I stated on 14 March that we are quick off the mark when we look for financial aid from Europe, and rightly so. However, our case would receive a more sympathetic hearing if we did not delay so long in dealing with non-financial European matters. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to pass this on to his Government colleagues. The principal proposal in the Bill is that within Forbairt there should be a legal metrology service with a chief officer known as the Director of Legal Metrology. The position may be filled by open advertisement. The Bill further provides that the board of Forbairt will appoint the director, with the approval of the Minister, for a specific duration with a remuneration specified by the board and with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance. There appears to be an overlap between Forbairt and Forfás; perhaps the Minister will clarify this. It seems that all future staff will come from Forfás under Forbairt terms and conditions. The staff will report to the Director and the Chief Executive of Forbairt as set out in section 2 (1).
As the Minister knows, my party is concerned about the proliferation of bodies officially promoting enterprise. As their number now exceeds 80, I question the principle of putting the new metrology service under the umbrella of Forbairt. If it is to have its own director, why does it need to be part of that body and why must it be located in Dublin? The Bill and the explanatory memorandum do not refer to the location of the proposed office.
The Bill does not specify what will happen to people who will not voluntarily transfer to the new unit. I support the concept envisaged in the Bill of staff dealing with weights and measures in Dublin Corporation and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council with the existing small staff in the quality control section of the Department of Enterprise and Employment and Garda inspectors dealing with weights and measures being voluntarily transferred to the new section. These transfers are to take place under conditions no worse than existing conditions including pension rights and entitlements. The Garda inspectors involved have expressed grave concerns and dissatisfaction about the proposals and I will table amendments to deal with this situation.
A problem may arise in that the six people coming from Government Departments, the six people coming from Dublin Corporation and the 20 members of the Garda Síochána involved in weights and measures already operate under different pay scales and conditions. Their retirement ages vary from 57 to 65 years. What scale or grade will apply to new recruits?
I strongly believe in the concept of centralising this service. I believe equally strongly that it should be located outside the capital. Successive Governments have decentralised the public service away from Dublin. It appears that the new office will be started in Dublin and later transferred. While worthwhile, this will involve disruption and transfer costs. Bearing in mind the size of the office, an ideal location would be Mallow or Athlone.
Existing regulations are enforced efficiently and regularly, particularly in respect of the licensed trade and meat plants. Does the Minister intend to make the new office self-financing? To what extent will existing charges have to be altered to make it so? People in trade are concerned about the outcome.
I have read the old weights and measures legislation and District Court reports and I am not aware of any infringement of the regulations. Could this be due to a lack of resources or technology? It would be nice, but difficult to believe, that everybody is behaving properly in this area. The enforcement and effectiveness of this legislation will depend to a great extent on the director appointed. It should be a requirement of the position that the candidates hold a suitable third level qualification. Why must the director be an employee of Forfás?
My main concerns about the Bill relate to the people working in this office. The director should be suitably qualified. Serious consideration should be given to the Garda members who refuse to transfer to the new service. The office should be located outside Dublin. While I believe it should be self-financing, I would like to know the additional costs which may be imposed on people in business and trade.
My party welcomes the proposed legislation and I am happy to work with the Minister in improving the Bill. I ask that there be further consultation with the members of the Garda Síochána involved and the existing weights and measures staff because they are not satisfied. I have received several representations from them to this effect. Many of them have only a few years of service remaining and they should be given consideration. They have given loyal and unstinting service and there have been very few infringements and court cases in the weights and measures area. It is obvious their work was excellent, they knew their business and worked closely with trade. They should be given recognition and sympathy during the changeover and I will table amendments dealing with this area.
The Bill implements an EU directive, which is important. However, some directives do not improve the situation and in some cases may disimprove it. I am talking specifically about BSE. If there had been high standards in the feed industry, we might not have had the problems in the late 1970s and early 1980s when standards were reduced, probably as a result of the EEC. There are many good things in this country and we should not dilute them or implement EU directives. We should take what is good and reject what is bad. We should not always have to accept EU directives in their entirety. We should have a similar system to the one in the US, where states can interpret directives from the federal Government. The problems which arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s had grave effects on our economy, the farming community and the business sector.