Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, 1988: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the Government's decision to amalgamate An Foras Talúntais and ACOT and to transfer the functions of the two bodies to a new single Authority with responsibility for agricultural advisory, training, education and research services. The Bill was passed by Dáil Éireann on 25 May.

As this House is aware, radical changes are taking place in agriculture. Increased productivity through improved technology has created surpluses in a number of products both in the European Community and elsewhere. It is vital that we meet these changes in agriculture in a positive, constructive and developmental way. We simply cannot continue to supply services just because they were effective and relevant in the past. We must respond to the challenge of the new circumstances by tailoring our services to the development needs of the agriculture and food industry.

Teagasc will be responsible for maintaining the knowledge base of our most important industry and for disseminating that knowledge to the primary producers, through training and advice, and to the food processing sector, through research and development.

A strong, vibrant agriculture and food sector is central to the well-being of the economy. In this situation, Teagasc will be required to provide the services relevant to the developmental needs of the sector. This Bill provides the framework for the establishment of the organisation which will contribute to the fullest development of the agriculture and food industries.

One of the objectives of the Government is to ensure better co-ordination and cost-effectiveness of agricultural research, training and advisory services.

The main purpose of this Bill is to put in place, by combining the considerable resources of the existing organisations, a strong, unified structure for the effective delivery of the support services vital for the agriculture and food industry. This body will be a powerful aid to the industry in its response to the difficulties — and, indeed, the opportunities — which the rapidly changing developments in agriculture are bringing.

At the same time, given the constraints on the Exchequer, there is an overriding need to apply the resources that can be made available in the most efficient and effective way. A single body should ensure that any duplication or overlapping of services will be eliminated and that resources are not wasted in unnecessary administration.

These considerations led to the Government's decision to amalgamate An Foras and ACOT. In taking that decision, the Government were mindful of the excellent services provided and the invaluable contributions made by both organisations over the years to the development of agriculture and the economy as a whole. An Foras Talúntais have earned a worldwide reputation for the excellence of their research. The improvements since the early Sixties in the production and quality of our primary farm products — in dairying, beef, pig production, crop husbandry and horticulture, for example — have been dramatic. ACOT, for their part, transformed the former county advisory services and the education services of my Department into an integrated, tightly organised national body. In particular, they have, through the certificate in farming, achieved a major breakthrough in the training of farm entrants. I confidently expect that the commitment and service to the farming community and to the food industry, which AFT and ACOT provided over the years, will continue under Teagasc.

I now turn to the major provisions of the Bill. In brief, it provides for the transfer of the existing functions, responsibilities, assets and liabilities of An Foras and ACOT to a new Authority — Teagasc — The Agriculture and Food Development Authority.

This Irish name, meaning teaching or instruction, will, in my view, provide an appropriate short title for an organisation whose objective will be to transmit scientific and technological information to the agriculture and food industries. The Bill, in outlining the functions of Teagasc in section 4, places special emphasis on the training of young farmers and in research in the food sector. In singling out these priorities, the Government recognise the complementarity of these aims and also that the food processing sector is faced with changing consumer preferences and greater competition on home and export markets. The priority to be given to entrants into farming will not mean the exclusion of the advisory services, as has been suggested, but rather will ensure that the advisory service will be utilised by fully trained farmers in a cost-effective way.

Provision is made for Teagasc to be governed by a chairman and ten ordinary members. The chairman and five of the ordinary members will be appointed by the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the basis of appropriate experience or qualifications. The remaining five will be appointed by the Minister on the nomination of such organisations which the Minister determines are representative of persons engaged in agriculture and food industries or in its promotion or development. The latter provision reflects an amendment proposed by me during the passage of the Bill by the Dáil. It strikes a balance between the Government's desire to appoint the best possible membership from the industry and the traditional practice of representative organisations nominating persons for appointment. In deciding on the composition of the Authority, the Government's concern is that it should not be unwieldy in size but should consist of persons of the highest calibre in order to discharge its responsibilities in an effective, business-like manner. Because of constraints on the Exchequer an important thrust in Government policy is that bodies such as Teagasc should have a strong commercial orientation and receive a good measure of funding from the industry. Teagasc will be expected to secure funding from the agriculture and food sector to the maximum degree possible by gearing their services to the essential commercial development needs of the industry.

I have deliberately extended the definition of agriculture in section 1 to includeinter alia“Agricultural Economics and Rural Development”. I have, as is now generally known, drawn up plans for a comprehensive integrated rural development programme and I initiated recently a pilot scheme in 11 selected areas throughout the country. The Bill in section 6, enables Teagasc to charge for any of their services, though charges in the case of education, training or advice will require ministerial approval because of the wider policy implications that such charges might have. Charges in appropriate circumstances should establish an effective professional relationship between producer and adviser, ensure that the services are of the highest professional standards and are relevant to the needs of the users. The Bill also provides that the new Authority, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, may engage in activities outside the State. Both An Foras and ACOT have, over the years, built up a considerable reservoir of technical, scientific and other expertise and have earned a wide reputation overseas through their participation in international consultancies and other projects. No doubt further opportunities for income generation will emerge in the future.

There has been considerable discussion over the past several months on the adequacy of the Exchequer funding for the research, advisory and training services. I explained, during the Dáil debate on the Bill, that the Estimates provision for AFT-ACOT services was based on certain expectations which did not fully materialise and accordingly I gave the undertaking that if there are any initial temporary difficulties it will be my purpose to ensure that Teagasc will not lack for essential funds to enable them to become an efficient, cost effective agency to service the agriculture and food industry.

In the Dáil debate the view was expressed that the Bill was unduly restrictive in relation to the Authority's functions in veterinary research. The restrictions were removed, however, by my tabling and appropriate amendment on Committee Stage which allows Teagasc wider scope in these areas of research.

On the question of staff, it will be seen, from section 8, that, on the date of establishment of Teagasc, staff members of An Foras and ACOT will be transferred to and become members of it. Such transfers of staff will be on the basis that their terms and conditions of service shall not be less favourable then those applying before transfer.

Allowing for the inevitable staff reductions following the formation of a single agency, the new Authority will be formidable in size with a diverse range of important functions and nationwide distribution of staff and resources. Their Exchequer funding requirements remain substantial. It is important, therefore, that a proper balance should be struck between, on the one hand, the exercise of effective overall policy and financial control by the Minister and, on the other hand, scope for Teagasc to implement their mandate. Section 13 accordingly provides for arrangements, on the lines of those in the Labour Services Act which covers the broadly analogous area of industrial training, whereby Teagasc will be required to furnish the Minister with an advance report of their planned activities and associated cost estimates for each year. The report will indicate the main areas of intended resource allocation as between research, training and advisory work and will require the approval of the Ministers for Agriculture and Food and Finance. This mechanism will enable an adequate measure of central policy control while leaving Teagasc with the requisite degree of freedom and flexibility to carry out their work. Under section 19 the Minister may give a direction to Teagasc to carry out, or not carry out, specified activities.

In addition to the amalgamation of An Foras and ACOT the Bill provides, in section 20, for the abolition of the county committees of agriculture. The policy considerations which led to the decision to amalgamate An Foras and ACOT made it necessary also to review the position of the committees, particularly in view of the linkages with ACOT under present legislation. The fact must be faced that, since the transfer to ACOT in 1980 of the committees' responsibilities for farm training and advice, the committees' scope for playing an active role in agricultural development work has become increasingly attenuated, particularly under the developments of the CAP and the pressure on national funding. The position now is that over 70 per cent of committee expenditure has been absorbed in travelling expenses of the members and payment to ACOT for administrative services.

The Government have looked at the situation in the light of the general thrust of their rationalisation objectives and the need to shed any layer of public administration where possible. They decided that in the integrated organisation of the agricultural services, the continued maintenance of the county committee structures could no longer be warranted on cost-effective criteria. Hence, the Bill provides in section 20 for the dissolution of the committees. Given the long-standing place of the committees in the local agricultural scene, that decision was not taken without a measure of regret. Over the years, since their establishment in 1931, they have rendered a special service to Irish agriculture of which the Government were mindful. However, I am sure that the new Authority will want to have available to them constant access to the best practical advice at local level and will make appropriate arrangements accordingly.

In section 22 the Bill provides for the transfer to the Minister of the assets and liabilities of each committee on the date the legislation comes into effect. Any sum remaining after the discharge of liabilities will be disposed of in a manner acceptable also to the Minister for the Environment since the committee funds have been derived in roughly equal measure from county council contributions and Exchequer grants.

The legislation will have the consequence of terminating the statutory obligation on the councils to make annual contributions towards the cost of the agricultural services provided in the counties. The Government have directed that administrative arrangements be made to compensate for the loss of funding to agriculture through an appropriate transfer from the rates support grant provision in the Environment Vote. The revised system will have beneficial effects in assisting the rationalisation of the local authority finances and eliminating wasteful administration in transfers of moneys from county councils through the committees of agriculture to ACOT.

During the course of Committee Stage in the Dáil, I showed that I was prepared to take account of any suggestions to make Teagasc a more effective body. The Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann shows this.

There is one other issue on which I have been reflecting since the Dáil debate concluded, namely the question of Teagasc establishing subsidiaries generally, not merely wholly-owned as is currently provided in the Bill.

I want Teagasc to be as commercially oriented as possible in their operations. I have now decided, therefore, to table an amendment in the Seanad to remove the restriction to subsidiaries being wholly-owned. This will enable Teagasc to establish joint ventures with commercial interests, with, as already provided for in the Bill in relation to subsidiaries, ministerial consent. I am sure this amendment will be generally welcomed.

In summary then, the objectives behind the Government's decision to establish a new Authority are,

—to bring together the education, training, advisory and research services under unified management for greater efficiency,

—to deliver the specific services that are crucial to the success of the agriculture and food industry in the competitive environment in which it will have to operate in the coming years,

—to get the best value for money for the Exchequer on the resources at the disposal of Teagasc.

The Bill provides, in the Government's view, the most appropriate and effective framework within which these objectives can be realised in a dynamic and cost-effective manner to the future benefit of the agriculture and food industry and consequently to the economy as a whole.

I commend this Bill to the House.

The main Opposition party broadly welcome the underlying principles of this Bill. Very much to the chagrin and irritation of the Minister, the former Minister, Deputy Mark Clinton, a legend in Irish agriculture, first saw the need here to bring together research and education in agriculture, to the total complementary benefit——

I have to bring to your notice the need to raise your voice.

I have been so self-effacing.

There are two extremes.

——of both the researchers and the educators in agriculture which, in turn, would be passed on in the most efficient and speedy way to the people who would be putting the new findings and the advice into practice, the farmers, and the farmers, in their turn, applying the results of the new research in a well-advised way and continuing the pivotal work towards the prosperity of farming, which is ever more an important part of the national income and the national economic well-being.

The wisdom and foresight in 1976 of the former Deputy Clinton was quickly killed by the storm of profligate madness started in June 1977. The former Minister's National Agricultural (Education and Research Authority) Bill was killed off in the mad rush to pander to every small sectional interest, which had been bribed with every kind of anti-national interest promise for their votes in that infamous general election of 1977. Now the drunken sailors have come home to port. They are more zealous nowadays in their rectitude than in their recklessness and their profligacy of former years.

We are on the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Bill, are we not?

Yes, and I will obey your ruling in the spirit and in the letter. The Minister announced last year the Government's conversion in regard to the amalgamation of ACOT and AFT. Generally speaking, the move was welcomed but not for long. When the Book of Estimates was published, what the Government really had in mind came out, and that was the proposed decimation of the research and education programme in agriculture.

The combined budgets of ACOT and AFT in 1987 was around £38 million. The Government's proposal for 1988 was to cut it to £20 million, or a percentage cut of almost 45 per cent. The staff complement, both in ACOT and AFT at the end of 1987, stood at 2,200 persons approximately. The logic of the Minister's proposal and, indeed, the demand of the directors of both bodies was to effect a staff reduction of 50 per cent. This, to start with, was completely impossible and indeed, impractical and unrealistic. Even the Minister now realises this, but it has had a devastating effect on both bodies.

That devastating effect ripples right out into the agricultural industry generally. The feeling of insecurity meant that many of the best people in both organisations opted to leave, bringing with them invaluable talents that Irish agriculture never more badly needed, but we will come back to that later. We did not get precise figures on the numbers of people opting for redundancy or opting for redeployment but I gather at least 450 people have opted for redundancy, or a good deal fewer than half needed to meet the financial strictures laid down in the Book of Estimates.

The way the Minister allowed the destructive trends to continue after the production of the Book of Estimates is absolutely outrageous. The least he might have done was to see to it that there would be no redundancies or no redeployment until the new body were fully established and their staff needs properly worked out. Even at this late stage the Minister could save some of the undoubted damage to the advisory, training and research services by putting a complete ban on the processing of redundancy and redeployment applications until the amalgamated body is up and running and until their staff have been properly determined.

The Minister in the Dáil, and again here today, gave what I would call a halfhearted commitment that if the shedding of 1,000 staff could not be achieved in 1988, the budgetary shortfall would be made up by savings from other areas of his Department. To his credit, I must say the Minister for State, Deputy Walsh, was much more positive in his commitment when he spoke on the matter in the Dáil. If the commitment is true — and we hope it is — then the funding for this year must be increased by an extra £10 million to at least £30 million, rather than the £20 million laid down in the Book of Estimates.

Had the Minister bitten on the bullet at Estimates time and pegged the budget for this new organisation at, say, £30 million to £35 million, then we would not have the mayhem and flight of talent which the institute and ACOT have suffered since the Estimates publication. The Minister could have saved all of this had he even a little courage and said to his Department", I want a greater cut than 10 per cent in your expenditure in 1988". Then we would have experienced very little of the damage that we have today. But no, the soft target, or what was seen to be the soft target, was hit again.

This country is hugely dependent upon agriculture. Do I need to repeat that once again in this House? I have spoken on every agricultural matter since I became spokesperson for my party. I always find myself saying that. I say it not to bore people, but of necessity. It has been said on dozens of occasions in the Dáil in this debate that agriculture contributes almost half of the value of net exports when real raw material values are taken into account. Nineteen per cent of the workforce are employed directly on the land. That is the largest direct agricultural employment in what we call the older EC, the older Twelve. It is among the very highest level of agricultural employment developed economies in what we call the First World as expressed through membership of the OECD.

We have studies that show that good research, education and advice to the agricultural sector give a positive internal rate of return into the whole economy of about 16 per cent. In 1970 the proportion of Government spending on agriculture was 15.5 per cent of total. This year it is 2 per cent of total spending. That is quite a dramatic fall since 1970. I know the difference has been made up by transfers from the EC. Nevertheless, that is what it is costing the taxpayer of this country at present. It is against this background of facts that clearly illustrate the link between the sound agricultural economy and a well maintained, or growing, national income that this Government decided to cut back so disastrously on advice, research and education to our farmers. They tried to do it on the sly by effecting vandalism, hidden or couched they hope, on what was originally a Fine Gael Bill to marry research and education back in 1978. The Coalition proposal had, ten or 11 years ago, a realistic budget, unlike this one. I know of hardly any other State in the developed world where the need to improve advice and research facilities to farmers is greater than the need of this country. That is based on the earlier points, and on dozens of other arguments which I am not going to make here today but which have been made elsewhere. Indeed, it might bore people if we repeat them too often.

If we take 1987 we find, before this onslaught, that in comparison with neighbouring countries or, more important, in comparison with our main competitors, we spend less on research, development and advice. We can make our comparisons in two ways. If we look at expenditure as a proportion of gross added-value in agriculture, Ireland lags behind Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and West Germany on expenditure on R&D. If we look at expenditure on advice and researchper capita to the workforce on the land we get a much better reference, but we make a much worse finding. By this reference we find that the UK spend three and a half times more than we do on research and development and on advice and education.

In the UK the contribution to Gross National Product by agriculture is 2 per cent. Here it is 11 per cent. It makes an 11 per cent contribution to the Gross National Product. Belgium spends twice as much as we do; the Netherlands spends one and a half times as much; France spends about one and a half times as much as we do on research, education and advice. Denmark, with probably the most integrated and developed agricultural industry in the whole world, spends about 50 per cent more than we do. Is it any wonder that Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries beat us blind in marketing their products on the European and world markets? Is it any wonder that we can make little progress in establishing ourselves in the growing world market for pork and pigmeat, especially in the Far Eastern markets competing with these people? Good luck to them with the back up services which they have developed and which they intend to keep.

Let us look at the pigmeat industry as an example. In recent years we have invested millions of pounds in developing capacity to process something like three million pigs annually. We have a national herd of pigs of about two million and the number is steadily falling. If this Minister does what he is doing to AFT and ACOT it will fall even further. Look at what is happening to the national cattle herd and the national cow herd. Since 1984 cow numbers, which supply all the replacement stock to the beef sector, have fallen by one and a half million. If present trends are not arrested, our beef output in 1992 will be lower than it was in 1978. At that time it was just recovering after the disasters of 1974 and 1975. It will be lower in 1992 than it was in 1978 with countless millions lost to the economy.

Good advisory services and education are important instruments in improving the situation. The ACOT intensive programme proves this. Last year there were 7,000 dry stock farmers participating in this scheme. The achieved a 12 per cent, on average, increase in output in the year while, generally speaking, on all dry stock farms nationally — they are the ones not in the scheme — there was a fall in output in most cases or at best it remained static, or at about the level it was in 1986.

Ewe numbers in the ACOT intensive scheme went up by 18 per cent on farms participating in the scheme, as against on increase of 10 per cent nationally. They are the figures for 1987. Another point we might make is that the vast majority of full or partial transfers of management control from older to younger farmers — about 1,500 in recent years — took place on farms where there was a very high level of contact with the ACOT advisory services. In fact, many of them were organised through the aegis of ACOT.

Recently, we have had the multi-launch of the western package. The Minister and his caravan were moving from place to place trying to generate media hype about it and, I suppose, trying to assuage the anger of the small farmers arising from other cuts, such as the cuts in the social welfare area and grant payments, and the closure of drainage schemes. There was no word, of course, about the fact that the money value of the western package scheme is no greater than the one announced in 1982. There was no word, of course, that the new western package will apply using the same amount of money, not taking into account the effects of inflation or that it will apply in an area one third larger than it was in 1982, because of an extension of the disadvantaged areas, not that we are against the disadvantaged areas, lest somebody in front, behind or beside me should jump up and say I am saying that in some way to denigrate the extension of the disadvantage areas. A proper package should have taken account, in money terms, of the fall in the value of money since 1982, and the increase by one third in territory since 1982 also.

We have had a lot of bruhaha about the integrated rural development programmes in my part of the world, the west of Ireland, by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn. If we are to have integrated programmes, and if we are to decimate the research and advisory services, especially in the western region where the numbers of advisers on the ground has fallen by almost 50 per cent in recent years, and if we are to reduce this figure further, who will do the in-depth surveys in these regions before proper integrated programmes can be put in place? Perhaps the Minister would answer that crucial question when he is replying to this debate. These surveys will have to be in-depth socio-economic surveys. With the personnel of ACOT and AFT gone from the ground who has the expertise, knowledge, know-how or the wherewithal to compile it? Would the Minister please answer that question when he is replying to this debate?

What is to become of the very valuable contract research work done by AFT? Last year the institute earned £2.5 million in contracts research for the EC alone and almost £5 million from operating receipts from sales at the various research stations. Let us not forget that AFT earned 33 per cent of their income from outside contracts and these operating receipts. What is to become of all that activity?

The Minister conveniently forgets to tell us that the cost of funding the Agricultural Institute at the end of 1987 was 77 per cent of what it was at the end of 1980. The Minister also forgets to tell us that the cost of running ACOT at the end of 1987 was 74 per cent of what it was in 1980. He also forgets to tell us that the cost of running the ever-burgeoning administrative side of his own Department increased to 106 per cent of what it was in 1980.

Another question we might ask is why is there duplication of research work in animal disease, cereals, potatoes and so on in the Minister's Department? Is it that the Minister is afraid of vested intersts within the walls of Agriculture House to end this duplication and unnecessary waste, especially given that so much of the emphasis in this Bill is upon saving money? What is to become of the independence and quality of AFT's annual farm management survey? This is the only independent, objective, comprehensive report on the state of agricultural income compiled and published annually in the State. What will happen to that excellent publication issued quarterly by the institute calledFarm and Food Research? I believe section 10 clearly poses a threat to publications by the new body. We must ask are the independence and objectivity that have been so well identified with anything published by the institute or ACOT to end because of the greater control over the new body by the Minister?

What guarantees can the Minister give this House this evening that resources will be maintained to continue research into breeding stock profligacy given the disastrous drop in cattle, cow and pig numbers? Will we continue to investigate the efficiency of the feeds we use and on which the institute had been doing excellent research? Will we continue our research and advice on pre- and post-harvest care of crops and technology? Will research and advice on appropriate crops and enterprises for the appropriate places continue against the ever-increasing climate of competition and the ever-evident madness of inappropriate farming practices, allowing that the expenditure on this new body this year may be £30 million rather than the £20 million as predicted in the Book of Estimates? We hope the Minister will keep his word on that one. Can we have an assurance for the Minister that the £30 million figure at the outturn of 1988 will be the bottom line for budgeting for the new body for all future years?

Quite a number of amendments will be moved on Committee Stage. Could I mention in passing the very name of this new body, Teagasc? It is generally unpopular or rejected throughout the industry. Even the ordinary small farmer finds it very difficult to come to terms with it. An Foras Talúntais and, of course, ACOT, have occupied a very special place in the consciousness of most farmers. The very name of this body, wherever it was devised, is so off-putting. I would plead with the Minister to have another look at the title he is giving this new body.

First, I welcome the Minister for Agriculture to this House. I would also like to welcome the Bill which he has presented this afternoon and which has been debated at length in the other House. There are three main objectives behind the Government's decision to establish this new Authority; first, to bring together the education, training, advisory and research services under unified management for greater efficiency; second, to deliver the specific services that are crucial to the success of the agricultural and food industry in the competitive environment in which it will have to operate in the coming years, and thirdly, to get the best value for money for the Exchequer from the resources at the disposal of Teagasc. None of us can disagree with those three objectives.

I also welcome the amendment which the Minister is bringing forward at this stage. It shows he has been listening to the debate in the other House and that he is prepared to make amendments and to make changes in the Bill if it is in the best interests of agriculture. I am referring to the question of Teagasc establishing subsidiaries generally. The changes the Minister has made there are to be welcomed. He wants Teagasc to be as commercially oriented as possible in their operations and he has now decided to table an amendment in the Seanad to remove the restrictions to subsidiaries being wholly-owned. This will enable Teagasc to establish joint ventures with commercial interests with ministerial consent, as already provided for in the Bill. The change is to be welcomed and I am sure it will be welcomed by everybody in the agricultural industry also.

The Minister rightly said that agriculture is undergoing a period of rapid — almost revolutionary — change at present. All of us who have an interest in agriculture witness those changes and sometimes we wonder why we are witnessing those rapid changes or if we can survive in this rapidly-changing world. It is certain that we will not survive if we decide to stand still. We must always search out and respond to opportunities that present themselves. We must make full use of modern technology and use that technology to our advantage.

The proposed Authority will be responsible for establishing the knowledge base of the most important agriculture and food sector in any European country. Our agriculture and food exports amount to 27.6 per cent of our total exports, which is the highest proportion in the European Communities. Our external trade as a percentage of GNP is at 62 per cent. One can see from those figures the importance of the agriculture and food industry for Ireland.

There will, of course, be criticism from certain quarters of the measures proposed in this Bill. Indeed, this is to be expected because certain people and organisations can have a vested interest in maintaining thestatus quo, but if we have the best interests of agriculture at heart, we must take those criticisms on board and deal with them. We must also be prepared to change our views, or change course, as some commentators will accuse the Government of doing on this occasion, considering statements that were made during the debate on the National Agriculture Educational Research, Advisory, Education and Authority Bill in 1977 and An Chomhairle Oiliúna Talmhaíochta Bill, enacted in 1979.

The Governments on both occasions were doing what they considered best for Irish agriculture at that time but that was ten or 11 years ago and things have changed drastically in those ten years. There was no talk of super-levies or quotas in those days. Farmers were instructed to increase productivity by every means possible and told that there would be a ready market available for their produce. If we look at the situation as regards milk in those intervening ten or 11 years, we see that the number of milk suppliers in 1961 was 104,700; in 1978, that figure, because of the constraints on the production of milk, the quotas, levies and so on has been reduced to 52,500. That is the situation. Nobody could foresee that kind of thing happening ten years ago when farmers were being encouraged to produce and produce and advised that there would be a ready market available for them. That is the reality of the situation and the same can be said of the situation as regards the suckler herd which is about half what it was in 1978. Again, there were very few people who could foresee that kind of situation arising away back when the Bills for these Authorities, that have been debated so much, were being discussed in 1977 and 1979. So, we have to march ahead and change with the times.

Over the years, An Foras Talúntais have contributed enormously to the development of our agriculture. The research carried out by their dedicated staff has been an enormous benefit to Irish farmers who have eagerly sought their advice. Their first director, Dr. Tom Walsh, pioneered soil-testing and grassland management and indeed has a number of publications to his name. He also took a very keen interest in land drainage. I had the pleasure of working very closely with him during my years in the Department of Agriculture, particularly when I launched the western drainage scheme in 1978. He was a very enthusiastic supporter of that scheme because he saw in it an opportunity for the western farmer to reclaim marginal land and so improve his standard of living. Indeed, that was a very good scheme because it provided us — for the very first time — with a 70 per cent grant for land drainage and a lot of the red tape we associate with many of those schemes was cut out. Much of a Minister's time is taken up in trying to get rid of the red tape and trying to make those schemes simpler for the farmers. This was one scheme, the western drainage scheme which was a huge success because a lot of the red tape was cut out. The target set of a quarter of a million acres of land was achieved and, indeed, exceeded, and for that reason I believe it contributed enormously to the development of agriculture in the western region.

Dr. P. Ryan is the current director and he, too, has made a tremendous contribution to agricultural development in this country. ACOT, as we know, is a much younger organisation and it was their job to take over the 27 independent advisory services and streamline them. We know, too, that it was a very difficult task for them but their director and officers throughout the country showed great determination in bringing all those more or less independent authorities under one umbrella.

Like every other public representative, I am sorry to see the departure of the county committees of agriculture. I served for a number of years on a county committee of agriculture and indeed I found it a very useful forum at which all agricultural matters pertaining to the county were debated thoroughly and very useful schemes were initiated. The setting up of ACOT took away much of the power of the committees of agriculture and from there on they were merely advisory committees without any real muscle.

I regret that elected councillors will not be represented on the new board and to my mind this is a weakening of local democracy. Those elected councillors were answerable to the electorate every five years but the appointed member is answerable to nobody, or at least not in the same way as the elected member.

One great advantage of the old committee of agriculture system was that every few parishes had their own adviser and farmers availed readily of that advisory service. Whether it was testing soil fertility or planning farm buildings the adviser was always at hand. Under ACOT the advisers got thinner on the ground. Many of the ACOT offices throughout the county were closed and you got advisers who specialised in a particular area of farming, let it be dairying, beef production, tillage or whatever. Eventually, we have reached a stage where farmers are being charged for the advisory service and advisers are expected to generate an income of from £5,000 to £7,000 each. I disagreed with this type of policy and indeed Galway County Committee of Agriculture, of which I was a member at the time, expressed disagreement with this type of policy also. Our principal objection was that you cannot treat farmers in the western counties in the same way as you treat farmers in the more prosperous eastern and southern regions.

Farmers in the west have many disadvantages and I will mention just a few in passing. The first, I would say, is the weather. We get quite an amount of rain in the west, a lot more than in the remainder of the country. The second is the soil. We have an inferior quality of soil in the west. We all know that. We have the drumlin soil in Leitrim, for example, and we have the other soil in Connemara which is very much inferior to any of the other soils in any other part of the country. We also have the structure of the farms. They are fragmented and, accordingly, they are more difficult to manage. You cannot have the same production levels on those farms as you would have, say, on a farm in County Meath or in County Cork.

Another factor is that in the west you have a large number of elderly people who are registered owners of farms and for various reasons they are slow in handing on their farms to younger and more progressive successors. A number of schemes were introduced over the years to try to correct the social structure of agriculture in the west, including the EC retirement scheme. Unfortunately, those schemes have not been successful and have not made the impact that we had hoped they would.

The western package has been mentioned by my colleague from the west, Senator Connor, and I see the western package negotiated recently by the Minister, as a great boost for agriculture in the western counties. The increased funding from Europe for cattle-housing, for roads, pollution control etc., will encourage farmers to develop their farms and provide the type of accommodation for their cattle that farmers in the better-off regions have had for years.

I believe it is only right that this kind of incentive should be offered to the western farmers at this time and, as I said at so many meetings, it will be bringing £87 million into the western region over the next three years. Whatever type of scheme that money is to be spent on, it is not to be scoffed at and I believe that western farmers will take full advantage of it. I am particularly pleased to see the emphasis being placed on accommodation for cattle, to try to get the cattle in off the land during the winter period, because that is not only damaging to the cattle — they cannot thrive as well when they are out on the land over the winter months — but it is also damaging the land structure, poaching the land, and so on. For that reason I think it is very important that farmers should be encouraged to provide proper housing for their cattle for the winter months. I believe that the increased grants being offered under this scheme will encourage farmers in the west to avail of the scheme.

The setting up of this new body will, I hope, revitalise agricultural development in this country. I believe that when they get off the ground Teagasc, which will be staffed by the best from the two Authorities now being amalgamated, will provide the best possible service for agriculture. They may have teething problems, and we all accept that because most organisations at the start have this kind of problem. I believe the Government will be keeping the situation constantly under review and if there are problems those can be sorted out. If additional finance is needed to provide the best possible service for agriculture I believe this Government will not shirk their responsibilities in this regard.

The setting up of this new body is a challenge to agriculture. It is taking into consideration the changes that have taken place over the years. I believe that we can all look forward to a period of revitalisation when we will have the best service possible for Irish agriculture. We should support this new body because agriculture is our main industry and we know quite well that if agriculture is going well then everything else is going well also. For that reason, I wish this new organisation every success. I hope it will be staffed with the best possible people and I believe that that will be the case from what I have heard from the Minister. I know that he has the interests of agriculture at heart and that he will select the best people to act on this board.

There will be 11 members, ten and a chairman. I had certain reservations about the number of people on the board. I thought perhaps if you had a larger board you might have a better chance of getting a fairer spread of the best possible people to serve on the board. I am sure the Minister has done his research into this and if he is satisfied that ten members and a chairman are sufficient, then I go along with that. I wish them every success and I hope that before too long we will see this new organisation off the ground and that we can look forward to a period of improved standards for Irish agriculture.

I want to welcome the Minister into the House with this legislation. Being a Tipperary man, there is a natural affinity between us and he can rest assured that any contribution that I may make on the Bill, by way of Second Stage speech or by way of amendments, will be constructive because the amalgamation of these two bodies, AFT and ACOT, is something that we on the General Council of Agricultural Committees and, indeed, in the country committees, have discussed for some considerable time. As a matter of principle we have always felt that these two bodies could be united, with the elimination of any duplication which there might have been, and so bring together the best brains in the country in the area of education and research. So, from a point of principle, we start in total agreement.

It is appropriate too, that Senator Connor should put on the record that the original Bill had all these bodies together in one effective unit. I know the Minister does not like looking backwards but it is appropriate to put on record that it was a Fianna Fáil Government that separated them. Bringing back this level of research and education under the one roof is long overdue. I am glad that the Minister had the courage to do so. I was extremely disappointed with the budget which was published this year in the knowledge that this amalgamation was taking place but I am also conscious of the fact that the Minister has made some kind of commitment about a possible increase in funding if that is considered to be necessary. We will look with interest to that commitment in the future and we want to see proof positive that the Minister's words and, indeed, the comment of the Minister of State can be taken as serious, particularly in view of the stated intention of the Government to have further cutbacks in all areas in 1989.

I am extremely concerned that there may not be sufficient funding for this new body to carry out their functions. Reference has been made to the name Teagasc. Everybody who made a submission to members of my party and to the other speakers, passed a comment on the name of this new organisation. I know the word in the Irish language refers to what this new body will do. Unfortunately, it is too much like the name of an anthelmintic for my liking. Something more imaginative could have been thought up. One of the first objections the staff who will work in this new group had was to the name and how it could be interpreted by the farming community as being the magical body who will look after research, development, education and training.

A review committee was set up in 1985 by the then Minister who gave a group of knowledgeable people a brief to review the operation of the advisory and training services provided by ACOT and the research services provided by An Foras Talúntais with a view to establishing the fullest possible degree of co-ordination between the services and ensuring that the resources which can be made available are used to the best advantage in helping the agricultural industry to expand and to make recommendations in relation to these matters. That was the brief set down for the committee chaired by Mr. Cashman, a former President of the IFA. I notice also that some of the Department nominees are still advising the Minister, so continuity has followed through from the brief to what eventually came out in the report.

The report was widely welcomed by the industry in general. It was responded to positively by ACOT who had, naturally, a keen interest in what an outside review body would have to say about an area in which they were involved directly. Many changes had taken place in the relationship between staff and their clients, and the redefinition of some of the advisory roles of county committees of agriculture. Naturally, the board and the membership of ACOT, the county committees and the general council discussed the report and published a lengthy response which took into account some of the areas the Minister has now taken on board in the legislation.

We have to realise that ACOT had made quite a lot of changes from the time they were set up to the time of the report of this review committee which led to this legislation. There is no doubt that the new client-enterprise system, based on the district unit which was being operated by ACOT, had a major input into agricultural advice and training. The Leas-Chathaoirleach, with his experience in that area and having been elected on that panel, knows exactly the work ACOT and their staff throughout the country have put into the new client-enterprise system which had been in operation for a number of years and was working very satisfactorily. It is important that that role should not be diminished in any way by legislation to amalgamate and bring under one body, agricultural research and training.

Like Senator Connor, I am concerned about the independence of the new body. Agricultural research requires independence particularly as it had a great deal of independence in the past. The people who used the service depended on the absolute and completely independent views given by An Foras Talúntais. I sincerely hope that any apparent restrictions in the Bill are without foundation. I have no doubt that if there are restrictions on the independence of research, on who this research will be made available to on the findings of the research, this will worry the staff.

Many changes have taken place. I hope there will be a continuation of the certificate on farming which is coming to the end of one of its modules. I am pleased to have had a major input in trying to ensure that the concept of the certificate on farming and the use of youth employment funds were accepted by the then Government. I am confident that the products of that course will stand to the industry in the future. They have now achieved a level of competence and expertise which had not been readily available even through the formal agricultural college courses.

The role of ACOT cannot be understated. In their response to the publication of this document ACOT listed their idea of what should be put in place by way of legislation. They mentioned, in particular, technology transfer in their report to the Minister. The three main functions listed were the areas of enterprise, discipline and leadership. In addition, the review group saw the specialities as an essential link in technology transfer especially in relation to AFT.

In developing this dimension of the specialist's role the report is most progressive and points out that the link between the specialist and the research worker could be the more basic contact between the two organisations the Minister is now linking under this legislation. This should be a key link in the regular exchange of information between the bodies.

The report goes on to recommend the development of a continuous and formalised liaison mechanism between the specialised adviser or enterprise leader in ACOT and the research worker in AFT. The Bill goes down that road to a very large degree. It goes even further by putting them under the control of a board with management structure and a reporting process and procedure which will eliminate some of the duplication and will try to get this fusion between the best brains in the country engaged in agricultural training and research.

In that regard I join with Senator Hussey in paying tribute to some of the people involved in the two areas in the past, Dr. Tom Walsh the original director of ACOT, his successor Dr. Downey, who, I think, is one of the greatest brains in agriculture, and to Dr. Ryan in AFT. I have worked closely with all of these people and with people who are working in these positions at present through the general council. I have been on deputations to them representing county committees of agriculture and the general council. I have had nothing but co-operation from these people and the agencies they represent. I hope that recognition will be given to the expertise available from these two men by whoever chairs this new body. I also pay tribute to some of their staff, who have expressed extreme concern about the level of funding to which I have referred briefly. The Minister has more or less assured us that that will not be a problem. They were of the opinion that for any amalgamated body which had a budget of less than £30 million — this amalgamated body has an allocation of less than that — the effect would be to reduce agricultural research and advice to a level of irreversible decay and to a level where nothing worthwhile on a national basis could be achieved. Charging for services is one way to overcome that problem.

In this legislation there are provisions which should make it possible for the new body to charge for their services. These charges would be at the discretion of the board, subject to the control of the Minister. Basically the whole concept of charging through this new board is a reversal of a procedure ACOT had advocated because they suddenly found that, if they charged for services and unless some categories of farmers were exempt from these charges, the whole concept of trying to give advice to people in an area that could not afford advice would be extremely serious for the industry.

It was stated by the previous Government that, to accelerate growth in agricultural output, one must concentrate on the segment of the farming population which has real development potential. At times, people in that category are those least well able to afford the charges. At that time we were asking ACOT to concentrate their advisory service on farmers who had the resources and the motivation to achieve this development. The Government pointed out that a significant number of farmers have considerable potential for development which could be realised with the support of an intensive advisory service which only the State is in a position to provide. In other words, the State should not be dependent totally on this segment being able to make the changes and make the investment without some level of State intervention by way of advice and research.

I hope that whatever charges emanate from this legislation — and I will be trying to indemnify sub-sectors by way of amendment — the whole concept of trying to help people to help themselves particularly in the area of agriculture will not be forgotten by a board who may be starved of State funding and may have to resort to making charges which would be outside the scope of the beneficiaries to contribute to. If we do not realise that is a possibility we have lost the game. We are trying to get advice to people who perhaps need specialist advice but cannot afford to pay for it. The specialist advice is already available privately through the private sector at creameries and co-operatives. I know farmers who have paid for that service but the advice they get is never independent advice. It is always advice with some vested interest attached to it.

It is important that the State should be able to give advice which is in the best interests of farmers and the national economy as a whole. By charging for advice, we might remove a segment of the agricultural community, which I would be concerned about, and which research by the country committees showed was at risk. Changes are taking place in Europe, and nobody is more competent to talk about the changes and the challenges that are there than the Minister. He knows the changes that will have to be made in Irish agriculture to try to keep pace with all the demands that have been made on his Department by his colleagues, the Ministers for Agriculture and Finance in other countries. There is no bonanza out there any more for us. Major changes are already taking place in the milk industry, the milk assembly industry, in the production, research and development of new products and in marketing.

The Minister witnessed recently what had happened in County Kilkenny over 21 years. Who would have believed 21 years ago that what is there now would have been possible? These are the kind of changes that are taking place. They have only taken place with assistance, guidance and advice and much of that advice was given through the county committees of agriculture, by the board of ACOT and by our agricultural advisers. It is a pity the Minister can decide with the stroke of a pen that county committees of agriculture do not have a place in this new structure. I know they were linked together in the legislation that set up ACOT. I am confirmed in my belief that some input at county level is required. The Minister said that the board of Teagasc may appoint local advisory committees. I will be insisting that they should do so. I am also of the belief that some of that advice is already available and was made available free of charge when there was a curtailment of expenditure at county committee level. Advice was available from political groupings and county councils who had direct responsibility for funding the county committees' work until the changes took place with the ACOT Bill. The General Council of the County Committees of Agriculture, a statutory body, are not even mentioned in the legislation. That is a disservice to a body who coordinated all the country committees and were very responsible in any proposals they made to the Minister, or to his officials, or to his predecessors. They never went out to grab the headlines. They were always constructive in what they said and they were always supportive of the Minister and his Department. I am pleased to say that the board of ACOT were always complimentary to the county committee structure and to the general council.

One cannot throw away 40 or 50 years of excellent voluntary advice given at county committee level by way of new legislation without ensuring some replacement. I am quite sure I am reflecting the views of every Fianna Fáil county councillor when I say this. I am not just expressing a party opinion on this, but I am expressing what has been said by every county committee of agriculture in Ireland and by most Fianna Fáil county councillors I have spoken to. I understand that they were recently on a deputation and one final effort was made to convince the Taoiseach that this legislation should be amended accordingly. I will be trying to assist the Minister in giving county committees a different type of structure and certainly there will be an amendment to that section which would make it obligatory on this new board to have regard to local opinion and to have a structure set up. There are experts available at county level. The farming organisations will verify this and the people with agricultural expertise who are elected by the people will be available to this new board to assist in preparing plans and programmes. If it is all directed from the top, nothing will happen at ground level because there is always and has always been a relationship between the farmer on the ground, his local adviser and his county committee representative.

In the development programme published by ACOT which brought us up to the nineties, they actually confirmed that they relied on the guidance and support of district advisory committees, county committees of agriculture and farming organisations to ensure that services at district and county level were operating to a maximum effect and were fully responsive to the needs of farmers. That is what ACOT considered the county committee role was. That was their input in the past and that is what I consider the input in the future should be. I am disappointed that this legislation does not seem to reflect that concept.

Another part of the legislation to which I object in principle is the transfer of property. This has been a pet subject of mine for some time. The county committees were set up through the generosity of county councils and ratepayers — and ratepayers at that time included county council cottiers as well as shopkeepers and farmers. Ratepayers were generous in their support in the striking of rates and, through that process, county committees acquired property with premises suitable for educational programmes, for night classes, for adult education for farmers, for meeting places for farming organisations and a whole lot of things. They put all those together at very little expense to the State.

The ACOT Bill came along and set in train a process whereby property could be transferred back to the board of ACOT. They were supposed to compensate county committees afterwards so that there would be some compensation for the offices taken over by ACOT. No such transfer of resources ever took place between the board of ACOT and county committees to help us to do some of our budgeting at county committee level. The Minister takes upon himself all these properties, paid for and unpaid for to which the Departments of Finance and Agriculture in the past made a minimal contribution by way of capital grants or capital contribution. The counties put in the major funding and the Minister is giving them to this new amalgamated body as their property. I object to that. County committees of agriculture could have been and should have been recompensed, and certainly county councils who are starved of cash should have been in some way recompensed for the contribution they made through that complicated rating structure.

I agree with the Minister that there was a certain ambuigity about how the funds were moving from county councils to county committees and back to ACOT and there was a certain amount of unreality about it. There was also unreality when striking the rates this year. I still had demands on the county council in South Tipperary for money for ACOT. ACOT could not tell me what it was for but some auditor said: "If you do not put this in we will remove this from your rate support grant". We had an ultimatum to include the figure although, technically, from 1 January we did not have a county committee of agriculture. I hold the view that the county committees of agriculture are still legally in force until this law is passed and signed by the President to abolish them as such.

By starving them of funds the Minister actually killed them while they were in hospital. We knew they were dying but he killed them in hospital before they had a chance to recover or get better. This is the last opportunity to give them a bit of an injection by putting down an amendment to ensure that there is some county structure. I sincerely hope that the Minister will give some consideration to what I am saying because I do not trust any body he sets up with his authority and with some of his nominees on it, because there will be other nominees. They may not want to have any input whatsoever from a local point of view. ACOT know the differences in soil structures, the whole layout of the actual management structures and all the different facets of farming in Ireland in Donegal or in Cork. They are all so different that it is important to have a local view.

I am concerned also about the voluntary redundancies that have been applied for and there seems to be some dispute about the figures. In a letter to me dated 8 February the Minister confirmed that between 450 and 500 public servants would avail of the offer of early retirement. In my opinion, having talked with some people who opted for early retirement, agriculture will be the poorer for it. It is a pity that some of the people who applied had so little confidence in the future of this body that they opted out. I am concerned about the impact of the loss of scientists and experts on this new board. People like that are irreplaceable. It is a tragedy that the board started off on the wrong footing. The board should have been set up first of all. This would have eliminated duplication in natural wastage besides giving people an opportunity to get out while the two ships were meeting, before both of them were sunk and replaced with a new liner. The best seamen jumped overboard and most of the captains.

I want to see this new body succeeding. I want to see a new vibrant body with the best brains in the country available to us. Because of the budget we are likely to lose up to 1,000 people in the service. That would mean that the staff of AFT and ACOT jointly would lose half their membership. That must be a very bad beginning for any new board. Let us hope the Minister will remember that he will need additional funding to set this body up and running. People need advice on cow numbers and the beef herd and, if that advice is not taken and actively pursued, the agricultural sector could be in a desperate economic situation within four or five years. The Minister is aware of this. He does not need me to tell him. Between now and 1992, when we will have other problems, agriculture will have to be geared to take account of the changes which will take place because in Europe where they are so far advanced in their agricultural structures that we need the best possible chance to be able to compete with them.

There are signs that we are able to do that in some areas such as I mentioned last week. There are signs that there are people in management in the milk assembly industry who are capable of matching that challenge, but we also need to help the producer. After all, they are all dependent on the producer. The producer who is now so restricted will have every conceivable bit of advice and research available to him on what his farm can do, what area production it can achieve without being penalised because the super-levy and the quota system involve quite a penalty, apart altogether from the fact that you can only achieve a certain production figure. If you exceed it by even a gallon you can actually disqualify yourself from a lot of the grants to which you would normally be entitled. It may not be generally known that farmers who exceed their milk quota actually disadvantage themselves by taking themselves out of grant assistance and any grants that have been paid to them can be recouped by the Department quite legally. This is part of the EC regulation; this is part of the community policy. There is a big stick all the time over people in the area of over-production and now, in particular, coming into an area of consciousness about agricultural pollution. Farmers need assistance with pollution control. They need grants. If they are unfortunate enough to exceed their quota, they can exclude themselves from that category of beneficiary. I hope that that is not true, but I understand that that is the case and people should be aware of it. Flexi-milk and other schemes have been tried. You have been trying to do your best to grapple with the problems of milk production throughout the country, on the advice of ACOT and other organisations. This has created an imbalance in the minds of people who are capable of increasing production without penalty.

We have a major task in front of us and we have to have across the political divide an understanding of this industry and general support for it. I only hope that, in spite of some of the concerns we have in this area, perhaps this legislation, warts and all, may have the effect of bringing our act together, bringing the two bodies together, bringing the staff and the experts of the two bodies together. I sincerely hope that adequate funding will be available to them to have the staff and any directions about what they can or cannot do will not unduly restrict them. They had a certain amount of autonomy and responded, in consultation with local people, to local needs. They always had regard to the overall funding available from the State and the restrictions that put on them.

There must be flexibility for this new board so that they can act within their budget. They must be able to promote schemes and plans and carry out research within their budget without being restricted by the Minister, the Department or — and this is what would worry me most — the Department of Finance. Some people in the Department of Finance who set-up programmes for agricultural development had only one interest in mind, and that was finance.

I would say it worries the Minister also.

I know and I say this in support of any discussions the Minister might want to have with the Department of Finance in the future. I was privileged to sit on a board who prepared a four-year plan for agriculture on behalf of the State. I was reappointed by Deputy Lenihan and this might be an indication that I made some contribution to the committee. Our biggest problem was with the input from the Department of Finance and any scheme to assist people that did not have a pay back for the State was immediately considered to be a risk and probably should not have been recommended as part of an overall plan for the development of agriculture.

That can be a very negative book-keeping exercise in the area of agriculture, which is an industry of risk, good fortune, has the blessings of God and a little bit of help from Europe. That is the kind of industry we are in. We depend on God every day of the week for fine weather. We need a lot of support and we pray daily for it. This Bill — and I do not know whether it is a novena Bill — has an aspiration and a bit of prayer about it. I hope that the finances from Government will be improved because if the board are restricted by the finances the Minister has allocated to them this year they will not succeed. I hope the Minister will be successful in getting more finance because there needs to be a financial commitment. They should not have to depend on charges like the local authorities had to do. When the Government removed funding from the local authorities they had to depend on charges. The charges were almost inoperable and people had to disregard their needs. There is a social and economic need in the agricultural area which many people do not recognise. I hope that whatever ensues on Committee Stage will be constructive and supportive of what the Minister is trying to do in this area.

I want to address the purpose of this Bill which will, firstly, amalgamate the Agricultural Institute, AFT, and ACOT and transfer all their functions to a single body which will have responsibility for agricultural, advisory, training, educational and research services. Secondly, it will provide for the abolition of county committees of agriculture. I wish to deal first with the second purpose of the Bill.

I am a farmer and I have been a member of the County Longford Committee of Agriculture for many years. Section 20 of the Bill states that the committees of agriculture established by the Agricultural Act, 1931, shall, on the establishment day, become and be dissolved. The policy considerations which led the Minister to the decision to amalgamate the Agricultural Institute and ACOT, has made it necessary for them to look at the position of county committees of agriculture, particularly in view of the close links of committees with ACOT under the present legislation. I also recognise that since the transfer of county committees of agriculture property, moneys and responsibility for agricultural institutions in 1980, the scope of committees in playing an active and leading role in agricultural development work has become progressively weaker, particularly as a result of EC conditions and the pressures on Exchequer funding.

The position with regard to the County Longford Committee of Agriculture is that over 70 per cent of their funds have been absorbed by the travelling expenses of members, the payment to ACOT for the services of their chief agricultural officer and staff officer and for the use of the ACOT centre in Longford. What is left goes to pay for a very limited number of schemes for farm development. The Government looked at this situation in the light of their general programme of rationalisation and the need to shed any layer of public administration where possible. Hence, we in this House are confronted with the dissolution of the county committees of agriculture. Before we take section 20 of this Bill on board, we should look at how this section squares with the development of democracy at local and county level.

I want to put on the record my deep concern at the growing trend in recent years of centralising activities in every walk of life, at national level or in the capital city of Dublin. I am fully aware that Government financial policy should face reality in putting the economy back on the road to long term sustained economic growth. There are, however, some aspects of the policy presently operated which make me uneasy. This arises especially with the dismantling of local bodies, such as the county committees of agriculture and the regional development organisations. Over the years they underpinned local development but they are now being struck down, their functions handed over to national highly centralised bodies and their staffs drastically reduced. In 1979 there were 14 professional ACOT staff and three clerical officers serving the farmers of County Longford, most of whom were smallholders. Today, more than half of those people have gone and the remainder are nearing retirement. I will deal with this matter when I refer to other sections of this Bill.

Because of the longstanding place of county committees of agriculture in the daily lives of farmers and rural people, I regret that section 20 was included in this Bill. The agricultural development and the consequent rise in the standard of living of farm families which we have seen over the past decades has without doubt been due in great measure to the hard work and dedication of the members of the county committees of agriculture who discharged their duties to promote, foster and develop agriculture in all areas with remarkable thoroughness and success, considering the very limited annual financial allocation under which they had to operate. I exhort the Minister to put in place new structures at local or county level to replace those that are proposed to be dismantled. Those new structure would not hinder cost-effectiveness or thwart policies of financial rectitude; rather, in the final analysis they would involve and commit local farmers, homemakers and rural people to the development of rural areas.

Section 20 must be broadened so that arrangements can be put in place whereby the Minister will have constant access to the best practical advice at local level. Too often in the past individuals and organisations, without any mandate from the people, have criticised the county committees of agriculture unjustly and in many cases attempted to blame them for the lack of development in counties. The general tendency to blame everything on politicians seeps down to all levels of politics and the totally unjustified suggestion that county committees of agriculture are out of touch with the refinements of farming stem from the unjustified allegation that politicians do not have sufficient knowledge of the industry. The simple fact is that 90 per cent of the members of county committees of agriculture are farmers and most of them are leading farmers in their own localities. This Bill ought to ensure that structures which will include people of similar standing will be put in place.

I want to refer now to the main thrust of the Bill, the amalgamation of ACOT and AFT into one body. I hope the Bill will have a quick passage into law and that the merger of those two bodies will take place smoothly and quickly in order to maintain and strengthen staff morale.

The Minister has been very wise to allow Teagasc to become involved in basic veterinary research, including TB research. This is a very important concession because there has been a very bad bovine TB problem in County Longford since 1986 and it appears that we are only now getting ahead of the problem. Time and again over the past decade the members of the County Longford Committee of Agriculture and their subsidiary, the County Voluntary Animal Health Committee, have requested the Department of Agriculture to intensify studies on the nature and causes of bovine tuberculosis. In desperation, they went even further and asked the Government to amend sections 20 and 23 of the Wildlife Act, 1976, so as to exclude badgers from the list of protected wild animals because it appeared that badgers play a major role in the transmission of bovine TB. I am sure that Teagasc will look at problems like that as soon as they get their act together.

Section 6 of the Bill enables Teagasc to charge for any of their services and it appears that the new body will be required to secure outside funding by charging for services to the maximum degree possible. In so doing it appears that the income earning targets will be maintained at realistic levels and will not exceed current levels. In this way, Teagasc will maintain contact with the maximum number of viable farmers. In this connection it is essential that the new organisation get under way quickly with a sound programme of rural development in disadvantaged areas, of which County Longford is part.

There are about 60 DEDs in County Longford and it is classified as a disadvantaged area. Thirteen of these DEDs are classified as severely handicapped. If it is not possible for the Minister to classify all of County Longford as a severely handicapped area, I ask him to have another look at about 20 of these DEDs because on the basis of population, emigration and GMS card holders those areas are equally as bad as the ones that are classified as severely handicapped. I would ask the Minister to take a look at that situation.

Restrictive farm prices and milk quotas are putting ever-increasing pressure on farm families. Therefore in order to ensure the continued viability of rural communities in County Longford and other disadvantaged areas, adequate levels of advisory and training services from Teagasc must be maintained without expecting the farmers concerned to pay for appreciable increases in charges. Teagasc, at no extra cost to farmers in the disadvantaged areas, should have a strong rural development base and should put emphasis on employment creation, both directly and indirectly, so as to maintain the population levels in the disadvantaged areas. Rural development programmes that enhance employment opportunities and increase population in the less favoured areas of the country are a very slow, tedious and painstaking process and for that reason Teagasc must be provided with additional Exchequer funding over what farmers in those areas can afford to pay.

I should like at this stage to compliment the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, for withstanding pressure in the Dáil last week and for retaining the name Teagasc for the new body. Teagasc is a good Gaelic name and should present no difficulty in pronunciation for anybody, whether they are from the town or country, young or old. I cannot see what difficulty the pronunciation of this common Irish word would create for the young, up and coming generation whom this Bill is intended to benefit most.

I had intended to cross the white line with regard to other aspects but I will not do so because time is running out, other Members want to speak and I do not want to draw the anger of the Cathaoirleach on me at this stage. I agree with the Minister that Teagasc will have to secure extra funding by way of charges for services to the maximum degree possible but I want to stress that special priority in the allocation of finance, discounts and fees will have to be given to smallholders in the disadvantaged areas.

I will take an example from what Senator Doherty said and I will not detain you too long, as Henry VIII said to his seventh or eight wife. This Bill will amalgamate ACOT and AFT. I want to pose a few questions which the Minister may be able to clarify in his reply later tonight. I understand that the combined budget for ACOT and AFT last year was approximately £38 million but in this years Estimates the Minister has provided a budget of £20 million for the new body. I should like to ask what effect that will have on the services that will be provided by the new body and on the services to agriculture. I think there are about 2,200 people employed in both bodies and I understand the Minister is seeking up to 1,000 redundancies. From the letter read by Senator Ferris in his contribution, apparently only 450 employees have indicated their acceptance of this. How will the 1,000 redundancies sought be achieved when only 450 employees have so far offered to take redundancy?

I should like to ask what effect this Bill will have on the advice available to farmers. Will the advice provided to farmers by ACOT continue when this Bill becomes law? Farming has become such a skilled and hi-tech industry that farmers need advice daily not alone on the ordinary running of the farms but on all aspects of their dealings — farm taxation, inheritance, inheritance tax, wills, social living and anything else concerned with farming. Instead of having to go to five or six bodies to seek advice on different matters they will be pleased to have one body offering them the advice that is necessary for everyday living.

I should like to ask a question on section 17 of the Bill which states: "Teagasc may establish committees to assist and advise it in relation to the performance of its functions". I would support any amendment that would replace the word "may" with the word "will". I would like to follow up the question asked by Senator Doherty about what body will replace the county committees of agriculture. Will there be a body with an input from elected representatives, in other words the representatives of the people with grassroots knowledge? Will elected councillors be represented on this new body? Section 17 says that a committee may include persons who are not members of Teagasc. Does that mean there can be provision — and I think there should be provision — for the inclusion on those committees of elected representatives of the people, as was the situation heretofore in the committees of agriculture?

I had the privilege of serving on the Galway County Committee of Agriculture for a number of years. I also served on the General Council of the County Committees of Agriculture and I can say that those bodies were in touch with the problems in farming and were in a position at first hand to bring those problems to the notice of the Department and the Minister. They will be a great loss. I should like to ask what effect the merger of the two bodies will have on agricultural education for young people entering farming. It is vital that people entering farming are equipped with first class knowledge of the business they are going into both from a technical and a practical point of view. What effect will this Bill have on this?

With regard to the charges introduced by ACOT last year, I should like to say to the Minister that he should not depend on charges. I know charges were estimated to bring in £1 million in the first year but the Minister should neither depend on charges not cut back his budget in anticipation that this amount can be made up by charges because, where charges were introduced in other areas of local government, their budgets were cut back as a result and this did not work out. I know the Cathaoirleach will forgive me for mentioning that the charges introduced this year for rod licences have not worked out either.

That is presumptuous of the Deputy.

They have not worked in Galway where I live. They have not been successful there and they have done a lot of damage. I ask the Minister to have a proper planned reallocation of the funding within his Department so that the services to agriculture, and in particular to the family based farm, are not affected and are maintained. I am sure the Minister realises that a great proportion of our population depends either directly or indirectly on agriculture for a living.

My colleague from County Longford, Senator Doherty, referred to the name Teagasc and said it should be retained. I have reservations about the name Teagasc. I do not want to make a big point about this but the name ACOT was accepted and associated with agriculture, agricultural organisations, etc. and I do not think the new name is right. It does not sound right to me and the Minister should have a look at alternative names even at this stage and perhaps he should seek suggestions on different names. I am sure he would be inundated with suggestions because a name has to be marketed and people in marketing will tell you that a brand name has to be marketed. I suggest to the Minister that he should look at any reasonable alternative names that may be suggested to him by farming organisations or perhaps he might initiate an opinion poll on alternative names. There is no point in my suggesting names but I believe we could come up with a more catchy name than Teagasc.

The Minister in the course of his speech referred to some of the points I have made. He said that a strong, viable agricultural and food sector is central to the wellbeing of our economy and that Teagasc will be required to provide the services relevant to the developing needs of the sector. The Bill provides the framework for the establishment of an organisation who will contribute to the fullest development of agriculture and its food industries. That is fine at face value but I would like the Minister to spell out, as a result of the points I have raised, exactly how this can be done if the budget is reduced from £38 million to approximately £20 million. How can it be done by eliminating the county committees of agriculture? These committees were abolished well in advance of this Bill but they should have been left there. I would like the Minister in his response to answer thoroughly the points I have raised.

I understand that Senator Brendan Ryan is giving way to Senator Gerry Reynolds.

Thank you Senator Ryan. I have a few points to make on this Bill. I have no doubt that savings can be made by ACOT and An Foras Talúntais but the manner in which both budgets are being slashed and amalgamated is unworthy of support and is frightening. I want to deal specifically with the area of the Bill relating to research.

Coming from Ballinamore, County Leitrim, I have no doubt that the Minister will be aware of my affinity with the research station in that town and I am glad that I have the opportunity to make a case for retaining it. If this Bill is passed I fear that agricultural research in the west will be at an end. The research station in Ballinamore was established in 1959 to investigate the agricultural use of heavy clay soils on drumlins of north central islands. The original objective of the institute was to investigate the role of drainage and fertiliser practice in soil improvement. Subsequently, the programme was extended to cover most aspects of farming on heavy lands. The direct sphere covered by the research station was 4,000 square miles or 12 per cent of land area, chiefly in Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and parts of Mayo, Clare and west Cork. It was also relevant to all marginal land which compromises 41 per cent of the country.

It must also be taken into account how adjacent Ballinamore is to Northern Ireland. I specifically regret that if cutbacks are made, this station will be abolished as it helped many farmers in County Fermanagh; that is co-operation between North and South which politicians here hold dear to their hearts. That is another reason for holding on to the research station in Ballinamore. It is only ten miles from Northern Ireland and has been very helpful to farmers in Leitrim, and specifically in Fermanagh.

Past activities of the research station in Ballinamore include dairying. Stock rates increased from a level of one livestock unit per five acres to one livestock unit per one and a half acres. All aspects of dairying husbandry were investigated with emphasis on breeding, nutrition and disease control. That research was essential and beneficial to farmers all over the country. Any research on disease which has ravaged this country, specifically TB, is relevant. There were also grassland improvement trials to study appropriate grass species for heavy land, together with optimum use of lime and fertiliser, for silage and pasture swards and simple systems of reseeding were also studied. This was beneficial to small farmers in the west and on marginal land, especially when they could reseed their land at a cheap rate. That is another worthwhile research aspect that was carried out at Ballinamore.

The gravel tunnel drainage system was developed at Ballinamore, a breakthrough in effective drainage of unstable clay soils. This has been internationally acclaimed although many people in Ireland are not aware of it. We should take credit for it and I compliment the people who were involved in its development. It has been of great benefit. We have had western packages and moneys from Europe. A lot of land in my part of the country has been drained successfully due to research undertaken in Ballinamore. I am very proud to be able to say that this drainage has been internationally acclaimed.

With regard to the environment, studies have been carried out in Leitrim and Cavan to formulate appropriate rates and the time of application of artifical fertilisers to pig slurries to avoid water pollution. I have come across the problem of water pollution specifically in the past couple of months. There has been much hype by this Government about water pollution and it is definitely a problem especially in tourist areas. Research in this area is most beneficial. I come from a county where in a ten miles radius there are 52 lakes. Pollution causes problems and farmers have been willing and working hard to try to alleviate them. There is a major tourist industry. I am glad the Government have decided to implement a financial package for farmers in the near future which will help them to stop pollution and to finance slurry tanks which are essential. From a tourism point of view, the studies carried out in Ballinamore were of great benefit. There have been intensive investigations into the control of internal and external parasites in cattle and sheep with particular emphasis on liver fluke and red water which caused hardship in farming communities. The research station in Ballinamore came up with many helpful ideas in this regard.

Farm machinery is another area in which research was carried out. There was modification of conventional farm machinery so that it would operate effectively on soft hilly soils with minimum surface damage. The fruits of these studies were most apparent during the wet summers of 1985 and 1986 on the station and on similar types of terrain throughout the county. I availed of the services provided by Ballinamore research station in those wet summers of 1985 and 1986 and many farmers in my county would be out of business today but for the hard work done by employees of An Foras Talúntais. They deserve great credit and are held in high esteem in the area for all the helpful work they did in those periods. They worked from 6 o'clock in the morning until 12 midnight and 1 o'clock the following morning. I thank them most sincerely for a job well done.

The station also researched amenities. The highly successful sand carpet all-weather playing fields design was developed at Ballinamore, something that very few people are aware of. Most sports organisations building new pitches are putting in this very successful carpet all-weather playing surface. This was another phenomenal breakthrough for the research station in Ballinamore. They also undertook contracts works from outside bodies in the sphere of drug testing, arterial drainage, disposal of dairy effluent and Third World development. This is also very beneficial in relation to research. The present activities at the station include dairying and there is an emphasis on the quality and quantity of grass produced for sileage and pasture so as to obtain maximum output with maximum use of concentrates.

Attention to breeding and disease control is a continuing priority. The returns from winter versus summer milk production will be evaluated. This is very worthwhile research because we still do not know enough about the best output we can get from marginal land. The station is still carrying out drainage tests and various systems are being investigated. Particular emphasis is laid on shallow moulding. These studies are part of an EC funded national project.

They are also carrying out studies on grassland. (1) to establish optimum rates in times of application of fertilisers in drumlin areas; (2) to determine grass species most suitable to drumlin soils and climate; (3) to evaluate a new source of fertiliser nitrogen; (4) to formulate climatic soil models for use in determining rates of grass growth; and (5) to establish an economic and effective technique of grassland reselling. They are also carrying out research in mixed stock to establish the economic return from a mixed stock enterprise of sheep and cattle. Performance of both species was very satisfactory during 1987. The way forward in agriculture is in mixed farming rather than dealing specifically in one area. This is very beneficial research and I hope the station will still be there to carry it out for quite a long time to come. In regard to Biomass, different species of trees and sedge are being studied as possible alternative energy sources.

I listened with great attention to all Government speakers stating how good the land is in Leitrim for afforestation. If you ask anybody about Leitrim the first thing they will tell you is that it should be planted and that trees grow there at twice the rate in any other area in Western Europe. This research will also help afforestation within the county. There have been many emotive issues as far as forestry is concerned. People do not want to move off the land and they do not want trees planted where farmers and cattle used to roam. At the same time there is an acceptance within the county that employment can be created from afforestation. There is also a willingness on the part of people from Leitrim to accept afforestation when the Government provide worthwhile jobs, such as a wood pulp industry and the setting up of the headquarters of the new proposed forestry body in the county. If we are serious and if we want to make the best use of the land available for planting, people within the county have to see the fruits in other ways.

Are we still on the Bill?

Yes. This research station covers all aspects of agriculture, and forestry is a part of agriculture. We are talking about research. The Minister should use his influence to make sure that the research station in Ballinamore is maintained not just for research but because 12 public service jobs in my home area are now at stake — people who have worked hard and long hours to help their neighbours to have better living standards because of improvements in farming. Those people have worked diligently in Ballinamore research station and they and their families live in the area.

Leitrim has suffered greatly and has had a continuous decline in population. We need public service jobs in the county. If the research stations in the west are done away with or cut back to any great extent, not alone will the people who have been working there be doomed to emigration but also many young farmers depending on advice from these research stations and who have benefited greatly from research will also have to go. The Government have a social obligation to provide for the poorer regions and I would be very happy to see Ballinamore agricultural research station going on for years and making major breakthroughs in agricultural research.

I am glad of this opportunity to make a contribution on this legislation. I welcome the Bill, which is to amalgamate An Foras Talúntais and ACOT into one single body, Teagasc, who will have responsibility for agricultural advisory training, education and research services. It is timely from two points of view. First, the new single organisation will be better able to cope with the various needs at present. The amalgamation makes sense not just because it will do away with the tendency to duplicate services but also because it provides us with the potential for increasing the efficiency with which the results of wider research can be dissemmated to the independent users, primary producers and processors.

The fact that we are the first in Europe to take such a step is inspiring. It reflects the fact that agriculture is more important to us than any other European country. For that reason it is fitting that, after due thought and consideration, we should have the courage and foresight to take this step which we all agree is necessary. It is not the first time Ireland has led Europe in agricultural terms.

Secondly, because of the severe financial restrictions and the need to reduce public expenditure as much as possible in the interests of the overall financial position, it is well that amalgamation be carried out to increase efficiency as quickly as possible. The possibility of matching AFT and ACOT was mooted many years ago and there were doubts that such amalgamation would be of benefit to agriculture. In the present circumstance this amalgamation will certainly benefit agriculture. All we can ever do in politics and public administration generally is to provide the best means for the needs of the day and, at the same time, try to identify and develop the best possibilities for the future. Changes have been made in agriculture before. I was present when the ACOT Bill was introduced seven years or eight years ago. That changed at the time, we have changed now and I am sure that there will be changes in the future.

There is a great need for agricultural research, advice and education. Now that we are in the European Community and competing with other agricultural countries the need is all the greater. We all know the great work that has been carried out by the two bodies that have amalgamated under this legislation, An Foras Talúntais and ACOT. An Foras Talúntais were established approximately 30 years ago and have contributed enormously to the development of the agricultural industry. They have done great work in the field of research. ACOT have done equally tremendous work in conveying the results of the research of An Foras Talúntais to their advisory service department. No doubt, the agriculture advisers in ACOT have helped individual farmers to operate their farming businesses more economically, helping them to plan their farms so as to make their operations more accommodating and more economical. The Minister of State is very familiar with the good work in their dairy research centre in relation to dairying equipment, especially milking machines and other dairy items used on farms. This has been of the greatest value to the dairying community and their research in milk machines liners is most extensive and thorough. The research and opinions of the Moore Park scientists on milking machine liners is something dairy farmers acknowledge and very much appreciate because similar tests are not carried out in Britain and some other European countries. Moore Park could have played a more vital role because, as a result of our entry into the EC, there was an emphasis on feeding cows and dairy cattle using the minimum of meals. The dairy farmers should produce as economically as possible, but if we had more emphasis on feeding there would be a better overall yield per cow per acre and a better quota now.

When I spoke on the milk recording scheme I mentioned that the milk yield in the Netherlands was 5,290 kgs and 3,654 in Ireland. I am always emphasising that, if there was more interest in pedigree breeding and better feeding, we would have a better base yield and we would not have the quota problems. The Government have done good work in reallocating the quotas and helping new farmers, especially those starting off business in a dairy enterprise.

The Government must be congratulated on setting up An Bord Glas. With restrictions on land for uses other than dairying, there is a great opening for the development of horticulture, especially when we are importing commodities which could be grown here. Land will be available from Bord na Móna cutaway bogs which could be used very effectively and efficiently for horticultural production. I am sure that the Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Kirk, and his Department, in conjunction with An Bord Glas, will do a great job in this respect.

Section 17 of the Bill provides that the new body, Teagasc, will be in a position to form committees. I was delighted that the Minister said he was sure the new Authority would want to have constant access to the best practical advice at local level and that appropriate arrangements would be made accordingly. I hope the committees will be formed at local level, because the committees of agriculture in the past played a very important role in the development of agriculture. New committees formed and set up by Teagasc should represent local opinions, needs and objectives. It is very important that the new board, Teagasc, should form the local committees immediately so that the voice of local interests will be heard in this very important industry.

I welcome the Bill and trust that agriculture will benefit from it.

If I could be sure of what will come out of this Bill I might be able to make up my mind whether I welcome it. There are so many layers of possibilities about what it is about that it is difficult for a person who, is interested in the country's future to have more than a passing interest in what happens in what is described as our largest industry, agriculture. Whatever one thinks of the future of Agriculture, a number of facts must be taken into consideration. The first is that it exists and that it consumes a considerable amount of resources. The second is that it is the source of income of somewhere around 20 per cent of our population who, whatever the future of agriculture, have the right to be accommodated and to expect a reasonable standard of living.

The remarks made here this evening and on previous occasions in this House about agriculture are the nearest thing to cloud cuckoo land economics that I ever had the misfortune to listen to. I have heard a succession — and this relates very clearly to the Bill — of representatives of farming talk about the performance of other sectors of the economy with a remarkable abandon. I have in particular heard the alleged imperfections of the semi-State sector of commercial activity criticised by a succession of authoritative representatives of farming. Since 1980 the combined commercial semi-State sector made a profit of about £2 billion — in other words, it contributed something to the economy in excess of what was contributed to it and did not involve substantial subsidies from outside the State. On the other hand, agriculture masquerades as an industry. Compared with the chemical industry, with which I have some professional familiarity, I can only stand back in amazement at the prospect of that industry attempting to argue that it was entitled to go on producing more and more of the same commodities that it has produced for the last 50 years, demand guaranteed prices for them, expect a substantial body of State assistance to ensure that they go on producing more and more of those products and tell us that it is not our responsibility to find a market for those products. They do not produce what the market needs or indeed do not respond to what the market expects or demands.

It is quite astonishing to describe it as an industry. Just a moment ago Senator Kiely, who is a good friend of mine, talked about the possibility of yet more milk production. He compared us to other countries that have produced even greater quantities of something for which there is no market. He asserted that somehow it is rational and sensible to build the future of a large part of our industrial development on producing something that nobody wants to buy at a price that nobody wants to pay. That is the underlying reality of Irish agriculture, as the vast bulk of what it produces has no existing markets and no likelihood of any future markets. It is a protected, safeguarded, cosseted and guaranteed income industry of a kind that would not be tolerated in any other area of economic activity. It does not demand an economic price — that is, the price that the market will pay — but grossly inflated prices on the basis of some mythological concept of a family farm which is supposed to contribute so much to our spiritual well-being that it deserves these enormous unreal, artificial, subsidies, not based on any index of economic performance that I have ever read or on an index of market requirement that I have ever seen underlined.

Agriculture is, to a large extent, inefficient since somewhere around 40 to 50 per cent of our arable or potentially arable land is owned or controlled by people who because of their age and status have no interest in increasing production. For example, 45 per cent of agricultural land is owned by elderly bachelors over 55 years of age who have no particular incentive or wish to produce any more. I hold no grudge against those people, but it is a mockery of any sort of model of future economic development to pretend that a sector where so much of its productive capacity is in such hands is somehow either geared or capable of being a real, sustained source of economic growth. I remember Professor Tom Raftery talking about some other things and, since neither the Minister nor I agree with Professor Tom Raftery about most things, we at least will not fall out and he cannot accuse me of——

I am surprised to hear that.

The only comment I made about Professor Raftery——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Chair would prefer if the Senator did not comment further as Professor Raftery is not here to defend himself.

Debate adjourned.