It is interesting that the issue Deputy O'Keeffe addresses arises because of the new scope being given to Teagasc, which the institute did not have up to now. Under the legislation I am proposing that we can set up wholly owned subsidiaries under Teagasc to act, and that is very important, in the same manner as Teagasc are conditioned and equipped to act in respect of the activities of those wholly owned subsidiaries. I think all of us would agree that this is necessary.
Deputy O'Keeffe is asking me, having gone that far, to go further and I think this is where we get into some difficulty. This would involve the setting up of commercial ventures, possibly in association with outside interests, and, as I understand from him this would clearly involve the production and marketing of products that would not be appropriate to a non-commercial State funded organisations. We must remember that we are talking about a non-commercial State funded support body. We are not talking about a commercial State funded body. If commercial bodies, State funded or otherwise, want to get involved in joint ventures or whatever else, as is happening at present in relation to Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann and many other bodies like that, there is no bar on them because they are in the commercial arena and they operate there on the same basis as anybody else. Of course, there will be considerations of risk and prudence but, subject to that, they are not prevented from getting involved.
This amendment is asking me to break out into completely new ground which, incidentally, is not there either for the other promotional bodies like FÁS. They are not allowed under the legislation which gives effect to them to get involved through partly owned subsidiaries in commercial activities by way of joint ventures of one form or another. There are a good many reasons for this. It will not surprise the Deputy to know that permanent responsibility for this resides in the Department of Finance — it is not just the view of the current Minister for Finance — and they would not be able to accept that a promotional body, with a State guarantee could get involved in a commercial activity by way of joint venture. You are either one or the other and that is the view that exists.
I want to make it clear that I want the authority — and I have said this many times — to be more commercially orientated in respect of their functions and in the actual provision of services. I want them to be much more commercially orientated than has been the case. This legislation is intended to apply that in the area of research, education and advice, which is really their fundamental function, and not in the area of commercial enterprise in the marketplace. If they were to engage in joint ventures of one kind or another this could deflect the Authority from their primary purpose and could lead to a dissipation of resources. I also want to tell the Deputy — and this will not surprise the Deputy because it is not a matter that would occur to me only — it has been made known to me that many people in the private sector would have very serious reservations — if not very strong objections — about a State sponsored promotional body, with all that that means, being able to engage in competition with people in the private sector in an area where they have to compete without any State sponsorship or support. That could give rise to problems.
I accept — and I do not think there is any difference between Deputy O'Keeffe's thinking and mine on this — the need to make Teagasc as commercially sensitive as possible. That can be achieved if the Authority enter into licensing, royalty or franchise arrangements so that they can exploit effectively the results of research. I want them to do that and I want them to engage in hard bargaining in relation to contracts and consultancies. It is not just what I want; I think it is what all of us want and I hope they want it also. Any genuine lack of resources to bring promising lines of research to the stage of commercial viability could, for instance, be met by using Teagasc's borrowing powers under this legislation.
The Deputy might say: "This power, of course, can only be exercised with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance". That is the position in respect of all borrowing conducted by these bodies. I think Deputies could reasonably expect that if these bodies go in the direction we want them to go, the Minister of the day, and certainly this Minister, would not prevent them from engaging in a commercial approach to their primary functions and they could reasonably expect to get consent for that in the circumstances. This is a fundamental issue and the Government are conscious that if they once allow promotional semi-State bodies, with all the guarantees and special protection they have, to get involved in joint ventures in competition with the private sector who have no such advantages and if they allow them to be distracted or have their energy and resources dissipated by commercial enterprises as distinct from what their fundamental role would be, this would be a major change and it is not one the Government and I, at this time at least, can see our way to making.