Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill 2014 which is a technical amendment to existing legislation governing the use and disposal of land at the Johnstown Castle estate. The scope of the Bill is narrow and straightforward. It is purely an enabling provision to permit Teagasc to develop part of the Johnstown Castle estate, comprising the castle and gardens, as a visitor attraction and to permit the sale of a small area of land to the local community for a burial ground. As expected, there was strong support yesterday in the Seanad for the provisions contained in the Bill and its immediate enactment. I look forward to similar support from Deputies in order that the Bill can be passed into law as soon as possible.

Johnstown Castle estate was gifted to the State by private owners as provided for in the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College Act 1945. The gift was subject to a restriction that it be used exclusively for the purposes of a "lay agricultural college" and no other purpose. The Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Act 1959 extended use of the estate for the conduct of "agricultural research" and transferred ownership from the Minister for Agriculture to An Foras Talúntais. That Act also included a provision preventing An Foras Talúntais from disposing of any part of the estate.

During the 1990s the statutory prohibition on a disposal of the estate was eased and provision was made for the disposal of up to 5% of the estate for "environmental, heritage, amenity or recreational purposes" under the terms of the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Act 1996. The estate transferred to Teagasc under the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Act 1988, with all related provisions remaining intact in terms of the disposal of estate land.

Johnstown Castle estate extends to some 980 acres and consists of a protected 19th century castle surrounded by gardens and farmland. The estate is of historic and cultural significance. The castle was built in 1840 and is the most significant surviving country house in Wexford. The Irish Agricultural Museum Society operates a museum on the estate, displaying local agricultural heritage artefacts. The walled gardens and grounds remain open to the public and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the EPA occupy offices adjoining the estate.

Teagasc is obliged to maintain the estate at substantial cost to the organisation. It is currently used for farming and agricultural research purposes. The castle and gardens, comprising 120 acres, are no longer used for agricultural education or research. Teagasc is exploring the possibility of transforming the castle and gardens into a visitor attraction for the south east. It has commissioned a number of reports to find viable alternative uses. A conservation plan prepared in 2007, with support from the Heritage Council, recommended conservation works to ensure the significance of the property was maintained. A report commissioned in 2009 by Teagasc, the Heritage Council and the Irish Heritage Trust proposed phased interventions to transform the estate into a high quality visitor destination. More recently, a local steering group led by Teagasc commissioned a business plan to develop a range of visitor and amenity attractions that would attract a substantial number of visitors each year. Currently, the estate has approximately 35,000 visitors a year, but that figure could be increased significantly with the right investment.

Separately, the local community in Murrintown urgently requires land for a burial ground and has identified 2.8 acres on the estate that would be suitable. Teagasc wishes to facilitate the request, but the current legislation, limiting disposal to "environmental, heritage, amenity or recreational purposes" prevents it from doing so. It is proposed to change the legislation to permit Teagasc to dispose of land for burial purposes. The bequest of the estate was a substantial gift to the State by private owners, with certain conditions attached that restrict its use to agricultural education and research. As such, there are quite complex legislative arrangements governing the estate that can only be dealt with by way of legislation. Following examination of the existing legislation governing the estate, the Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that enabling legislation can be introduced to extend use of the castle and gardens and facilitate the transfer of land for a burial ground.

The Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill 2014 has six sections and the provisions are as follows. Section 1 provides for a definition of the 1959 Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Act, the Act being amended in the Bill. Section 2 amends section 1 of the 1959 Act to define Teagasc and the Act establishing it. It also defines the map detailing that portion of the estate known as the castle and gardens for which a change of use is sought. This map was deposited on 12 May 2014 with Ordnance Survey Ireland where it is available for public inspection. It is also available on my Department's website.

Section 3 incorporates a number of amendments to section 3 of the 1959 Act. Subsection (2)(a) provides for the inclusion of "burial ground" in the list of specific purposes for which land on the estate may be disposed of. There is no change to the existing 5% limit on land disposals.

Teagasc has already accommodated local interests by providing small land parcels for amenity purposes, as already permitted under the 1959 Act.

Paragraph (b) is an entirely new provision which provides that the part of the estate delineated on a map and comprising the castle and gardens may be used for "heritage, tourism, amenity or recreational" purposes. This provides a statutory basis for the development of the castle and gardens as a visitor attraction. They are largely under-utilised in their current state and it is recognised that their preservation for future generations requires Teagasc to find alternative uses for the estate. As I said already, there is also a significant maintenance cost of €300,000 per annum which is not covered by admission charges to the estate currently.

Teagasc is preparing an outline plan to precisely define the project scope and estimate the full cost of transforming the castle and gardens into a visitor attraction. It is being assisted by the Office of Public Works and Fáilte Ireland to leverage their experience and expertise in developing heritage and conservation projects. Teagasc is also working with Wexford County Council and the county manager on the project. This is a collaborative effort to try to get the most out of a fantastic piece of infrastructure that was gifted to the State many years ago. The plan will be subject to a full capital appraisal in accordance with Government guidelines before any expenditure takes place.

Paragraph (c) permits Teagasc, subject to the consent of the Minister, to lease the castle and gardens or any portion of that part for "heritage, tourism, amenity or recreational" purposes. This is another new provision permitting Teagasc to lease the castle and gardens or part thereof to another organisation to manage it as a visitor destination on behalf of Teagasc, if it deems it the most appropriate and efficient way in which to operate the property as a visitor destination. Any lease will be subject to the consent of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Paragraph (d) is a re-enactment of the existing provisions. Subsection (3) prevents a change of use of the estate to anything other than the purposes set out in subsection (2). We are not really changing anything here. The estate will remain in its current state. We are simply looking for a change of use for the house and gardens but are keeping the entire estate in public ownership.

Section 4 inserts a new section 3A into the 1959 Act to set out the provisions relating to the map showing the area of the castle and gardens for which change of use is being made in order to separate it from the rest of the estate. It provides for the deposition of the map in the central office of the High Court and the Circuit Court office for the county of Wexford after the passing of the Bill. It also provides for retention of the map in the office of Ordnance Survey Ireland, OSI, and that it shall be available for inspection free of charge in the office of OSI. It is also available on my Department's website.

Section 5 inserts a new subsection in section 4 of the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advisory) Act 1988 which outlines the principal functions of Teagasc, which owns and operates the estate. As currently constructed, the existing provisions do not allow Teagasc to operate and develop the estate as a visitor destination. This amendment provides that, in addition to its other functions in providing research, advisory and education services to the agricultural sector, Teagasc may develop and operate the castle and gardens in the estate for heritage, tourism, amenity or recreational purposes. Section 6 provides for the short title and collective citation of this Act.

Johnstown Castle estate requires a new sustainable use to safeguard its future as well as investment to arrest the continuing deterioration of the property. The estate has potential to be developed as a visitor destination for the south east. However, the basis upon which the property can currently be used is restricted by legislation to agricultural education and research. The whole purpose of what we are doing today is to change that.

The Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill 2014 brings legal certainty to the future use of the estate and permits Teagasc to develop part of the estate comprising the castle and gardens for tourism purposes as they are no longer required for the performance of Teagasc functions in the agricultural sector. I emphasise that the estate will remain in State ownership and continue to be vested in Teagasc. The Bill is sufficiently restrictive to ensure that the spirit of the gift of the estate to the nation is respected. It does not interfere with existing sporting rights and rights of way reserved in perpetuity to the donors.

Teagasc has been in contact with the descendents of the original donors, who live abroad, about the content of the Bill and I am pleased to say that they have not raised any objections to the planned change of use. They are also supportive of the provision to include a burial ground in the list of purposes for which land on the estate may be disposed of. There is no direct cost to the Exchequer on enactment of the Bill. It is purely an enabling provision to allow the castle and gardens to be developed for tourism purposes and to permit the sale of 2.8 acres to the local community in Murrintown for a burial ground. The objective is to create a flagship heritage and tourism project in Johnstown Castle estate offering a wide range of visitor experiences. Any such development can be expected to generate positive economic spin-offs by enhancing the attractiveness of the area and sustaining jobs in the local economy through increased visitor numbers and so forth.

I look forward to the swift enactment of this legislation and hope the Deputies opposite will facilitate that. I also look forward to hearing what Deputies have to say, and if they have any questions or queries I will try to respond to them.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill. As the Minister has said, it is technical legislation which will change the existing legislation governing Johnstown Castle estate. Those of us who come from Wexford have always recognised Johnstown Castle estate as being a landmark in the history of County Wexford, but in recent years we have seen it deteriorate considerably. All political parties have been calling for Johnstown Castle to be developed as a centre of excellence in tourism, heritage or culture but those calls have been ignored until now. I welcome the fact that the current Minister has seen fit to change the legislation to allow Teagasc to develop the castle and grounds. The castle and its grounds are beautiful and include lakes which many people visit on a regular basis. Weddings and many other functions have been held in the castle, including launches of Wexford Strawberry Fair, 1798 celebrations and so forth.

The estate was not developed by Teagasc because it did not have the funds or the legal entitlement to do so. Now the Minister is introducing legislation to allow Teagasc to develop a section of the estate as a tourism centre. There are already many tourism centres in Wexford, including the Heritage Park, Enniscorthy Castle, the 1798 Centre, the Kennedy Homestead, Kennedy Park and Dunbrody, but if the castle at Johnstown is developed in the way it should be, it will become the jewel in the crown of tourism in the county. If one gets off a plane in Shannon Airport, one can go to Bunratty Castle, which is an important tourist attraction in that area. Approximately 1 million people travel through Rosslare Port every year, and if the castle were developed in a manner similar to Bunratty and other castles in the west, that would encourage people to remain in the south east, and in Wexford in particular. We always bemoan the fact that people do not stay in Wexford and spend their money there. However, if Johnstown Castle estate is developed properly, many people will remain in Wexford and the wider south east generally.

The proposal to give land to the people of Murrintown for a graveyard is welcome. They have been seeking land for quite some time but the cost of land in that part of the county has been prohibitive. It is only right that the Minister would enable them to secure land for a burial ground. St. Martin's GAA club acquired land from the Johnstown estate in the past and I understand that it will seek more land to develop hurling and football further.

The club is expanding its activities as a result of the huge increase in population in Wexford town in recent years. If it is obliged to seek land in six, 12 or 18 months' time, will the Minister be obliged to introduce further legislation in order to facilitate its procurement from the Johnstown Castle estate? If the latter proves to be the case, I hope he will be in a position to introduce amending legislation to allow Teagasc to surrender the relevant land. Perhaps the 5% provision would suffice in this regard.

A key part of fostering an enhanced tourism product will be the further development and promotion of the local culture and heritage product. The south east has the makings of a world-class centre in the interpretation and presentation of Ireland's history. I refer, for example, to the Kennedy interpretative centre in New Ross, the Viking Triangle in Waterford and other facilities to which I referred previously. In order to build on the success of The Gathering, it is important that we consolidate tourism success in the region and use all resources available to help encourage the industry. The Bill before us is a step in the right direction in helping to develop a strong tourism industry in the area.

I will not discuss the history of Johnstown Castle in detail because the Minister has already done so. Suffice it to say that it dates from Norman times. Teagasc has been responsible for the castle since the 1950s, when the late Dr. Tom Walsh was in charge. Dr. Walsh was a pioneer within the institution that is Teagasc and he was also one of the founders of the Wexford Opera Festival, which has gone from strength to strength and which is one of the great cultural success stories in this country.

The Irish Agricultural Museum, a labour of love for Dr. Austin O'Sullivan, is located at Johnstown Castle. Dr. O'Sullivan, prompted by the need to preserve material evidence relating to agriculture and rural life in general in Ireland, established the museum in the early 1970s. When one visits the museum, one is taken back in time and given an insight into how agriculture developed in Ireland through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and right up to the present. Dr. O'Sullivan always sought to have the castle and its grounds developed in a way that would encourage people to visit the museum. I am sure this will now happen.

I welcome the Bill. Fianna Fáil has no hesitation in supporting the legislation and wants it to be passed as quickly as possible in order to enable Teagasc to develop the Johnstown Castle estate in the way in which it should be developed and to facilitate the acquisition of land for a graveyard. Will the Minister indicate how St. Martin's GAA club will acquire additional land in the future without the necessity for further legislation to be introduced?

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill and, as such, has no objections to it. The proposal to develop the castle and gardens at Johnstown Castle as a visitor destination for the south east region is also welcome. As we are all too aware, the region is an unemployment black spot which is in urgent need of assistance and action. Only yesterday, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, my colleague, Senator Cullinane, pleaded with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, for immediate, strategic and targeted Government intervention in the region. Sinn Féin has also repeatedly called for a regional IDA Ireland office and director to be located in Waterford. The south east is in desperate need of jobs and it is clear there is an opportunity to make use of the tourism potential of Johnstown Castle and its surrounding grounds and, hopefully, provide employment for people in the area and elsewhere as a result. Any spin-off from the development of the castle and its grounds that would have a positive impact on the local area is to be welcomed. However, I have one concern. It is imperative that we ensure - and place on record the fact - that neither the castle nor any part of its grounds should ever be sold for private development of any kind. The castle and its grounds were gifted to the State - or, in other words, the people of Ireland - in 1945 on the proviso that they remain in public ownership. It is our duty as legislators to ensure this remains the case.

We hope the work of Teagasc will not be affected by any aspect of the proposed development. It is valuable work and Teagasc must be properly resourced in order that it might continue its supportive role in Irish agriculture. At present, there is great demand on its services, particularly in terms of the education and training of young farmers. There is now an obligation on such farmers to obtain formal training from Teagasc in order to qualify for some farm payments. This has resulted in the numbers applying for level 5 and 6 courses increasing from approximately 500 to 1,500 per year. As a result of the public service recruitment embargo, Teagasc does not have the capacity to deal with this demand. This issue must be tackled. The aim of the new obligation for people to obtain training was very positive in nature. It would be a great shame if young farmers could not avail of it and meet the obligations relating to eligibility for payments due to the fact that Teagasc is so under-resourced that it cannot meet the demand.

Johnstown Castle is a valuable national resource that people cherish. Tourism needs innovation such as that proposed in this instance. The south east will benefit in a number of ways as a result of what is planned. Johnstown Castle and its environs should be cherished and developed in the interest of our people. The people of Wexford are rightly proud of their heritage and welcome the plans to develop the estate. The notion of establishing a centre of excellence at Johnstown Castle should be examined and I hope the Minister will give consideration to developing the estate for the benefit of both the people and the tourism industry.

I was not expecting Deputy Ellis to complete his contribution so quickly.

I thought I only had five minutes.

The Deputy had plenty of time.

I did not know that.

Next is Deputy Wallace, who has a maximum of 15 minutes. The Deputy appears to be out of breath.

Yes. It is great to see all the Deputies from Wexford in the House.

Deputy Wallace should take his time and get his breath back.

I am not as fit as I should be. I am sure Anthony Kelly of Sinn Féin will be a Member of the House after the next general election and he will be obliged to make contributions on the issue of agriculture as it relates to Wexford.

I hope Deputy Wallace is not going to throw in the towel that easily.

Johnstown Castle is situated very close to my home. It is an absolutely beautiful spot. Am I correct in understanding that it will be reopened to members of the public? It is an awful pity that it has not been open to them for some time. Some years ago I played soccer in the grounds of the castle for Forth Celtic football club from Murrintown.

I would say the Deputy was fitter in those days.

Yes. I even ran three marathons without training for them. I could run all day on a soccer pitch at that time but, of course, I was much younger. I am glad to be able to walk at this stage.

Johnstown Castle is a real gem. It is extremely beautiful and it will be great if the public are given greater access to it. There is quite an amount of land attached to the castle and I am aware that Teagasc carries out a great deal of research there. I do not know how good that research is because I have not really studied the matter in any great detail. However, the Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss agriculture in the area. In that context, last weekend I bought some of the first new-season potatoes on sale in Wexford. As everybody knows, the best new potatoes in Ireland are grown in the county. The soil in Wexford seems to be unusual. Despite what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, says, it is not very conducive to the good operation of septic tanks. However, it is very conducive to the cultivation of potatoes, strawberries and rhubarb. Of course, one cannot sell the latter. Years ago my father had an acre of rhubarb when no one else did. I love rhubarb and I used to get up in the middle of the night to cook and eat it. Last weekend I ate some British Queens I bought from Rowes of Fethard-on-Sea, which grows beautiful potatoes. I started a war on Twitter by mentioning this and all the other farmers in Wexford contacted me to argue in favour of the quality of their potatoes.

New potatoes are mainly grown on land located near the sea.

The sandy soil suits the British Queen.

Deputy, I am going to be a killjoy. On Second Stage you can refer to what is in the Bill and what may be in the Bill. The scope is broad but I do not think it goes as far as your comments.

Do you know what? I have been in this place three years. Generally I come in here and talk specifically about the Bill before me. Yet, I have listened to people talk about everything except what is in the Bill for three years. Now, you want to tell me that I cannot talk about agriculture in Wexford.

No, you know what I mean.

I know what you mean. Thank you for the advice. It is much appreciated.

Given that Johnson Castle carries out research and makes recommendations for the industry in Ireland it is something of a surprise that there is no one promoting local potatoes, because the potatoes in Wexford are unusual. The matter is worth considering. In Wexford, British Queen, Golden Wonder and Kerr's Pink are grown but they make up a small percentage of the Irish potato. The Irish potato is now completely dominated by the rooster, which is easy to boil and exportable. It is used for chips and mash but people who really like potatoes and who know how to cook them are far more interested in Queens and Golden Wonders in particular because they have a stronger flavour.

An educational issue is at stake. We do not educate people today about how they should eat and cook. People have forgotten and many young people do not know how to cook potatoes. When cooking Golden Wonders, for example, we must finish them by steaming or they will simply burst. Young people do not tolerate that. There is far more demand for convenience food now because people know so little about cooking and that is not good.

Any supermarket owner in Ireland will testify that his frozen food cabinets are getting longer every year. We should think about this issue. Ireland produces such wonderful fresh food and yet our frozen food aisles are getting longer and longer. There is a problem here and it is something we should probably address in the schools. It is a great shame that we are not teaching our young people to cherish and enjoy the wonderful fresh food products we have.

We are doing that under the food use programme. We spend a good deal of money each year on fruit and vegetables in schools. They grow them in schools.

Does the Minister not agree? My brother has a supermarket. For 25 years his frozen food cabinet has been getting longer and longer. It is not that he does not have good fresh food, but there is less demand for it.

Deputies, can I remind you to speak through the Chair rather than responding back and forwards? Furthermore, we are beginning to go beyond the scope of the Bill, although I find what you are saying interesting.

You do not want me to talk any more about potatoes.

He could set up cookery classes.

I am concerned because recently we have been growing genetically modified potatoes in Carlow. It will be a sad day if we go down that road and it is not in the interests of the Irish farmer to engage in genetically modified foods. If organisations like Monsanto begin calling the shots on what food we use and what pesticides or sprays we use then it will not be good, especially for the small food producer. Such a change would cause serious problems and there is a good reason why Europe has fought so hard against the introduction of genetically modified foods.

Something that has come to my attention of late is seaweed. One of the biggest plants in Ireland has been sold to a Canadian company. The company is looking for a licence to be allowed to process approximately 40,000 tonnes per year. At the moment there are two laws which are contradictory. I imagine the Minister knows a good deal about this. One of them dates back to 1934. One law holds that we are not allowed to take anything out of the sea without a licence while the other holds that if a person owns land beside the water he can go out as far as the tide. These are contradictory. The processing of seaweed is an indigenous industry and it should be promoted.

I went out for a swim on Sunday morning and I was wading through seaweed. There are massive amounts of seaweed in Wexford but we are not processing it.

Deputy, I am unsure at this stage whether you are trying to rile me.

All I can say is that in the Chair I am supposed to direct the debate according to what it is supposed to be about. I would not be doing my job in the Chair if I allowed you to continue to talk about seaweed. The Bill before the House relates to Johnstown Castle and the transfer of agricultural land within the property, some of which is to be used for the extension of a graveyard, as well as the redevelopment of the house. In fairness, I have been exceptionally flexible but you are really going beyond that.

How much talk has there been about the graveyard since the debate opened?

I am sorry. You would know if you were in the Chamber. Deputy, let us keep this as polite as possible.

Does the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine think I am out of order in speaking about agricultural items? Seaweed is an agricultural item and an interesting topic. It is problematic.

Deputy, no one is disagreeing with you. It is simply that as Chair I am directed, according to Standing Orders, that the debate must be within the broadest remit of what the Bill entails. This Bill does not entail these topics. Deputy, I am being polite - I have been most polite.

You have spent more time talking than I have.

Deputy, will you stick to the Bill at this stage? You can be as broad as you wish as long as it is within what the Bill entails. We are drifting a little too much.

Johnstown Castle Agricultural College is certainly part of the Bill. I think the college should engage in the seaweed issue because there is scope for an industry related to seaweed in the area. Given the environment along the south coast of Wexford there is considerable potential for the harvesting of seaweed. I understand this area comes under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government as well as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It would be disappointing if we allowed organisations like the Canadian company that has recently bought here to dictate who can or cannot use seaweed.

We should be promoting indigenous industry. We are finding out to our cost how much foreign direct investment can disappoint us on a regular basis. Repeatedly, Governments in Ireland have refused to invest in serious indigenous industry and this is a major problem for us because we have become dependent on foreign direct investment. I am raising the matter of seaweed because it is a small example of an area where there is serious growth potential. We are not maximising or even coming remotely close to maximising what we could do in that area.

I know nothing about the graveyard that the Chair would like me to talk about. However, there is a great deal of land there. I imagine it is unlikely to be a seriously controversial issue in the area if a small plot of land is used as a graveyard locally. Perhaps I am wrong but I doubt if it is a serious problem. Thank you, Chair, for butting in so often.

Thank you, Deputy Wallace. Again, I am only doing what I have been asked to do, which is to ensure we keep within the Bill. That is all. I am doing that job, nothing else, although I appreciated your comments on potatoes and so on. I am one of those younger people who can cook potatoes.

I am prepared to teach you.

I said I can cook them. The Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, has ten minutes. Are you responding on behalf of the Minister?

I will try not to cause you any stress. I thank the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, for taking the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill in the House today.

Johnstown Castle and its estate lie just outside Wexford town and are steeped in Irish history. The estate's ownership has changed hands a number of times, involving such historic families as the Esmondes, a Norman family that settled in Wexford in the 1170s, and later the Grogan family, which owned the land from 1692. The estate and the many castles that have stood there played a role in many of the major events in our history, including the Norman invasion of Ireland, the Cromwellian purge of Catholic landholders and the 1798 rebellion, before being given to the State in 1945. It was gifted by the family under the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College Act 1945 on condition that it would be used exclusively as a lay agricultural college. In the intervening years, the strictness of the original Act has needed to be amended and modernised. This Bill is the next step in that process. It will allow this wonderful gift to the people of Wexford and Ireland to be used for tourism and for the benefit of the wider public and local community while continuing to honour the family's original intentions.

The centrepiece of the Johnstown estate is the castle surrounded by gardens and a lake. While including older buildings, the castle is very much a Victorian image of a romantic medieval castle complete with towers and built to fit in with the surrounding gardens. The style of architecture and beautiful setting have made it a popular location for wedding photographs. As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, pointed out, up to 35,000 people visit it annually. Johnstown Castle and the surrounding gardens are no longer used for agricultural education or research purposes. That work continues to take place elsewhere on the estate.

There exists an opportunity to develop this unique historic building and its surrounding gardens into a major visitor attraction in County Wexford and the south east. Such a development will also fit in with the Irish Agricultural Museum, which is housed in some of the buildings of the Johnstown estate. The museum has developed into one of the "must see" tourist destinations in Ireland since its establishment. The work of the volunteers who have turned a personal interest and hobby into a first class agricultural museum, one that includes implements previously used in agriculture, cannot be praised enough. I have no doubt but that the Irish Agricultural Museum and the development planned at Johnstown Castle will benefit each other greatly.

The first aspect of this Bill will allow Teagasc to develop and operate the castle and gardens for heritage, tourism, amenity or recreational purposes. Teagasc's staff have great plans for the castle and gardens. Working closely with Fáilte Ireland, the OPW, Wexford County Council and other partners, I do not doubt that they will develop this historic site into a major tourist attraction. The benefits will be felt across County Wexford. I compliment Teagasc on its forethought regarding the castle and estate in recent years. I also compliment Wexford County Council and its new manager, Mr. Tom Enright, on their foresight.

Fáilte Ireland's last visitor insight survey listed Ireland's history, spectacular scenery and crafts as the top elements that holiday makers associated with the south east. Fáilte Ireland's figures for 2012 show that 229,000 overseas tourists visited Wexford and generated revenue of €65 million. Some 122,000 came from Britain, 64,000 from the rest of Europe, 25,000 from the US and Canada and 18,000 from other markets. In 2012, only seven counties attracted more tourists than Wexford. Johnstown Castle will increase the tourism benefits to Wexford.

Compared with 2012, the general tourism figures for 2013 show a substantial growth in trips to Ireland of 7.2% to almost 7 million. The number of visits to Ireland from Britain, Wexford's key market, was almost 3 million. I expect that the figures for Wexford in 2013 will show a substantial growth. These figures do not take into account the visitors to Wexford from other parts of the island where County Wexford continues to be a major destination for domestic tourists holidaying at home or taking short breaks. Adding to the attractions in County Wexford, especially in those areas highlighted by initiatives like the Wexford Heritage Trail and Johnstown Castle, is something we can all welcome.

The Bill's second aspect will, after a decade of campaigning, allow the local community of Murrintown to purchase a plot of land for an extension to the local cemetery. I have been involved in this campaign for the past three and a half years and have seen at first hand the work done by the local community in bringing this legal change about. I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who I have plagued for the past three and a half years, for introducing this Bill. I also wish to note some of the many people in the Murrintown community who have worked tirelessly for this project, for example, Fr. James Moynihan, Mr. Pat Delaney, Mr. John O'Neill and Mr. Frank Cardiff, who approached me a number of years ago, as well as an active local committee that pursued this goal for more than a decade. I am delighted that a number of these people are in the Gallery to witness the passage of this legislation, which is largely down to their hard work.

I have been in contact with Teagasc in recent days. It has informed me that, once this legislation is in place, it expects that the transfer of land can proceed quickly. I look forward to visiting Murrintown in the coming months to see the newly extended cemetery and the changes at Johnstown Castle. For almost 1,000 years through invasions, wars and rebellions, Johnstown Castle has had an influence on the people of County Wexford. Many people have a proud association with it. This legislation will allow the estate to continue its legacy by providing a much needed local graveyard for the community and attracting tourists and creating jobs in the region.

I recognise the work done by a number of people to bring about this legislation - the Minister and his departmental officials, who have been committed to this, Mr. Tom Doherty and the staff of Teagasc, and especially the members of the local community of Murrintown.

I will provide some clarity and respond to a number of questions and comments. I echo the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe's comments, in that there has been a considerable community effort to try to solve a genuine problem adjacent to the estate. It could not be solved easily without access to some of the estate's land. The community is not getting something on the cheap, as it is paying full value for the land. Due to the location of the existing graveyard, this was the only option. The campaign has been under way for a long time and I am pleased that the legislation will help everyone who has been trying to make it happen. The Minister of State has been in touch with me repeatedly for some time to try to solve the problem, as has the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin.

The Bill has a broader purpose. A fantastic gift was donated to us many years ago and we must ensure that it has a future, we can invest in it, it can contribute to the south-east's economy, something that is badly needed, it can provide a new opportunity for tourism and leisure and it can be well run, not only for those who live in the south east generally, but also for the region's many visitors. The area is a fantastic tourist destination.

This is positive legislation and I thank those opposite for not opposing it and for taking it at face value. There is a south-east interest involved. To reassure Deputies, if a further request or proposal comes from a local GAA club or so on, it can be considered by Teagasc as long as it is consistent with the detail of the legislation that requires the land to be used for environmental, heritage, amenity or recreational purposes. However, there is a limit of 5% on the amount of land that can be sold in any one act.

There are limitations because we do not want to see a creeping sales process where we would sell this valuable asset, part of which is valuable because of its scale at nearly 1,000 acres. We do not want to see that eroded over time unless there is very good reason for it. Also, we want the opportunity for a change of use to facilitate the kind of tourism and visitor facility most people envisage for the castle and the gardens, which are at the heart of the estate. We want to be able to facilitate Teagasc leasing that facility to an operator if that is the best way to operate it because Teagasc is not a tourist organisation or a leisure facilitator.

This is sensible legislation. It maintains the spirit of the donors in terms of this contributing to Wexford and to the south east, but it is modernising the vision for Johnstown Castle and the broader estate and for that reason the relatives of the donors have no problem with what is being proposed here.

To reassure Deputy Ellis, there is no intention to sell this estate, privatise it for profit or anything like that. This was a donation to the State and it will be respected as such.

Regarding Deputy Wallace's comments, I can assure him I am very interested in the potato industry, not only in Wexford but across the country. I take some of his comments on board.

On the seaweed industry, that is a potentially exciting growth sector for Ireland which we are examining seriously as part of an aquaculture development programme. I suspect Wexford is as relevant to that ambition as are other parts of our coastline.

I thank my officials who have been working on this legislation. We put people in my Department under some pressure to get this legislation done before the summer because there are some time pressures in that regard. I thank them for that because even though it is straightforward legislation on the face of it, it has been a complex process in terms of getting legal advice from the Attorney General's office and so on. I hope we will be able to finish the job now without any further delay.

Question put and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.