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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 May 1980

Vol. 320 No. 5

Agriculture (Amendment) Bill, 1979: Second Stage.

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

Section 42 of the National Agricultural Advisory, Education and Research Authority Act, 1977, provided that 60 per cent of the membership of each county committee of agriculture would comprise county councillors, the remaining members being appointed on the basis of nominations by voluntary rural organisations, to be designated by the Minister for Agriculture. It was subsequently found, however that section 42 would be unworkable for the reasons already explained to this House during the passage of An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta Act. The main difficulty was that the lack of advance knowledge of the total number of members on a committee of agriculture—it could vary between three and four times the number of county electoral areas—made it impossible to specify in advance how many would be chosen by the voluntary rural organisations. Accordingly, it was necessary to amend the 1977 Act. This was done by section 26 of the 1979 Act which determines precisely that the number of members of a committee of agriculture will be four times the number of county electoral areas. This Act became law on 22 May 1979.

Because of the late date on which this Act was passed and the then current postal strike, there was not sufficient time to enable implementation of section 26 of that Act before the new county committees were appointed following the local elections of 7 June 1979. The county committees of agriculture had, therefore, to be appointed in accordance with the old provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1931. These newly appointed committees would in the normal course continue in existence until the next local elections and in the meantime the intentions of the 1979 Act in regard to representation by local organisations would not be brought into effect. To rectify this the Minister for Agriculture announced on 15 June that the Government had decided to have amending legislation prepared to provide for the revision of the composition of county committees of agriculture to conform to the requirements of the 1977 and 1979 Acts and that county councils in appointing the new committees in June 1979 would be doing so in the knowledge that once this Bill were enacted the committees would have to be replaced by committees containing the appropriate representation of local organisations.

With the inception of An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta and as this new body takes over responsibility for agricultural advisory and training services, the functions and orientation of committees of agriculture inevitably will take on a different emphasis. Committees will retain responsibility for operating livestock improvement and other schemes for the assistance of farmers, but they will now be given the function of drawing up the annual advisory and training programme they consider necessary to meet the needs of the county. A further task of committees will be to ensure that the new national service is responsive to the needs of the agricultural community at local level. It is entirely appropriate in this context of altered county committee functions that the membership of committees should be broadened by the inclusion, as originally intended under the 1979 Act, of representatives nominated directly by the local rural organisations in each county.

Clearly we should not wait a further four-and-a-half years to bring this provision into effect. I am, therefore, putting before the House this new Bill which provides for early reconstitution of committees of agriculture in accordance with the 60 per cent-40 per cent formula in the 1977 and 1979 Acts. Specifically the Bill will provide for—

(1) the termination of the term of office of existing members of committees of agriculture and

(2) the appointment of new committees, the members of which will hold office until after the next local elections.

These changes in each county would take place on the occasion of the first ordinary meeting of the county council after a date to be designated by me following the enactment of this Bill.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the provisions of this new Bill, which should have been brought before the House at least two years ago. The Government should be ashamed of the delay in its introduction. Under the National Coalition Government, the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Clinton, introduced an exceptionally good Bill into which there was considerable input from many interested people. When the Fianna Fáil Government took office in 1977, Deputy Gibbons, then Minister for Agriculture, scrapped that Bill and it has taken three years to bring this new Bill before the House. I do not want to make any bitter remarks because we are all Wexford men here today.

We have a Kildare man here to break that Wexford monopoly.

He is out on the wing. The long delay in the introduction of this Bill has added further to the lack of confidence which has existed for some time in the agricultural industry.

The committees of agriculture play a very important role, a role which cannot be overstressed, and their work in the development of agriculture will never be fully appreciated. I include both members of councils and non-members. The country owes a debt of gratitude to these people for their dedication and hard work. The majority of outside people were elected mostly by political parties but through the years good men have been picked and they can feel proud of their contribution to agriculture.

This Bill tidies up legislation and brings about a change in the composition of committees of agriculture. I sincerely hope that the committees will not become rubber stamps as a result of these changes and that there will not be a serious diminution of their powers. If that happens the members will become disinterested and the committees will no longer play such an important role in the development of agriculture. Committee spokesmen have acted as liaison officers between the committees and the farmers and there was always great co-operation at all levels. This is essential if progress is to be made and the desired results achieved. The Minister of State has quite a lot of knowledge of committees of agriculture and their work, as I also have, and I warn that any interference with the powers of the committees will have an adverse effect on the operation of services.

I welcome the introduction of farming representatives to the committee. That is something that is long overdue. Their knowledge and expertise should be of great benefit. One problem that will arise is how the representations should be worked out. We tried to get the ideas of the Minister for Agriculture on this aspect but failed.

There are many organisations representing agriculture in each county. In my county there is the IFA, Young Farmers' Club, Irish Country Women's Association, Muintir na Tíre, Wexford Liquid Milk Producers, Co-operative Marts and Waterford Co-op to name but a few. I fail to see how the Minister will work out what organisation should represent them on the county committees of agriculture.

I asked Deputy Hussey the last time if I was correct in interpreting what the Minister of State said to mean that the Minister was prepared to consult the farming organisations in each county in order to determine what percentage each organisation would get. He answered that the Deputy would understand that the Minister would not leave it to the rural organisations to decide who was to represent the county, or voluntary organisation within a county, on the county committees of agriculture. He said that there would certainly be consultations. To my knowledge no consultations have taken place with the different rural organisations. They are very interested in having their members represented on the county committees of agriculture. I should like to know what system will be used. In Wexford there will be six places and I could name at least ten organisations that could fill them. The Minister has taken on himself the responsibility of deciding which of these organisations should get the representation.

The Deputy is debating the previous Bill at this stage. I agree they are both related.

It is relevant to the Bill before the House. The section states that each person, other than a person chosen by the council appointed to be a member of a committee of agriculture, shall be appointed on the nomination of such voluntary rural organisations active in the county as the Minister may by order designate, either generally or in relation to each county or group of counties, and the number of members to be nominated by each such organisation shall, subject to the provision of these rules, be such as the Minister may by order determine. The Minister is taking responsibility on himself to be the sole arbitrator of what organisation gets a place on the committees of agriculture. This is a dangerous power. In political parties there is some discipline but in any one county there could be nine or ten organisations requesting to be given a place on the committee. How will this work out? Will all organisations be called together and will the Minister say to them that he will only take X organisations or that he will put all the names into a hat and draw them out? The Minister is doing a dangerous thing by setting himself up as the sole arbitrator. There will be nothing but friction and rows.

We fought this section with the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Gibbons, but we could not get any indication of what he had in mind. Deputy Allen will have to come up with some formula whereby he will be able to work it out in an acceptable way which will not cause friction within each county or organisation. The councils of some counties picked members of certain organisations after the June county council elections of 1979. I assume that they will be invalid and we will start afresh as far as people are concerned who were put on by different councils and who are not members of rural organisations. I should like to have these points cleared up.

I am sure nobody wants friction within the counties as far as places are concerned. The Agriculture (An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Act, 1979, is inadequate because it excludes the Agricultural Institute. There is an absence of proper educational facilities at residential colleges. In Wexford we have applications for 75 places but we only have 25 places available in the colleges. It is essential that every young farmer going into the agricultural business should have a minimum of one year in an agricultural college.

We are getting on to something which is not relevant to the Bill even though it may be interesting.

I am coming to an important area and want to make it known to the Minister.

Representation on the committees is relevant but how does the Deputy make relevant the suggestion that the Agricultural Institute will have representation?

I am suggesting to the new Minister of State that this Bill should be tied up completely with providing education for those who work on the land. I will spend only two minutes on it. There is a vacuum in agricultural education which will have to be filled by the county committees of agriculture and it is essential that these committees would have as members the best possible brains in the field of agricultural education, that is, members of the Agricultural Institute. The county committees could in that way avail of the wealth of information available in the Agricultural Institute. I did not agree with the severing of this link by Deputy Clinton's Bill and we should fill that vacuum through this Bill.

Agricultural education is a basic need of our farmers and the committees of agriculture are the bodies to satisfy that need, but they need the co-operation of the Agricultural Institute who have the staff, the facilities and the research necessary. The Agricultural Institute have at their disposal a wealth of information that should be transmitted to workers of our land through the committees of agriculture. I cannot foresee that in the next five years the agricultural colleges will be able to make the necessary places available and I make an earnest appeal to the Minister of State to try to make available to farmers, particularly young farmers, the information available in the Agricultural Institute.

It might be relevant to suggest that the Agricultural Institute be given some form of representation but to suggest that they proceed in the educational field would not.

I will conclude by suggesting that the Minister of State try to achieve the things I have been speaking about. Deputy Bruton and I tried to have ironed out with the previous Minister for Agriculture the system by which rural organisations would be represented on the county committees. I now ask the Minister of State to deal with this specifically when he is replying. I also suggest that he makes provision for greater involvement of the Agricultural Institute in the education of young farmers.

This Bill became necessary because of neglect by the Government to bring forward their proposals on this matter at the proper time. If they had been doing their business in a proper manner—they were not because they were thinking of other things—this Bill would have been ready soon after the election. People were appointed to the county committees of agriculture statutorily for five years and the purpose of this Bill is to remove them. Let us be straight, that is the reason for the Bill.

County committees of agriculture may have been lackadaisical in some areas, they may not have been doing their work as they should have, but in County Kildare they did a job second to none and I defy any Minister to contradict me. People were appointed to these committees who were interested in the progress of agricultural education. This Bill removes them, completely quashes these committees whose statutory power has been removed completely. In fact they will not have statutory powers any more. Their only function will be in an advisory capacity and we know what happened when such bodies made suggestions to a higher authority—they have been pared and cut down.

This position has been allowed to drag on and it would have been better to have left it until after the local elections. This Bill gets rid of the lot. The criteria by which the Minister will select the various rural organisations for representation on the country committees, other than members of local authorities, are unusual.

At the first meeting after the implementation of this Bill the duty of the local authority is to elect 60 per cent of the members of the new committee and that will be done. The Minister must then name the various rural organisations which are to nominate people for that committee. As the Minister of State is, I am sure, well aware, there are already in motion all sorts of political manoeuvrings, even so far as naming the people to be put forward by that committee. Various committees are hoping that by making known now those they wish to represent them and their politics that they will politically influence the decision of the Minister. That is being done left, right and centre. These moves are on foot, for various reasons, to influence the kind of people or the kind of organisation to be selected.

The Minister has a serious problem on his hands if he wishes to do his job impartially in the interest of agriculture, which is how it should be done. He will be open to criticisms if the people selected are of a certain political persuasion, which should not be. There should be some other way of appointing the best men rather than having a political head of a Department saying who they should be. The Minister is on very dangerous ground and may be making a mistake.

There are various people who should have representation on the committee of agriculture—or the so-called committee of agriculture, because it will have a lot less power than previously. In effect, its power is well nigh gone. This change was necessary in some areas, but as far as the Kildare committee of agriculture are concerned, I certainly refute that completely. Their record shows that they were the most progressive committee down through the years, irrespective of who had political sway on it. The reason is that they had top officials who had one interest only and that was the advancement of agriculture in the area. They were able to get the message across to the political parties representatives on these committees of agriculture, that agriculture was first and political wrangling or whatever was second.

The Minister has another difficulty. I have a great fear that for his own comvenience and as an easy way of performing his duty he will nominate one, two or three organisations all over the country to be members of the committee, without examining the position in detail. That would be a serious mistake. I shall give one example. The committee of agriculture for Kildare have unanimously passed and sent a resolution to the Minister that the horse breeding industry should be represented in Kildare. This has no political kudos for me but horse breeding is a predominant part of agriculture in Kildare and therefore should be represented on this new committee. Possibly it would not be fair to represent horse breeders in another area. One would have to study all the factors within the area covered by the committee and the representation should reflect the kind of agricultural operation carried out in that area. The last speaker mentioned a particular interest in Wexford, which is fair enough.

Many areas have no farm workers and many areas have a lot employed in agriculture. In the areas which have a lot of workers—and my own would be one—there should be a trade union representative or someone to represent the farm workers' organisations. The Government have professed an interest in this. When the original mother Bill, if I may call it that, was being discussed, I made the point that on the body of AnCo there should be representation of the various interests, a proportion of the workers. The same applies to the agricultural committees which should represent all the people in the area interested in agriculture—people like the small farmers, the Land League, the IFA, the Irish Country Women's Association.

A lot of investigation must be done before the members for, say, Kildare or Wexford, Donegal or elsewhere can be nominated. The structure of agriculture is absolutely different in one place from another, the organisations in these areas are also completely different. It is only natural that if the structure of farming is different the organisations entitled to be represented on the committee should be different. The Minister has an onerous job on his hands in regard to these appointments. Any political head of a Department would be very foolish to get himself into that kind of situation. No matter what he does, he will be accused of playing politics. No matter what kind of criteria he uses, a certain amount of people, probably of his own political persuasion, will be appointed and it will be alleged—and I am not saying that it will be true—that there is political influence and it will shake the confidence of the ordinary farmer in the whole operation of this new committee system.

This amending legislation would not have been necessary at all if no one had been statutorily appointed as a member of a committee of agriculture other than under this Bill. Now, however, we have a situation where people have been appointed for five years, for the duration of that county council, and this Bill is necessary to throw them out, which throws out the whole lot. It also, in effect, changes the system of employment of the agricultural advisory body. This may be a follow-up Bill but it is a serious one. The Minister did not do his work in time and he had plenty of time to do it. If for some reason, bitterness or otherwise, he wanted to change an Act previously implemented in this House he should have done this in time so that it would be the normal process after the local authority elections. Failing that, he would be better advised to leave it so, as far as that section of the Act is concerned, until after the next local elections.

In effect, we are doing a lot more in this very change than just changing the people represented on the committees of agriculture. We are appointing them to a committee with no power and no income. We will collect a portion of the money from the county council but the local people will not be given the power to spend the money. They may make recommendations that will be sent to the governing body but ultimately it will be the Department who will make the final decision. They will decide if a programme is to be carried out. From my knowledge of any scheme that has to be submitted to a local authority and sent finally to the Department, I must admit that I fear the programmes will not be implemented. This year a new scheme has been introduced in relation to scholarships. I am not disagreeing with what is being done. The scheme is a good one because a full scholarship is given only to people under a certain valuation and that is fair enough. It cannot be denied that we are cutting back on finances. Fewer scholarships have been granted this year than previous years. Daily we are diminishing the power of local authorities.

We are getting away from the Bill before the House.

This Bill is downgrading the powers of committees of agriculture. In deference to the Chair I will not pursue the point but it is a fact and it cannot be denied by the Minister. There is provision in the Bill for the abolition of committees of agriculture and the county councils will have to appoint new members. People will have to be named to contribute the remaining 40 per cent of the committees. The Minister will be on dangerous ground when he starts to choose people. He should tell the House what he proposes to do in relation to this matter. Will he name people from many organisations, will he deal with each county as a unit or will he consider the matter on an overall basis? If he does it on an overall basis it will be disastrous in almost every county because different interests operate in each county. Where there is a concentration of agricultural workers they should be represented on the committees. In my constituency the horse breeding industry is of considerable importance and it should be represented. If this is done on a county-by-county basis in consultation with the CEO in each area who has worked the system for many years that is fair enough, but if it is done on an overall basis in an arbitrary manner I feel sorry for the Minister who will have to implement it.

I should like to thank Deputy D'Arcy and Deputy Bermingham for their contributions and to clarify some points they have raised. Deputy D'Arcy knows the reason for the delay in implementation. His party were more responsible than anybody else for this because it took seven months to get the Bill through this House.

It took one year to get it to the House.

When it arrived in this House it took exactly seven months to get through. Both Deputies spoke of the committees not having been informed about this measure. On 15 June 1979 the Minister made a statement to the press and I shall quote one extract from it. He stated:

In the meantime county councils will, of course, set up their county committees of agriculture in the same way as heretofore but it will be in the knowledge that when the amending legislation has been enacted the new arrangements for the composition of the county committees will come into effect and new committees will have to be appointed.

Deputy D'Arcy knows that in our county the county committee of agriculture was appointed on a 60:40 ratio. Some of the counties did not do this but they had been notified and it was up to them to implement the 60:40 ratio. On 15 June 1979 the Minister pointed out that this amending legislation would be brought in.

Is the Minister saying that the county councillors on the committees will not have to be reappointed?

I said it is a matter for the county council.

I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to section 2 of the Bill which states:

(1) Each council of a county shall, at the next meeting of the council held after a date to be determined by the Minister for Agriculture for the purpose of this section, appoint a committee of agriculture for the county in accordance with the provisions of the Second Schedule to the Principal Act.

It will be up to the council to accept the 60:40 ratio. I have said that this has been done in Wexford.

This matter should be clarified further.

That may be done on Committee Stage. Certainly it cannot be done in this way.

The position with regard to the ratio is the same as it was in the 1977 Bill introduced by Deputy Clinton and in the 1979 Bill introduced by Deputy Gibbons. There is no change in the position. I should like to make it clear that the Minister will not determine who is put on the committees.

He may know beforehand.

I want to make it clear that the Minister will have no say with regard to who is nominated from any organisation. I want to put it on the record that the Minister will have no influence over who is nominated. For the information of Deputy Bermingham, I should like to point out that the matter will be dealt with county-by-county.

A number of matters were raised that are not relevant on this Bill and I do not propose to deal with them.

Question put and agreed to.

This day week.

I understood from the Deputy's colleague, Deputy Bruton, that I would get all stages today.

No, that is not my understanding. We have a party meeting on it tomorrow.

There is nothing in it to disagree about.

I think we should say this day week.

I suppose I have no option. All I want to say is that it is going on the record of the House also that the Opposition are further delaying the passing of this Bill and this affects the implementation of the changes in the Bill that they are talking about.

What were you doing for the past ten months?

The Chair is only interested in the next Stage.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 13 May 1980.