Deputy Andrew Boylan was in possession when the debate was adjourned but Deputy Ivan Yates is now offering. Deputy Yates.
Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).
It is a cause of great regret to me that this House is still debating this measure because every week that has gone by since this Bill was first published has seen a further deterioration in the morale of the staff both in ACOT and An Foras Talúntais. There is no doubt that it must be an immediate priority of this House to expedite this legislation.
The acceptance of offers of voluntary redundancy and early retirement has greatly depleted the ranks, particularly of ACOT. Last Monday I attended a meeting of the Wexford County Committee of Agriculture and heard at first hand from the acting CAO of the skeleton, hand-to-mouth services they are having to provide because of the level of early retirements and redundancies among district managers. County Wexford is without a CAO and the acting CAO is not even being paid an extra allowance. ACOT and An Foras Talúntais are in a state of limbo and total demoralisation because of the Minister's handling of this matter.
Agriculture is this country's single most important sector. There are some 150,000 farmers and agriculture accounts for 46 per cent of net exports and 30 per cent of the total workforce. In any line of business, whether it is manufacturing industry or the food industry, there is a simple rule of operation which now applies that change in the marketplace and in processing is such that any product has a life cycle of only five years at best. If an industry is to keep pace with a rapidly changing marketplace it must invest in research. Their approach to research must be unambiguous. In every other European country and among all our competitors there is a minimum level of expenditure of 1 per cent of GDP on research. It is a great source of disappointment to me that nationally speaking we have ignored research. It is something considered as an optional extra as opposed to necessity, which of course it is.
With this Government's treatment of research in terms of priority and the rationalisation of personnel and resources in that area under the proposed merger, I fear that the Irish food industry will lag further behind. The originally proposed cut from £34 million to £20 million between the 1987 and 1988 Books of Estimates shows quite clearly that the original intentions of the Minister were unworkable. To get rid of 1,000 jobs out of 2,200 would have devastating effects on an irreplaceable infrastructure of skill in the areas of research and advice which had been built up over many years. I fear this will be lost. There is also no doubt that the maximum number of voluntary redundancies that could have been obtained within ACOT and An Foras Talúntais was far short of the original figure. It seems there was not proper consultation prior to decisions being taken.
An Foras Talúntais have played a major role in the Wexford area. There is the excellent research station at Johnstown Castle and the soft fruit and research centre at Clonroche, Enniscorthy. The big question so far as the people of Wexford, the clients of the service provided by the State and those working in the service are concerned is which of these institutions is to be rationalised. There are many rumours. It could be Johnstown Castle because it has a poor ratio of operatives to research and there are rumours about overheads. There are conflicting rumours in relation to Moorepark, Oakpark, Dunsaney, Kinsealy and Grange. Whether there are three wise men appointed to preside over the rationalisation or it is the Minister's own political decision, there is an urgent need to clear the air as to which facilities will be retained and which will go. I would like to make a particular plea for Johnstown Castle, and I will go into some detail about this later on.
In addition, in the handling of this matter there must be direct and blunt criticism of the way the Government have proceeded to cut only 2 per cent in administration expenditure in the Department itself and to cut up to 43 per cent in the service on the ground in the research, advisory and education areas. This party wholeheartedly underwrites the cutting of expenditure but it strikes me that if there is an overall superstructure of State services, the last thing that should be cut is what goes over the counter to the public. What must be cut is the superstructure itself. I am glad that the redundancy scheme was extended to the Civil Service itself and hope we will see effective redeployment because, among the farming community and the public at large there is general dissatisfaction at the cost and level of administration in the Department of Agriculture and Food of schemes such as the TB eradication scheme and other schemes.
The origins of this legislation obviously lie in the Cashman report which involved many people who made a very constructive input. While there were mixed views about it, I think going back to Mark Clinton's time, there has always been a case for integrating the advisory and research services. I welcome the fact that there is such a merger, although I would have reservations about some aspects of the Cashman report. However, one thing we do not want to see in any merger is an enlargement of the likes of Frascati House in Blackrock and a restriction and dilution of services on the ground. All too often we are even better at producing larger nameplates on southside city offices that are adequately carpeted and centrally heated and we are all too quick to cut the front line of advisory workers on the ground. I fear that in one big organisation we may set up a bigger quango in terms of administration and that must be avoided at all costs.
There is one major criticism of the Cashman report, that is in regard to their proposed abolition of the county committees of agriculture. Like many Members of this House in rural constituencies I am a member of the county committee of agriculture but I am not totally lacking in objectivity about their usefulness. To some extent they have been talking shops; they have called on Ministers, usually the Ministers for Finance and Agriculture, to do this, that or the other and have received back at the next monthly meeting an acknowledgement from the Private Sectetary to say that their views are noted and it can seem a very frustrating exercise. However, they do provide one level of input into the whole State agricultural area that is irreplaceable, and for that reason they should be retained in some form or another. I refer to the fact that at district committee level they have practical farmers, practical ACOT advisers, different representatives on the ground inputting directly to the district managers of the ACOT service.
The Minister's party, when our party was in Government, used the county committee of agriculture as a political platform which I thought was regrettable, and we have seen many inconsistencies at local level since. However, there was a level of consultation which involved public representatives, farmers and the grassroots representatives of farm organisations, and basically that was a pool of knowledge that was worthwhile pursuing. If it is abolished the money saved will be spent on consultants' reports in Dublin, and I believe it is practical knowledge that is required and thus can be got for very small money. For this year to retain the county committee of agriculture would cost under £7,000, an absolute pittance, and that is just for them to retain the minimal level of service.
They also filled other roles in terms of helping ACOT to spread word of different seminars and, in terms of the local provincial press they had an immediate platform that ACOT would never have. ACOT would have to spend a lot more than £7,000 a year on agricultural supplements to local provincial papers alone to get the type of airing of agricultural matters that county committees of agriculture could get. Let us take the recent topical example of ACOT's drive to advise farmers in relation to pollution matters. A couple of meetings of a county committee of agriculture to have a solid debate on that, with an opportunity for the local ACOT expert on pollution to talk, and the media recording, gets far more coverage than anything else.
Therefore, in simple practical terms there is an unanswerable case for the retention of county committees of agriculture in some form or other. It is the Minister's loss, the Department's loss and farmers' loss that it is proposed in this Bill to simply scrap them and I very much regret it. I hope the Minister, on Committee Stage, will think again on this matter, because I know many members of his own party share this concern and would like to see the decision reversed.
I have always taken the view that the proposed voluntary redundancy scheme offered by the Government was far too generous. I said that at the outset and I think that view has been vindicated right across the board, from teachers to local authority members to foresters and people in the agricultural service who are availing of the redundancy scheme. When one looks at the potential cost in this instance of rationalisation, a cost of £17.5 million plus an annual payment of £7.5 million, it is money not well spent. I certainly have reservations about going to the Central Bank for this money, because I feel we could have got the same level of redundancies with less money. Also, in some instances the best people in the service have got out. Take the example of people who are not going on early retirement, but who are taking voluntary redundancy — people in their thirties — among those the best people will go because they will have the best opportunities outside the service. The people with the least opportunities will be the last to avail of it. There will be a huge brain drain from the organisation because of this.
Between 1982 and 1987 we have already seen a drop from 1,223 people in the ACOT service down to 1,030, people. That is a 16 per cent drop already, and I feel the embargo was the best way to proceed with such a slimming down of the organisation. Maybe the embargo could have been accelerated somewhat by moving from one in three to one in five instead of having a total embargo. That would, over a period of time, have brought about an orderly and reasonable rationalisation instead of a once-off massive brain drain haemorrhaging from the service.
There is no doubt, as far as farm incomes are concerned, that competition in the agricultural and food sectors is becoming more intense each year. If we look at it on a global scale we see countries like China and other far eastern countries becoming self sufficient in food. This has drastic implications for the competitiveness of Irish food because we must pick out particular market niches for our products, whether meat products or dairy products. This, coupled with the US surplus of food, will mean that in the nineties there will be no soft option of commodity trading or intervention as in the past. I fear that unless there is a further integration of the food element of the IDA into the new body we will lose further ground. There is no doubt that farm incomes in the future will almost solely depend on what happens in a post-farm gate situation. In other words the ability of the Irish food processing industry to present, market and process their products — and they being new technology related products — will be the key to Irish success. Unless we obtain premium prices there is simply no future for Irish agriculture even at present levels of income. The rate of return on capital employed in agriculture at present is in low single figures in net terms. That cannot be good for an industry that requires a lot of capital to develop at the rate at which Ireland needs to develop.
In relation to the overall level of expenditure I made the point earlier that other countries considered research to be absolutely vital. Ireland's percentage expenditure on research and education in Europe is now at the lowest level of all EC countries. At 0.73 per cent of the gross agricultural output figure it is shockingly low and is one-sixteenth of the Dutch figure. That is a very poor reflection of the commitment of this House and this Government to research. That must be seen in a context where 71 per cent of farmers' incomes are less than £100 per week or £5,000 per year. At a time when there is a crying need, because of limited land resources, the small to medium sized farmers are not in a position to buy more land no matter what land structure policies are in place. The only thing that can be done is to make them more productive, efficient and profitable and that requires research and advice. To spend one-sixteenth of what the Dutch are spending or 0.73 of the gross agricultural output is simply reprehensible. I would be in favour of a redeployment of most other forms of agricultural expenditure in favour of research because that is what the market dictates. I wish to turn now to Johnstown Castle. I am sure many Members of this House have visited Johnstown Castle.
Many Members have actually spoken about it and I am sure the Deputy will support what the other colleagues in his constituency have said.
I am sure other Deputies would want to contribute about locations in their constituencies. We will hear Johnstown Castle again for the tenth time.
I would rather if in the Minister's intervention he had been in a position to tell me there was no need for me to emphasise the needs of Johnstown Castle because he was going to assure me not only that it was guaranteed a secure future but that it would be developed.
The Deputy does not want to have it said that Deputy Yates said nothing in the Dáil, like the others did, about Johnstown Castle.
I can assure the Minister that my concern for Johnstown Castle goes beyond any lipservice or any local PR considerations. Johnstown Castle has taken 40 years to develop and there is now an irreplaceable facility there. There are 1,000 acres of land and an excellent complex of laboratories, buildings and equipment. They are one of the largest employers in Wexford and have 170 employees. One can imagine the devastation to the local economy should £4.1 million be taken out of it. Something that has impressed me regarding the case made by the staff, unions, researchers and scientists of Johnstown Castle is their willingness and their flexibility to cooperate with change and to take a commercial approach. It is very sad that it has taken the threat of closure to bring about this type of reality into many of our State organisations. I fear that we may be throwing out the bath water with the baby in relation to this service.
In the last two weeks they had a major seminar in relation to the thoroughbred industry: a very successful innovation whereby they can provide, because of their facilities, unique advice that is urgently required and will be paid for by the thoroughbred industry, the breeding industry, the racing industry and the horse industry generally. This type of development is essentially geared towards a self-financing base. They will charge commercial fees for a commercial service. That must be retained. If that service is lost to this country it is a national loss. It goes way beyond any pluses or minuses in Exchequer returns.
I also believe that Johnstown Castle apart from all the facilities which AFT have is uniquely placed to do environmental work. There is no doubt that over the past few years we have seen a growing significance attached to the pollutant and environmental factors relating to agriculture. They have already proved their worth in relation to soil testing. They are providing a national service on a commercial basis in that regard. This service has now been extended to water testing. This is the one growth sector where there was an identifiable need for such a service, as An Foras Forbartha have been abolished and because of cutbacks in domestic support grants to local authorities and because of restrictions, staff are not able to provide that service. There is a national need for a centre to provide this type of environmental work and to give advice to farmers on the different pollutant factors of spreading fertilisers, manure and all silo-effluents. It is very important that Johnstown Castle be given that opportunity.
In 1945 Johnstown Castle was a gift to the State. The terms of the gift was that it was not to be sold or let go other than for State use. I would consider it unbelievable that the State should contemplate any situation whereby they would renege on any commitments given at that time. Moreover, from the terms of that gift it is obvious that the State has an obligation to maintain Johnstown Castle. That means whether you have it as a research centre, the Office of Public Works or somebody else must pick up the tab for looking after Johnstown Castle. Therefore, we may as well get the full value from it. Its agricultural facilities are excellent. It has a slatted unit for 900 cattle. It has new silo pans and the amount of recent investment that has gone into it over the past few years would dictate that it must be retained. They can do work for the bloodstock industry, the Nuclear Energy Board and they can also obtain overseas revenues on consultancy work. They have already done this from such countries as Zimbabwe and the Azores and they can also provide training for overseas science workers. It should also be pointed out that they are carrying out tests on 100,000 soil samples per annum and 30,000 plant samples per annum. They have an excellent track record which anyone in the ACOT or AFT service can verify.
I hope the local newspapers pick this up because the national newspapers seem to have lost interest in it.
I can assure the Minister that I have no interest in prolonging this debate. It is a very important matter to my constituency. If there was a factory where there would be a loss of 170 jobs there would be a lot of concern in my constituency.
There is an agricultural museum in Johnstown Castle, which brings in 20,000 visitors per annum and the overall park area has up to 60,000 visitors per annum. I believe the Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy McCarty, indicated in his proposals for setting up a natural infrastructure for science and technology that there would be a regional cantre in the south east. There is no doubt that Johnstown Castle fits into his regional plans. It would seem totally out of line with those plans that the Minister should have any proposals to diminish the role of that establishment.
Clonroche Research Station is a smaller station, but is also very important. The Government party, prior to coming into office, made very solemn commitments on what they were going to do about the fruit and vegetable industry and set up a State board with that role in mind. Whatever about quangos, there is no doubt that Clonroche Research Station has provided invaluable facilities on a very low budget. It works in conjunction with the soft fruit growers and 90 per cent of the country's soft fruit, including most of the strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants are grown in Wexford. It has built up an excellent reputation for co-operation, advice on disease, on plant breeding and so on. It would seem hypocritical, in relation to Bord Glas, that an industry which has such a high export content should be adversely affected by the closure of Clonroche Research Station. That station is availing of EC contracts in relation also to biomass, although there has been a curtailment there because of some voluntary redundancies. I would ask for a commitment from the Minister, at the conclusion of Second Stage, in relation to Johnstown Castle and Clonroche Research Station and, specifically, that Johnstown Castle be written into the Bill as it was in previous legislation.
I should like to deal briefly with some points of detail in the Bill. I hope that the principles retained in the 1958 AFT Act will be retained, guaranteeing independence to the board, independence to initiate and conduct research and to report independently on this. It is absolutely vital that the legislation enshrine the independence of the new organisation. I should also like to see a separate research management structure so that there will be clearly delineated functions within the new organisation and a separate budget for research so that there is not across-the-board cutting. I ask the Minister to ensure some staff representation on the board.
I have received, as I am sure has every other Deputy, a submission from the Agricultural Science Association showing that only one in five farmers, totalling 30,000 farmers, is fully competitive and efficient, and that potentially 55,000 farmers, another third, are capable, with the right type of research, of becoming fully viable. I hope that the first target of this organisation will be to make those 55,000 farmers fully competitive, efficient and up to EC standards. I ask the Minister to do everything humanly possible to expedite the legislation and ensure that staff morale——
The Deputy is joking. He must be joking.
I am not joking.
The Deputy is asking me to expedite the legislation, when it has been before the House for three months.
I have been speaking for less than 30 minutes on this Bill. I have covered as briefly as possible a very wide range of issues.
The Deputy's constituency colleague spoke for over two hours.
That is a matter for her.
His party's spokesman spoke for three and a half hours and others.
There is no time limit on this debate.
Of course there is not.
The botched attempts of this Minister to merge the two agricultural organisations have caused a degree of concern on this side of the House which has led, perhaps, to a more prolonged debate than would otherwise have been necessary. In relation to the operation of the new organisation, they should try to evolve what has been done in the industrial sphere, a one-stop-shop at local level whereby a farmer could obtain the different types of services available at one contact point. I should like to see the work of the Farmer Apprenticeship Board incorporated into the new organisation.
I mentioned the IDA being involved in the food processing industry. I see no reason why we should continue to perpetuate bureaucracy and red tape in relation to farm grants, the farm improvement programme and other capital grants, with ACOT handling the applications and subsequently the paperwork being done by the Farm Development Service. These must be integrated. If the IDA in the industrial sphere can give advice, handle capital grants and make decisions on them, there is no reason all that work should not be done for agriculture by this one organisation and the Farm Development Service and their staff should be integrated into the organisation. I hope that an early five year plan will be drawn up with a solid programme of activity and a commitment that 35 per cent minimum of expenditure by the new organisation would be spent on the delivery of service on the ground. That is an urgent priority the Minister should lay down to the board.
I hope that any fees generated by this new organisation through the new commercial orientation would be allowed to be their life blood. That would regenerate investment in the organisation, as opposed to its being clawed back by the central Exchequer. I make a plea for an extension of veterinary research. I know our party spokesman at Question Time last week asked the Minister, in relation to his welcome proposals regarding the eradication of TB to give a clear commitment in relation to research. I heard the Minister stating that research was not something you could parcel away into one particular compartment. While that is true, there is need to extend veterinary research and this organisation should be charged with that role, along with further work in relation to the testing of fertilisers.
I have tried to be as brief as possible. I hope that when the Minister has the opportunity to conclude on Second Stage he will give a commitment that this is not just an exercise in book-keeping and rationalisation, that it is not just an exercise of implementing a report. It must be a new beginning to allow a new dynamic to enter State agricultural research and advisory services, to provide comprehensive education to meet the singular and specific commitments to which I have referred and, in relation to my local situation, a solid commitment must be given in relation to the future viability, survival, extension and growth of Johnstown Castle and Clonroche Research Station. If all those requests are met, I shall be only too happy, with my colleagues in my party, to ensure a speedy passage of this legislation through the House.
Will the Deputy support equally Belclare and all the other areas on which commitments have been sought, or is the Deputy merely being parochial?
The Minister seems to be very lacking in support for Johnstown Castle this morning. That is disappointing. I must speak to my colleagues who have given solemn commitments in the constituency.
Another Deputy is offering.
The Minister is very testy in relation to Johnstown Castle.
Deputy Dempsey is on his feet and he is in order.
Deputy Dempsey is entitled to a commitment as well.
They will all be gone soon.
How will the Government survive?
I shall be here.
Deputy Dempsey, without interruption.
The Members on the Opposition benches have had quite a considerable time to talk and I would appreciate the opportunity to say my little piece in relation to this Bill. Despite what has been said, I am pleased to note that there has been a general welcome in the House for the main provisions of the Bill, that is, the bringing together of agricultural advisory, training, education and research services. It is only natural that all these facets of agriculture should be together as one entity. I cannot envisage a situation in which anyone would seek to separate these functions.
The amalgamation makes sense not just because it will do away with a tendency to duplicate services but because it also provides us with the potential for increasing the efficiency with which the results of vital research can be disseminated to the end users, the primary producers and processors. The fact that we are the first in Europe to take such a step is inspiring, it reflects the fact that agriculture is that much more important to us than to any other European country. For that reason it is only fitting that we, after due thought and consideration, have the courage and foresight to take this step which we all agree is necessary. It is not the first time that Ireland has led Europe in agricultural terms.
Deputy Yates referred to some local institutions and I also take some pride in the fact that I live less than six miles from Grange, a townland and an institution that is synonymous throughout Europe for its innovative thinking and down to earth no-nonsense approach to cattle production and silage management. The AFT institute there has a worldwide reputation. Grange is the section of AFT with which I am most familiar and it is the centre about which I can speak with most conviction, but even if I lived in the furthermost constituency from Grange I would be familiar to some extent with its work among cattle farmers including calf producers, store cattle, new and finished beef producers. Grange occupies a very special place in their whole approach to their livelihood. When Grange hold one of their open days once every two years, cattle producers from all parts of the country are to be found among the thousands who come to this mecca for beef production. Some might think that calling it a mecca is an over-generous use of the word but they should consider that regularly, British agriculture journalists, technical journalists with top qualifications in farming techniques, many of whom are farmers, make a pilgrimage to Grange to see for themselves the latest advances in beef and silage technology. They want to know what the scientists at Grange are doing so that they can report back to their readers. These journalists write with great respect about what is going on here because they know they are dealing with the world's top class research that is being applied in a practical and commercial manner. While Britain is akin to us in climate, farming is very different, mainly due to the scale of the individual enterprises, the far higher level of mechanisation and the more commercial approach to farming generally as a business. These people, in spite of computer driven tractors and advanced techniques, look to Grange for advice and help when it comes to the feeding of cattle of all ages and to producing silage for these animals.
The same holds true for Moorepark, the AFT's dairy research centre. Only recently I saw a two page article on research into milking machine liners carried out at Moorepark, in one of the foremost dairying publications in Britain. The writer of the article faithfully and almost with reverence quoted the results and opinions of the Moorepark scientists because similar research is not being carried out in Britain. It has not even occurred to the British to carry out basic research into milking machine liners. The main body of advanced thinking on this important subject now seems to be centred at Moorepark.
Headline research such as I have mentioned has been carried out for many years by AFT, giving independent results. In the Moorepark research centre the scientists involved are dealing with commercial products on which individuals and companies are depending for their livelihoods. In instances like this it is critical that research is independent and is seen to be independent. Research cannot afford to be tainted with any hint of something that is not absolutely independent. This is a hallmark of all successful research. It is a tribute to the independent status of AFT researchers that their findings on the liners and all their other research is accepted for what it is.
Many millions of pounds are spent on various aspects of agriculture research in Britain but the bulk of that money is spent by commercial companies with a stake in the results and farmers therefore are purely deprived due to the tied nature of these results. That is partly why British farmers show such an interest in the research results from Ireland. They know them to be completely independent. It would be a pity if there was anything in this Bill that would dilute this independence because it would defeat the whole purpose of research. I have examined the Bill carefully and I find no grounds for any fears in this regard.
Probably the greatest single visible advance in farming in Ireland in recent years has been the growth in the number of silage pits and silage slabs in all parts of the country. AFT have been largely responsible for initiating the basic research that has proved beyond all doubt that silage can be made economically and that when fed to cattle gives the optimum weight gain.
Farmers have been able to save money and indeed the country saves approximately £12 million per annum by having been reassured by the people at Grange that sulphuric acid can be used equally effectively in the preservation of grass as silage instead of the much dearer formic acid which had to be imported. Some of the sulphuric acid can now be produced locally and most farmers now use it in preference to formic acid.
In the same area, I note that practical work at Grange now includes research towards the development of a simple instrument that will help the farmer decide how much acid he should apply to grass or silage. This should not only save the farmer money but it will also have the direct effect of generally raising the standard and quality of silage made here. The farmer will be able to decide with a much greater degree of accuracy the exact quantity of acid his silage needs at any given time rather than having to depend totally on past experience and guesswork. This instrument is not an invention of Grange. There are several of them on the market, but it is a measure of the esteem in which farmers hold Grange research that they will not moveen masse towards this idea until Grange gives its imprimatur after a couple of years of research.
The fact that about 70 per cent of winter feed is saved as silage is a major tribute to the work of ACOT which has done detailed and convincing work on the ground to convince more and more farmers that silage is the only way to get optimum results from cattle. Their national campaigns in the last few years are a classic example of effective communication to a mass audience. Radio advertising has been used to the optimum effect in conjunction with thousands of meetings with farmers at parish level all over the country. Here we saw a national cohesive unit in operation, putting all its resources into the sort of single minded effort it takes to change old habits in what after all is a rather traditional section of our community. It is a particularly good example of the co-operation that can and will exist under the measures being introduced today. Even in my own county where farming would be regarded in general as being pretty well advanced, I have noticed the growth in the amount of land being closed off for silage, for the building of second pits, on a great many farms. That is noticeable no matter where you travel around the country.
As I have said, it is perhaps in the area of silage making that we have seen how well co-operation between AFT and ACOT has worked. The institute proved that silage was best and ACOT then carried this message to the farmers. They complemented each other's work and all that is happening under this Bill is that this arrangement is being formalised so that it can be brought to bear in all areas in the future. As I have said, it is a matter of common sense.
Let me refer to ACOT and their educational role. As a teacher I have taken a particular interest in their work. The traditional approach in too many farming families, and perhaps in many schools also, was that the young men destined to inherit the farm did not need any education and the attitude was, why would he need an education when he was going to take over the farm. It was often with a sense of frustration that I tried to deal with some of these youngsters. They never bothered to work in school because of the attitude which prevailed at home. If many farmers realised the changes which were going to take place, particularly during the past five to seven years, their attitude would have changed. Thankfully, the attitude has now changed and many of these farmers' sons are leading the way in schools, taking in a wide and extensive range of subjects because they know knowledge will be necessary to handle the great variety of skills they will need as a modern farmer in Ireland.
As a guidance counsellor I am pleased to see how these young men and women are being taken in hand and taught the necessary basics in farming through the Green Cert courses. From a position of almost total neglect and lack of interest, to which I referred earlier, suddenly formal education is a necessary and basic requirement for the farmer of the future and this is only as it should be. As has been mentioned by other Deputies in an industry which is so vital to the entire nation, those involved must have a thorough foundation in the education needed to be able to handle all of the intricacies involved in becoming in a professional manner what is effectively a managing director of a medium-sized business. There are farmers, and I am not referring to the elite few with big estates but fairly ordinary farmers, who have turnovers in excees of £100,000 annually. In business terms their operations are very large especially when you consider that they are basically owner-operated by a single person. I do not think many of us in this House would have the courage to undertake such a massive operation without having a back-up service such as the one provided by ACOT.
Education in agriculture more than in any other section of the community is an ongoing process to such an extent that the farmers of this generation will not even recognise the techniques used by those of the next generation. In this context I was pleased to see recently that the IFA, in conjunction with the FBD Trust, have continued their investment in the future of farming in a very concrete manner by renewing their programme of scholarships to our agricultural colleges.
One of the main reasons this Bill is getting a general welcome is because it eliminates the wasteful duplication of effort which can arise through various means in the work of ACOT and AFT. If there is anything we need less of it is the type of bureaucracy which leads to two or more people doing the same essential work. Is there any need, therefore, for the kind of bureaucracy represented in a document such as the one I have before me, which I think would form a good basis from which to produce a black comedy for stage or television? It is an IFA document and its sets out the steps which a farmer must take in order to obtain a grant under the farm improvement scheme. There are 16 steps in all, many of which overlap, and taking into account what I said earlier about not delaying the House I will not quote from it. Anything which will get rid of this type of bureaucracy is to be welcomed.
Speaking of change, I would like to put it on record that I firmly believe that change if it is to be effective can be, and in most cases is, painful. I believe that in years to come people will look back on 1988, the year ACOT and AFT were amalgamated, as being the year when a Government faced up to the realities of the future of agriculture, took the bull by the horns and did something about a situation which had been talked about for many years. It will also be looked on as the time when new blood was introduced to our agricultural research services and this can only be welcomed.
Although, arguably, we have the best agricultural research in Europe, and I hope that that will continue to be the case, it is a bit crazy that some basic back-up services are sometimes not provided. I have heard it said that agricultural institute people are notorious for going out to borrow even the simplest pieces of equipment, such as a bailer at hay-making time, simply because their own machinery is so old that it is always breaking down. If you employ a skilled workman, the least that you should do is make sure that he has the working tools. It also seems crazy that universities, who often duplicate their research being carried out by the Agricultural Institute, are often better equipped and have more money for specific projects than the body with the statutory obligation to do that research work. I hope steps will be taken to rectify this under the new authority.
There is one area which I would like to see the new authority get more deeply involved in and that is the area of family farm budgeting. Greater emphasis has been put lately on financial management in farming. ACOT have been training specialists in this area mainly because financial management has been a weakness on too many farms. Indeed, the same could be said about some of our smaller industrial enterprises. Without getting involved in any controversy as to who was responsible for the rush to borrow or lend money in the seventies, it is clear that many farmers have had to learn the hard way that managing money in these one-person businesses is not an easy matter. In fact, I notice in an article in the monthly magazine,The Practical Farmer, financial management is described as being the best second enterprise on the farm.
An integral part of farm finance is the family budget. I know from speaking to friends of mine in farming, who have invariably drawn up detailed plans for their enterprises, that the family budgeting element is frequently under-estimated by them and they invariably are surprised by the size of the allocation needed in this area. I know that ACOT have material on this matter but because it is not directly related to husbandry matters it tends to be pushed down the list of priorities in terms of advice. As experts in their own right farmers, as well as their ACOT advisers, tend to know down to the nearest £10 how much income can be expected from any enterprise before the variables such as weather, disease and interest rates are taken into account but not as much scientific effort has been put into the human resource side of farming. More information is needed on this matter so that household expenses and the general cost of running a family as well as a farm can be formally budgeted into plans for any enterprise. Most of us would agree that we could do with this sort of advice and help at times. Because of the nature of farming in this country, where agriculture is still, thankfully, dominated by the concept of the family farm, the family consistently get involved in the farm enterprise more so than in other businesses.
In relation to the make-up of the Authority, I am confident that the Minister will give the nation an indication of his confidence and trust in the new Authority by the calibre of the people he appoints to the board. Long gone, I hope, are the days when appointments to such boards could be seen as personal rewards for political faithfulness. The Minister has an opportunity, and I have no doubt that he will rise to it, of confirming the conviction that this is so. Dare I suggest that there are several dozen people among those who have taken advantage of the redundancy package, which was referred to earlier by Deputy Yates, both in ACOT and AFT, who could and should be considered for membership of the new Authority? I do not mean that as a kind of sop to the way we were, a gesture or a tacit acknowledgement that maybe the old ways were best but we should draw on the best resources and the best people that we have, the people with the experience of showing others what to do, the people who will have the difficult task of carrying out the functions of the new board on a day to day basis. There are also many eminent scientists and people with practical vision who have decided for their own reasons to take advantage of redundancy and redeployment and to leave the public service. These people should not and will not be lost to Irish farming because many of them are taking up positions in private commercial companies involved in the agricultural industry or even setting up as private consultants to farmers or in the agri-business. These people should be considered for membership of the board.
By the same token I hope the Minister will agree with me when I put forward the idea that local involvement through our local public representatives is important, not necessarily on the board of the Authority which is limited, as it should be, but through a committee or committees as set out in section 17 of the Bill. Without such a provision local representatives will be denied, for the first time in the history of the State, direct involvement in our largest industry, due to the abolition of the committees of agriculture. No longer have our local representatives got a forum where they can bring to public attention agricultural matters raised by the people they represent. I would have to agree and re-emphasise what has been said here by a variety of speakers, that the effectiveness of the committees of agriculture was blunted almost completely over the past five years through a purposeful determination to starve them of funds. I am concerned that the views of many will not now be heard. The Minister has an opportunity, under section 17 of the Bill, of going some way towards rectifying this situation.
Granted, it can be argued that local views will get a hearing in the new authority through the Irish Farmers Association and through the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association. However, both of these organisations are special interest groups and do not necessarily reflect the views of all farmers. They certainly do not reflect the views of the substantial number of non-farming people who make up our rural communities. Local councillors, by definition, are in constant touch with the people and the potential of their capabilities needs to be recognised formally through representation on at least one of the proposed committees.
This ties in very much with the Minister's plans to have a comprehensive programme of integrated rural development and I am glad to see that he has broadened the definition of agriculture in the Bill to include rural development. I welcome the Minister's announcement that he intends bringing plans for this programme before the House at an early date, and I would urge that he give strong consideration to making this programme a community-based one. Let us take this opportunity of getting away from the empire building that has been the curse of many well-meant and, indeed, inspired moves in the past, to enable us to pull ourselves up to the boot-straps. These empires have been built on sand because the vital element, that is the people, have been ignored. People involved with each other and working together in their own communities are the people who accomplish anything worthwhile in this country, with the physical help and encouragement of a strong Government.
In the spirit of Canon Hayes, it is the local community groups who know where the sandy soil is. It is the local community groups who will succeed, where others have failed in providing employment, be it through conventional agriculture or through rural development in other spheres. Here I am thinking of small industry development, tourism and agri-tourism, forestry, the formation of small local co-operatives. The potential is endless if we supply the leadership that can make people once more believe in themselves and their own abilities.
Encouragement and leadership are needed, just as much as funds are if our vision of the future, as represented by the steps outlined in this Bill, are to be realised. While on the subject of funds, it is somewhat disappointing that the main thrust of the speeches in this debate, from critics of the Bill, seems to be in relation to funds. All we hear is money, more money and yet more money. The Minister has given an assurance that the new Authority will not lack for funds. Need I remind Deputies that plentiful funds have not solved the vexed question of bovine tuberculosis and never will. What is needed there is an integrated plan with a clear direction where the scheme is going. I am glad to see that this has now been provided by the Minister, to the clear satisfaction of all parties involved, the farmers, the vets and the Department of Agriculture.
In the same way, this clear direction is now being given in respect of agricultural research and education. Exciting times are ahead of us all. There is no doubt about it, in facing up to the new reality we have to have all our wits about us. Farming worldwide is beset with uncertainty. Alternative enterprises are being introduced at a very fast rate and although land use in Ireland will continue to be dominated by the conventional enterprises, areas devoted to other activities will increase and this must be done in a planned manner in line, with technical, financial and marketing realities.
For that reason, I thoroughly agree with Dr. Pierce Ryan, the Director of An Foras Talúntais, who has said that we are in an era of radical change in the agricultural industry. Writing in the February 1987 issue ofFarm and Food Research he says:
Change always bring uncertainty and a demand for sound information on which to base decisions about the future. Many farmers and food processors are now being faced with these decisions, as a period of rapid development in conventional farm enterprises comes to an end. People are asking: Where do we go from here? What does this new situation demand? What are the opportunities for the future?
Research produces soundly based information on which reliable decisions can be based, it develops new techniques and processes, it highlights probable future trends — in short, its products are the basic facts, figures, know-how and informed views which are the essential ingredients of progress. It has served agriculture and the food industry well in the expansion phase. Now, more than ever, it has a key role to play in changing the direction of these vital industries.
I believe that this Bill will go a long way towards doing that.
First, I am delighted to have this opportunity of speaking on this Bill and in particular on the proposed merger between ACOT and An Foras Talúntais. If I ever heard a veiled criticism of what one's own Minister is doing I have certainly heard it from Deputy Dempsey. Of all the things Deputy Dempsey, or the agricultural community, would aspire to, they are unlikely to get it with a 42 per cent cut in expenditure provided for the various agencies, that is if the Government believe those agencies have any role to play in the future.
This merger has exercised the minds of politicians, agriculturalists and farmers for many years. The House is aware of the general consensus of opinion that was around ten years ago. At that time a former Minister for Agriculture, Mark Clinton, put through the House a Bill to amalgamate research, education and the advisory services. Everybody welcomed it. Everybody thought that was the way we should go — everybody except Fianna Fáil and even to this day, nobody can understand why the then Minister Gibbons decided not to go through with it.
Now we have a rehash of that legislation. I want to go on record as saying that I welcome the principle involved because I have always believed we should have that tie up to ensure that farmers benefit from the best new techniques and technology which can be brought to them by the people they have come to trust down the years, the advisory service, who understand all the problems facing the farming community. As I said, I never knew why Fianna Fáil abolished that Bill but Minister Gibbons got a lot of blame, although I understood it was a full Cabinet decision. In keeping with all the magnificent U-turns this Government have made over the last 12 months, we have this new Bill which is presented as the ultimate in the areas of advice, research and education. We are told there is nothing more useful or important for the future of Irish agriculture than this legislation.
Because of this merger £20 million is literally being taken out of Irish agriculture because of staff reductions. Let the House be in no doubt about what is happening. The research, advisory and educational legs of our farming industry are being paralysed and it appears that all attempts at physiotherapy are being denied to the patient. I acknowledge that the national debt must be tackled. My party stood, won and lost at various times on this issue, but we are consistent in our efforts to control the spiral of national borrowing for day-to-day spending. This approach means that whatever Government are in power, we must have better utilisation of our resources. That goes without saying.
I charge this Government with serious neglect and ineptitude in regard to this Bill. How can a national organisation whose two predecessors consistently pleaded shortage of resources to carry out their mandate now be expected to operate with their budget cut by 40 per cent while still having responsibilities remarkably similar in content to their predecessors? I cannot see how those sums add up. I remember a Bill coming through the House a few years ago giving ACOT authority to charge a fee for their advice under certain conditions. There was absolute uproar from Fianna Fáil who were on this side of the House, with Deputy after Deputy denouncing the Bill as scandalous, irresponsible and, above all, a slap in the face for rural Ireland. Every county committee of agriculture denounced the move a treachery and volumes were written to have the decision rescinded.
This Government decided to decimate the entire body of advisory work, research and education in agriculture and I have no doubt that very little thought was given to any rational cutbacks taking place in the Department of Agriculturevis-à-vis ACOT and An Foras Talúntais, or maybe the Government were more devious than I suspected and a lot of thought went into this. My views on this subject are reinforced by the Minister's decision not to make public the results of the so-called staff audit into all aspects of manning levels in the Department. How can one rationally explain a reduction of 40 per cent in AFT and ACOT and argue that the Department needed all their staff where they had them, even the 100 former Land Commission inspectors — who were given something to do recently after sitting around for 12 months at a cost to the taxpayer of £1 million to £1.5 million? I cannot understand why all these things have been let drift while at the same time we are led to believe there can be no change in the manning levels in the Department but that the ACOT and AFT budgets can be cut by almost 50 per cent. I believe the cuts were agreed in a hurry to placate the Department of Finance and that no thought was given to what was going to happen, not alone this year but in 20 years time.
I notice there is a serious ill-informed notion circulating in rural Ireland that because of the quota restrictions on many farming enterprises there is no need for professional agricultural advice or research into matters related to production agriculture. This is very short-sighted and extremely dangerous. We will be forever primary exporters of dairy products, beef and sheep meat. Let us remember that even our products under quota restrictions must be of a standard to sit side by side on supermarket shelves anywhere in the world against all competitors. There will be changes in production methods to reduce input costs, to increase rates of prolificacy in cows and ewes and to produce a product that is market orientated and can be sold against competitors anywhere. It is against that background that we view the remarkable curtailment in activity in research and advisory sections.
Let us come to a more basic assessment. How many people need help in the agricultural area? Leading economists tell us we are likely to have approximately 25,000 to 30,000 of what I describe as "self-propelled farmers" in ten years time. If we were to confine ourselves to the demands of these 30,000 farmers, we would need to have a very efficient highly motivated advisory service with great linkage to modern research technology and even then this group will be at severe risk with the proposals we have before us. Granted an argument can be made that advice and research should be partially paid for by this group, and that is what my Government tried to do a couple of years ago, but because of the small size of the group, the cost to each farmer could be prohibitive and this, in turn, could do untold harm to a section which has great potential to produce both quality and quantity quickly. That is the great selling factor the top 20 per cent to 25 per cent of our farmers have. If the advisory service cannot supply the agricultural advice at a competitive price, private agricultural consultancy firms will blossom and they will prosper with the same enthusiasm and vigour as accountancy firms have done recently. The question must be asked, "Is that good for Irish agriculture"? In my view it represents a retrograde step because the farmer with money will develop but the developing farmer will be unable to compete. There is a parallel for this in our health services. A two-tier system of agricultural advice will be disastrous. Private consultancy firms will attract the more active graduates from the service and that will cause more trouble for the existing service.
Even with maximum financial support for the farmer in the £30,000 bracket, I cannot see the new organisation having the personnel or the financial resources to meet the needs of this group. Most farmers understand what I am getting at. However, we have another 125,000 farming families and I should like to know where they come in. The outlook for them is bleak and very depressing. Many of them want specialised advice and back-up research but I wonder if they will get it. In my view they will not and for one simple reason, they will be unable to pay for it. That is the bottom line as far as the Bill is concerned. Farmers who are able to pay for advice and research have some hope but those who cannot are at the wrong game.
I can see vast areas of the country getting no more than token advisory cover, a resemblance of the parish agent concept of the thirties and forties. We still have many small farmers who need a lot of persuasion to convince them that changes are necessary for themselves and the country. All available evidence shows that irrespective of the methodology used to dispense agricultural advice — I am referring to group participation and producer groups — there is and always will be great need for personal contact between the agricultural adviser and the farmer and his wife. Despite all the modern advances in communication by television, radio and newspapers, that special relationship and bond that developed between the farmer and the adviser, particularly on matters relating to management and finance, is as important today as it was 25 years ago.
The Bill, with its implications for staffing, heralds the beginning of the end for this most fruitful type of advisory work. I should like to warn the House that an area from Clare to Donegal will be decimated by the provisions of the Bill. Some Deputies may heave a sigh of relief and, indeed, it is obvious that the Minister has little understanding or time for the position of small farmers. We accept that many small farmers will have to leave the land and that is nothing new in Ireland. However, what makes a mockery of these proposals is the decision to withdraw the advisory service on matters related to alternative farming trends. I am referring to the other ways that farming families, particularly those living on small holdings, have of earning additional income for themselves in years to come.
The population voted overwhelmingly for the Single European Act and, as a result, we will qualify for a doubling in real terms of regional and structural funds by 1992. However, the people we would expect to be showing leadership and ensuring that we have the type of programmes that Brussels will accept will be gone by 1992. In fact, many of them have left the service. It is obvious that if the rural integrated programmes are to mean anything they must incorporate the farming community as a principal participant. Irrespective of what plans are conceived and presented to the EC for funding, their success or failure will depend on the calibre and motivation of the people concerned. I would have thought that the advisory service would be to the fore in this development. Indeed, it is my belief that members of the advisory service should be the natural co-ordinators in any integrated programme. I am critical of the fact that the advisory services did not involve themselves more in other lines of activity such as farm guesthouse promotion, tourism, forestry and other aspects of community life that could lead to an increased income for small farmers. I accept that the advisory service commenced a number of pilot schemes that have proved successful but we will not have the personnel on the ground to continue them.
If the financial arrangements are not changed I do not think we will have a major research station in the west of Ireland. I see a cloud hanging over the Belclare station. Those who know anything about farm research will accept that that station has played a vital role in many aspects of western agriculture. We regard the Belclare station as the flagship of the west. However, the staff at that station see the writing on the wall. The demonstration farms at Creagh, Blindwell and Ballinamore have a cloud hanging over them. I recall that when the institute decided some years ago to close the sheep demonstration farm at Maam Cross, Connemara, there was uproar in the House. Fianna Fáil Members described it as the greatest disaster to hit Irish farming. On that occasion Ministers of State, Deputies Treacy, Geoghegan-Quinn and Fahey in a chorus said that the Government responsible for that decision should be kicked out of office immediately. I wonder what they will say when seven or eight of the stations under their noses are closed. It will be difficult to explain to the electorate in Galway what went wrong this time.
What is galling the Deputy is that they are in Government and he is not.
The longer the Minister is in charge the worse it will be for Irish farming. The Bill provides for the abolition of county committees of agriculture. As Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture I had occasion to attend meetings of most of the county committees in the past four years. I have my own views on the role they should play. I accept that before we permitted farming organisations to participate they did not have that much to offer but they have proved to be a useful forum for voicing opinions in the counties. I hope it will not be the case of there being a prospect of advisory groups in each county but that there will be such groups. I hope the Bill is amended accordingly.
It is incumbent on all of us to bring together those who have to make a living from farming and get them to present their views in a formal way. We should provide a forum for discussion on agricultural topics in each county. That is the least we can expect from the Minister. If he does not do that he is, in effect, saying there is not room or time for the people who have to make a living from farming. The Minister's decision amounts to no more than an insult to the farmers. In my view they would seek the minimum of compensation if asked to give the benefit of their experiences to others. A great case can be made for the introduction of such a forum in each county.
I heard on the rounds recently that the Minister has suggested, for some reasons best known to himself, that Fine Gael are responsible for the delay in the passing of this Bill. I should like to point out that there has been at least six months of messing in the Department or in the office of the parliamentary draftsman. The delay did not have anything to do with Fine Gael. In fact, in the past we expressed a willingness to sit on Fridays, if necessary, to deal with this legislation. There is pressure on the Minister from the farming organisations about the delay. There is a more devious reason for the delay. I was told six months ago by people in the system that we were unlikely to see the Bill passed until almost the last day before the summer recess. That appears to be the case today.
If the Deputy had anything to do about this the Bill would not be law until Christmas.
The Minister wants to make sure that he will have the system in place by 1989 when he hopes to get money from somewhere. He should not try to be codding the farmers because they will not take it. We have now arrived at the stage where we will be looking for a few million pounds from the national lottery to keep our advisory service going. The Minister knows that the best people in the two organisations have taken voluntary redundancy and the remaining staff are depressed and demoralised. The Minister merely wants to ensure that the numbers have decreased to meet his budget targets. That is a mean approach to people who have given a wonderful service.
Of course, everybody knows that the best brains have gone but I appeal to the Minister to ask the Minister for Finance for financial support so that we will have the best people in the right place to run this organisation, even though it is run down. Anything less is an insult to agriculture. The Minister should also ensure that agricultural advice and research is available to people who cannot pay for them. There are exciting times ahead as far as integrated pilot areas are concerned but the only people who understand those in rural areas are those who have been involved in the advisory service. Please do not get rid of the good ones before the system is in place.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The importance of agriculture to Ireland has been well aired in this House and at other fora. When we joined the EC it was on the basis of the benefits that a common market would bring to the improvement of our agricultural industry as well as the overall benefits to the economy and the population in general.
The size of the new market for agricultural produce was one of the areas continually promoted by those seeking acceptance of our entry terms to the EC. Since our entry, little has changed in so far as the importance of the EC market to Ireland is concerned and the importance of agriculture to our country. The proportion of total exports represented by agriculture and food exports at 27.6 per cent is the highest in the European Community. Our external trade is 62 per cent as a percentage of GNP which represents one of the highest in Europe.
If our agricultural development is to continue to prosper, it is vital that this country meets the changes in a constructive and developmental way. I welcome 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 agriculture advisory services, training, education and research services. It is important to every sector of industry to periodically step back from and examine the systems and bodies in place which service that particular industry. Agriculture should be no exception.
The new body should be reviewed after about eight to ten years to see what changes or improvements might be made. The new Authority will have a very daunting task in co-ordinating all aspects of training, research and advice to the agricultural industry. In the current climate, with funding for every sector of industry being carefully monitored, it is particularly important that the Minister gets every aspect of the new Authority correct from the very start. The professional services provided by the new Authority will have the unique responsibility of enhancing Ireland's reputation as an agricultural country with an agricultural industry which has been brought into the 20th century. This is no easy task and I wish the new Authority every success in the work ahead of them.
The farmer of the eighties and nineties has to be much more than the image of the farmer in the past. He must be a successful manager, an enterpreneur and be in a position to compete successfully with the best competition from our neighbours in the EC. The farmer of the future must have an absolute knowledge of his industry, be a specialist in the product he is producing and be knowledgeable in the marketing of his produce in so far as he can avail of the best use of his product.
The Government have a mandate to make the best possible use of scarce resources and, in doing so, they are to be commended for their efforts since taking office last year. They have set out the priorities required for agriculture by introducing this Bill. The future needs of agriculture have been identified and this Bill is tangible evidence that they are concerned and doing something about the future needs of agriculture.
The main object of the Bill is to set in place a strong, organisational structure where the effective delivery of support service is vital to the successful development of agriculture and the food industry. This is being done by combining the considerable resources of the existing organisations and using them in the best way possible to effect a powerful aid to the agricultural industry. The rapidly changing agricultural development brings new opportunities every year to our farmers and it is important that we have the back-up structures in place to ensure that farmers avail of the opportunities which the changing developments might bring.
In deciding to bring together An Foras Taluntais and ACOT, it is important that we commend both these bodies for their excellent service to farmers and the invaluable contribution made by both organisations over the past number of years. The development of agriculture and the economy as a whole owes a lot to the work carried out by the dedicated employees of these two bodies. An Foras Talúntais have earned an international reputation for the excellence of the research work they carried out in a number of stations around the country. The improvement in the production and quality of our primary farm products, such as dairying, crop husbandry, horticulture and pig production over the past few years has been dramatic. ACOT have been to the forefront in bringing young farmers, in particular, through their certification in farming courses, up to date with the most modern farm practices.
I should like to turn to a specific area of the new Bill, the importance of providing and identifying proper centres for the new body. I should also like to stress the importance of tillage in the agricultural industry. It is well known that, over the last few years, with decreasing markets for some of our farm produce tillage has also suffered. While only about 10 per cent of our arable acreage is in tillage, the lowest in any Community country, tillage is a very important component in the Irish economy. The area of all our cereal crops is approximately 400,000 hectares and the area of all our root crops is about 100,000 hectares. Because of the declining profitability of tillage in the past three years, mainly because of EC policies, there has been a further reduction in the area but it is highly desirable to hold our tillage acreage at something in the region of 500,000 hectares to have a viable tillage sector.
The value of tillage crops to the economy in 1985, the last year for which we have returns, is something in the order of £213 million, a significant amount. With increasing mechanisation and specialisation, tillage has become more concentrated in the south eastern counties. When you look at the soil suitability maps prepared by An Foras Talúntais, there are good reasons for this movement, the south east being the area where most of it is carried out. The employment arising from the handling and processing of our tillage crops is also highly significant. Proportionate to their total value tillage crops give high downstream employment and this Government have identified this as growth area where more jobs can be created. The appointment of a Minister with special responsibility for horticulture is evidence of the seriousness with which the Government regard that area.
In servicing the research and advisory needs of the tillage farmer, the Oak Park Centre in Carlow is ideally located. Considerable scientific and technical assessment went into the selection of Oak Park in 1961 as the national tillage research centre for the country. The soils of Oak Park are very typical of a large proportion of the good tillage soils of the south-east. No other institute or ACOT centre can make the same claim. In Oak Park are two main types of soil, one a light textured, gravelly soil derived from limestone gravels typical of the light soils of the Barrow Valley and parts of Kilkenny, Laois, Kildare and Offaly. The second is a heavy textured soil derived from boulder clay, typical of the good heavy tillage soils of Meath, Kildare, Laois and Carlow. The selection of Oak Park for the 1988 ploughing championships in October was no accident. It is a first-class tillage centre.
In the context of a tillage research, a good example is Oak Park's contribution to the introduction of winter barley in the south-east. There was no commercial winter barley in Ireland before 1975. A ten-year research programme mounted in 1977 and completed in 1987 with the publication of a production manual set the headline for advisers and producers in assessing the potential of winter barley for particular soil types and tillage systems. Adopting the recommendations as a result of this ten-year programme is now putting an additional £7 million annually into growers' pockets based on a winter barley area of about 32,000 hectares. Oak Park are now initiating a new programme on malting barley because of the new opportunities for exporting quality malting barley to the Continent. They back the husbandry programmes of all cereals with the most up-to-date laboratory and engineering support. Currently they can identify the variety of cereals for specific markets with absolute certainty on single grains and they can detect the presence of unwanted varieties to an accuracy of 0.1 of 1 per cent. This is the kind of back-up farmers will need if they are entering an international marketplace.
The people in Oak Park are to be commended on their speciality in this area. They are at present demonstrating how cereals can be upgraded qualitywise to specific physical measurements and density. The marketplace will demand quality and Oak Park can demonstrate how growers can compete. For successful cereal production you must have first-class crop protection back-up programmes ready to advise on the most efficient and economical chemicals and techniques to meet any threat to the crop. The back-up given by Oak Park experts over the past two decades is acknowledged by advisers, growers and chemical companies alike as being first-class.
If you look at the changed scene for sugar beet you will see the effect of the combination of the skills of the sugar company with the science of An Foras Talúntais. AFT breeders with the financial support of the sugar company gave mono germ beet seed the best quality seed ever produced. The pathologists prescribed seed dressings for the pelleted seeds to protect it when sown to a stand.
On the potato front Oak Park have found a new export variety, Cara, and this is to be commended to the experts who are dealing with the potato crops in Oak Park. They have a new variety for the home trade, Glenroe, which in time will take over from Kerr's Pinks. They believe there are considerable opportunities to expand seed potato exports from the intensive tillage areas without in any way reducing the production of high class, elite seed in Donegal. They will have to have the most up-to-date information for growers who want to move into seed potato production with new varieties. They have started a cooperative programme with their colleagues in ACOT and the Department of Agriculture and Food on the seed potato potential for the south-east tillage soils, and the new information will be passed to growers in due course.
Many people will be aware of the significant contribution Oak Park has made in the area of agricultural engineering. The machinery input into tillage farming is very expensive and research information from other countries is of a limited value unless adapted to our own needs. Machinery costing for the different tillage operations has received special study and the findings in Oak Park have always been published. Irish agriculture is especially vulnerable to the vagaries of international energy markets. We are 60 per cent dependent on imported fuels. Oak Park has an intensive EC-supported programme examining the importance of forest biomass as an energy source for both industrial and domestic purposes. We have an environment which is ideal for the growing of conventional forest trees or short rotation species and we should be able to provide a low priced biomass fuel as an energy source. The energy research programme in Oak Park is linked to an international research programme examining the utilisation of biomass products such as straw and forestry for energy purposes.
I am merely outlining these points because I feel it is important that the Oak Park Institute, because of their geographical location, the work carried out there over a number of years and because of the expertise they have acquired, should be identified as the new tillage and dissemination centre for the country. They should be joined by the specialist colleagues they have in the new organisation to provide a fully integrated service to growers, processors, and consumers.
Everyone accepts the need for cuts in the cost of the public service, but we should not lose sight of the expertise that has been built up over the years. It would be regrettable to everybody concerned if we were to lose any of it. In a research study of expenditure on agricultural research and extension services in 104 countries including Ireland, it has been shown that Ireland has fallen behind most other countries of northern Europe when investment as a percentage of agricultural output is taken as a base. The new body being set up should be a step forward and some people who have been criticising the Government and the Minister in particular for the delay in pushing this Bill through the House should take account of what is being done. It is the biggest shake-up in the agricultural industry in a number of years. The Minister and the Government need everybody's support in this. It is a move in the right direction, and I ask that they do not lose sight of what we have built up over a number of years with this expertise.
At this stage in a protracted debate a person in my position is picking up the crumbs from the rich man's table. It is very difficult towards the conclusion of a debate where the issues have been thoroughly analysed to say something new which is of significance to the Bill. I will confine my remarks to the contents of the Bill and its relevance to agriculture in the west.
For years we were led to believe through text books in schools and so on that agriculture was our primary source of income. Irrespective of upward and downward movements in the graph relating to segmental developments in the economy, there is no doubt that agriculture will always have a pivotal role. Agriculture in its full sense has suffered a decline in terms of employment content but, on the other hand, there have been multifaceted developments in diversification and downstream products in the food industry.
I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food for the manner he has undertaken his task in relation to the development of the food sector and added-value products. I have heard him speak in the Seanad over a number of years and I know his expertise on a professional level. He has the determination to tackle with vigour the development of this sector which hitherto has not received the necessary thrust to generate its full potential.
We are fortunate to have been blessed with the indigenous source of wealth in our land. Even before the scientific development of agriculture we managed by using traditional methods to outstrip our competitors. Very much part and parcel of the new dynamism in agriculture has been the success story of the advisory service. A certain amount of scepticism and cynicism greeted this service in the early days. Agriculture had been extremely conservative and old traditions die hard. Old practices had worked for centuries and the average farmer could see no valid reason for welcoming into his farmyard a person who might be seen as an interloper, an official spy, a person who carried about him an aura of officialdom. The farmer traditionally knew what was best for his holding. It is a remarkable tribute to the advisory service and to the tact and diplomacy of the instructors that they managed over the years to build up from that very small beginning a reputation which totally obliterated the seeds of doubt and established a remarkably warm and personal instructor/farmer relationship which has been central to the development of agriculture.
Having been advised by successive administrations and successive teams of instructors to diversify, to go into milk production, to invest in slatted houses and to borrow money, which is totally alien to the very nature of Irish farmers, they suddenly find that there are mountains, lakes and gluts in the market and they are being induced to close down particular enterprises. They are being told to go in an opposite direction and leave obsolete the equipment they bought some years ago. It is a daunting prospect for farmers. Quotas are now being imposed on the areas of development which until some years ago were vital to the growth of agriculture. Is it any wonder that farmers are bewildered and perplexed and do not know exactly where they are going?
It is at this crossroads that we see the introduction of a new measure designed to merge two of the key nut and bolt areas in the agricultural sector, the advisory service and the research service. This side of the House has given an open and profuse welcome to the merger. Everybody accepts that rationalisation must take place and it is generally agreed that both services should be under the one management structure. It is generally assumed that if one is to launch something new, bring about an amalgamation, engender goodwill from the start and give the necessary propulsion to launch it with a dynamic forward thrust, then one must provide the necessary fuel for the tank to make sure the rocket takes off and does not crash land before it gets into orbit.
Not alone are we not providing the necessary priming finance for this merger but we are cutting back drastically on the amount of finance provided for the two organisations. In 1987 ACOT and AFT jointly had a budget of £35 million but this year the budget is £20 million. One cannot slice £15 million from the budget of any organisation without devastating and horrendous consequences. While it is generally acknowledged that the cuts are inevitable, surely when a new child is being baptised it is not the time to take the christening money from the child's hand. That is what is happening in this case. Is it any wonder there is bewilderment, bafflement and demoralisation among all sectors in regard to this measure? If oxygen is not provided for the child it will not survive, particularly in the initial stage.
The Minister made a false assumption initially. The joint organisations had a staff of 2,100 and he assumed there would be an enormous influx of applications for redundancy. My information is that only 460 applications for redundancy have been received, 300 short of the anticipated number. We accept that the public service across the board is overstaffed and there is need for pruning. For a number of years one of the silliest methods of generating the impression that jobs were being created was to overburden the Civil Service with staff and officials. Surely the area which should not be cut is that where there are experts used to working in the field, particularly when a new organisation is being brought into being which is to play a vital role in the development of Irish agriculture in the next decade and beyond.
The Bill lays heavy but well merited emphasis on research. There has been a phenomenal growth in Irish agriculture from 1916 to 1980. Next to the Dutch, Irish agriculture has seen the greatest level of growth within the European Community, and we are in a very tough club; we are a member of the Northern European community of countries. During that time the enormous strides and higher productivity levels were brought about by improved land, improved stock, improved farm buildings, the updating of equipment and the application of scientific knowledge in relation to manuring and fertilisation of land etc. If we are to survive in this very tough competitive club, if we are to exploit the niches already referred to in this House this morning by Deputy Yates, we have to be vigilant and alert, we have to be ahead of the posse in relation to research. We have to stop the gaps in the market which are not many but present us with opportunities, particularly in relation to the development of sheep which was referred to by my colleague the former Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Austin Deasy. Sheep and horticulture are the areas of exploitation for the future.
We are part of the Northern European Community, but we will not maintain our paramount positions in that league unless we devote greater resources to research and unless we can compete on two fronts, quality and price. In relation to the achievement of both of those, research is of paramount importance. It is strange that while in terms of productivity we have managed, over the past 20 years to put ourselves in the top league in Europe we are now, in terms of research, spending half of what the average European country devotes to research and agriculture, and that is a sad indictment on our foresight and priorities. We must change that.
In fairness to AFT they have done a thoroughly professional job. Every experiment controlled by AFT is quality controlled. Its integrity is absolutely assured. The results of their research are never published until it has been independently vetted and proven to be valid. Thanks to the research carried out by AFT we have now managed the development of value-added products with a greater emphasis on food research and 900 firms are playing a vital role in relation to harnessing within this country the agricultural potential which was, in the past, exported overseas on the hoof.
Acknowledging the fact that AFT have played a central role in relation to food research in particular, we ask, how many food technologists are in AFT? What is the present state of play and what does the Minister envisage it will be under the newly defined structure?
It has been said by people on both sides of the House that the membership and structure of the board have given cause for some anxiety. I fail to see why the Minister cannot delegate directly to the various interested bodies, why he cannot ask them to nominate the members they want on this board. There are five places and while Deputy Dempsey voiced the forlorn aspiration that these people should be people of high technical skill with an in-depth professional knowledge of the minutiae of the agricultural scene, I am afraid, the nature of politics being as it is, we will see appointed to this board people who are probably well intentioned but who are, at the end of the day, ministerial lackeys.
It is strange that the Order Paper for today carries on it a reference to the Worker Participation Bill which is going through the Seanad now. We espouse the Vredeling Directive in relation to worker participation. If we are paying such tribute to workers in theory as a result of EC Directives why not practically apply those directives in regard to this measure here by allowing the various interested professional sectors to direct or second on to the board their nominees rather than having a need for the ministerial imprimatur to be applied to them.
The area of pollution has been alluded to but despite the Minister's verbosity nothing practical has been done by way of providing grants for farmers, and this area will have to be addressed as a matter of urgency because if the penalties begin to bite there will be a furore that will make the angling row seem like a storm in a tea cup by comparison. We are on the brink of that now.
Approximately four weeks ago the Government ministerial jet touched down at Horan International Airport with seven Ministers, between Ministers and Ministers of State. Sitting in the front seat beside the pilot was the Minister for Agriculture accompanied by the Minister Deputy Flynn, Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and Minister of State Deputy Smith, etc. There was a hastily convened press conference in Michael Davitt House in Castlebar. The great western package had arrived — £133 million over three years for the west. Unfortunately it seems to have been a hastily arranged conference because, for some reason or other, the cameras were not there. Reading the text afterwards and the hastily issued scripts I got the impression that what happened was that MEP, Mr. Killilea would have liked to give the impression to everybody that he, single handedly piloted the measure through the European Community, and that there was a last minute attempt to snatch the laurels back from the good Deputy from Galway East.
Since then it has emerged, as a result of a series of meetings held throughout the length and breadth of the Connaught-Ulster constituency, that, despite the fact that the £133 million is there, if and when it comes in it will save the national Exchequer £43 million and that we would actually be cutting back on the input by the national Exchequer because of the 70:30 funding ratio. It has also emerged that the various submissions in relation to developmental areas have not even gone to the Commission yet. Therefore what we saw in fact was the delivery of a premature baby. Three years is not a very long time in any span of life.
The weeks are ticking by. The Commission is still waiting for the proposals, the farmers in the west are still waiting and we still do not know where we are going. People are beginning to ask if theFarmers Journal article of a number of weeks ago which said that there would be massive grants for the development of farm houses, for the development of granny flats to encourage farmers to hand over their holdings and to move out to an adjacent dwelling is true. We honestly do not know whether or not it is true. We do not even know the direction in which to signpost those people. But if and when this measure comes in I would say that central to its success will be the agricultural advisory service. How can we adequately support the schemes if we are not going to man them on the ground with the agricultural advisers. What we have seen in the past period of time is a shedding of staff, an inducement to staff to leave and, on the whole, a scaling down of the level of agriculture.
The word "integrated" has become one of the most abused in the modern political vocabulary. Everything is to be integrated now. In the Minister for Finance's budget speech we heard a reference to an integrated plan for Dublin and to another integrated plan for the west. Again we are still waiting for the final details as to whether or not this plan will go ahead, if it is going to emerge as a result of a feasibility study. If we are going to have an integrated plan we must work on the assumption that it will have a whole series of balanced components. We are still waiting for the final details as to whether this plan can go ahead. Will it emerge as a result of a feasibility study, etc? We are working on the assumption that there will be a whole series of balanced components where there will be emphasis on tourism, fishing and agriculture and, the new one, agri-tourism. If we are to give practical expression to agri-tourism who are the people on the ground who will advise in relation to this aspect of development in the west? We all agree that there are exciting and challenging times ahead but if we do not have the staff on the ground to advise, those challenges and those opportunities will be lost. I would make a special plea once again. It is not a case of everybody looking after their own constituency because the institute for which I am now advocating, funds or additional funds or, indeed retention, is not in my constituency or in Deputy Kenny's constituency but by the time——
Not yet anyway.
——the Minister, Deputy Flynn, takes out his constituency shears — he may have it within the ambit of Mayo's five seater constituency.
Will both Deputies be able to settle in the one constituency?
We will work it out between ourselves.
Deputy John Donnellan will be available for any constituency.
Creagh has played a very central and pivotal role in relation to the development of agriculture in the west, particularly since the closure of Maam. In two areas it has been one of the flag bearers, or the pioneers, that is, in relation to upland and lowland sheep development and in regard to the consequences of pollution and drainage. If we are to have this western package and an integrated programme for the west it is obvious that we will retain geographically and, in terms of the facilities which it provides, an institute like Creagh. I urge and exhort the Minister that whatever body emerges from this Bill, he make a ministerial directive — and this is a matter of political decision — that Creagh be retained at all costs.
Deputy Dempsey in his longwinded contribution mentioned that there was a need to bring in this measure because there was duplication. I have not heard of one single instance of duplication between An Foras Talúntais and the agricultural advisory service. They have been until now two mutually exclusive areas. It is obvious that there is a link or a continuity between the two and that the advisory service is the conduit to ferry the information from the research wing to the farmers. The Deputy also mentioned that change is painful. Change is never painful provided it is brought about with the necessary sensitivity but in this case that has not happened. It is being brought in, accompanied by the subtlety of somebody wielding a chainsaw.
This chainsaw has been wielded particularly in relation to the decision by the Minister to terminate the county committees of agriculture. Everybody accepts that county committees of agriculture had, to some degree, a certain amount of deficiency in relation to the manner in which they operated but there was absolutely no need to abolish them. They comprised a considerable cross section and fund of experience and could have been re-jigged without annihilating them and throwing in some softer measure as is contained in this Bill. So far as I am aware section 17 of the Bill makes reference to the possible substitution of the committees of agriculture by some other committees.
What I notice about the wording in the Bill is that it says that Teagasc may establish committees to assist and advise it in relation to the performance of its functions, that a committee may include persons who are not members of Teagasc, that Teagasc may appoint a person to be chairman of a committee established under this section and that there may be paid out of the income of Teagasc to members of a committee established under this section such allowances or expenses incurred by them as Teagasc may, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, determine. There are five "mays" where there should be five "shalls". That is why I seriously doubt the intent of the Minister in relation to this matter. I believe it is a sop to the local authority members of his own part, to the council of the General Council of Committees of Agriculture, that in the Bill somewhere there is a provision that, when the Bill is well in place and things are going well, we will reinstitute or reincarnate in some shape or form the county committees of agriculture.
If this measure goes through and if section 17 goes through that is it. The county committees of agriculture are gone. We have more centralisation and we have the scaling down of the level of democratic participation of members of local authorities, farmers etc., in the day to day workings of agriculture. It is a very unfair measure. I think there is enough scope within the county committees of agriculture to retain them but the responsibilities could be redefined, the membership could be reconstituted and we could bring in additional expertise if the Minister feels there is a paucity or a scarcity of professional expertise in relation to the workings of the committees but he should not obliterate them in one fell swoop as this measure is designed to do.
In conclusion I make one plea to the Minister. A number of years ago we were on the brink of accession to the European Community and the theories of Mansholt were very much in vogue. A well known journalist who is now withThe Irish Times— with whom I do not always agree in relation to his political views — asked, who is Mansholt. He advocated an idea which was subsequently taken up by a former Minister of the Minister of State's party — and now a member of the European Parliament — Mr. Seán Flanagan. That idea was that if the west of Ireland was to retain its demographic and population structure the long term prospect or the only hope for the west of Ireland was part time farming. It has emerged subsequently that as statistics emerge each year from the Central Statistics Office and the Department of Agriculture, the number of full time farmers is on the decrease while the number of part time farmers is on the increase because the viability of holdings, and the threshold in relation to viability, is being pushed up.
No Government on either side of the House has ever given adequate cognisance to this fact. We have failed between the lot of us to produce a small farm development plan or a part time development plan. Indeed, we have done more than that. We have specifically set out to exclude part time farmers from benefiting from grants, the most obvious being the headage grant. The most recent decision by the Minister was to reduce the off farm income requirement from £6,400 to £5,200 per annum. That means that if any farmer, his wife or any member of the family earns more than £100 per week the farmer is precluded from receiving a headage payment. One can have no off-farm employment other than a social employment scheme to qualify for headage. This is a most unfair and short-sighted approach. It fails to take cognisance of the year in, year out valid, convincing, compulsory statistics which show that the level of farm incomes in the west is declining.
There is only one way to redress the population imbalance. Recently I was down at Horan International Airport to where the remains of a friend were being brought from England. I saw a Ryanair plane arriving which was 60 per cent full. I saw the same plane going out 100 per cent full. I saw grieving fathers and mothers. I saw a waiting list for tickets. I saw people who, a number of years ago, thought that they were assured a living in Ireland. I saw people going out, not as the uncut nuggets or diamonds of the past but as computer programmers, teachers, nurses, plumbers, carpenters and plasterers, all being exported abroad. God be good to Monsignor Horan, who, when he founded that airport saw it as being a beacon of hope, as the conduit for the development of the west. It was to lead to a revival, a resuscitation or a renaissance in the west but sadly — even though it has managed to reach viability — it is being used primarily for the repetition of the greatest human tradgedy since the famine, the escalation of emigration. The only way we can put an end to that is by the development of an integrated programme, within the scope of the western package, and by harnessing all our resources. We have the untapped resources in the west. In the east of the country and in Dublin there are the people but in the west we have the tourist potential, the cleanest beaches and the most unpolluted environment.
In addition, we have the forestry potential. It has been proved time and time again that the west has the highest potential in terms of production of Canadian larch, Sitka spruce, pine, etc. Last year, we imported £600 million worth of coniferous trees. Yet, we have places like Counties Leitrim and Clare, and north Mayo which has approved potential in relation to forestry. We must get our act together pretty soon. If we are to wean people away from the traditional farming methods, to signpost them in a new direction, to develop the other dimensions or alternative enterprises to which we all pay lip service, fundamental to that is, first, research and, secondly, an advisory service. Unfortunately, we do not have an adequate advisory service and this measure envisages the scaling down of that service, which is a very retrograde step indeed.
The measure is welcome, having received the broad support of both sides of the House. However, if resources are not provided, then this is all in vain. I sincerely hope that when people look at this measure in ten years' time they will not look on the last week of April 1988 as the beginning of the end of the advisory and research services or the scaling down of agriculture which has played such a vital role in our economy and in Irish life.
Listening to Deputy Higgins, one would think that there is no eastern side to this country. While I respect his right to speak for and defend the west, we can also conclude that there are just as many problems in agriculture in the east and south-east as anywhere else.
The Bill before the House is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation, if not the most important, to be discussed in the Dáil at any time. This is because agriculture is still the country's major industry. It is still the biggest employer, still the greatest earner and the industry, undoubtedly, with the greatest potential, even with the introduction of quotas. Any Bill that will help agriculture to develop its potential must be regarded as extremely important. The Bill will be successful if the body incorporating research, training, advice and education focuses on areas which in the past have not received the deserved attention. Mainly, we must produce and sell, rather than produce and hope to sell. The two main areas for attention must be the marketer and the producer. Both of these must have back-up services second to none. We have the opportunity of providing that back-up service. The focus of the Bill must always be on those two areas.
The Bill must not be regarded as a new source for creating useless jobs for faceless people who are snowed under with paperwork. It must have proper practical structures, to seek out the opportunities that are available in agriculture, to take advantage of that great potential and to ensure that those in the marketplace, looking for markets on our behalf and selling on our behalf, or those in the field, will not be impeded or hindered by bureaucracy, red tape or paperwork.
It has come to my notice recently that those involved in the advisory service of the Department of Agriculture and Food which service has been administered by ACOT, were being rewarded more for the amount of paperwork produced than for the advice given to farmers. Many excellent agricultural instructors who are doing far more beneficial work in advising farmers at their farms were being penalised because they were not keeping up with the paperwork. Reports for the Department of Agriculture and Food it would seem, are more important than advice to or results from producers. The Minister must keep this in his mind when finalising the Bill. We do not want a continuation of that from the Department of Agriculture and Food in Kildare Street or from Europe. The agricultural advisers, the few who are left, must advise the farmers and forget about the paperwork.
Let us hope that the Bill has its priorities right. Its emphasis must be to locate markets and sell what we produce and are good at producing. I was quite upset that the emphasis in a recent letter to me from the Department appeared to be on the cost-effectiveness of the amalgamation of the agricultural bodies rather than the great good that such amalgamation could do for the agricultural industry. In this letter dated 8 February of this year I was told that the position was that the amalgamation of AFT and ACOT was designed to meet the Government's objective in theProgramme for National Recovery of ensuring greater coordination and cost-effectiveness in the services. That is acceptable, provided that nothing is lost to the primary producer in the process. The letter continued that this could be achieved through eliminating duplication or overlap, minimising resources absorbed in central management and administration and shedding low priority activities. It stated that the new authority will have increased commercial orientation and will be required to secure greater financial participation from agricultural and food processing sectors. It said that the amalgamation would, of course, involve a considerable degree of rationalisation, necessitating a substantial reduction in staff numbers and a restructuring of the services which might involve some redeployment.
I am wholeheartedly in agreement with the elimination of duplication or overlap, as I am sure is every other Deputy. However, this must not involve the wrong area. I repeat the view I held since this Bill was first suggested, that the advisory services must be maintained on the ground and that if there are to be reductions in the overall services, then it must be in Kildare Street. I do not wish to see anybody lose his or her job but I am firmly of the belief that agriculture is our greatest industry, the industry with the greatest potential, which can only succeed if farmers are given the proper advisory services and those who are selling are given all the back up required. So many untapped markets are out there, markets for which milk could be a base, excellent examples of which are Yoplait yoghurt and Waterford Cream. Those have been great earners for our economy. They are well located, with a little bit of initiative. There must not be any tampering with the advisory service or with the research area.
It is absolutely essential that the county committee structures should be retained in some form, as has been suggested from across the floor. Those county committees have been very beneficial, combined with the advisory services, particularly in regard to research. If we had not had such committees in the past the problems in agriculture would now be far greater. I have not read in the Bill of any such proposed structure and I am asking the Minister of State to ensure that this matter is given proper consideration. For about five years an attempt has been made to kill off these committees of agriculture. The real attack came five years ago and since then the committees have been wound down.
From 1977 to 1980 were the great years in farming when the sky was the limit and some farmers went wild especially in the south east. When a parcel of land became available, the ACC, the Bank of Ireland and the AIB competed with each other to finance the purchase of the land. They were almost prepared to force farmers into paying in excess of £3,000 per acre for land that we all know now was worth no more than £1,200 at best. When the pressure came on, the financial institutions ran for cover. They certainly did not share the burden. I contend that they are responsible in part for the sad situation of farmers today, many of whom are in severe financial difficulties. The lending institutions have been responsible for breaking up families and putting farmers into mental institutions. The financial institutions have sent in receivers and have kicked people out onto the roadsides, farmers who worked day and night to build the ACC from an organisation housed in mobile homes and pre-fab offices, to its present size where they now own the biggest buildings in each of our rural towns. The farmers whose sweat built those big offices are now being treated as semi-criminals. How much real interest do the lending institutions have in our economy? In times of trouble they run for cover and protect themselves. I know that farmers have the ultimate responsibility for their actions but we all know that the banks and the ACC showed no responsibility towards the farmers.
The Department in Kildare Street through the farm advisory service encouraged farmers to buy and to invest. I shudder to think where we would find ourselves now if the county committees of agriculture who applied the brakes at that time had not operated then. The farmers on those committees advised caution. God help us if Kildare Street had had it all their own way at that time. It is no bother to milk cows in Kildare Street if one does not get dirty but out on the ground it is a different scene. The county commitees comprised farmers and farm representatives. In County Wexford some of the best farmers in the country sat on those committees. We had Michael Synott, present chairman of the county council, and Jimmy Curtis, a former chairman of the county council, and Mr. Tom Kent, representative of the IFA, all of whom in their own right are probably the best farmers in Wexford. These men were prepared to give their time for £10 each month to come in for an afternoon to the county hall and give advice for the advisory services. If it were a profession other than farming those three people would have been charging massive fees. Now it seems that the Minister is intent on casting aside that excellent free advice based on groundwork. Will the Minister, for God's sake, retain the county committee structure? The Minister suggested to me that this is a money saving exercise. The county committee of agriculture in Wexford costs about £7,000 per annum, that is about one-third of the cost of a civil servant in Kildare Street. Which is the more valuable? I will leave it to the Minister to answer that. The county committee structure has worked well in the past. Now, more than ever, there is a need for common sense at a time when common sense is not very common.
We are also aware that local democracy has been kicked out the door. Let us not pay lip service to its retention, let us do something positive and retain the county committees of agriculture in the interests of the agricultural industry.
I mentioned a short while ago my agreement to the elimination of duplication and overlapping. This reminds me that from the agricultural purse which is being squeezed every day, the Irish Sugar Company and Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, have been funded to carry out soil analysis. It is well known that Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, is world famous for this work and many nations have sent representatives to Johnstown to avail of the expertise there when setting up their own soil analysis centres in their own country. Yet in the early eighties the Sugar Company decided to do soil analysis. It is strange that the Government should fund analysis at Johnstown and for the Sugar Company at Carlow. Also, the results from Carlow are not acceptable as the soil analysis system adopted by the Sugar Company at Carlow is flawed. If the Minister of State is serious about eliminating duplication he will forthwith withdraw funding from the service at Carlow. It is very disturbing that in the past few weeks UCD have asked for funding for soil analysis. If we are serious about eliminating duplication something must be done immediately. I will be obliged if the Minister refers to this aspect, as I mentioned it in the House before now and got no response.
While I have been harsh about departmental officials, I accept that there is a necessity for them, but the proportions and the priorities must be right. This is not the case. When the advisory service or the researchers who are closest to the producers, who are the most important people in agriculture, collect the money it is anticipated they will collect, will it be put into central funds or into research, training and advice? If this were to be the case I believe it would lead to improved productivity and improved innovativeness on the part of such staff whereas if they are to be just tax collectors I feel that they will just do the job they will be asked to do. In this day and age we must get the very best out of our professionals and we must encourage them to be innovative.
I am concerned that the groups who will be involved in this new structure seem, from reading their submissions, to regard their jobs as being far more important than the end result and while this may be understandable to a degree the end result is all important. I have gone through the submissions in detail and while they do mention the primary producer and the seller of the end product they seem to be far more concerned with how they themselves will fare within this new structure. As a nation we have gone off the rails in that we seem to have our priorities wrong. Let this Bill act as the first crowbar in getting us back on the rails and back to where our priorities are, in the areas most beneficial to the economy and not of small interest groups.
If they are to survive farmers must focus all of their expertise on efficiency, quality, good business management and particularly marketing. They must examine alternative sources of income and I understand from a submission received from the Agricultural Science Association that there are now only 30,000 or one in five farmers who are capable of competing in the present hostile market environment. They also claim, and I am inclined to agree with them, that there are a further 55,000 or one in three farmers who are capable of competing if the support services are adequate and freely available. They say it is absolutely vital that advice and research are maintained and well funded in order to help farmers to adjust.
Farmers in this country are good at producing milk and meat, but they are not adventurous and they find it difficult to adjust. If they are to succeed they must look beyond convention and incentives must be provided to encourage initiative, adventure and innovativeness if we are to compete with our EC partners. Almost all of these countries are less dependent on agriculture yet their support services are being increased. Spending money on helping farmers to become self efficient makes better economic sense than spending money on income supports. How many times have our missionaries, both lay and cleric, said, "give a person a fish and they will live for a day but teach them to fish and they will have food for a lifetime"?
Another interesting suggestion I fully agree with is the suggestion of the Agricultural Science Association that all EC farm development schemes be administered by a new body. This would require the incorporation of the farm development service and the Department of Agriculture and Food. This one-stop shop concept would ensure a far more effective utilisation of scarce resources. The procedure of having to telephone four different offices, one higher than the next, to obtain a decision on any particular aspect is not acceptable. Bureaucracy must be minimised.
Since it appears to be the order of the day I would now like to refer to an Foras Talúntais, in particular Johnstown Castle which is their mother house. An Foras Talúntais are very concerned about the loss of jobs within Johnstown Castle. Since 1985 the number of staff has been reduced from 220 to 114. Extraordinary work has been done at that centre and the EC has recognised this work by asking Johnstown Castle to carry out surveys and undertake consultancy work for it. The Government of the Azores have also employed their services and are paying substantial fees in the process. The Government of Zimbabwe are also using the resources of Johnstown Castle. Those Governments and the EC recognise the great work being done at Johnstown Castle but I have to beg the question, are our own Government recognising that work? An Foras Talúntas are involved in every aspect of the agricultural scene. I have had the benefit of their expertise just like every other farmer in the country and I have gained from it. I am certain that I speak on behalf of all those in An Foras Talúntais and when I say that I would hate to see their role being minimised.
An Foras Talúntais have never had a good public relations office and I suppose they had hoped that the farmers would do that job for them. Because they have never spoken about the results they have achieved they are now suffering. Let us remember that their mother house has seen a reduction in staff of over 100 out of a total staff of 220 over the past three years and I think that is a scandal and a waste of great resources. They have now gone to other countries to give them the benefit of their expertise.
Recently much attention has focused on the Chernobyl disaster. Who did the Government turn to at that time for advice but Johnstown Castle. Since that time they have been monitoring the nuclear fall-out and this is work which an organisation which was set up for that very purpose should be doing. Because of their expertise Johnstown Castle have been asked to do this work and will continue to do so as long as the experts remain there. I do not think there is anybody in this House who would like to see the level of nuclear fall-out monitoring being reduced. As we all know, we face many dangers and here I am speaking about Great Britain which appears to think that this country is a dump, should act as a dump and should do precisely what it says. If we did not have that expertise available at Johnstown Castle, what would we do?
Our environment has been receiving great attention over the past few years. As Members of this House who are members of local authorities will be aware, local authority officials are now visiting farmers who for one reason or another are polluting rivers and causing a major threat to them. I do not want to see any river polluted or fish killed but this pollution has been caused as a result of ignorance on the part of farmers and I mean this in the kindness sense. This problem has been getting worse in recent years but An Foras Talúntais are doing good work in this area.
It is an old wives' tale that silage effluent is poisonous. There are many farmers who still regard silage effluent as being poisonous because it poisons fish in our rivers. It should be made quite clear that because of the work carried out at Johnstown Castle it has now been discovered that silage effluent can be used as cattle feed. If the people there have done nothing else except convince farmers that they should collect silage effluent and use it to their advantage as a food supplement for cattle then they will have done a great day's work.
Another way of polluting our rivers is by spreading farmyard manure. Obviously there is a big wash-off of such manure into our streams and this causes problems. Johnstown Castle has now discovered a method of spreading farmyard manure in such a way that it will not wash off. They seed it into the ground as they would plant anything else and the run-off is far less. Even while I am talking there is a seminar in progress in Johnstown and the people there have newer, more modern techniques in mind. We cannot interfere with this kind of situation. I am appealing to the Minister of State to retain Johnstown for those two reasons, even though they are not directly related.
What about Oak Park?
I am talking about all of An Foras Talúntais. Johnstown Castle, as you know, is the mother house; Oak Park is a small boy but an effective small boy. On the question of fertiliser usage in this country, Johnstown has done great work. The fertiliser industry is worth £300 million each year. When that much money is being spent by the farmers obviously they want to get the best value for money. They want to ensure that when manure is spread it is spread to the greatest effect. Johnstown Castle, and indeed Oak Park and other centres, carry out tests constantly on the analysis of the fertilisers. They also give advice as to the amount that should be spread. As £300 million is being spent each year on fertilisers we must continue to ensure that this monitoring is continued by Johnstown and by the other centres around the country.
Johnstown Castle engages in soil sampling to the tune of 100,000 samples per year. They do plant analysis, soil analysis and so on. Their consultancy services must also be continued. As I have said, they are engaged in about 80 consultancy services at present from near and far. I am asking the Minister not to reduce any of the work that is being done by Johnstown Castle or indeed by any of the centres. I think all of us will accept that we were not getting full value for our money from all the people working in all these centres and that we can do without some of them but when the hatchet falls in such a way that the necessary services will continue to be provided. I compliment the people in Johnstown who, for many years, have done tremendous work. I hope that when I speak here again on this matter, whenever it might be, I will be able to say the same thing.
In the south-east we have the good fortune to be great producers of soft fruit. The Clonroche centre in County Wexford has done great work for that industry which is worth about £4 million annually to the small farmers of Clonroche, Wexford and even Kilkenny. There are talks of the centre at Clonroche being closed and I ask the Minister of State — I am delighted it is the Minister for Horticulture who is present——
I do not think he is too pleased with you.
I do not know whether he is or not. I am sure he agrees with everything I am saying today.
He has the job that you should have got.
I agree with the Deputy but unfortunately very few others did. The centre in Clonroche earns £4 million for that part of the country. I have no doubt that the soft fruit industry can grow and, therefore, it is essential that the service at Clonroche be retained. We know of the tremendous work that is being done there. I have been told that if that centre was to close at this stage — I sincerely hope it will not — the soft fruit industry would live for about four years and that is hardly acceptable. We have an industry that is capable of growing. I say to the Minister, let us ensure that it can continue to grow. People in Waterford might even decide to grow a few strawberries. It is essential that any industry that is growing be retained. There are 16 people working in the centre in Clonroche. Anyone who has visited that centre — I am delighted the Minister present has visited it — will have noted that it does great work. The people there often go beyond the call of duty to help people in the area.
I will conclude by asking the Minister to ensure that in the amalgamation of ACOT and An Foras Talúntais, which is essential, necessary and good, the farmers will not be affected and will not have a lessening of services. As I have said earlier, the agricultural industry is still our greatest employer, our industry with the greatest potential. It has a long way to go and I ask the Minister not to impede its progress in any way.
I would like to make a brief contribution to this debate. I am amazed at the Government's disregard for agriculture at present. A most essential and important ingredient in a prosperous and vibrant agricultural industry is to have a first-class advisory and research service. It appears the Government are prepared to sacrifice the advice and training given to the entire agricultural business over the years. The issue here is not about research and advice; the issue is that a further attempt is being made to decimate the industry.
We rely heavily on agriculture. One would imagine we should not cut back in these two important areas but should encourage specialisation because of the uncertainty created in the past few months. Many of our best researchers and advisers have chosen to leave the country and this is something the Government cannot be proud of. It is very sad to see some of the finest brains in the agricultural advisory service suddenly finding themselves without jobs and having to emigrate to the Third World or perhaps to America or Australia to find employment for the remainder of their working lives.
Farmers demonstrated the value they put on the advisory services last year. When asked to pay for advice, ACOT did not appear to have any difficulty getting the money. The Minister said in this debate that the amalgamation, when carried out, would increase efficiency and provide a better service. If we are to make ACOT/AFT more efficient, I would suggest we aim for efficiency at administrative level rather than affecting the people who provide the service on the ground. Is the Minister aware that we are the only country in Europe to amalgamate the advisory and research services? The work carried out in all our research stations has been well documented — the trace element trials carried out in Johnstown Castle, the tests on the different herbicides, fungicides and agricultural programmes in Moorepark and cereal production, root crops and the excellent work done in beef production at Grange and in Moorepark, County Cork.
Last night at Private Members' time we discussed a very important issue which, as far as I am concerned, only highlighted the difficulties that exist so far as our national herd is concerned. From the Minister's remarks it would appear there is general recognition of the magnitude of the problem but the Government are not prepared to take corrective action before it is too late. This is further evidence of the Government abandoning agriculture.
It has to be recognised that in agriculture today we have sections which face major problems — in the potato and vegetable areas, in beef and in tillage where the profit in root crops is dropping drastically annually. The industry is now faced with a 43 per cent cut in the ACOT/AFT budget which is nothing short of scandalous. Advisory services are needed if the farmers are to get the highest return possible for their investment.
The Common Agricultural Policy is being decimated even more quickly and farmers are faced with levies and being pushed into milk quotas. This is a time when farming must be as efficient as possible. It will be recalled that some years ago when the EC agricultural budget was much more generous, the farming community gave a remarkable performance. Now, many of them have specialised college training and a good advisory service is vital for them.
It is strange to compare the neglect of agriculture as shown by the Government's amalgamation of AFT and ACOT with all the ballyhoo we had about the Custom House Financial Services Centre in Dublin. At best we are expecting 800 jobs in the Dublin centre, whereas in agriculture, our main industry, there will be employment for up to 400,000 people on the land, in the processing industry, supplying services, in the co-operatives, selling farm machinery and other spin-off industries.
It is regrettable that the chief executive was not appointed to cover more areas and have the services running smoothly in the shortest time possible. The agricultural industry is in the dark about what the future advisory service will be able to provide. I urge all parties to realise that we are not talking about increasing public expenditure, as expressed by some Government Deputies today, we are talking about maintaining the skeleton services we already have.
It goes without saying that because of its tremendous economic importance this Bill is among the most important to come before the House. The merger of AFT and ACOT has been sought by many people interested in agriculture for several years and is to be welcomed.
We are the only country in Europe with this kind of merger.
There will have to be greater emphasis on advisory services. It has been noted that, for a number of years, a great deal of research has taken place and much of that research was never, or could never, be implemented owing to a shortage of finance. Any farmer will say the most important factor so far as his education is concerned is the local advisory service. I urge the Minister to ensure that the advisory service is not just kept in place but even improved because it is absolutely essential to farmers.
I greatly welcome the proposal of the Minister for Agriculture and Food to send a submission to Brussels with a view to extending the severely handicapped areas. There is a grave anomaly in the country where small farmers situated outside the severely handicapped areas receive no headage payments while larger farmers living in severely handicapped areas receive those payments. This is illogical. It makes no sense, and one could go so far as to say it is unconstitutional. The Minister's submission to Brussels is to be greatly welcomed. I sincerely hope the farmers who are, in terms of land and herd sizes, entitled to headage payments but cannot receive them because of the geographic and illthought-out divide, will receive the headage payments to which in all equity they are entitled.
The Bill provides that the new body Teagasc will be in a position to form committees. The new board should take the initiative and form committees at local level. The committees of agriculture have played, and in many cases are playing, a tremendous role in the development of agriculture. They are representative of local opinion, local needs and local objectives. The new board of Teagasc should form the local committees immediately so that they will hear the voice of local representatives in this very important industry.
The merger of AFT and ACOT provides an opportunity to redirect agricultural research and advisory programmes in order to maximise their contribution to the recovery of the country. Agriculture is uniquely important to us because its import and profit repatriation content is so low. I understand that 87 per cent of raw materials used in the agriculture and food industry here is produced domestically. In other words, £80 of every £100 spent on agriculture is left in the economy. That compares very favourably with other industries.
It has been clear for several years that the horticultural industry has not taken off. It has to be said, however, that since the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, took over responsibility for this sector there has been a vast improvement and that initiatives which should have been taken several years ago have been undertaken. It is extremely difficult to justify to any rational person why we have to import potatoes and other vegetables. It is clear that one of the major problems has been the marketing and presentation of the Irish product. The establishment of An Bord Glas has improved things greatly and I look forward to the day when we will see an end to the massive importation of vegetables which is taking place.
To be honest, it is scandalous that with our climate and land that is so suitable for the growth of vegetables we have to import vegetables. In a free market Community it is not possible to ban imports but there is no doubt that they are causing tremendous difficulty to those involved in the horticultural industry. Just a year ago the manager of Jury's Hotel in Cork said he would be delighted to be able to buy Irish vegetables but the problem was he could not get a supply on a consistent basis. In a country that is facing such severe financial difficulties it is hard to understand why the agricultural sector has not risen to the challenge of horticulture and why we have to continue to import so many of our needs. It is time that we made a big drive to get Irish farmers more involved in the horticultural industry. Many farmers will justly say that it is extremely difficult for them to get involved because it would not pay. We must examine the reasons why it will not pay them to grow horticultural produce. We must investigate why Irish farmers cannot produce at the same cost and present them in the same way as Cypriot or Dutch farmers. We should not be importing vegetables; in all justice to our land and our traditions we should be exporting them.
I accept that the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, is tackling this problem but he should accelerate the tremendous drives he has made in an effort to improve the horticultural industry to such an extent that it can hold its own on world markets. We must carry out an in-depth examination of that industry. This is not a country rich in minerals, as far as we know, and countries like us must look to our own resources if our people are to prosper. We must see how the horticultural industry succeeds in other countries and, by comparison, why it has failed here. We should base the development of our horticultural industry on the experiences gained from the activities in other countries. We should implement such a programme without delay. An Bord Glas are making great strides but we must examine our problems in the context of the success of the horticultural industry in other countries.
It is fair to say that there is a great layer of bureaucracy in the Department of Agriculture. If one examines the method of applying for a grant under the farm improvement programme one will be baffled at the amount of bureaucracy involved. In the first instance, a farmer must make contact with his adviser. The latter will fill up the application form which is processed at the district ACOT office in consultation with the farm development office. Following that the adviser visits the farm and gives his views. The adviser will then prepare a farm plan. The file will then be stamped by the district ACOT manager and two copies sent to the farmer. One of these copies will be sent by the farmer to the farm development service office and later an officer from the FDS will visit the farm on three occasions in all. A farmer will then be given permission to proceed and an official of the FDS will visit the farmer in the course of the implementation of the programme.
When the work is completed the officer will return again to inspect it. Depending on the scale of work involved, a senior inspector from FDS may also visit the farm and, in some cases, an FDS officer may deliver account books to the farmer for completion. When the FDS approve payment the file is sent to Dublin for sanction and, wait for it, the grant is paid. The average amount of grant paid is £1,400. I often wonder if that very expensive bureaucratic procedure does not cost more than the value of the grant paid to the farmer. That procedure reads like something in a fairy story and it is impossible to justify it.
That type of running around the country should be stopped and the procedure should be greatly simplified in the interests of the agricultural industry, those working in the Department, but most certainly in the interests of the farmer. There is such a layer of bureaucracy involved that farmers could be forgiven for not applying at all for a grant. They could be forgiven for trying to avoid having to go through what I can only describe as nonsense. Something will have to be done about that because I do not believe it can be tolerated any longer. The Department will have to produce a simpler system. In other words, when applying for a grant under the farm improvement programme there are 16 steps to be taken before the grant is paid. We should put an end to that.
I welcome the decision of the Government to implement rural development programmes. Over many years decisions in regard to rural Ireland were made at central level and very often they were not appropriate to the area concerned. In other words, local communities would have done better. In the implementation of rural development programmes it should be stressed that the community should take the lead. The local community should specify what precisely is required.
What kind of development is needed? What approach should be taken? The appointment of a liaison officer in these areas will be of tremendous benefit. All too often in disadvantaged areas there has been a flight from the land. Indeed, it has been estimated that this flight has increased by about 5 per cent. This has been going on for several years. The flight from the land has also meant flight from the central towns in the region and has meant the depletion of resources which would otherwise have been built up.
It is clear that the direction was wrong and that the approach was not correct. This must now change and I greatly welcome the proposals by the Minister for Agriculture and Food — his Department deserve great credit in this regard — to change the approach. With local communities giving a lead, rather than being led, there will be a possibility of development in regions throughout the length and breadth of the country which would not otherwise have been achieved. All too often, on the west coast resources and infrastructure are lying dormant when they could have provided tremendous economic opportunities for people who are today in London or New York. Too often, the centralised method of deciding what was good for a rural community failed miserably. Along the west coast and other parts of the country, communities are willing to contribute to the growth of their local economy. They have ideas and are willing to help people to implement them.
I sincerely hope that a liaison officer will be appointed to each of the regions which are to be designated as pilot areas for rural development and that he will cut through the red tape which has been such a feature throughout the country. I hope he will listen to what the community say and implement those views as far as possible. There is nothing to be lost because everything else has clearly failed. The flight from the west over the last 50 years is ample evidence that everything has failed. The Minister is taking a brave new step, on which he is to be congratulated, and I have no doubt that this will be a resounding success because it deserves to be.
One of the greatest concerns expressed by farmers in the west relate to the method of identification and licensing of beef bulls. The proposal to allow only registered pure bred bulls, thereby giving a total monopoly, has been criticised at local level up and down the west coast. There are those who take the view that there is no justification for the creation of a total monopoly for pure bred registered bulls and that such a monopoly would almost certainly have damaging effects on the beef industry due to the scarcity and prohibitive price of registered pure bred bulls of a continental breed.
Many farmers along the west coast have expressed the view that this would certainly prove a major obstacle in the drive to increase the numbers and the quality of the country's suckler herds and their offspring. They point out that the future of the farming industry and the economy must, to a certain extent, rely for growth on this area of agriculture. It has been said that the very best breeding male stock are top quality pure bred bulls and top quality non-pure bred bulls. It is clear that the farmers, especially along the west coast, will experience great difficulty if this proposal comes into force. It means that they will be obliged to get a registered pure bred bull for breeding purposes. That is all very well when a farmer has 100 acres in the Golden Vale but it is clearly not appropriate for small farms and small farmers in the west and other parts of the country.
I fully accept the need to improve the quality of our beef and I welcome anything that will do that. However, the smaller farmer should not be penalised by this provision. There is a considerable amount of opposition to it and I ask the Minister to reconsider this as soon as possible.
The work being done by An Bord Bainne is second to none and has proved to be one of the great innovative bodies in the country. I welcome the Bill and I hope it will lead to even greater strides forward in the agricultural industry.
The merger of ACOT and AFT is a perfectly logical evolution in the agricultural advisory and research development scene. However, it is a pity that it has taken so long to finalise the necessary legislation. The merger has become somewhat of a saga and the vast majority of Members of the House were not even in active politics when it was first mooted in the mid-seventies. We probably would have advanced further and more quickly in those two key areas if the proposed merger had taken place in the mid-seventies.
The National Agricultural Council was disbanded because of what can only be described as electioneering and petty politicking in 1977 on the change of Government. That was a great pity. A personality clash as well as petty politics seem to have been involved. I wish the Minister the best of good luck with his legislation and I wish the people involved in the new body, Teagasc, the best of goodwill and success in their endeavours. I appreciate the scale of the operation will be at a reduced level but that does not mean they cannot be successful. Of course they can.
I add to the historical factors involved by saying that as Minister I set up a review body about four years ago — I am not precise as regards the dates — known as the Cashman Review Body. This group represented some very influential figures in the agricultural industry. They came forward after prolonged deliberations with the view that there should be a common board for the two bodies in question and that there should be just one common chairman. While they did not say so much in words, it was evident that their thinking was that there should be a merger sooner rather than later. They may not have wished at that time to become involved in the politics of merging two very powerful groups in agriculture. They felt probably that was a political decision — and they were right — that that was where the buck stopped. It was a Government decision, a ministerial decision.
I started the movement of that process in a small way be appointing a joint chairman of the two bodies. The individual concerned was originally Chairman of AFT, Matt Dempsey, and when the vacancy arose for Chairman of ACOT I duly appointed Mr. Dempsey to that position as well. The natural process would have been that when vacancies occurred on the individual boards they would be left vacant until we could see fit to pool the two sides and make them into one coherent body. That did not happen as quickly as I would have wished, but I suppose politicking again was involved here. One thing you do when you are Minister — or you feel you have to do it, right or wrong, and maybe you are wrong to do it — is to look after your own patch. If you are too forthcoming when it comes to abolishing or amalgamating bodies or getting rid of staff you are going to be slated by all the interest groups involved in that area. If other Ministers are holding out or threatening to veto or bring down the Government if something similar happens in their area, then I am sure you are not going to allow it happen in your area.
That is a very interesting insight.
Confession is good for the soul. I always find that when you say something which sounds frank it surprises nobody because everybody knows it anyway.
"There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio".
The Deputy is doing well.
The Deputy was making a case for safeguarding his own patch.
Yes, fighting your own corner. One could see ludicrous situations where bodies which one knew had no function or usefulness whatsoever were being retained while bodies over whom one had control were proposed to be demolished or disbanded or merged, and you had to go and see to it that you looked after that interest.
There is a further aspect to this legislation and to the historical background, that has implications for the years ahead. It is the very unwise and at times a dangerous situation whereby the Department of Finance exert far too much control over decisions involving other Departments and the autonomy and wisdom of the people in those individual Departments can be overlooked and ignored by hardheaded and oftentimes ill-advised financial decisions. I would advise the present Minister for Agriculture and Food to bear that very much in mind. Without wishing to be critical of the Minister, looking at it from the outside at present, I feel he is being led up a number ofcul-de-sacs which people attempted to lead or drive me up from time to time, some of which I resisted and others which I could not resist, very much to my regret and disappointment.
The most vivid of all was the bovine TB scheme where — I will not be excused for saying this — having outwitted the veterinary unions and got them into good shape so they were going to do what we told them to do, when we told them to do it and if they did not they were out of the scheme completely and we were defeated at the end of the day because of lack of sufficient finance. The amount of finance in that case as I remember it was as little as £6 million.
The Deputy will be glad to know I will not let them bully me on that.
Wait and see. In one year we got the full whack of money we needed, having resolved a dispute with the veterinary unions, and the progress made that year on the elimination of bovine TB was quite extraordinary. Then we fell foul of the Department of Finance, our resources were somewhat limited and we were struggling on one wing thereafter. Perhaps the Minister will find the Department of Finance will wield the axe again.
Do not put bad ideas into their mind.
I do not think that will happen and I hope it does not. I think the present Government have learned from what I regard as a mistake by the previous Government by making that cut. The Minister can quote me on that but it was a mistake and should not be repeated.
If the scheme as drawn up at present is operated we can reduce the incidence of bovine TB to tolerable levels. We will never eliminate it. Let me mention what is probably the minor part of the Bill with regard to institutions, the abolition of committees of agriculture. I do not think it a good idea. I do not say that just because it emanates from the Department of Finance, which it does. Local representatives are entitled to express their views on what is the largest industry in this country. This measure is a bad mistake inspired by penny-pinching on the part of the Department of Finance and it should be resisted. We know the opinion the commentators have of urban councils, county councils and committees; it is not very good, but people are entitled to a public expression of opinion on their own industry. It is foolish to abolish those committees. Let them meet less often, perhaps once every two months, let their numbers be restricted and let the overall costs be considerably less but let them continue to operate. You, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, would not be familiar with the operations of committees of agriculture.
The Deputy knows nothing about the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's western roots.
Or patch of land in Dublin.
The best rose garden on the north side of the city.
I always assumed that you came from a labour background based in Dublin.
There is not any specific reference to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in the legislation.
The committees of agriculture were founded on a statutory basis, whereas sheep dipping committees do not have the same status. An unfortunate consequence of the non-statutory standing of the sheep dipping committees is that county councils have been allowed to retain them and to amalgamate them over several counties. The result is that money which is badly needed to run organisations such as the committees of agriculture is being blatantly wasted on running committees such as sheep dipping committees. It is an abuse of public funds. It is outrageous that while it is being proposed to abolish something worthwhile we do not have any control over the spending of money on something which is quite superfluous. Any activities carried out by a sheep dipping committee could be done under the aegis of a committee of agriculture.
I am not taking issue with the Deputy but that is not a function of the Minister for Agriculture. If it were, I am sure he would have abolished sheep dipping committees himself.
I am drawing the attention of the House to this anomaly. It would be a function of the Minister for the Environment. It just shows how ridiculous the situation is. We have sheep dipping committees which are costing a considerable amount of money while at the same time we are abolishing worth-while committees of agriculture. This does not make sense. I suggest that the Minister and his colleague at the Department of the Environment should bring some sanity into the situation.
I do not see anything wrong with charging for services. I have not gone into the nuts and bolts of this Bill, leaving that to our spokesman. When you are a child you are led along by the hand but you come to a point where you have to make your own way. Being in the European Community gives us the best of all worlds, particularly since agriculture is so heavily subsidised by the richer member states. People should be able to capitalise on our membership of the EC and should be in a position to pay for the services which help them to make a reasonable living. A person who lives in a disadvantaged area does not pay for anything, just as the medical card holder gets everything he needs from the health services. A person who does not live in a disadvantaged area pays through the nose. It is often the case that progressive young farmers in non-disadvantaged areas are under much more financial pressure than people who are enjoying generous subsidies and headage payments. It is a concept that should not be entertained. There should not be discrimination depending on whether one lives on one side of a line or the other. People who are classified as disadvantaged may be considerably better off than those who are not so classified. Many of the toughest cases I came across during my term as Minister for Agriculture involved progressive farmers who tried to do something for themselves by investing heavily but who, by misfortune or mismanagement, fell into debt from which they could not recover due to factors such as bad weather, interest payments and trading difficulties. This is an age in which we have to pay for services if we can afford to do so. People must pay taxation if they are earning enough to be liable. A person who depends on the Government to look after him displays a feeble attitude of mind. People will have to become self-dependent, managing their own affairs and getting away from the mentality where they expect to get a grant for everything and do not expect to pay for anything.
I do not necessarily want to fire a broadside at the farming organisations but they have done a disservice to the agriculture industry by continually looking for the maximum price for their products without any reference to re-investing some of the money they receive into research and development. There have been a number of failings in the agricultural sector, the greatest of which has been lack of foresight regarding reinvestment in the products farmers are producing. That is why we have had such lamentable difficulty in recent years because of the milk super-levy, beef intervention prices and the over-production of grain within the Community. All those problems have been magnified here because we were depending too much on the safe market, otherwise known as intervention. A meat plant in my part of the country which went broke about four years ago once advertised for a sales representative experienced in selling meat into intervention. To the ordinary layman that does not mean much. In fact, commodities are not sold into intervention. They are merely placed in intervention. One just puts them in there and EC pays for them and not alone does it pay for them but for their storage.
The farming organisations have been very shortsighted in demanding the highest price for their product. When we were getting 80p for a gallon of milk there should have been a deliberate and considered decision made by all interested in agriculture here to allocate 5p or 6p of that for research and development to get us out of the horrible cycle of converting milk into nothing more than butter and skim milk powder which one cannot give away for nothing.