Other Questions. - Agency Mergers.

Ciarán Cuffe


6 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will survey growers on their views prior to proceeding further with his plans to merge Bord Glas and Bord Bia. [19172/03]

The Government decided on 19 March 2003 that Bord Glas should be amalgamated with Bord Bia and the general scheme of a Bill to effect this decision has now been approved by Government. In preparing this general scheme, my Department invited more than 30 organisations, including organisations of growers' representatives, to submit any matters which they wished to have considered in the context of the preparation of the legislation.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer, which seems to say that while the Government has acted on the recommendations of the review group, the consultation into which he has entered with the horticultural industry concerns how the Bill should be framed when the merger is to happen. There is considerable disquiet in the horticultural industry at the ending of Bord Glas and I ask him to enter into direct consultation with the horticultural industry to meet those concerns. The fear is that it will not be a merger but a type of silent takeover. The Government is putting together two organisations of different types, one of which is focused on food promotion and the other on the practice of agriculture or horticulture. It is a marriage that will not be to the benefit of those engaged in horticulture, which is a sector that has potential and should be supported in every possible way by the Government. On those terms I ask, prior to presenting such a Bill, how the Minister intends to engage in real and meaningful consultation with the horticultural industry?

My point is the same as Deputy Boyle's. It is important that the separate briefs and responsibilities of these two boards are clearly identified. The primary role of Bord Glas relates to the production of horticultural produce, which potentially has a big market here. It has not been exploited to the extent to which it should have been, but Bord Bia has primarily a marketing role. It is very important that those two identities are clearly recognised. Is there a danger that Bord Glas will be taken over by Bord Bia and that its role and responsibility, and the importance of horticultural production, will be subsumed?

It is regrettable that Bord Glas is being amalgamated with Bord Bia. I do not know whether the Minister knows this, but when was Bord Glas set up? What Minister set it up? In view of the fact that it is now being subsumed into Bord Bia, were there any weaknesses in the original mission or composition of the board?

The Minister, Deputy Walsh, the Minister of State, Deputy Aylward and I, along with our colleagues, were involved in the genesis of Bord Glas more than 15 years ago. The board was established by us in 1990; its first Minister was Deputy Kirk, who had a major role in the development of the board.

We are talking about structural reform. There is nothing wrong with that; we cannot stand as we are forever. I assure the House categorically that while the termination of Bord Glas as a legal entity will take effect once the legislation is passed by this House in the next Dáil term and thereafter by the Seanad, the operational functions of the board will continue. We have given public and personal guarantees to the staff that their roles and functions will continue and that resources will continue to be made available. We have consulted more than 34 organisations, 50% of which are representative of the growers' interests. We have consulted the chief executives of Bord Bia and Bord Glas and their staff. We have consulted the various sectoral interests. We have a huge commitment to the development of horticulture, which has been a major success story over the past 15 years and has huge potential to grow.

We believe, on the recommendation of the expert group, that some efforts were being duplicated. Bord Bia had the responsibility for exports, including horticultural products, while Bord Glas had responsibility for the development of the industry here. We now feel that by bringing the two together to create a macro-entity with more resources available, we can centralise marketing and other functions to save money, give a better service and have more resources available to the industry. To return to Deputy Boyle's point, we have continued to support the industry. We have made grant aid available again this year for the industry and we intend to do so next year. We are committed to ensuring that the responsibilities of the board are taken care of. They will be segmented in the new structure, as Deputies Upton and Timmins have requested, to protect the interests of the industry itself and ensure there is no limit on its capacity to grow, from the point of view of both exports and domestic GNP.

I would like to believe what the Minister is saying, but there have been cases in which other State bodies have amalgamated for reasons of rationalisation rather than strategic interest. I appeal to the Minister to engage in direct consultation with the horticultural industry prior to the introduction of the Bill. This year has been a particularly poor one for the industry and I suspect that people within it are feeling a little fragile about changes that will affect the future of their industry, if they are being left out of the loop .

Given that Bord Bia is being extended, are there proposals to bring other organisations, such as Bord Iascaigh Mhara and other marketing bodies, under its umbrella?

Deputy Morgan has put new thoughts into our heads. There are currently no proposals such as this being considered, but there is a great deal of merit in the idea of having one board to market everything.

I am not advocating that.

In the past, some people said the amalgamation of Forbairt, Córas Tráchtála and one section of FÁS into Enterprise Ireland would be a disaster but it has been a major success story. Those agencies are flagships and do wonderful work all over the world. The staff of An Bord Glas and An Bord Bia are outstanding. We are confident about these matters, having consulted widely with 34 organisations. Recently, we had a wide-ranging consultation about one sector of the industry and in the coming months we will continue to consult until the legislation has been drafted. Then the legislation will come before both Houses and I hope we will all get an opportunity to make our contributions and ensure that we pass the best practical legislation possible, which will underpin the hugely important horticultural industry.

I take this opportunity of thanking everybody who contributed to this question time session and to wish them a peaceful and relaxed holiday period, during which I will have some consultations with the farming industry. In particular, I thank the Opposition spokespersons for their positive and helpful contributions in seeking to elicit information. On this side of the House, my Ministers of State and I have tried to incorporate the Opposition's suggestions, in so far as we can.

I thank you, Sir, and the staff of the House. I hope everyone has a nice summer break.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I wish him and his Ministers of State well, as well as the other spokespersons on agriculture. I was just talking to Deputy Hayes about all the phone calls we receive from Fine Gael supporters and others urging us to get stuck into the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The Minister is lucky not to be a wing forward for Cork Constitution, otherwise he would be in big trouble.

There has been much discussion about CAP reform and the potential is there for a very good future. Many people articulate their problems to us and, while we all know what the problems are, we are looking for solutions and an innovative future.

I wish the Minister well. In addition, I thank the staff and, in particular, the departmental officials who get a hard time. They appeared before the committee yesterday and, unfortunately, I was unable to stay until the end of that debate. I thank them, however, for all the assistance and co-operation they have given us in recent months.

I add my thanks and good wishes to the Minister and his staff. Last week, I felt slightly guilty as we were all insisting that the Minister should attend the House to discuss the Common Agricultural Policy, although he had been negotiating those reforms until 7 o'clock the same morning. Even if we did not all agree with the outcome of his efforts on behalf of the country in Luxembourg, I wish him well and thank him. I also hope that everyone will have a nice break.

As a final point, I offer my congratulations to the new chief executive of the Food Safety Authority, Ms Ann Westby, whose appointment was announced today. I am sure everybody else here will be pleased to join me in doing so. She is a very well known food scientist.

We would all like to be associated with those congratulations.

As apro tem spokesperson on agriculture, in the absence of my party leader, I agree with the comments that have already been made by other Deputies. In the three days I have been dealing with the Minister, I have found him to be very co-operative and responsive to my queries. I wish him well for the summer.

If I speak, Sir, I will only sing the national anthem.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 30 September 2003.