(Carlow-Kilkenny): It is accepted at European level that Ireland falls far behind when it comes to research. For that reason it is unacceptable that our meagre resources should be further diminished by the sale of necessary land in which agricultural scientists can carry out experiments.
As far as the proposed sale of land at Oakpark Research Centre is concerned, the land proposed for sale is absolutely necessary for the work that goes on in Oakpark. There is a belief, because Oakpark Estate is quite big, that there is plenty of land available. The Minister will have to accept that 50 per cent of Oakpark Estate comprises of woodland and lake. This certainly reduces the arable land available, but the woodland and lake area is a marvellous amenity to have so close to Carlow town. For that reason I am astonished that serious negotiations going on between the management of Oakpark and the Office of Public Works have been shamefully ignored. The plan was to convert the lake and woodlands into one of our planned natural reserves for use by the local community and for national and international scientific studies. The news of yesterday that under the Structural Funds the development of national parks and nature reserves is allocated £10.6 million surely means that the plan is much more feasible now.
There was a major fear in Carlow that this area could be sold off into private hands to solve the financial crisis. The people of Carlow would never accept this. It is unbelievable that the Teasgasc management should jump the gun in the middle of these negotiations. It is extremely unwise to take any precipitate action while this plan of opening a nature reserve is being discussed with the Board of Works.
Will the Minister put a halt to the sale of the 77 acres needed for research and follow through with his colleagues in the Office of Public Works the plan to take over the woodlands and the lake district? In doing that the Minister will save the land that is needed, help the financial situation in Oakpark and, above all, will be providing a marvellous facility for the people not alone of Carlow but of Ireland, who will visit these nature reserves as part of their planned holidays.
The Minister should not let anybody destroy the facilities at Oakpark. Once the land is sold it is gone forever. We should make up our minds about research and agriculture. We need diversification now more than ever in an era when normal agricultural products are forming mountains in some cases or are tied up in quotas in others.