Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the Government's decision to amalgamate An Foras Talúntais and ACOT and to transfer the existing functions of the two bodies to a new single authority with responsibility for agricultural advisory, training, education and research services.

I hardly need to remind this House that agriculture is undergoing a period of rapid, almost revolutionary change at the present time. Through the application of modern technology, increased productivity has created surpluses in a number of products. The changes in agriculture are not, of course, confined to Ireland or even the EC but are happening worldwide.

It is vital that this country meets these changes in agriculture in a positive, constructive and developmental way. We cannot afford to continue to supply services simply because they were effective and relevant in the past. We must meet the challenge that the changed circumstances pose by tailoring our services to the future development needs of the agriculture and food industry.

This new authority will be responsible for establishing the knowledge base of the most important agricultural and food sector in any European country. The proportion of our total exports represented by agriculture and food exports at 27.6 per cent is the highest in the European Communities.

On a point of order, I wonder whether the usual procedure could be followed and copies of the Minister's speech would be circulated.

I appreciate the point raised. I thought they were on their way and available for distribution. Our external trade as a percentage of GNP is at 62 per cent, one of the highest in Europe and indeed, among the OECD countries generally. These facts underline the unique importance of the agriculture and food industry in Ireland. The education, research and advisory facilites which this Bill will put in place will reflect that unique importance.

It has been a priority for me as Minister for Agriculture and Food to make our partners in the EC sharply aware of the primacy of agriculture in our economy. This, in turn, filters through to the consumers of Europe so that quality products from a pure and natural environment must be universally associated with the name "Irish" on any level. The professional services provided by this new authority will have an unique responsibility to enhance this reputation. That unique perception of Ireland is a priceless asset and the new authority will have an immense challenge to launch our producers and processors into a new programme of efficiency and quality.

The farmer of tomorrow will not be someone who survives by sheer endurance and inherited social attitudes. He must be a successful enterprise manager who can compete successfully with his best international counterparts. The test of success will be the same as in any other enterprise — knowledge and the confidence that comes with it.

One of the objectives of the Government is to ensure better co-ordination and cost-effectiveness of agricultural research, education and advisory services. Such a development can help us to focus more effectively on the priorities required for the current and future needs of agriculture. The main objective of this Bill is to set in place, by combining the considerable resources of the existing organisations, a strong unified organisational structure for the effective delivery of support services vital to the successful development of the agriculture and food industry. Such a unified body will be a powerful aid to the industry in its response to the difficulties — and indeed the opportunities — which rapidly changing agricultural developments are bringing. At the same time, given the constraints on the Exchequer, there is an overriding need to apply the resources that can be made available to the sector in the most efficient and effective way. The establishment of a single body and the consequential reorganisation should ensure that any duplication or overlapping of services will be eliminated and that resources are not wasted in unnecessary administration.

These considerations led to the Government's decision to amalgamate the two organisations of An Foras and ACOT. In taking that decision, the Government were mindful of the excellent services provided and the invaluable contributions made by both organisations, over the years, to the development of agriculture and the economy as a whole. An Foras Talúntais have earned a reputation extending far beyond our shores for the excellence of their research work. The improvements since the early sixties in the production and quality of our primary farm products — in dairying, pig production, crop husbandry and horticulture, to name a few — have been dramatic. ACOT, for their part, have transformed the former county advisory services into a single, tightly organised national service closely integrated with the State and private agricultural colleges. In particular, they have, through the certificate in farming, achieved a major breakthrough in the training of farm entrants.

The accompanying explanatory memorandum sets out the various provisions of the Bill and therefore I propose to refer only to the more important aspects. Basically, the Bill provides for the transfer of the existing functions, responsibilities, assets and liabilities of An Foras and ACOT to a new authority which will be known as Teagasc — The Agriculture and Food Development Authority. The Irish name, meaning teaching or instruction, will, in my view, provide an appropriate short title for an organisation whose objective will be to transmit scientific and technological information to the agriculture and food industry.

I have deliberately expanded the definition of agriculture in section 1 of the Bill to include,inter alia, agricultural economics and rural development. I am at present drawing up plans for a comprehensive integrated rural development programme and it is my intention to bring these plans before the Dáil at an early date.

The Bill, in outlining the functions of Teagasc at section 4, places special emphasis on the training of new entrants to farming, especially young farmers, and in research on the food sector. The Government intend to provide our farmers and especially our younger farmers with at least as good an access to the knowledge and skills they will require as that available to their counterparts abroad. That is the reason we are expressly assigning a degree of priority to training and education in the merger Bill. We are attaching a similar priority to food research and development as a responsibility of the new agency. The two are complementary and the food processing sector is faced with ever changing consumer preferences and fierce competition on both home and foreign markets. The priority to be given to entrants into farming will not mean the exclusion of the advisory services, as has been suggested, but rather will ensure that the advisory services will be put to best effect by fully trained farmers and utilised in a cost-effective way.

Provision is made for the new body to be governed by a board of 11, comprising a chairman and ten ordinary members. The chairman and five of the ordinary members will be appointed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the basis of appropriate experience or qualifications and the remainder will be appointed by the Minister, following consultation with the various interests involved. In deciding on the composition of the board, the Government's concern is that it should not be unwieldy in size, but should consist of persons of the highest calibre in order to discharge its responsibilities in a fully effective and business-like manner.

An important thrust in Government policy is that bodies such as Teagasc should have a strong commercial orientation and receive a good measure of funding from the industry. Teagasc will be expected to secure funding from the agriculture and food sector to the maximum degree possible, through gearing their services to the essential commercial development needs of the industry. The Bill at section 6 enables Teagasc to charge for any of their services, through charges in the case of education, training or advice will require ministerial approval because of the wider policy implications that such charges might have. Charges in appropriate circumstances should establish an effective professional relationship between producer and adviser and should ensure that the services provided are of the highest professional standards.

In the changing pattern of agriculture, increased production is not the only criterion for success. Prudent financial management, for instance, and the environmental consequences of certain production units such as silage pits are now matters of primary importance for all farmers and the research and advisory services under Teagasc will have to be competent professionally in these areas also. The Bill also provides that the new Authority, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, may engage in activities outside the State, but solely on a fully commercial basis. Both An Foras and ACOT have over the years built up a considerable reservoir of technical, scientific and other expertise and have earned a wide reputation overseas through their participation in international consultancies and other projects. Further opportunities for income generation arise in the exploitation of the results of research through royalties, joint ventures and other means. The example may be cited of an Foras's achievement in the plant breeding area where the introduction of new and successful potato varieties have proved to be significant export earners for the seed potato industry. There are, of course, many other areas of advanced technology — animal reproduction and physiology, plant tissue culture, biotechnology to give some examples — where research findings may afford opportunities for considerable commercial exploitation. The Bill provides for such income generating activities and further facilities them by enabling Teagasc to set up subsidiaries for the purpose, with the approval of the Ministers.

There has been a great deal of discussion on the adequacy of the Exchequer funding for the research, advisory and training services for the current year. The allocation of £20 million shown in the Book of Estimates, which, of course, was settled some months ago, took account of a number of exceptional and new factors that would influence the situation after the merger of ACOT and AFT. One of these is the increased commercial orientation that I have already mentioned, involving greater financial participation from the farm and food sectors and the generation of enhanced consultancy and other income at home and abroad. Another is the major staff reduction flowing from the Government's voluntary early retirement package — already some 350 people have left An Foras and ACOT, of whom 120 were professional and 230 were from other grades. A further 120 or so are expected to leave during the year. I want to stress, as I have already conveyed to the union representatives, that the Government decision provides for voluntary redundancies only. The amalgamation will also make possible the rationalisation of the countrywide physical resources of the present organisations and consequential savings will accrue. Teagasc will concentrate on the essential services and those of lower priority will be reduced or phased out.

The net effect of these factors means a reduction in the very considerable Exchequer support which An Foras and ACOT separately have hitherto been given. I recognise that the £20 million allocation sets a formidable challenging task for the management, but I do not accept the negative attitude expressed regarding the capacity of the Authority to meet their financial targets over the full year's operation. If there are temporary initial difficulties, it will be my purpose to ensure that the new body will not lack for the essential funds to enable them to become an efficient, cost-effective agency to service the agriculture and food industry.

There is also a provision that, on the date of establishment of Teagasc, staff members of An Foras and ACOT will be transferred to and become members of it. Such transfers of staff will be on the basis that their terms and conditions of service shall not be less favourable than those applying to them before transfer.

Even allowing for the inevitable staff reductions following the formation of a single integrated agency, the new Authority will be formidable in size with a diverse range of important functions and nationwide distribution of staff and resources. Its Exchequer funding requirements remain substantial. It is important, therefore, that a proper balance should be struck between, on the one hand, the exercise of effective overall policy and financial control by the Minister and, on the other hand, scope for Teagasc to implement its mandate. Accordingly, section 13 provides for arrangements on the lines of those in the Labour Services Act which covers the broadly analogous area of industrial training, whereby Teagasc will be required to furnish the Minister with advance reports of its planned activities and associated cost estimates for each year. These will indicate the main areas of intended resource allocation as between research, training and advisory work and will require the approval of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Finance. This mechanism will enable an adequate measure of central policy control while leaving Teagasc with the requisite degree of freedom and flexibility to carry out its work. Under section 19 the Minister may give a direction to Teagasc to carry out, or not carry out, specified activities.

In addition to the amalgamation of An Foras and ACOT the Bill provides at section 20 for the abolition of the county committees of agriculture. The policy considerations which led to the decision to amalgamage An Foras and ACOT made it necessary also to review the position of the committees of agriculture, particularly in view of their linkages with ACOT under present legislation. The fact must be faced that, since the transfer to ACOT in 1980 of the committees responsibilities for farm training and advice the committees' scope for playing an active role in agricultural development work has become increasingly attenuated, particularly under the developments of CAP and the pressure on national funding. The position now is that over 70 per cent of committee expenditure has been absorbed in travelling expenses of the members and payment to ACOT for administrative services.

The Government have looked at the situation in the light of the general thrust of their rationalisation objectives and the need to shed any layer of public administration where possible. They decided that in the integrated organisation of the agricultural services, the continued maintenance of the county committee structures could no longer be warranted on cost-effective criteria. Hence, the Bill provides at section 20 for the dissolution of the committees. Given the long-standing place of the committees in the local agricultural scene, that decision was not taken without a measure of regret. Over the years since their establishment in 1931 they have rendered a special service to Irish agriculture of which the Government were mindful. Nevertheless, the realities of the present time could not be ignored.

However, I am sure that the new Authority will want to have available to it constant access to the best practical advice at local level and will make appropriate arrangements accordingly. The Bill provides at section 22 for the transfer to the Minister of the assets and liabilities of each committee on the date the legislation comes into effect. Any sum remaining after the discharge of liabilities will be disposed of in a manner acceptable also to the Minister for the Environment since the committee funds have been derived in roughly equal measure from county council contributions and Exchequer grants.

The legislation will have the consequence of terminating the statutory obligation on the councils to make annual contributions towards the cost of the agricultural services provided in the counties. The Government have directed that administrative arrangements be made to compensate for the loss of funding to agriculture through an appropriate transfer from the rates support grant provision in the Environment Vote. The revised system will have beneficial effects in assisting the rationalisation of the local authority finances and eliminating wasteful administration in transfers of moneys from county councils through the committees of agriculture to ACOT.

I have already mentioned the radical change which agriculture is undergoing and the need to respond to that change in a positive way. Given the changes and developments in the agriculture and food area and the current demands which these are making on the sector, the purpose and functions of the new authority must be clear and unambiguous for the outset. It will have to provide the most relevant and cost effective services with greater involvement and participation, including financial, from the commercial agriculture and food industry itself.

The Government are placing a very high priority on the provision of appropriate training for young farmers, especially for the new entrants to agriculture. The achievement in this area already is considerable but we must endeavour to ensure that, as far as possible, every young entrant to farming is adequately trained. This will ensure that investment in advisory work will give maximum returns. We need also to deploy resources away from undue concentration on production aspects and concentrate on providing services to the post-farm gate stage, especially to process and product development in the food area. In this regard, the progress towards setting up a national food centre in Dunsinea is welcome.

In the establishment of this food centre the technical and other resources of AFT and the IIRS are being combined and integrated in order to service the commercial development of the food industry. The new centre will complement the operations already established in dairy food products at Moorepark. The new facility should provide a major focus in the work of Teagasc for the development of the food sector in the years ahead. Given the current restrictions of primary production, it is essential to make maximum use of our agricultural output by way of value-added and job creation. The potential of the food area is so great that its development should not be impeded by the lack or inadequacy of key services.

The changes sought by the Bill are designed to ensure that the research and advisory services will serve the technological requirements of the rapidly changing agricultural and food industry until and beyond the turn of the century. The constraints that now exist on production in many areas are likely to be further increased. In this environment it is imperative that we are fully competitive in world markets. In Teagasc we are setting in place a single agency geared to provide dynamic support for the farming and food sector in a drive towards maximum competitiveness.

It must remain our objective to produce primary agricultural products as efficiently as possible but that is not enough. There is a compelling need for us to get the most from what we already produce. We must focus directly on the added-value beyond the farmgate, on quality, on sharper market information and on a market-led approach to our agricultural and food development. Only in this way will we have the best opportunities to maintain and improve farm incomes. The role of the new authority will be vital in order to ensure positive and constructive commercial development. In pursuing that role it will be able to call upon the very considerable talent and expertise of the two existing bodies and utilise them to the maximum advantage in a unified organisation.

Future conditions may well place demands on them to change the focus and direction of their services. I have little doubt that greater emphasis will be placed on the scope and potential of the newer sciences like biotechnology and information technology for the further development of the industry. The highly skilled scientific and professional staff of An Foras and ACOT are well equipped to tackle these demands and the aim of the Bill is to weld them into a task-force under strong single-minded direction which will successfully surmount difficulties and exploit available opportunities.

The new, fitter and leaner authority has a formidable challenge in the years immediately ahead. Energy, innovative capacity and greater commercial orientation will be required to ensure that this country secures an even stronger place in world markets. I have the highest confidence that the new organisation can make a crucial indispensable contribution to the achievement of this objective and in addition give good value to the State for the public resources that can be made available to it.

In summary then the objectives behind the Government's decision to establish a new Authority are to bring together the education, training, advisory and research services under unified management for greater efficiency, to deliver the specific services that are crucial to the success of the agriculture and food industry in the competitive environment in which it will have to operate in the coming years and to get the best value for money for the Exchequer on the resources at the disposal of Teagasc.

The Bill provides, in the Government's view, the most appropriate and effective framework within which these objectives can be realised in a dynamic and cost-effective manner to the future benefit of the agriculture and food industry and consequently to the economy as a whole.

The essence of the amalgamation is therefore a timely coupling of complementary activities, to replace dispersion with cohesion. It will be more economical of public finances, more productive of intellectual investment, and more accessible to the industry as a whole. It will give staff at once an opportunity and a challenge. We are regrouping our forces to meet the needs not alone of the present but of the future. This concept indeed has vision as befits this Government. If we are in a period of revolutionary change we must not confine ourselves to reacting to that change. We must control and direct it to Ireland maximum advantage. I am satisfied that the new Authority will be equipped to do just that.

I commend this Bill to the House.

The Minister's speech will come as a total disappointment to those who have the interests of Irish agriculture at heart and indeed to those who understand and appreciate the contribution of agriculture to the overall economy. It is clear that the Minister is not included among those. Were the situation not so serious the Minister's speech, full of platitudes and little else, would be regarded as a joke in exceptionally bad taste.

The Bill has to be dealt with from two points of view. One aspect concerns the principle of merging ACOT and AFT and the legislative framework to be provided for the new merged farm Authority. I support the merger. While I have serious reservations about certain provisions in the Bill, I am broadly in favour of the merger proposal. I will return at a later stage in my remarks to the reservations I have and I will make some suggestions as to how these might be overcome. On the other hand, I am literally appalled at the cavalier approach of the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Government to the funding crisis they have created for the new farm body. Cutting the budget for the Authority from £35 million to £20 million will involve decimation of the agriculture, research, advisory, education and training services in this country. The cost to our farmers and to the economy generally in the years and decades ahead will be enormous. Latest figures confirm that the proposed cuts in agricultural advice and education alone will cost the economy — I emphasise the economy — about £40 million in 1988, increasing to £220 million by 1992. The economic losses resulting from the devastation of our research services are more difficult to quantify but I am advised that they could exceed the figures relating to advice and education. Thus the total loss to the economy from this hasty, ill-timed and ill-planned budgetary decision could be in the order of about £450 million a year by 1992.

Even more appalling is that the remedy to the problem can be found within the Estimates of the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Minister, because he is simply a pawn of the administrative superstructure within that Department, is either unable or unwilling to provide the remedy. At present the Minister stands indicted before the Irish people. His legacy to the Irish farmer will be one of lower incomes; to the food industry, one of lack of competitiveness and to the Irish economy generally, a missed opportunity to develop our natural resources in the challenging years ahead. This total mishandling of the merger now stands as a matter of record and clearly calls into question the Minister's competence to hold a portfolio of such major importance to so many of our people and to the economy generally.

It is also important to recall the past when we are discussing this issue. There are certain facts which emerge from an examination of the past which perhaps some people would like to brush aside at the moment but it is important to fully understand the situation to date. We should have a recollection and an understanding of what has happened in relation to AFT and the advisory services in our recent history. It is very clear that the trauma now being experienced by the staff of AFT and ACOT and the enormous upheaval now in prospect would have been entirely unnecessary were it not for the mistakes of the past by previous Fianna Fáil Administrations.

Mark Clinton, Minister for Agriculture in the seventies and now one of our distinguished MEPs, resolved the entire problem a dozen years ago. Were it not for the perverse and misguided attitude of Fianna Fáil at the time we would not now be facing the present difficulties. Mark Clinton, with the vision for which he is now renowned, in the teeth of opposition from Fianna Fáil, provided a framework through the National Agricultural Authority to cover all these services working together only to find that the succeeding Fianna Fáil Government of which the present Minister was a member, for the most spurious of reasons, took the National Agricultural Authority apart again. It is perhaps poetic justice and the irony of fate that this is the background to the Minister's present misfortunes and difficulties.

As I have said, it is important to have a better understanding of our present situation in the light of what has happened in the recent past. From that point of view it is important to recall that the question of how we should deal with the research, advisory, education and training services in this country has long lineage. That question, some would say, has a rather murky past, going back to the heads of a Bill approved by the then Fianna Fáil Administration prior to 1973. I will not delve that far back; I will confine myself to the period when we had legislative proposals before this House. As I have said, Mark Clinton introduced the National Agricultural Education and Research Authority Bill in 1977. That provided that the general functions of the National Agricultural Authority would be the provision of education, advisory and research services in agriculture and the making available of the scientific and practical knowledge required by the agricultural industry.

Essentially the Bill now before the House, presented with high sounding phrases by the present Minister, includes the same proposals. The Bill was debated in this House on 9 February 1977 and a few of the comments made are relevant. Deputy Michael Noonan, subsequently Fianna Fáil spokesman on agriculture and now Minister for Defence in the present Administration said at column 1115:

I am saddened that the Minister should introduce a Bill of this kind.... The Bill which is being opposed by our party is designed to take from the agricultural advisory service and the agricultural research service — An Foras Talúntais — the autonomy that they enjoy.

Earlier the then Fianna Fáil spokesman on agriculture, Deputy Gibbons said at column 1087:

This Bill is dowdy and unimaginative. It is building on out-of-date and obsolete foundations. There is no indication of any new thinking in the Bill.

Later, at column 1088 he said:

Speaking as a farmer, I reject it out of hand. It is no good.... Its very hollowness, its vacuousness and its emptiness will underline and draw attention to the total failure of the Minister even to recognise the urgency of the problem that confront the industry at present.

Deputy Denis Gallagher, now Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, had this to say at column 1112:

There are many things to be done, and by taking a good look at the existing services and trying to make more money available to them, we could do a great deal more than we are doing. This centralisation of matters will only hold up the development of agriculture and, in the long run, the farmers and agriculture will suffer as a result. Therefore, I wish to join with my colleagues in opposing this Bill.

That was the position in 1977. That was the wisdom of the Fianna Fáil Party at that time.

Is the history lesson over?

We are moving up the line now.

History tends to repeat itself.

The then Fianna Fáil Administration introduced a Bill in 1978, entitled Agriculture (An Comhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta) Bill, enacted in 1979, which was discussed in the House on Second Stage on 26 October 1978. At the time, according to the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture, the purpose of its introduction was and I quote him from column 1301.

.... to detach from the operation of the National Agricultural Advisory, Education and Research Authority Act, 1977, the agricultural research function which that enactment sought to integrate with the agricultural advisory and training and educational services and to give all three services a better basis.

Having dismissed comments suggesting that his stand in this regard was not a matter of conviction, that he was merely expressing the views of certain elements which were pursuing selfish interests, he said, at the following column:

I am quite convinced that a dilution of the research effort could not be avoided if research were combined with the advisory and training services.

There were a few other contributions of interest at that time. For example, at column 1325, Deputy Joe Walsh, now Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, in welcoming the Bill said:

I welcome the fact that the institute will be allowed to retain its autonomy. I believe that the linking up of the advisory service and the institute would put undue emphasis on production research.

On 9 November 1978, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Deputy Tom Hussey, had this to say at column 693:

Deputy Bruton is reported as saying that research must relate to production needs. I agree fully with him in this but I do not agree with his conclusion that this is an overriding reason for amalgamating An Foras with the advisory service. Quite the opposite is the case.

Later, at column 705, Deputy Michael Woods, now also a Minister of the present Administration said:

However, I think that the previous plan to divorce An Foras Talúntais, or to bring An Foras within this large body would have been disastrous. It was an ill-conceived and ill-advised plan to abolish and subsume An Foras into this new vast bureaucratic organisation and for that reason I welcome the decision of the Minister to bring forward this Bill.

Also, at column 808, he made an interesting observation as follows:

The Minister has made some comments in relation to finance and has said that the financial provisions will at least be not less than in the past. I am very glad to have the assurance from him.

The Minister probably holds the same view at this stage. If so, I hope he will come into the House to express it. Finally, in relation to that Bill, Deputy Mark Clinton, then in Opposition said, at column 808:

I know that many people will expect me to be very bitter because the Minister, for unworthy reasons, is in this Bill destroying a piece of legislation which in my view would have been of immense benefit to the agricultural industry if it had been allowed to go ahead as planned. I am not interested in bitterness. My interest is now, and always has been, to try to ensure that the best possible service is provided for Irish farmers. I am absolutely convinced now, as I was then, that the way to get this service is through a fully integrated arrangement, which is what the National Agricultural Authority Act was all about. I am anxious to get the agricultural schools, who provide a basic education, the advisory services, which also have a very important part to play in the education of young farmers, and sometimes not so young farmers, and the research services in An Foras Talúntais to work together as a team and provide a comprehensive service.

To any of us discussing the Bill before the House today those words can be regarded as visionary, as one would expect from former Deputy Mark Clinton, a man who knew what he was doing, why he was doing it and how he would get it done.

Apparently I did not say anything during those years. The Deputy has been giving an historical litany of quotations that does not include me.

I checked the position carefully and found that at the time — fortunately for himself — the Minister was off in foreign parts engaged in the business of the Department of Foreign Affairs, not taking the slightest interest in what was happening in agriculture. Perhaps that was as well then and indeed might be as well now. However, we shall come to that.

He was observing the position from after.

However, what is clear is that the mistakes of the past have now surfaced to haunt the present Administration. In the intervening period ACOT, which was eventually separately established in 1980, survived its growing pains for about two or three years and had become very effective in recent years. They did important work in the advisory, educational and training area which was fully recognised by the previous Government, fully recognised by the Fine Gael Party, as was also the continuing major role of An Foras Talúntais in the research area.

The documentBuilding on Reality— scoffed at at the time by Fianna Fáil, confirmed the very positive attitude of the previous Government to those services. It is said at paragraph 2.36 of that document:

Given the importance of agriculture to the Irish economy in terms of product, trade and employment, significant national growth will be much more difficult to achieve if there is not sustained growth in this sector.

It is said later in the same document at paragraph 2.37:

... The adoption of the milk super-levy, combined with likely restrictive price policies and a wider application of guarantee thresholds, emphasise the need for greater efficiency in the industry to ensure that its competitiveness is improved and farm profitability is maximised. It will require a carefully planned approach by ACOT, in consultation with the other State agencies involved, to operate an adjustment strategy for farm development providing guidelines for farmers on how best to cope with the changed circumstances.

Later at paragraph 2.44 that document confirms as follows:

With the progressive raising of the educational and training qualifications of the farming sector, the capacity of farmers to absorb new technology will increase. Both ACOT and AFT have important roles in helping farmers to increase productivity through the adoption of cost-effective new technology.

Those comments indicate a number of things, first, the total opposition of Fianna Fáil in the past to the proposals of the then Minister, Deputy Mark Clinton, in the seventies, proposals which, had they been allowed remain in place, would not have us in this present mess. They show also the usual absolutely consistent line of Fine Gael right up to date.

In my opening remarks I made it clear that I have no problem with the principle of merger. I believe in the principle of merger, as we believed a dozen years ago, when the then Minister, Deputy Mark Clinton introduced his proposals. A further small snippet of history should be mentioned, that the most recent decision to provide for a merger was made by the Fine Gael Government in January 1987 and included in the proposals for the budget to the published at that time. It is highly relevant that when Fine Gael announced that decision, we knew that some economies would result and that very careful planning was needed to ensure a successful amalgamation. Accordingly, even though we announced that decision in January 1987, we did not provide for any reduction in 1987 in the Estimates for the farm bodies which, we believed, would come later as soon as careful planning had taken place. We made the point that we anticipated savings when this planning approach had achieved its results. This proposal was violently opposed by Fianna Fáil at the time and it is no harm to mention, that from the point of view of credibility. Fianna Fáil's opposition reached a stage where the most absolute assurances were given that there would never be an amalgamation if they were in power. This assurance was given to members of the FWU at a meeting attended by the then Fianna Fáil agricultural spokesman, Deputy Noonan, who is now Minister for Defence. The meeting was also attended by Deputies Kirk, Joe Walsh, Jimmy Leonard, Noel Treacy and Hugh Byrne.

Following those absolute assurances, we had the Fianna Fáil manifesto for the 1987 general election. Perhaps that is a document many of that side of the House would like to forget. The rhetoric in that document seemed to indicate to many people an interest in the development of agriculture. We were told that agriculture would be central to the Fianna Fáil programme for economic recovery and that their policies would be directed towards restoring confidence and investment in the industry and increasing farm incomes.

That is what we are doing.

If what the Government are doing from the point of view of funding for the advisory and research services is an example, I do not know how anybody, even the most committed supporter of Fianna Fáil, could pretend that those measures are designed to induce confidence in the industry. Promises were made that the key elements of the Fianna Fáil approach would be the promotion of research and development programmes in relation to new by-products in agriculture and so on. They also said that there would be education and training to provide technical and management skills for profitable operations in modern conditions. Then we come to a real gem, there was to be a major drive to halt the decline in rural population, including a focus on the development of alternative farm enterprises, such as agritourism and deer farming to produce supplementary incomes. How in the name of goodness can anyone on the other side of the House stand up and tell us that they have any credibility in relation to the issues I have just mentioned when they totally decimated their research and advisory services? It goes beyond belief that spokespersons for Fianna Fáil should even attempt to suggest that they have the slightest interest in the development of agriculture in the light of their record.

Even today the Minister adopted this platitudinous approach which is in total contradiction to the actions and decisions of the Government in cutting so substantially the funding available to enable those kinds of policies to be implemented. It was obvious in the national wage agreement and in theProgramme for National Recovery. There was reference to the fact that the expansion in agriculture and the food industry was a central element in Government economic policy.

That is happening every day.

We were told that the amalgamation of AFT and ACOT would provide the kind of services required to meet present day needs and to gear the agriculture and food industry more appropriately to the fundamental changes now occurring in these sectors, including the application of the latest technological developments.

There are 1,000 fewer jobs than there were a year ago.

The Minister says it is vital that the country meets changes in agriculture in a positive, constructive and developmental way. There is even recognition of the fact that the proportion of our total exports represented by agriculture and food is the highest in the European Community——

It is still growing.

All these facts are trotted out but I do not know if the Minister reads the excellent summaries that come from the CII. The figures in the food industry for 1987 show that leaving aside the soft drink concentrates, like Coca Cola and Pepsi, the food industry as a whole declined in output.

In many ways, the centrepiece of the Minister's speech today is his reference to funding. It is necessary to spend a long time in convincing the Minister that even at this late stage there is and must be a solution to that problem which does not relate to the Minister's glib comments. Despite all the promises and assurances in regard to AFT and ACOT and the introduction of a Bill in 1979 to dismember Mark Clinton's National Agricultural Authority, one fine day in September in the town of Portlaoise, Minister O'Kennedy slipped the word that there would be a merger after all. All previous bets were off, the promises and assurances were forgotten and we would be back — or should I say forward — to where Mark Clinton had left us ten years previously. He said there would be some redundancies — voluntary of course — but did not specify the figure involved. Indeed he did not seem to know but he did not deny a suggestion that it might be in the order of 500.

The Deputy got the figure just about right.

I will return to that point later. That was a very interesting comment from the Minister because it touched on the inability of the new farm Authority to fund the remaining staff. If the Minister tells us he is satisfied with 500, that there will be no further redundancies or redeployment and is now prepared to allow the new organisation get under way with the necessary finance, perhaps we may have the bones of a solution before us. I notice that the Minister is not jumping in to confirm that that is the inevitable consequences of his remark, that redundancies will be limited to where they are taking place at present and that the remaining 1,600 staff can continue providing an effective service with the necessary funding.

We have had the rhetoric and high sounding commitments in theProgramme for National Recovery published in October but, like the Treaty of Limerick, the ink was hardly dry on the document before the thunderbolt struck.

That was last night.

Last night will be remembered for a number of things.

I am not to sure that things worked out as the Progressive Democrats had planned.

The treaty of the Progressive Democrats and The Workers' Party. If there is a tough job to be done, Dessie can do it.

I will leave it to the Progressive Democrat Deputy present to focus on the problems of his Leader in his home town while I deal with the broader issues. I will deal with farming and the economy generally. When the Estimates for 1988 were published we learned the truth, the Government were proposing to cut almost in half the Exchequer support for research, advice, education and training. Even at that stage the Minister had no idea how the cuts were to be achieved. There was no indication of any plan of how there would be an effective merger. Indeed, the Minister's lack of interest in or knowledge of what was involved was epitomised in his reply to a question on November 12. When pressed on the question of numbers he replied, as reported at column 579 of the Official Report:

The Estimates do not make any reference to a figure of 1,000. It is very important that that be put on the record of the House. I did not make any statement of that kind and the Estimates did not...

However, two weeks earlier I received, with the compliments of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, a document detailing the estimate of expenditure for 1988 and under the subhead, Amalgamation of AFT and ACOT, I learned that the establishment of the new body would require legislation and would result in a substantial reduction in the order of 1,000 in the current staffing levels of 2,200. That sequence of events begs the question as to whether the Minister was, to use an in-phrase, economic with the truth or was misleading the House? Is it that the Minister did not care about the matter to inquire from his civil servants as to what was happening? The Minister has a case to answer on this issue in that in referring to numbers he envisaged a staff of 1,200 towards the end of October, denied that in November and today patted himself on the back, after I referred to the fact that he mentioned a figure of 500 in Portlaoise, and asked "was I not right"? I do not mind the Minister confusing himself but he should give the House and the country some chance. We need clear and unequivocal answers to those questions. If the Minister is not aware of the position he should say so. We must have an end to muddle on this point.

Following the cut from £35 million to £20 million we had what could be loosely termed as a wink and not period in relation to funding during which the Minister, and his cohorts, seemed to convey the impression that everything would be in order on the day. In fact, in a conversation one of the Minister's aides appears to have used those words—I am not certain about that because I was not present. Later we were told of £5 million extra funding and interviews given here and there ledThe Irish Press to headline on 11 November 1987 that farming cut backs had been reduced. A very respected agricultural correspondent of that newspaper stated in the course of an article in that issue that severe financial cut backs in the two advisory and research bodies of the Department of Agriculture and Food, ACOT and AFT, announced in the Book of Estimates, were to be reduced. That article stated that that information had been revealed the previous night by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mr. Michael O'Kennedy.

While we had the winks and nods outside direct replies in the House from the Minister were not forthcoming. Accordingly, the worries grew and the criticisms became stronger. Eventually the Taoiseach intervened. There followed a number of meetings as a result of that intervention, one of which took place in November, 1987. That meeting was attended by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Minister for Labour, Deputy Ahern and the general secretaries of the relevant trade unions. The meeting was arranged through the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Taoiseach. A report given to me by a representative of a union who was in attendance was to the effect that the Minister, Mr. O'Kennedy, gave a firm indication that more money would be provided. I do not know what the Minister has been at but my information is based on my inquiries and from what I read in the newspapers.

Has the Deputy ever heard of the phrase, dúirt bean liom go dúirt bean léi? This morning I told the House what I said to those representatives and I am sure they will agree with me. The Deputy has his information third or fourth hand.

I am not sure that everybody is out of step except the Minister but I have quoted what a respected agricultural correspondent said having discussed the matter with the Minister.

Agricultural correspondents were not at the meeting.

That correspondent stated that the severe financial cutbacks were to be reduced. Respected union officials and representatives of other organisations were given the impression that the problem would be resolved.

That is not true.

They all were given the impression that this problem would be resolved and that more funding would be made available. Is everybody out of step except our Johnny?

A Supplementary Estimate.

It may not be necessary, as I will explain. It clearly indicates a shameful and shameless conduct of affairs by the Fianna Fáil Administration on this issue. It is important that the steps from 1977 to date be recorded because they clearly indicate a total lack of interest by the members of this Administration in the future of the advisory, research and education service. The answer was always to give in to pressure or to give the impression that they would give in to pressure.

While many of the Minister's colleagues were involved at different stages over the years, the major indictment now is of this Minister. It is clear from what I have said that if he had deliberately tried to mishandle the situation he could hardly have achieved such a result. That is an indictment with which I charge him quite deliberately. I have outlined the historical situation, of which the Minister was a part. He absolves himself by saying he did not speak in the 1977 and 1979 debates. He was a member of the Government in 1979. I touched on the pre-election attitude of the then spokesman for the party, now the Minister's Cabinet colleague.

I also raised the question of the line which was taken by the present Administration with AFT and ACOT in the period after the election up to the September announcement in Portlaoise. The understanding I had was that both organisations were told to prepare budgets for 1988 which would provide for a saving of 10 per cent. This clearly indicates that there was no consultation or planning and that both organisations were totally and completely misled on this issue. Obviously there was no planning at any level prior to the announcement in Portlaoise on 17 September. There was no planning on the part of the Minister, who was unable to reply to questions on the issue or provide even the most basic information in relation to the two organisations. Even worse is the fact that, the decision having been taken, there was still a hiatus, a total absence of any sense of direction or serious approach in the presentation of guidelines. This continues to the present. It is compounded by the funding crisis which clearly indicates there will be a massive shortfall in resources for the new organisation. In the period up to today — the wink and nod period — the figure of £5 million extra funding has been floated and at another stage we had the theory of dynamics being extended to cover debts to the bank manager.

We also had the delay in bringing forward the Bill. If this matter had been carefully planned the Bill would have been produced in good time to enable reasoned debate so that the legislation could have been in place prior to 1 January.

Regarding the appointment of a director designate, the Minister tells us he is washing his hands of the matter and that it will be up to the new board to appoint the director when the Bill has been passed. Even though they will not have a bob and no planning will have been done, things will take off from there. Dynamics will take over. Let us be practical and reasonable. If there is to be a boss — and there must be — why not go ahead and appoint him? Give him some chance. It is quite inevitable that in the present state of muddle and uncertainty the two organisations should be involved in a certain amount of manoeuvering. That is quite normal. The Minister should give them some chance by appointing a director now. He may well give the legalistic reply that he cannot appoint a director until such time as the Bill has passed all Stages in the Dáil and Seanad and been duly signed by the President. I reject that as a waste of time. Officially the person appointed would be the director designate pending completion of the Bill. Unless it is done now the present confusion will continue. The appointment should be made through an open competition, but let us have the arrangements for the appointment put in train now.

The mishandling of the operation to date is compounded by the attitude taken by the Minister in his speech today. He tells us it has been a priority for him as Minister to make our partners in the EC sharply aware of the primacy of agriculture in our economy. Would he not turn his attentions closer to home and advise his colleagues in the Cabinet about the primacy of agriculture in the economy and the need to ensure that it will not be utterly starved of funding to support advisory and research services? There are ritual compliments to the excellent services provided by both AFT and ACOT, but later in the Minister's speech is the reiteration that the knife which has been put in is being kept in and that the funding which is required for these two bodies to operate properly will not be provided. Let me lay down a challenge. How can this cut to £20 million be justified? Not a single argument or justification has been advanced. This is particularly strange in the light of the Minister's acceptance, even on paper, of the importance of agriculture, not just for those directly involved but for the entire economy. The Minister accepts that.

Of course.

How can this cut be justified?

The Minister accepts that, too.

No justification has been produced. I am not calling for extra taxation or extra borrowing. I am calling for a proper reallocation of funding within the Minister's Department to ensure that the frontline services needed in the challenging years ahead are properly provided for. If, as a consequence, the towering administration of the Department has to take a modest cut — and it will be a modest cut in the context of the £66.5 million administration budget of the Department — that has to be the place to provide the first sacrifice. There should not be a cut in the services that will provide benefits to Irish farmers, the food industry and to the economy generally. Anyone who tries to justify that cut does not have an adequate recognition of the contribution which the agriculture and food industry is making to the national economy. It is obvious to anybody that the scale of cuts in the agricultural support services is a strategic mistake which could undermine the contribution which the major wealth producing sector of the economy can make to a national recovery.

I am thankful that research has been done by some of the most senior people in ACOT. It is important that we should all be aware of this contribution so that we will be prepared to respond in a way which will ensure that that recognition is translated into decisions. It must be questioned as to whether those responsible for this decision seriously underestimated this contribution to agriculture and the contribution of agriculture to the economy. The Minister accepts that agriculture is by far our single most important industry in terms of national income, exports and the employment it generates. It also has a vital role in paying for essential imports because of the huge agricultural exports, and earning the foreign exchange needed to repay our massive foreign debts.

It is important to be clear on the figures. The gross value of visible exports increased from £4.1 billion in 1980 to about £9.5 billion in 1986. Over £7 billion comes from the so-called modern industries which were attracted here by our low tax regime for manufacturing industries, and the remaining £2.5 billion came from agricultural exports. That might seem to indicate that our agricultural exports are relatively unimportant as opposed to the exports from the modern industries such as pharmaceuticals, computers, electronic goods and so on. The crucial question is the relative contribution to the economy of the £2.5 billion worth of agricultural exports compared to over £7 billion worth of industrial exports.

To examine that issue account must be taken of the import content and the repatriation of profits which are associated with exports. Everybody accepts that the import content of much of our modern industry is very substantial. An IDA survey in 1983 showed that the Irish raw materials used as a proportion of total raw materials amounted to 33 per cent for chemicals, 17 per cent for electronics and 28 per cent for manufacturing industry. The contrast was that the food industry sourced 87 per cent of its inputs domestically. In relation to repatriation of profits this was £1.3 billion in 1987, or 17 per cent of the total value of the exports for these industries. High profit levels are being earned by a limited number of modern industries but some 80 per cent of those are being repatriated. This goes to show that for every £100 of exports generated by manufacturing industry £54 is paid for raw material imports, £17 goes overseas by way of profits being repatriated and that leaves £29 net to the Irish economy. For every £100 of agricultural exports the import content is £18, profit repatriation is negligible and that leaves £80 in the economy. If you take into account the import content and the repatriation profits it will be seen that the net export value of agriculture at £2.05 billion is quite close to the net figure for industrial exports at £2.28 billion. In that context we must recognise the vital role of agriculture in our economy and its even more vital role in the years ahead.

There are also figures available to show that the spending power generated by an industry or firm is what determines its value to the economy. The 1983 study showed that the agriculture and food industry accounted for more spending power than the rest of the manufacturing sector. Spending power per employee was highest in the food industry at £75,000 compared with £32,000 for chemicals £22,000 for electronics and £16,000 for mechanical engineering.

I have never joined the chorus of those who say that foreign industries are not worth anything to the country. They are worth a lot but they have to be compared to our indigenous industry to find the real net worth. I have talked about net exports and spending power but there is also the question of employment. Some of the modern industries have had spectacular growth. They have given a marvellous performance from the point of view of export growth but they do not contribute that much to employment. The office machines industry increased the value of its exports from £250 million in 1980 to over £1.8 billion in 1986 and employment increased from 2,000 to 6,400. By contrast, in the agriculture and food sector exports were valued at £2.5 billion. In 1985 it provided direct employment for 214,000 people. These are the kinds of figures that should be recognised generally.

If we are talking about future prospects, we have to see the merger of ACOT and AFT as providing an opportunity to redirect our resources, our research and advisory programmes to maximise the contribution to recovery. I emphasised the need for careful planning. There has not been careful planning to date. We need careful planning and a recognition of the financial need of the new organisation. If the agriculture industry is to make its maximum contribution to economic recovery there are certain key elements which the Minister accepts and into which I need not go in detail. There must be a selective expansion of the beef, sheep and horticultural sectors. There must be a major effort to improve product quality and there must be a serious commitment to rural development programmes.

I will talk on another occasion about the beef cow numbers and the consequences of an expected drop of a quarter of a million dairy cows in the next few years. If we do not replace these with beef cows we will end up with under-used grazing land and idle meat plants with more people on the dole queues. I will not get into an argument on that; I am saying maybe the Minister will not agree with me as to the extent of the problem.

I am not in the business of going around counting cows but I have access to the papers published by the various experts. Brendan O'Riordan of AFT projected recently that with a particular series of initiatives the national cow herd could be increased to over two million by 1991 but if no such measures were taken the cow herd would be about 1.8 million. The difference in national income between the two scenarios is almost £200 million. It is also the difference between 10,000 and 20,000 farmers remaining viable or slipping into the social welfare net. Also the 1,000 additional jobs projected by the IDA for the beef industry over the 1988-92 period just will not be realised. On the question of quality, everybody accepts that further restrictions in output are inevitable due to CAP cutbacks, therefore we have to secure the maximum unit price through the production of quality. That becomes of major importance. Quality food production must start on the farm, and everybody accepts there is need for improvement at that level.

A Deputy

Very little.

I go beyond that. There is great need for improvement at that level. Where are we at the moment? Much investment has been made in food processing, so now we need to capitalise on that investment and have a more market-led approach which should dictate the actions of farmers, processors and the food market. That will involve much better communication between the different actors in the food marketing chain. Producers and producer groups are all going to be involved in that communication chain.

The buzz phrase at the moment is "integrated rural development". Obviously, much attention is focussing on it following the expansion of the EC Structural Fund and the funding of programmes of integrated rural development which, it is hoped that will give rise to. If these programmes are to have any economic impact the major industry in rural areas, agriculture, must provide the foundation stone for development. Agri tourism, forestry and small industry development will have their contribution to make to economic activity and employment in rural areas. If we follow that path the pay-off in economic terms will be high. Agricultural output could be higher by hundreds of millions of pounds than it would be if no such policy initiatives were taken, and, because this money will be spent predominantly in the economy, it will have a much higher beneficial effect on our GNP.

Thus the food industry if the proper policies are applied can give higher and faster returns than almost any other economic sector. If we get the output it will be translated into real wealth and jobs, but if cuts in the agricultural support services on the scale proposed are adhered to the prospect of generating additional wealth and maintaining employment levels in the food sector will be greatly diminished. Have no doubt about it, these cuts have to be seen as a strategic error in any quest for national recovery.

The Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, must accept that to undermine the future technological base of the major wealth production industry just does not make economic sense. Is there need to convince the Minister of the beneficial results to date from our investment in research, advisory and education services? It seems clear from his reaction this morning that he stands by his cut of 44 per cent for these services while being prepared to justify no cut in the general administration budget of his Department. The figure of 2 per cent was quoted but it was incorrect because increases coming through from Vote 51 will more than compensate for that. There is no cut in the administration of £66.5 million for his Department, and the Minister has the gall to come in here this morning and tell us how he sees agriculture and the food industry developing in the years ahead while that kind of funding arrangement is likely to continue. It is indefensible and unacceptable to anybody who has the interest of agriculture and food at heart or wants to avail of the opportunities to generate employment and improve our economy. No defence or justification has been put forward by the Minister and the questions are continuing and will continue to be asked in this regard.

Judging by the remarks he made, the Minister must be aware of the huge percentage of our working population involved in agriculture and food which is so much higher than the Community average, the huge contribution to our exports in net export terms, almost 50 per cent, the contribution to GNP and possible further contribution and the huge numbers in our rural areas as opposed to other countries. Is it now clear that research and development are necessary to any sustainable economic growth and employment expansion? Our major competitors have realised this. Is it now quite clear also that in agriculture a strong research and development base is now needed more than ever to increase efficiency, develop new food and other value-added products and develop alternative enterprises? The international market is far more challenging than ever before. The research institute made adaptations to meet those challenges, but the fact that they are to be undermined and in some cases decimated to the extent that they will no longer continue prompts me to say in the most civilised tones that the Minister must think again.

If we are focusing on research, the object of research is to increase efficiency. Production and food research are quite inseparable. Quality starts with production. We have heard a great deal of hype about the promotion of the food industry. If that hype is to be translated into reality that industry must be kept in tune by research. We must keep abreast of all the modern scientific advances in technology and biotechnology. We will be unable to compete with our competitors in Europe or elsewhere otherwise. We were managing on quite a low allocation, one of the lowest by European standards, in relation to our gross agricultural output and to slash that at this stage nearly in half is tantamount to total obliteration. We have built up very valuable research contracts over the years and they are in danger of being lost. We have been able to avail of the research function in the institute to support the kind of cases we have to make to comply with very complicated regulations and directives within the Community. Apart altogether from the direct contacts which they have with the European Commission, the research institute has been of major benefit in that regard.

Because of the stubborn attitude of the Minister in refusing to recognise the case made by the most respected economists in the country, and voiced in this House on behalf of the agriculture and food industry, I wish to point out the marvellous improvements and benefits to our economy that they have been made over the years by the research and advisory sector. Surely the Minister must be aware of these? He must be aware that if that sector is not funded we are not going to have those benefits in the challenging years ahead. I have no doubt that my colleagues from the areas where the research centres are situated will present in detail the achievements of such centres and the case both locally and nationally for a continuation of their work. We have to be blunt about this. Many of these centres are now at risk. The effect of this lack of funding will at best mean semi-paralysis and at worst a complete close down of whole areas of research. The Minister will not be able to do a Pontius Pilate on this one.

The centre at Oak Park has had a huge involvement in tillage crops. They have also made major advances in the areas of farm machinery and some of their inventions, if one can call them that, have been handed over for commercial production. The work at Johnstown Castle is in the area of grass production. I am not going to go into it in detail here but obviously this has been of enormous benefit to the economy over the years. They have made improvements in relation to input costs, fertilisers and soil sampling, all of which have brought benefits to the country. I have no doubt that my colleagues from that area will present that case in full detail. Is the work which is carried on at the centre in Creagh in the West to be abandoned? The work at the Kinsealy centre has been such that, for example, the mushroom industry is now worth £20 million a year and employs 1,160 people. This is largely related to the research work that has been done at that centre.

The centre at Moorepark has been involved in advances in so many areas that its worth is not just recognised in this country but internationally also. Major changes have taken place in farm practices as a result of experiments carried out at the centre in Grange. The National Food Centre at Dunsinea was launched with a blaze of publicity. We are told that it will have a marvellous future. There is no doubt that the centre at Dunsinea has made a marvellous contribution in the past but how is it going to have this marvellous future without funding? The rural economy centre of AFT has made a significant contribution on a number of fronts to management efficiency and otherwise.

I wonder if the Deputy will give a chance to anybody else to speak? His party have agreed with the Government to cut the finances to £20 million, so what is he talking about?

Stranger things have happened.

Will the Deputy give a chance——

The Deputy will say what he has to say because it needs to be said and if my colleague from Cork has something to say afterwards he will be entitled to do so.

Deputy Sherlock and Deputy McCoy may be impatient but the position is that Deputy O'Keeffe has latitude to speak so long as he speaks to the Bill. I will correct him if he wanders.

There is no danger of that.

There is no sense of urgency about getting the Bill through the House because we will be here in July by the looks of things.

You will be lucky to be here in July after last night.

(Interruptions.)

Deputy O'Keeffe knows what he wants to say and what needs to be said and if Deputy Sherlock has something to add afterwards he will have adequate time to do so on Second Stage. However, he should be clear that anything he says should correspond to the truth and suggestions in relation to the £20 million, commented on by the Deputy are not correct. I would not be spending my time pressing the Minister to the extent that I have on absolutely proving the case beyond all doubt if I was not convinced of the serious and dangerous consequences that will follow from this funding, which is absolutely insufficient, if the Minister holds to the case he has made.

I have no doubt the excellent work of the research centres will be presented in detail by my colleagues during the course of this debate and I am sure Deputy Sherlock might have a thing or two to say about Moorepark.

If he gets the chance to say it.

The contribution of the research centres to Irish agriculture, the food industry and the economy generally has been enormous. It is also important to say that the advisory side have made an enormous contribution over the years and, in particular, during the past number of years since ACOT got their act together and helped farmers to focus their expertise and efficiency on quality marketing and good business management. It is clear that the work they have done has been substantial. The efficiency of those services has been improving each year. Are we going to cast all that aside because of the extraordinary funding decision taken by the Minister?

I made the point earlier about the projected loss to the economy of the failure of the Minister to recognise the case we are fighting for adequate funding for the new farm body. It is clear that we should develop our natural resources because they are the ones that will pay the best dividends. I think even Paul Tansey ofThe Sunday Tribune, who perhaps would have a more urban approach in his economic philosophy, has come around to that way of thinking. Independent experts are now pressing this point. You cannot drive a tractor without diesel and you cannot run your advisory services without funding.

The benefits to date from the advisory and research centres and the prospect of benefits for the future are so clear that I am amazed the Minister does not interrupt me at this stage to tell me that he totally accepts the case made. I say to the Minister that it can be done, that he should not throw his hands up into the air. It may mean over-riding the deep seated objections of the civil servants in his Department, I am not talking about them individually, who will not want to see their empire trimmed in any way. However, they will have to make that sacrifice to ensure that the front line services are maintained and to ensure that the challenges and opportunities for the future are fully met and exploited. If the Minister does not here and now make up his mind to do that, it is throwing in the towel. We cannot accept that. Let us be clear about the consequences. If the Minister is not prepared to follow the line I am advocating what will be the implications of this shortfall? Let us be clear that there can be no Pontius Pilate action on this and if this happens do not tell me in three, or six months time if you are still occupying that seat, that it was the new farm body——

I will be right here.

You will not let that go.

——or the director, or the board. There is a clear cause and effect here and if the Minister will not provide the funding the effects at this stage can be clearly envisaged. What will they be? We have 12 residential agricultural colleges at present and they will come under severe threat. Let me state bluntly that it is inevitable that a number will close down. In 1987 480 scolarships were provided by ACOT. There is no hope under the present funding arrangements of any scholarships for 1988. What will happen if there are no scholarships? It is now projected that about half of the 12 colleges would have no students if this were to happen and they would close down. These are the inevitable consequences of the Minister's decision.

What about the local centres? I think it is quite clear that the advisory section of the new body would find it impossible to maintain its local network of training centres. I can see some scope for rationalisation, particularly where research centres and ACOT centres are located in the same area. Such rationalisation is fine and is sensible planning. But what about the situation in the remote or disadvantaged areas? It is not quite clear that many of these centres will inevitably be closed down? The Minister has consistently stated that training is the top priority for the new Authority but he simply cannot deliver on that with the proposed level of funding.

What future has the advisory service? Eighty advisers have already left on voluntary retirement. In addition a further squeeze will take place because this new farm body will not be able to pay the balance of the advisers who will be employed, or should be employed. I do not know what is going to happen to them. The Minister is hinting now that they may be redeployed and off pushing pens in some other office.

The Minister does not know either.

I do not think he does.

He is hopeful.

What is the result of that approach?

I think, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am getting the general message of what the Deputy wants to say——

You are not reacting.

It is called "zeronomics".

——that I should provide more funds.

That is what the Deputy has said.

You will have to.

The Minister would let me ease off if he did a little more than admit he has got the message — it took a while to get that through — and say he will react to the message because that is the key to all this. If he does not agricultural colleges will close, there will be no advice available except for those who can pay and there will be an increase in fees. What about other central issues such as environmental pollution, etc? Who will provide the advice down on the ground to deal with these crucial issues?

It is clear that in order to stay within the present budget at least 300 staff on the ACOT side will have to go in addition to a similar number from AFT thus bringing the staff numbers of 1,600 down to the 1,000 mark. The Minister will have to square the circle. The staff will either stay and be paid to do their job or they will go, where I do not know. We demand to know what the scenario is because we cannot leave this in limbo. If we follow through on what the Minister presently proposes, these are the consequences. The same will apply on the other side. How many of our research centres will be closed? How many of them will be totally trimmed in their operations? I cannot say, the Minister will decide. Will Johnstown Castle or Oak Park go? What will happen to Creagh in the west? The present indications are that it will be closed. Kinsealy is gone.

That is a sore one.

It has already gone.

The rural economic centre has gone and other operations have been scaled down. It is important that we put before the Minister here and now that these will be the consequences of his actions. The Minister must recognise this and tell us his answer to it or that he will take the kind of action that we have been proposing on the funding issue. We have already seen the cuts on the ground. Here in Dublin five of the 13 advisory staff have already gone and is the Minister to tell us that more are to go? Of the five staff who have left four were horticultural advisers. Leaving aside Dublin's reputation for horticulture and its being the base for An Bord Glas, God help us, four of the five horticultural advisers have already left. Is the Minister saying he has no answer to the funding situation which may in fact mean that the last person may go. The same serious problems are developing already in Limerick, Monaghan and Donegal while in my own area, in Cork, six advisers have gone.

It is clear that the Minister has taken on board my point but what is not clear is whether he is prepared to respond to it. I demand a response and if the Minister does not provide an effective response he will be the author and proposer of the various consequences I have outlined already. I want to question one other aspect of funding, that is the farm apprenticeship board. Again, the Minister must recognise that the board have done excellent work. Every year 350 young people take part in these schemes and everyone is placed in employment on completion of the course. The cost to the State through the ACOT grant is £500 per head an average. This was more than compensated for to the Exchequer by the PAYE - RSI uptake from the payments made. This is another very important scheme that is seriously under threat if the Minister does not relent on the funding issue.

I do not want to off load too much on the Minister's conscience. Let him be quite clear of what the consequences will be if he obstinately and stubbornly digs in on this issue, and if he is not willing to convince his colleagues that a transfer of funding within his own Department is needed and will be effected.

I suppose there is no need to tell the Minister there was another proposed solution floated — redeployment. As I recollect, the Minister did not touch on this point in his speech and I trust that he does not see that as an answer to the funding crisis. It costs enough and there is a great need for our specialists in these areas to be available to consider the notion of putting them pen pushing and going for the general administrative grades. Mind you that is what is happening and there is a degree of pressure on staff.

The Minister has committed himself to everything being done by way of voluntary redundancy procedure but there are certain pressures which would make one question the voluntary nature of redundancy and, in particular, redeployment. Some of these pressures include suggestions that the package may not remain voluntary for too long and that if people want to be considered it is essential that they come forward now. These pressures would raise an issue as to whether the redundancy package is entirely voluntary. Be that as it may, it is not the answer. We need these people out in the field and must pay them out there. There is no point in continuing to pay them out of the public purse in some slot where they are not needed.

The Government are going to send them to Inishvickillaun.

To conclude on the question of funding——

By the time this ship gets out to sea, it will be next winter.

I apologise to my colleagues for having dwelt on that aspect for so long, but I am seriously concerned about the effects of this crisis which the Minister has created. I absolutely believe in the need for a solution and no effort can be spared in pressing the point. The Minister is aware of the terms which I proposed of a transfer of £7.5 million from general administration to the new farm body. It will not be enough in the context of the figures that they themselves quote. It does not go the full way, but it is a fair and reasonable approach in a tight situation. It would increase the Exchequer funding from £20 million to £27.5 million; it would reduce the £66.5 million administration of the Department by a similar sum. It would have some impact on the more than 4,000 employees — I accept that.

I have not seen the results of this famous audit supposed to be produced quite a while ago. There is a fairly broad consensus that there is fat in there. There is also virtually total consensus on the part of every body other than the Minister and his departmental officials that, in any event, the priority has to be the front line service. I do not propose to go into any detail on this, but have told how further cost-effectiveness and savings can be found. They should integrate the other services. They should put the farm development service in with the new farm body, the one stop shop. The Minister should talk to his colleague in Industry and Commerce. That is the man who is now presenting that view as being something radical and novel. It is not radical, new or novel — it is a good idea and I commend it to the Minister. Let him put the farm development service and the funding associated with that into the new farm body.

And the money.

Of course, and the funding. As regards An Bord Glas, I know that amount of money in the Estimate of £168,000 will not make a huge difference, but from the point of view of effectiveness and efficiency — they should give up that phraseology because it is not just working out — they should transfer the funding and the functions of An Bord Glas to the new farm body.

Finally, I come to another area that the Department nicely held on to, the residual research and testing function, with nearly £1.5 million provided in the Estimate to cover that. That should be given to the new farm body. In that situation there would be £7.5 million extra funding at the expense of administration, with no extra cost to the Exchequer. There would be a more integrated and effective new farm body. There would be a much better service to the farmers, much more efficient and with greater swings in the long term. I believe that that is the answer and I strongly urge the Minister to override bureaucratic objections to that approach. He should put it into effect straight away.

I mentioned in opening that there were two aspects to be considered from the point of view of the Bill. The Minister accepts that I have adequately covered the first part on the question of funding. It is the question of the Bill itself that I want to come to. On that question, the broad principle of the merger is very acceptable, but there is quite a number of unacceptable provisions in the Bill on which the Minister will have to think again. We shall need much more detail on this on Committee Stage, but at this stage it is necessary to sketch out in broad outline where the real problems lie.

There is a major difficulty in relation to the title which, I take it, has some relevance. It is not just a question of asking what was in a name. It costs money to promote a name. The Minister talks about this new farm body having a commercial orientation. There is an almost universal criticism of the name Teagasc. Various definitions have been put forward as to what it literally means. I am not a major Gaelic scholar, but an investigation that I have undertaken suggests that the name can be literally translated as doctrine, such as in the phrase christian doctrine — teagasc Chriosta.

We shall need that about — how to survive without money.

That is christian doctrine.

A few miracles are required.

One other definition of teagasc which I saw in a dictionary, was — wait for it — magic spells and incantations.

I knew that it was there.

That is the meaning of it.

I think that I can divine the Minister's reasoning on this funding aspect. By blessing his new organisation which has magic spells——

Is it right that the Deputy has been allowed to speak for an hour and three quarters, denying everybody the right to speak on this matter?

The private medicine man again.

When I hear such rubbish about denial of speech from my Cork colleague, knowing the stable that he comes from, I can tell him quite firmly to sit down and await his turn.

Deputy Sherlock's turn will come some time next January, or February, the way things are going.

After the harvest.

It might come sooner than that.

On the question of the——

Deputy O'Keeffe seems confused at the moment.

A few fellows out here last night were confused, as well.

On the question of the name, there is a number of possibilities. It is very clear that the name Teagasc has caused a problem and I am not making a political issue about this. Alternative views or proposals should be looked at as to how a better name could be found. One has to market the name and if it is unmarketable, then there is an additional cost. I have canvassed people for suggestions and have received a number. One suggestion was the word "forbairt" meaning development or growth. Another was "umas", meaning power or ability. There was the word "comhar" meaning co-operation and the word "abhair" meaning assistance. These are some of the suggestions I got. I am not suggesting that any of these is a major improvement but they would be some improvement. One thought that did occur to me was that if the Minister was serious about trawling the brains of the country looking for a suitable name, he should invite theFarmers Journal to hold a competition and get our Gaelic scholars around the country to come up with ideas, The Minister might treat that as a joke, but why not do that?

Another possibility is that the new farm body would be called An Chomhairle Oiliúna agus Taighde Talmhaíochta or ACOTT for short. At first glance I am sure our friends in the institute might not be entirely happy with that, but it incorporates the word "research" in the title. Another advantage is that the briefer version ACOT has become well known all over the country so there would be no difficulty in market identification of the title. This would overcome a lot of problems.

The next point that arises is in relation to the restrictions under the definition of basic veterinary research. Why is there a need for a statutory restriction whereby the Minister is precluded from even allowing the new farm body to engage in the diagnosis of diseases in livestock or poultry or the investigation or carrying out of tests, trials or inquiries for the purposes of schemes in relation to the eradication of disease in animals or the promotion, enforcement or control of animal hygiene? Why have these restrictions in the Act? The Minister may argue that there are 101 different reasons why the new farm body should not have these powers. We can debate that but why have a statutory exclusion? I do not want to hear that these restrictions were there throughout history? I want justification now. Why the exclusion and, more important, why the statutory exclusion?

Under section 4 (5) the body will not do certain things unless authorised in writing by the Minister to do so. It might be a solution to put those functions in there if the Minister feels strongly about it but what I strongly object to is a statutory exclusion. The Minister will not be there forever. If for a variety of reasons, a subsequent Minister wanted to change that, his hands would be tied by statute. Is this protecting the situation of his Department again? If that is the only justification for it it should be excluded.

Let us come to the question of Ministerial control. I accept that this farm body will have to be subject, to some degree, to policy directions. There must be some element of control over its activities but this has gone totally overboard in the compilation of this Bill. Every page is a series of things which have to be done by direction of the Minister or, more important, things that cannot be done without the approval of the Minister, compounded by a situation where many of these things cannot be done without the approval of two Ministers and, in one extreme example, I found that something could not be done without the involvement of three Ministers. This is totally extreme example, I found that something could not be done without the involvement of three Ministers. This is totally unacceptable. It is putting the damp, cold, bureaucratic hand of the Civil Service around the neck of this farm body and choking it at birth. This farm body is not going to be a policy arm of the Minister or his Department. It has to be, at a minimum, semi-autonomous. I am not saying we should set it off like a satellite into space and let it carry on in its own way but it cannot be totally stifled. The kind of arrangements at present in place are such that it will have no possibility of any autonomous function at all.

I give the Minister due notice that he will be pressed on this issue on Committee Stage. I will just give him a little bit of information on the point, in case he has not focused on it to date. I went through the sections to see how many instances there were where things had to be done or could not be done without the intervention of at least one Minister, in many instances two and, in one instance, three Ministers. The total was 45 instances. That is not a sensible way to run a body. There will have to some loosening up of that situation.

There is a reference to the requirement to produce a programme in advance each year. Let me just plant the idea with the Minister that when talking about research and development we are taking about the medium to long term. I think it would be far more sensible to have a five year indicative programme with a corresponding commitment to funding by the Government. A one year programme which can be changed, revoked, amended, added to, substracted from by the Minister, at the instigation of the Minister for Finance at any stage during the year is no way to run a business. The Minister should take a longer-term view.

I am glad to see the point on subsidiaries included but there is an issue which will arise here in regard to clawing back moneys. These subsidiaries could have quite a commercial orientation. If there is an automatic clawback of any funding arising then this could lead to a lack of risk-taking or an innovative approach on the part of the staff.

I hope the Deputy will not take it as a discourtesy on my part. I hoped that by now I would have heard the contributions of each of the front bench spokesmen. I know the Deputy has a right to make his contribution in this fashion but I hope he will understand that, unfortunately, I have made arrangements and have a very important engagement in a few moments so I hope he will understand if I leave now.

I would ask that a note be taken of any further points and passed on to the Minister. In the area of subsidiaries there are quite a lot of possibilities but care has to be taken on the question of any funding by subsidiaries. If it is going to be immediately clawed back it will lead to problems.

In regard to recruitment a very strong case has been made to me that there would have to be some provision whereby new blood can be injected into the organisation. In any research it is quite clear that if new blood is not coming in, the whole project will become stagnant. I have mentioned research in particular but this applies also in other areas. The numbers we are talking about are small but if there is a total embargo on new blood coming in, even to cover natural wastage in the organisation, it spells trouble for the future.

The composition of the board will lead to many problems. The Minister will have difficulty in standing over his proposals. We have had experience of this in the past. I do not want to touch on any sensitivities as far as the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk is concerned. Allegations have been made in relation to the composition of the board and the basic requirement of being a card carrying cumann member that the board is of no consequence anyway. I do not want to see this happening in relation to the board of the new farming authority. We need a dynamic board that will have qualifications other than a cumann card. If the Minister has total control over the appointments I fear the inevitable and I have little doubt that the basic credential of the cumann card will surface. That is not good enough. I do not necessarily object to somebody who has something to offer the board having some cumann connections in addition to other credentials but if we allowed the present sutuation to continue it would be highly dangerous.

We do not want a board of party hacks and we can achieve that in a number of ways. We can ensure that, from the point of view of farm representatives, the farm organisations nominate the members for appointment by the Minister. That is quite important. It is far better that an organisation such as the IFA who are representative of 70,000 or 80,000 farmers nominate the person that they consider the most suitable to represent them on the board and also to contribute to the deliberations of the board. It would also enable the Minister to resist the temptation of putting forward IFA cumann members in Tipperary. The same applies in the case of the ICMSA, Macra and the ICOS. Those bodies should be allowed to nominate their members and let them then be appointed by the Minister. The Minister would need to be positive in his reaction on this point or he will face amendments on Committee Stage. There are two members of the staff on the present ACOT board. The agricultural advisers have nominations to the AFT board. There are three staff members on the two boards.

We are talking about modern industrial relations, worker directors and semiState bodies. At present the Worker Participation Bill is being discussed in the Seanad, introduced with a lot of hype by the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Labour. Surely it makes sense to provide that the staff shall be entitled to have elections to nominate a staff member to the board. I would caution the Minister against following the line he is taking at present in relation to the board. It is absolutely essential that the board be up and running and workable and any question of an inefficient or an ineffective board will add to the already major problems of this foundling which is being launched.

I mentioned earlier the question of the director. Under the terms of the Bill the Minister has power of appointment of the first director. Someone has to make the appointment but it is a question of when and how. I made the point earlier to the Minister in another context that we must have a quick appointment and arrangements for that should be put in train straight away. I would point out the need for a vibrant, dynamic approach on the part of the director-designate and I would caution against any question of having the office tainted by suggestions of political or other intrigue. The simple answer is to hold an open competition, and I strongly urge that arrangements for such an open competition should be put in train straight away.

I am glad the Bill deals with the possible expansion of functions overseas. The House will be aware of my interest in that area. There is a provision in the Bill that is quite unwise and that is the reference to any such involvement having to be on a self-financing basis. Development overseas works on the same basis as development here. It is a medium to long term operation and it may be necessary in the initial stages of an involvement in a project or programme overseas to provide seed capital, as it were, if there were possibilities that by so doing there would be financing from international organisations or otherwise. It is an unwise approach to insist on that provision.

When I read the section on disclosure of information I wondered if the Minister had been readingSpycatcher or following the shenanigans of the British Government in chasing poor Mr. Wright. I could not believe what was in that section. The Minister will have to justify a section along those lines before it is acceptable to this House. The members of ACOT and AFT have a proud and honourable record over the years and I have certainly never heard any suggestion of breaches of confidentiality or otherwise by anybody working for those organisations. The basic job of these organisations is to disseminate information. Having a provision such as this lurking in the background will unduly restrict the activities of those people who will be working in the new farm body. I would caution the Minister about that and suggest to him that he should think again about the matter.

I made the point earlier that this organisation is not a policy arm of the Department. There is an independent source of information. It is said that the creation of an open, helpful atmosphere is important for the research and developmental function. There has been no problem in the past. Therefore one may well ask, why the necessity for this provision at this stage? Is it another weapon in the armoury of the bureaucrats to keep this organisation under their thumb? It is much too conservative, cautious, entails much too much bowing to the attitude of the bureaucrats.

If we examine the position within the EC we find that in other countries the institutes or organisations involved in this area are largely autonomous. We are talking about research and development being market-led but the market will not be interested in a secret society which, in a sense, could be one interpretation of this section and which is quite unacceptable. In the AFT Act of 1958 there is an explicit reference to the entitlement to public research material. What we have here, instead, is section 14 which restricts the disclosure of information. What is the linkage between the two? That warrants some explanation. I am not happy on that point.

I come now to the county committees of agriculture. It is generally accepted that those committees, in their respective areas, made a welcome contribution to the development of agriculture, particularly from the point of view of their serving as a local forum in which people could express their views. There will be many who will have a sense of nostalgia and regret at their passing.

The Minister says that the new farm body may now establish committees to advise and assist pursuant to section 17. He suggests that will be sufficient to cover the aspect of local advisory input. I have to disagree with him there. First, the power is given to the new farm body on a totally discretionary basis, where it is said in section 17 (1) that Teagasc may establish committees to assist and advise it in relation to the performance of its functions. If we are interested in having a local input, then the provisions of this section will have to be tightened up. We will have to know at what we are aiming, ensuring that the legislative framework is sufficient to cover that objective.

If the Minister is committed to his decision to abolish the county committees of agriculture then we should have some form of local consultative structure, some forum for the purpose of providing an advisory input on the part of those involved in the industry, be they farmers, those involved in the food industry, those with a strong interest for one reason or another. Indeed, let us not forget that there are many public elected representatives who would be interested in having an input. Thus the shape of things to develop there might be in the form of county advisory fora, representatives of whom might meet with members of the new farm body as often as was thought necessary. That would ensure a local input or a local two-way exchange. I believe this could all be done at a cost which would not be substantial, certainly not in the context of the kind of returns that could emanate there from. The Minister might consider that suggestion. We can revert to the matter on Committee Stage.

I am now merely covering broadly a number of points that needed to be made in regard to various sections. Indeed under the provisions as they stand there does not seem to be any link between the universities and the proposed new farm body. It should be remembered that the universities have a strong research function. It is my opinion that the Minister will have to give some thought to overcoming that vacuum. For example, in UCD, the faculty of agriculture — now under the aegis of the Higher Education Authority — is virtually an orphan, threatened with disintegration. They have an automatic right of nomination to an Foras Talúntais which will now disappear. There is also the major food faculty in University College, Cork. There is also a significant input from the point of view of microbiology on the part of University College, Galway. There should be some requirement for the establishment and maintenance of close working relationships between the universities and the new farm body. However, I shall revert to these points on Committee Stage when I shall deal with them in great detail.

I said at the outset there were two main aspects to the Bill. I spent quite an amount of time speaking about the funding aspect which must be resolved. If it is not the future will be very gloomy for this new farm body and it will have an adverse impact, not just on farmers but on our entire economy. The whole approach to date has been one of muddle, mishandling and mismanagement, compounded I believe, by Civil Service intrigue and Ministerial incompetence. It will be seen that the new farm body is commencing its task with a huge handicap. Unless steps are taken to recover lost ground, to deal with the funding crisis, it is my belief that it will take many years, not just decades, for that body and the industry to recover. Surely that is a totally undesirable legacy of the present Minister for Agriculture and Food to our farmers and agricultural industry generally?

On the evidence of the prosecution the Minister must be found guilty. I shall endeavour to relate my comments to the future of agriculture. I do not intend to be as thorough in my examination of the provisions of the Bill before the House as was the Fine Gael spokesman.

The main objective of the Bill is to amalgamate An Foras TalÚntais and ACOT and transfer their functions to a new single body called Teagasc, the body to be known in English as the Agriculture and Food Development Authority. The Minister advises us that the word "Teagasc" means to teach, whereas my colleague on the Fine Gael benches agrees with my interpretation, that it means "doctrine". If this is to be regarded as the doctrine of the Fianna Fáil Government for the farming community, then the concept of maintaining family farms and keeping people on the land— embodied in our Constitution—is dead once and for all.

The second most important provision of the Bill is the abolition of the county committees of agriculture. These committees were made up of voluntary bodies and members of farming organisations, Muintir na Tíre, the Land League and local authorities. They were in the unique position of knowing what was happening on the ground and in their own areas. This link between farming areas and the Department of Agriculture will now be eliminated in this Bill and will be replaced by computer forecasts and economists' views of what is best for agriculture at local level. We all know what economists' views in relation to agriculture have been before and it is from such economists and like forecasters' past exhortations that European farmers—and Irish farmers in particular — responded to encouragement, investment production and indeed doubled their production. Ireland were only second to Holland in the last 15 years in their response to calls to produce more. However, they now have land without quotas or hope of future development and capital investment from which they can get no return.

I agree that there have been abuses in the county committees of agriculture. I have spoken to a number of people involved in them and one of the main difficulties is that they were platforms for aspiring politicians to make political speeches. They were too politically-orientated and they often degenerated into political slagging. The attendances at times were far from satisfactory and very often the political aspirants attended such meetings, made a bit of noise and then left. The main business proceeded without them and if that was the type of input there was—it is generally held by farmers and farming bodies that such was the case — certainly they needed to be changed, if not abolished. I propose that these committees should be kept in a reduced statutory form whereby those on them would represent the views of farming bodies and organisations. Those who are not farmers should at least have a qualification in agriculture or food. After all, if committees are not to be talking shops, they will have to attract those who have a genuine interest in local agricultural development.

There has been the ridiculous situation where there were 45 members of ACOT in County Dublin. Such a large number must mean that many of them had no real interest in agriculture and, for that reason, their activities should be curtailed. However, to do away with them is perhaps throwing out the baby with the bath water because at least they provide a feedback. I am very disappointed with the feedback and attention which the Department of Agriculture have generally given to these committees. If they have become talking shops, a great deal of the responsibility must lie with the Department of Agriculture because they did not adequately respond to genuine resolutions sent from members of boards of county committees of agriculture throughout the country. This is not the time to do away with them, as too many things are being done away with in rural areas, for example, schools which are being rationalised and many services which are now too expensive to run on a widespread basis. The Progressive Democrats accept that there must be rationalisation but there is not much point in introducing a Bill establishing Teagasc, for the benefit of agriculture if the numbers of people engaging in agriculture are falling daily.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Government have taken almost £100 million per annum out of agriculture in the past 12 months by various levies and refund reductions against the background of falling quotas and opportunities, they are now prepared to allocate from their own resources only 2 per cent of their entire budget for 1988 to agricultural development and training. I heard the Minister make a most insulting and erroneous remark to the agricultural community, that his Department is dispensing £1,500 million annually to the farming community. Nothing could be further from the truth and it only serves to cause a division between rural and urban people because there is a feeling that farmers are waiting for the postman to arrive with their share of this money. The Minister should choose his words more carefully in this respect because it is well known that most of this money has gone to intervention, the control of prices, export refunds and many other things which have nothing to do with the everyday life of the farmer.

The cut in the combined budget for ACOT-AFT in 1988 is the most draconian of all Departments and the Government must now admit that they made a huge mistake. Indeed, the Minister for Agriculture said it was a team decision but the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Department of Finance were privately amazed at the size of the cuts. They pointed out that they had no input whatever in regard to this decision. It was taken by the Government and at this stage it is not fair to pressurise the Department of Agriculture and Food by having a witch hunt within it to lop staff when it is not intended to do this in other Departments. The internal audit promised by the Minister for Agriculture and Food has, so far, not yielded any concrete results nor is it likely to do so.

How can you justify such huge cuts in the direct support to agriculture and at the same time condone over-manning in the TB eradication scheme which goes on unchecked with no tangible results? It is not easy for farmers to understand how 84 people employed as land inspectors last year by the Department of Finance and who have had no duties to perform over the last 12 months can continue to be employed at a cost to the Exchequer of approximately £1.5 million when there is such a savage cut in the ACOT-AFT wages bill. It is no wonder that farm leaders and organisations generally feel that they are in the back seat in relation to the economy. The general perception of farmers is that they would have been better off to have stayed the way they were as they have got no benefits over the past couple of years from all the investment, hard work and development which went into the past 15 years.

While recognising that the gross budget Estimate has to stand in view of the appalling national financial situation, it is now well understood that the Minister for Agriculture and Food agreed to a proportionately inordinate cut in the Agriculture Vote. It is now obvious that that Vote was too small. Having recognised the blunder made in the ACOT-AFT allocation, the Minister sought to do a refinancing job within his own Department. It was only when the union representing the professional and technical staff of ACOT and AFT were able to establish that compulsory redundancies were not on that the Minister was obliged to ask the Government to offer the redundancy package to those over 50 years of age in his own Department.

Debate adjourned.