Before the debate adjourned I was referring to the mythology, and it is probably the worst pun one could think of, that agriculture is a sacred cow which is not permitted to be subjected to rational and dispassionate analysis. That is the way it appears; otherwise I could not understand why the apparent army of economists who have lectured this country about waste, inefficiency, poor markets, poor marketing, and in particular market rigidities within the labour market — which, of course, is newspeak for excessively high wages or trade unions that are too powerful — have directed their analysis at the manufacturing industry and the services area, both in the private sector and in the public sector, but no similar ruthless cost-benefit analysis has ever been done of what masquerades as an industry under the heading of agriculture.
I mentioned earlier the inefficiencies that are built into agriculture. We should remember that we produce milk for which there is no market; we produce butter for which there is no market; and we produce cheese for which there is no market. Indeed, it has been outside the mainstream agricultural industry that the greater part of the cheese industry, which actually is a competitive industry, has developed. It has not happened within the mainstream of agriculture. We produce beef for which there is no market. We do not — and I know that the Minister who is present is attempting to do something about this — produce those products for which there is a market — for example, vegetables and horticultural products.
It is astonishing that New Zealand, the same size as Ireland, can produce lamb, ship it half way around the world and apparently, if they were allowed, sell it cheaper than the meat we produce for continental Europe. Somebody ought to look at the facts about the agriculture industry in New Zealand so that a number of pet Irish myths about agriculture could be disposed of, the myth that farming is somehow a mysterious semi-black art which can best be done by those who have inherited from their parents the black magic of how to be a good farmer. The truth is that agriculture, properly done, is a business like every other business and can be run by a competent person in the way a person who graduates from university can run an engineering business, a chemical manufacturing business, a pharmaceutical manufacturing business or any other business. There are no mysteries and there are no black arts involved. Agriculture is a business and it ought to be seen and treated as such.
One of the characteristics of New Zealand agriculture is that an astonishingly large proportion of the people in the farming sector come from a non-farming background and go into farming as a career choice after they leave school or college. It is astonishing that we have no third level professional qualification equivalent to a degree in farming. One can get a degree in agricultural science, a qualification for those who are going to instruct farmers. To most Irish people it is almost a contradiction to talk in terms of a third level degree which would qualify somebody to be a farmer in the way that I did a third level degree to qualify as a chemical engineer or somebody else did to qualify as a doctor or a solicitor. Of course, if we were talking about a real business which competed in a real world of real prices and real markets that is the orientation we would have; but because what we have is so different one cannot invest in education for something which does not really exist, and the industry of agriculture does not exist. What we have is an expensive and expansive and — for those who benefit from it — a relatively comfortable rural welfare organisation which masquerades under the title of an industry. It needs to be dealt with at root and branch. That which agriculture is most given to lecturing the rest of us about — the benefits of the free market — ought to be experienced by agriculture for about ten years. If the people in Irish agriculture and European agriculture were to have about ten years of market forces and market competition they would appreciate more the sort of advice they are prepared to hand out to everybody else.
We cannot go on producing products, irrespective of market demand, at guaranteed prices. There is no point in imagining that what we have achieved at this stage can be retained. The tide of European opinion on the Common Agricultural Policy is shifting and we are going to have to shift with it. Can anybody imagine what would be said if, in our present financial crisis, a manufacturing industry which employed 20 per cent of our population, which produced something that nobody wanted to buy and which was dependent on guaranteed prices, was funded by the European Community to keep it going? Every economist in the country would be outraged, up in arms and telling us that this was artificial, unreal, an inefficient use of resources, and was so subsidy ridden that it would be impossible to make a decent economic cost-benefit analysis of what it was actually contributing to the country. Economists would, therefore, denounce it and the Government would begin to renounce it, in the way that the Government are withdrawing from most other areas of support for industry. Of course, if the industry remained inefficient they could always blame the unions. One of the great problems farmers have is that they cannot blame the trades unions for their own ineptitudes and, therefore, they pick on alleged trades union ineptitudes elsewhere.
The problem with Irish agriculture is that it is large, powerful and appallingly inefficient. It is not inefficient in the sense of its capacity to produce those goods for which there are guaranteed prices but it is inefficient in its capacity to produce goods for which there is a market, and that is quite different. That is what a real agricultural industry should be about. It should be about doing that which everybody recognises all productive sectors must do — produce products which a willing consumer wants to buy at a price which is attractive to the producer. Irish agriculture has singularly failed to do that. It is time that problem was confronted.
It is ludicrous to talk about increasing milk production and beef production in that context.
It has been a long held view of mine that there is an unwillingness to confront the inherent inefficiencies in agriculture. It is important to say that our agricultural land is perhaps the most important natural resource this country has. It is a fundamental, an non-expandable resource and it is, therefore, a resource that cannot be treated as a commodity to be bought and sold in the same way as other commodities, the supply of which can respond to demand. Therefore, it needs to be said that nobody can claim absolute ownership to a national resource like agriculture. It has to be also said that those who are either unwilling or unable to make proper use of such a fundamental natural resource should be encouraged to find some other form of activity and should be given an income which will encourage them to find some other form of activity. I do not believe anybody is entitled to live on or off the land in a way which does not use that resource to the maximum benefit of our society. If land is to be used it must be used in a way so that it will produce products which can be sold on the international market.
It is a matter of inevitability, whether it be in the short or longer term, that Irish agriculture and European agriculture will be exposed to market forces and to competitive forces, as Europe becomes more and more obsessed with internal free markets and internal competition. As a socialist I could defend the Common Agricultural Policy if the people who were defending it shared a philosophical value about the necessity of guaranteed prices and guaranteed food supplies. But since most of those who vigorously defend the Common Agricultural Policy would vigorously condemn a separate policy elsewhere, I find it impossible to any longer give my support to the Common Agricultural Policy.
Nevertheless, land is a major resource and it must be used. The only way to bring about the proper use of our land resources is through research and development and, on the basis of that research and development, training and the development of new markets. I regard agriculture, as it currently stands, as a non-industry with no future and it is in that context that the question of agricultural research must be addressed. It is quite clear that, if that non-industry is to be brought into a competitive position, new products and, therefore, new markets will have to be developed. That can only be done through an investment in research. The idea that a mysterious entrepreneur can sniff the wind and think up a new product and miraculously create it into something that can be sold in the market place is a little bit of free market nonsense that does not really exist. Those countries and industries which have been successful at developing new products, successful at maintaining their position in the market place and successful in their attempts to expand their share of the market have done it by planned and considerable investment in research.
What do we find here? According to the most recent estimates there will be a cut back of the order of a 43 per cent in the budget available for the new agency, Teagasc.
While I am on the question of the new agency, there are a couple of matters of detail on which I should like the Minister to tell me I am wrong so that he can give me the correct figures. A 43 per cent reduction implies, if it is evenly spread, a reduction in the combined staff of AFT and ACOT from 2,200 to about 1,200. There will be about 1,000 reduction in staff if the 43 per cent budget cut is sustained. It is interesting that the Department of Agriculture are subject to a 5 per cent reduction in their expenditure. It is interesting also that nobody can apparently persuade the Minister or the Department to tell us whether an audit of the efficiency of the Department has been conducted, whether that audit has indicated if the Department are over-staffed or understaffed and what, if anything, it is proposed to do about the alleged overstaffing.
I do not think public servants should be made redundant. Our public service is too small and it is not properly organised, adequate or sufficiently extensive. I stand over that, and I want to remind the House that the Economic and Social Research Institute have concluded that and solution to Irish unemployment must involve an extension or expansion of the public service. I am simply contrasting the reduction in the budget of an important area of development in agriculture — that is ACOT and AFT — with the relatively small contraction in the administration of agriculture via the Department of Agriculture. I am not suggesting that anybody in the Department of Agriculture should be made redundant. I do not believe in that. The present scheme of public service redundancies must be the most wasteful use of public money that this country has seen since the great election give-away of 1977, because we are going to spend a fortune in paying people to do nothing. That is the greatest and most ludricous farce this country will ever have been confronted with. I do not believe in that and I do not think it should have been introduced. I am not suggesting that it should be introduced now but I am simply contrasting the budget cutbacks for the new agency with the budget cutback for the Department of Agriculture.
The figures I have suggest that so far there have been between 450 and 500 voluntary redundancies in the two agencies. The disturbing feature about the figures I have at my disposal is that there have been about two voluntary redundancies in AFT for every one in ACOT. In other words, about 300 people have left AFT and about 150 have left ACOT. That means that the most fundamental area of Irish agricultural development and the one we most desperately need if we are ever to have an agricultural industry, which we do not have at present, is the one which has suffered most severely from the indiscriminate voluntary redundancies that seem to characterise this shift in employment in the public sector.
These figures also show that in 1982 there were about 250 people employed by AFT in Moorepark but that by October last year that number had been reduced to 193 and by June of this year the number will be down to 142. This has happened in an area which is central to research and the dairy industry. Is that an indication that the reality that there is no future for dairying I mentioned has dawned or is it simply the usual sort of thing that seems to characterise many of our cutbacks — an unwillingness to think through at all levels and to take clear-cut policy decisions which would be implemented? It is astonishing that the major centre of dairy research should have suffered a 40 per cent reduction in staff between 1982 and 1988. I find that extremely disturbing.
I want to refer to one specific area which was referred to in some detail in the farming column inThe Irish Press, EC Directive 85/397 on mastitis control, which will be effective next year. It is suggested that if the EC standard was implemented about 30 per cent of milk producers would fail to meet its requirements and their products could not be sold. That could cost us up to £250 million and could put the best part of 5,000 jobs at risk. Obviously the control of mastitis is extremely important for the future of the dairy industry in the short term — and I do not believe that in its present form it can have any future in the long term. The farming column also states that three people who specialised in the area of mastitis control were employed at Moorepark, one of whom was responsible for the development of proper standards of milking equipment, particularly for imported machines. I am not a specialist in this area but I understand that the kind of milking machine used, and its care and maintenance, have a critical role in the spread and development of mastitis. Those three people have now left the service of An Foras Talúntais and this means, because a critical standard of mastitis control has to be met within the next 12 to 18 months, that there will be no expertise in the one area of research and development which could have educated, organised and developed standards, etc. If the Minister says he is confident that he has the resources within his Department to do this I think, without wanting to be offensive, that the Irish nation, in the light of the debacle of bovine tuberculosis eradication, has the right to be sceptical about such an assertion. That sort of mindless cutting back of public expenditure — not to achieve any clear objective but to meet an ideological target of reduction in the public service per se— even if it does not save a penny, which in my view it does not do, is going to devastate a large section of Irish industry and we are going to have a similar debacle to that which we all associate now with the elimination of bovine tuberculosis.
There is a serious crisis facing Irish agriculture, but I have not a scrap of evidence which shows that the industry, whatever about the Minister or the Department, are prepared to face up to it. People still apparently believe that they can use their considerable political clout to intimidate whoever happens to be Minister for Agriculture and Food to go on looking for more money to produce the same things which fewer people want to buy. As a result of this more of these products are accumulating in storage all over Europe. That is not a response to changing markets; it is not the response of a vibrant industry; and it is not the response of a self-reliant sector of our economy who are competing in the open market. It has all the characteristics of dependency, handouts and of everything that many people in agriculture are prepared to attribute to other sectors of our society. The greatest receivers and demanders of State hand-outs in our society are the agricultural community and until such time as that is brought to an end there will be no real vibrant agriculture industry in our society. That is the context in which this Bill needs to be judged because it will do nothing to develop vibrant alternative products, or achieve high levels of added value products and agriculture related food-based products.
I want to refer to an article by Professor Cunningham of An Foras Talúntais in the January, 1988 edition of theFood and Research Journal. That factual information in the article needs to be addressed the most, because Professor Cunningham refers to expenditure on research as a percentage of the value of agricultural production. He shows that our level of investment on that index is well below that of most of our partners in the European Communities and is more on a par with countries like, and I quote “Algeria, Turkey and Nigeria”. Do we really accept that what we have is a Third World agricultural economy, or are we talking about an agricultural economy which is actually part of the most developed agricultural industry in the world? If we are, then it is quite clear that all our partners in Northern Europe who are in the European Communities have recognised that there is only one way to develop agriculture and that is to invest heavily in research. I emphasise the word “research” because one of the other disturbing characteristics of Irish expenditure is that we actually expend proportionately more on training than we do on research. I would have thought that at this stage in our development, and after almost 20 years within the European Communities, we would have sufficient levels of skill in agriculture to be able to begin to shift our resources out of training and into fundamental research and development in order to give a future to what I have already described, and will continue to describe, as a “non-industry”. In other words, we should start producing products that can be sold.
Underlying the dubious values of combining these two agencies, something that is unprecedented in Europe, is the more fundamental threat contained in the reduction in the budget of the combined agencies. Nobody could convince me that that is not going to be at the expense of the development of agriculture. Unfortunately, in recent years our attitude to our physical environment, to developments in education and to industrial policy has been characterised by the notion that if we ignore something it will probably go away. That seems to characterise our attitude to official agricultural policy also. The Government and the major Opposition party believe we have to fight to defend the Common Agricultural Policy at all costs and hope for the best after that. That is not policy; that is putting your head in the sand mentality and hoping it will go away. The Common Agricultural Policy is effectively on its way out. It will be reduced in either absolute terms or real terms and Irish farmers will be the victims. There will be, as many of us involved in the Single European Act referendum predicted, a transfer of resources out of the Common Agricultural Policy into the increased Regional and Social Funds. Farming and farmers will be the victims and yet again farmers will become impoverished, dependent and will not have the resources to develop a vibrant industry. I do not think there is anything in this Bill which gives any hope that we will have a real vibrant agricultural industry.
There are a number of areas of the Bill which could be elaborated on. It is indicative of the real thinking behind this Bill that the official name in Irish bears no reference to the importance of research. Teagasc is the Irish word for instruction or teaching. Clearly, it does not involve research, because "taighde" is the Irish word for research. An amendment was put down in the other House to change the name of the body to An Comhairle Oiliúna Teagasc agus Taighde. Those who drafted this Bill and those who brought it in obviously did not regard research with the same importance as they regarded training. This is a national characteristic. We are not particularly heavy investors in research. The smaller countries of Europe have a heavier investment in research than we have and those which haveper capita GNPs that compare with the best in the world have substantial investments in research. There is only one form of investment in research, and that is State investment. Members might not like that particular emphasis, but if they read OECD reports they will see that, effectively, all research is State funded — it is either funded directly by the State or it is funded indirectly by the State as tax write-offs.
There is a philosophical deficiency in this Bill which is crystalised by the absence of any reference to research in the official title of the new body. It would have been no problem to change the name to, for instance, An Foras Taighde and Teagasc, AFTT, so that it would have not been very different from the name An Foras Talúntáis. I have listened to many of the speeches made here and there seems to be a far greater concern about the instruction element of this new agency than there is about the research element, whereas I believe there is no point anymore in instructing more Irish farmers on how to produce more goods that nobody wants to buy. What we need to do is develop more new products other people want to buy at a price that is worthwhile to us. Of course, that area is being played down in this Bill. For instance, the Bill makes no reference to the publication of research findings and there is no obligation on Teagasc to publish anything. As Professor Cunningham says in the same paper, the only guarantee of quality in research, as distinct from quantity, is publication in refereed journals from outside the country. That is the only way one can have a guarantee that research is of an internationally acceptable standard. This Bill does not require Teagasc to publish anything. I find it an astonishing omission that whoever drafted this Bill — it is the Minister's responsibility at this stage — did not apparently either appreciate or have available to him the advice to enable him to appreciate the importance of publishing research material. Research which is not published, which is not internally refereed and which is not meeting international standards is entirely worthless, not because of the quality of the people but because there is no international yardstick against which it can be judged. That is the first amendment I would like to see in this Bill. It is a simple amendment to ensure that as far as possible all research done by this body, Teagasc, ought to be published. It is remarkable that it has not got such a reference in it.
Secondly, I find it astonishing that we have the extraordinarily heavily worded section 14 on disclosure of information. Disclosure of information seems to be a pet obsession of parliamentary draftspersons in my time in this House because the wording of section 14 is as follows:
A person shall not, without the consent of Teagasc, disclose any information obtained by him while performing duties as a member, or member of the staff of ... Teagasc.
I do not want to get involved in a tiff, but I would like to hear the Minister's views on it. I would like to know how that will affect, in particular, a member of a trade union working for Teagasc who gets involved in a Labour Court dispute about, for instance, conditions of employment, work practices, changes in job description, etc. In regard to anything that he knows about Teagasc, he or she will have to get his or her employer's permission before he can disclose it in an adversarial confrontation before the Labour Court.
There is no provision in this Bill to allow a member of a trade union to use publicly his knowledge about how Teagasc works, or what his job should be, in a trade union dispute without his being guilty of a criminal offence and subject to a fine of up to £800. I find the philosophy behind that astonishing. I think that it is actually not the intention, but it is one of the things that characterises a considerable amount of legislation that comes into this House — sloppy drafting. The Minister is getting fidgety, so I had better let him go to the Dáil.