Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Glasshouse Growers.

56.

asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will initiate emergency measures to help the glasshouse growers overcome their present serious financial position.

Special measures are already in operation to improve the competitiveness of glasshouse growers in the production and marketing of their crops, namely, a scheme of grants for the conversion of heating systems from oil to solid fuel and financial aid towards the cost of improved market co-ordination for glasshouse crops. The fall in oil prices and bank interest rates should also help them considerably. They are further helped by the fact that their products are looked for in places as far away as Holland and that is a turnabout.

Would the Minister agree with me that even with the grant scheme that was introduced to encourage people to change from oil fired burners to solid fuel burners, given the financial difficulties and poor cash flow that has been the order of the day particularly for tomato growers over the last seven or eight years, the capital borrowings that would be needed to install the solid fuel burners is beyond the capability of many of those growers because the interest rates applying to borrowings is too high? The amount of glass that is lying idle or underused at present is indicative of the problem that exists.

Perhaps they would qualify for the European loan over a four year period. This is something I would like to have investigated because that would be a significant help. I accept that solid fuel boilers and other boilers are expensive and that double cladding is equally expensive. But at the moment trading is quite good and people, for some reason or another, are turning very much towards hot house food such as lettuce and the full range of hot house plants.

Will the Minister of State seriously consider my suggestion that he should examine the acute difficulties of the glasshouse growers at present? They are really on their knees financially and it is the one area where there is potential for development and for import substitution. Will the Minister of State, as part of a package, look at the possibility of reducing the level of taxation both on oil and on solid fuel even for a short period of perhaps two years? This would be a dramatic measure that would turn the position around for these growers. The simple fact of the matter is that if there is not a package introduced they will simply go out of business. There are huge amounts of capital involved; there are people with acres of glass underutilised or left derelict. They are up to their ears in debt to the bank and to the Agricultural Credit Corporation and they are not able to meet their commitments. If the Minister decided to introduce a suitable package it would be money well spent because there would be a return on the investment.

That is a good speech, Deputy, but it is not in order.

It is a fair point but, at the same time, I have to say that in conjunction with these glasshouse growers we have, at their behest, introduced a market co-ordinator. The Deputy will accept that, apart altogether from our being able to supply the market, we have to be very careful not to oversupply the market which has been happening for parts of the year. We have now succeeded in implementing a few of their suggestions. Another matter that I did not mention is the setting up of a national horticultural co-operative. We are helping to fund that co-operative. Admittedly, it is now involved in only a few counties, the Deputy's own, Dublin and Meath. Initially it is targetted at the Dublin market and they are trying to get a percentage of the produce from a number of growers that they are prepared to offer to the co-operative. Certainly, I am prepared to look at any schemes or packages that the Deputy submits.

(Interruptions.)

Order, please.

I submitted a Private Notice Question to you to ask the Minister for Justice if he will make a statement on the disappearance of priceless paintings from the Alfred Beit Foundation at Russborough House? In view of the feeling of dismay that exists in the entire country, particularly in Kildare concerning anything of value, surely the Minister will allow me to raise this on the Adjournment.

I will communicate with the Deputy. That concludes Question Time.