Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 22 Oct 1959

Vol. 177 No. 2

Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill, 1959—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Its purpose is to transfer Johnstown Castle Agricultural College from my Department to An Foras Talúntais.

In July, 1945, when the then Minister for Agriculture moved the Second Reading of the Johnstown Castle Agricultural College Bill, 1945, he expressed to the donors, Mr. Maurice Victor Lakin and Mrs. Dorothy Violet Jefferies, the Dáil's appreciation of their generosity in presenting Johnstown Castle and its demesne to the nation. I think I can say that very good use has been made of the property. During the fourteen years which have elapsed since the property passed to the Department of Agriculture, Johnstown Castle Agricultural College has acquired an international reputation as a scientific centre. The lands, nearly 1,000 acres in extent, have been used by my Department for the conduct of extensive and detailed programmes of field experiments touching on very important aspects of practical agriculture. Since my Department took possession of the property, roughly £250,000 has been spent by the State on its development, including the provision of buildings and equipment for the well known Soils Laboratory there. The total staff employed there at present is over 140.

Now that An Foras Talúntais has been set up for the purpose of furthering agricultural research, it is considered desirable to transfer the College and Estate to it. I have already transferred to the Institute the Department's farm at Grange, County Meath, which had been used for research on cattle breeding and which now forms the headquarters of the Institute's Division of Grassland Research. I have also transferred the Peatland Experimental Station at Glenamoy, County Mayo, and certain facilities my Department had from Bórd na Móna at Derrybrennan and Clonsast bogs. In each of these cases, all the Department's buildings, with the equipment and stock on the lands at the date of transfer, were also handed over without charge.

The transfer of the Department's properties at Grange and Glenamoy did not require special legislation. The position in regard to Johnstown Castle is different. This property was donated to the country to be held by the State for the purposes of a lay agricultural college, and was accepted as such by the Act of 1945. In order to vary the terms of the trust and Statute so as to permit the transfer of the property to An Foras Talúntais, and its further development by that body as a research centre, it is necessary to amend the 1945 Act. The donors have, of course, been consulted and have agreed to the transfer. We are very grateful to them for their agreement.

In giving his consent, Mr. Lakin has asked that certain conditions be observed, and I have accepted these. They are, so far as is necessary, included in the Bill. He has asked that, in order to preserve the architectural quality and historic interest of the castle and its surroundings, no exterior demolition or alteration to the castle or the main gates shall be undertaken without consulting him, and that no construction shall be undertaken within view of the castle or of the main avenues which is not architecturally in harmony with the castle. This is provided for in Section 6 of the Bill.

He has also asked that the present Jubilee Nurse who, by virtue of the 1945 Act, occupies a cottage free of rent and rates on the estate, should retain tenure of the cottage on the same terms for her lifetime. This is covered by Section 5 of the Bill. In addition, the Institute has undertaken to make certain improvements to the cottage at Mr. Lakin's request. It has also been thought desirable to safeguard certain interests of the donors by specifying in particular that Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Act of 1945 shall continue in operation.

The Bill also provides that the safeguards granted to the former employees of the Johnstown Estate who were taken over by the Department in 1945 shall not be affected by their transfer to the service of the Institute.

Under the Counterpart Agreement with the United States Government in regard to An Foras Talúntais, the Irish Government has undertaken to make grants annually to An Foras, in respect of any services transferred to it from my Department, of amounts not less than the amounts currently spent by the State on such services before they were transferred.

Johnstown Castle Agricultural College has been one of the proudest possessions of my Department, and I am certain that under the new Institute it will earn even greater lustre not only for itself but for the country.

We agree with the provisions of this Bill. I should like to avail of the occasion of its being presented to the House to recall with pride certain facts relating to Johnstown Castle. One is that it was originally built by the ancestors of a member of our Party, Sir John Esmonde, and in the very recent past it was owned and occupied by family connections. That is a fortuitous circumstance and I am glad to observe that the Minister in the course of his introductory remarks said:

During the 14 years which have elapsed since the property passed to the Department of Agriculture, Johnstown Castle Agricultural College has acquired an international reputation as a scientific centre.

I think that is true and I want to recall here in Dáil Éireann that that international reputation as a scientific centre, of which I saw abundant evidence when I was Minister for Agriculture, was acquired while this Institute was under the direction of the Department of Agriculture. I believe that all the trained personnel, including the Director of the Agricultural Institute itself, were trained in their present skills in the service of the Department of Agriculture.

I avail of this opportunity to suggest to some of those who are given to thoughtless and ill-informed criticism of the Department of Agriculture to realise that if they have to-day an Institute which, in the words of the Minister, has an international reputation as a scientific centre, that was built up from nothing except a house with 1,000 acres of land into what it is to-day, under the direction and control of the Department of Agriculture.

I am very proud of what Johnstown Castle is to-day. Deputies and the public at large should not forget that it is merely one more of the very distinguished achievements of our Department of Agriculture quietly worked upon and completed as a result of very hard labour, great skill and distinguished public service by those who helped to build up this scientific centre of international repute from nothing into what it is to-day.

The Minister refers to the well-known Soil Laboratory that is functioning there at present. I can well recall that in 1947 the entire soil testing facilities of this country then existing were of a very primitive kind in one room at Ballyhaise Agricultural College in County Cavan. We have today in Johnstown, I think, a soil testing service which is equal, if not superior, to that available to any other country in the world, but that is only one part of a vast complex of work that is proceeding at Johnstown Castle at present and every bit of that work was inaugurated, all the equipment for that work was provided and the vast bulk of the personnel trained and recruited by the Department of Agriculture, to their eternal credit.

The Minister also refers to the fact that in the recent past he has transferred the Peatlands Experimental Station at Glenamoy, County Mayo, certain facilities developed by the Department of Agriculture and Bord na Mona at Derrybrennan and Clonsast and also the farm at Grange. All that was also assembled by the Department of Agriculture and I recall these facts today for the purpose of expressing the sincere hope that An Foras Talúntais will render as good an account of their stewardship at the end of 15 years as the Department of Agriculture is entitled to be proud to render today when this Institute is being handed over to the Agricultural Institute.

I note the special conditions mentioned by the Minister which, I understand, are a necessary part as the basis of the agreement under which these premises were acquired by the generous gift of the donors but I should like to ask the Minister about one detail. Section 9 of the Bill provides that subsection (3) of Section 14 of the An Foras Talúntais Act, 1958, shall not apply in respect of the estate. That section means that the Institute may not sell or lease any land or other property held by it and no longer required for the performance of its functions.

Possibly it is necessary in order to secure agreement to insert that provision but it could be a material inconvenience. If it is necessary it can be got over, but we can well imagine that it might suit the Institute on some future occasion to exchange one piece of land for another or to do whatever is necessary to make it part of the ground necessary for the widening of a road or some necessary local service in which the Institute would wish to play its part.

I can remember questions arising when I was Minister for Agriculture about local charities and local activities where ordinarily a property of the size of the Institute would be expected to play its part and I seem to remember we made exceptional provisions so that the local charity or amenity would not suffer as a result of this large property being in the hands of the State. The College was allowed to make whatever would be the normal contribution to whatever local activity was proceeding. I could see here that if the Institute is forbidden by statute from ever selling anything or leasing any part of its property, even where that part is unnecessary for the work of the Institute, difficulties might arise which could not at this time be foreseen. I mentioned one type. If there was a road-straightening operation going on in this area and it suddenly became apparent that we had overriden by statute the general proviso that a tenant can make a strip of land available for public works of that kind, we might be involved in an embarrassment that could be avoided if it were foreseen.

However, the circumstances surrounding Johnstown Castle are peculiar and I recognise that if you want to accept a gift of this kind, it very often carries conditions with it. Whether that is an essential condition or not I do not know it is a matter into which the Minister may look at his convenience. I advise the House to pass this Bill and in passing it to pay a tribute to our incomparable Department of Agriculture on another of the very many enormous achievements it has to its credit, and for which it rarely gets thanks from the people whom it serves.

It would be superfluous to repeat what has been said by the Minister for Agriculture and by his predecessor in their tributes to the work done in Johnstown Castle in the past 15 years or to try to add in any way to what has been said in praise of the officers of the Department of Agriculture by those directly employed at Johnstown Castle. Nevertheless, I should like to place on record my approval of the provisions contained in this Bill and my tribute to what has been done by the Ministers for Agriculture in the past 15 years and by the officers in the Department.

We are taking an unusual step to-day. It has been usual for Governments, when taking over other concerns, mainly to take over dying concerns. Here we are passing a measure which hands over a very active and live concern to the Agricultural Institute. It is a necessary step. It is a step of which the whole House approves.

Deputy Dillon mentioned the fact that Johnstown Castle was presented by the Esmonde family. I think that is an interesting fact to be mentioned in this debate. I should like also to mention in my tribute to Johnstown Castle the fact that, as far as I know, every worker there is a Wexford man. The Director of the Agricultural Institute now is a person born and reared in the parish in which Johnstown Castle is situated. He is Dr. Tom Walsh. I believe that, as Director of the Agricultural Institute, he will have regard to all the things which Deputy Dillon says are not in the Bill. He will have particular regard to all those things because of the fact that he is of the parish and knows the history and the tradition of Johnstown Castle for the whole of his lifetime.

The Minister has in his proposals here embodied a section to safeguard the existing pensioners at Johnstown Castle and to provide for those who will become pensioners in the years to come. It occurred to me that there is no provision for the perquisites that have been granted to the employees ever since the Castle was established. I appreciate not alone the difficulty but the practical impossibility for any draftsman and the Minister to legislate for those perquisites. Again, I believe that the Agricultural Institute will have regard to those things and that those perquisites, especially to the agricultural workers, will be freely granted as they were by the Department of Agriculture and as they were granted by the owners of the Castle in previous years.

It is gratifying, too, to see embodied in this Bill Section 6 which restricts the demolition of any part of the Castle and restricts the Agricultural Institute from making any sizeable alterations. I presume that a similar section was embodied in the Principal Act. I think that, to their credit, the Ministers for Agriculture strictly adhere to the provisions which are now embodied in Section 6. Johnstown Castle has been altered over the years but I do not think that anybody could say that the physical character of the Castle or of any of the outbuildings has been radically changed. That, as I say, is to the credit of the Ministers for Agriculture and Departmental officials.

It would be no use for me to talk about the conditions of the agricultural workers there or of those who are engaged in scientific research because from the time this Bill is passed the Minister will have no responsibility. However, I believe that, when the Bill is passed and this college is handed over to the Agricultural Institute, the workers there will not be regarded, as they are now, as a type of civil servant who cannot have recourse to the Labour Court but as employees of the Agricultural Institute they will have that right. I do not know whether the Minister has any function in even answering me on that point. It is possibly not anything upon which he will be asked to adjudicate. It will probably be a matter for the Department of Industry and Commerce. I do hope that the Agricultural Institute, and its Director in particular, will devise some scheme to provide some type of permanency and some sort of pension scheme for the laboratory assistants and others engaged in research down there. As it is, they are somewhat in the nature of casual workers and they find it very unsatisfactory indeed.

It is true that they were recruited locally. As far as I am aware, the competition for the position was not a national competition. In that I suppose they were favoured but they have their lives to live and their work to do. They have been working for the State over the past 15 years and they will be working there for what we can regard as a semi-State body from now on. Therefore, I think that they should have some permanency. Some effort should be made to establish them and provide pensionable status for them as well. Similarily, I think that the Institute ought to have regard to the particular type of work the agricultural workers have to do in Johnstown Castle and not to regard them as agricultural labourers in the ordinary sense but to regard them as people who have to do a particular specialised job and to compensate them by a betterment in their wages.

I shall conclude by congratulating the various Ministers for Agriculture over the past 14 or 15 years and the Departmental officials on the magnificent way they have built up Johnstown Castle to make it, as Deputy Dillon has rightly said it is to-day, a research station of international repute—a research station and college of which we can be justly proud.

I should like to join with the Leader of the principal Opposition Party, Deputy Dillon, and my colleague, Deputy Corish from Wexford, in welcoming this Bill. We are very glad to know that the advance in agricultural science is another milestone in the progress of the good work which the Department of Agriculture has done for this country in setting up this Institute. It will be in the County Wexford. It is only fitting that agricultural research should find its home in Wexford which has always been a centre of tillage and agricultural advancement in every way.

The question in which I am particularly interested is that the Department of Agriculture are transferring Johnstown Castle to the new Institute. As such, they probably will not have any further control over the employment of personnel there. That is as it should be and everyone will be satisfied but there are to my knowledge in the employment of the Department of Agriculture certain officials, temporary civil servants, who have reached a stage in their careers and who, in spite of their ability, their knowledge and vast experience, are not in a position to secure any further advancement.

That in itself is not peculiar to the Department of Agriculture but I know that there are certain officials employed in the research departments and in agricultural colleges generally who are in that position. I would be anxious that the Minister would, in so far as it is possible for him and his Department, see that those officials who are transferred to this new Institute might have an opportunity, which they are denied at present, through no fault of their own but through circumstances existing in the State, of advancement in their profession.

Section 3 states that the estate shall be used exclusively for the advance of agricultural science and for no other purpose. If we are to have a college such as this, where research will be carried on, which will operate all the up to date methods of agriculture which are so vital to farmers today, where there will be a wealth of talent and which will be led by so distinguished a professor of agricultural science as Dr. Walsh, would it not be possible also to provide courses of instruction at the college? That may be the case, but from this section, it would seem to me that the Institute is bound so that it can undertake agricultural research only and cannot provide tuition or lectures for people interested in farming.

If the agricultural industry in Ireland is to be kept up to date with the progress made elsewhere so that we may compete with other countries, it is essential that the extension of education in this sphere should be as wide as possible. It may be that I have misconstrued the Bill or this section of it. If that is not the case, I would ask the Minister and his advisers to reconsider it and to see if it would be possible to extend the aegis of this Institute so that they may be in a position to impart the knowledge they have to those who could most usefully receive it.

I do not think there is anything in the point made by the last speaker. As I understand it, the original deed of transfer of the estate provided that the property shall be used exclusively for the purpose of a lay agricultural college and for no other purpose whatever. We have been informed by our legal advisers that the words "for no other purpose whatever" have a limiting effect and the removal of those words and the insertion of the words suggested by the Deputy would have the effect of broadening the purposes for which the Institute can be used. Therefore, I think there is no reason for fear under that head.

One of the matters mentioned by Deputy Dillon was his fear of the possible future embarrassment that might arise from the limiting effect of Section 9. As the Deputy is aware, this property, of course, is not in the same position as another property might be. The original gift was on trust in perpetuity and the donors never wished that the estate would be reduced in size. It may be that 14 years' experience is not sufficient to make one feel certain that a provision of this nature would not prove an embarrassment later, but as a result of those 14 years' experience, we feel that no embarrassment will arise.

On the other matter mentioned by Deputy Corish, I am informed here that the perquisites to which he referred are, in fact, made secure under Section 8 of the Bill.

Does the Minister feel that Section 9 does not require examination?

I do not think it does. We can do nothing about it.

It is subject to the deed?

Yes. We can do nothing about it.

Could the Minister say anything about the point I raised about the temporary civil servants?

It is a different matter altogether.

There are temporary civil servants employed at the moment in Johnstown Castle.

That has nothing to do with it. The Institute has agreed that the employees will enjoy terms no less favourable than those enjoyed at present.

The point I am making is that there are civil servants who are not enjoying very favourable terms at present in view of the fact that they are temporary civil servants.

They may not be enjoying suitable terms at present, as the Deputy says, but we are transferring the whole Institute and all I can say is that the terms they will enjoy after this will not be less favourable.

I was entering the House when the Minister was replying to the point I made about perquisites. He did say that the perquisites were safeguarded in Section 8?

Yes, that is right.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.