the most important part to play, but I want to emphasise that in my view it can have and should have an important part to play in the other two areas as well. I will come back to that later. For the moment let us look at the position of the National Stud in so far as the production of our bloodstock is concerned. Away back at the very beginning I think the right decision, the fundamental, basic, correct decision in regard to the National Stud was taken: that the National Stud should be there primarily to help the small breeder. It is important here to recognise that the bloodstock breeding industry is a very varied type of industry. If it is to be the sort of industry we want it to be, it will necessarily include large-scale, heavily-capitalised stud farms. It will and must also include the small farmer-breeder, and indeed various different-sized establishments in between these two extremes.

From every point of view—the economic point of view, the natural point of view, the tourist point of view—that sort of structure in bloodstock breeding itself is essential, and the National Stud has a particularly important role to play where the small farmer-breeder is concerned. I think everybody acknowledges that down the years, since it was taken over by an Irish Government, the National Stud has made a very important contribution in that regard. It has set itself a policy of making stallions available to the smaller farmer-breeder on the best possible commercial terms. I think we would all agree that there would be no dispute in the House about the desirability of the National Stud continuing to fulfil that role, continuing to be the friend of the small farmer-breeder, continuing to provide him with access to the sort of stallions he needs at reasonable prices and on favourable conditions.

Debate adjourned.

According to order, business is now interrupted to take the Adoption Bill, 1976, Second Stage.

What will be the order after that?

We resume the order at the end of the Adoption Bill.

With Questions at 2.30 p.m.?