An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed).

Amendments Nos. 15 and 18 are related. We are discussing amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 18 together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 9, line 21, after "members" to insert the following:

"and not less than three of the persons appointed having knowledge or experience of organic production methods".

It is necessary in present circumstances to have people who have experience of organic production methods, particularly as there is a major debate in that regard.

Amendment No. 15 is logical. In any board or organisation set up by the State there should, at least, be an instruction to say that those being appointed possess a knowledge of the subject matter that will come before them. I regret that up to now, during my time in the Dáil, such amendments have not been taken on board. If they had been we would know about such boards: their members would at least be capable of some regard for the subject matter in hand and have the requisite expertise or knowledge to ensure that the whole aspect of food production was properly reviewed. It is important on issues such as this that the Government at least takes a step. It is not that every single member of a board has to have the knowledge. In this case we are only asking that not fewer than three persons have the knowledge or experience in organic production methods. In amendment No. 16 it is stipulated that they should be "familiar", which means that they might have done some reading on aspects of genetic modification.

This is an important debate which will continue far into the future, as it has lasted a long time in other jurisdictions. We must be confident that board members have the expertise to make informed decisions after proper discussion.

I agree on the importance of having knowledge or experience of organic production methods, and that members of the board be familiar with the debate on genetic modification. The Fischler proposals will effect a sea-change in Irish agriculture and while it may happen gradually at first we must look to the promotion and development of organic production methodologies and increase the input and expertise on this. It would be remiss not to provide in the Act that any person dealing with horticulture or any aspect of agriculture would have a knowledge of organic production methods.

The amendment is mild in that it asks only that the members be familiar with the debate on genetic modification. This House has not paid sufficient attention to genetically modified foods. There has been no public consultation on many of the developments in this area and no detailed consultation with the interested parties. It is important for the future of Irish agriculture that there are people on the board who know about genetic modification. The impact of multinationals on our industry poses a serious risk and is a cause for concern. We must know the arguments and be able to debate this and defend our position on genetically modified foods.

Knowledge or experience of the horticultural sector encompasses knowledge or experience of organic production and familiarity with current issues. Membership of the proposed sub-board, at 12 ordinary members, is two more than the complement of members on the national board of Bord Glas, and the chairperson, who would be a member of the main board, will be statutorily required to have knowledge or experience of the horticultural sector. The person cannot be appointed without that knowledge. The proposed amendments are superfluous given the all-embracing definition of horticulture in the Bill and the specific reference to these issues would undermine and cause confusion about the present definition.

It is very important that there is a good mix of professions, industry and sectoral experience, commercial expertise, and that it would be possible to have a powerful body of professional capacity and experience on the board to ensure that we can continue to drive the sector forward. If we are too prescriptive in the legislation about the appointments we will remove the flexibility that is crucial to ensure that there is a mix on the board that will serve to drive the industry forward. Consequently I regret that I cannot accept these amendments.

Knowledge of horticulture does not confirm knowledge of organic or genetically modified production. They are very different subjects. Organic farming is a specialised area. I come from a farming background and most of those I know involved in horticulture and the farm industry do not have a deep knowledge of organic farming. Those who know most about it are in their 70s and 80s because effectively the type of production they engaged in was organic. Genetic modification is in its infancy and someone involved in horticulture would not necessarily know about it. The debate is starting to develop throughout Europe. Last Monday there was a conference here involving people from Wales and France and a leading member of the IFA, all of whom have serious concerns about this. To appoint a board which does not include people with an intimate knowledge of the topic from the scientific and production points of view is reckless, to say the least. That is why I propose these amendments.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 9, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"(2) All members appointed will be familiar with the current debate on genetic modification.".

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 not moved.

On a point of order, I was here when we dealt with these issues but the grouping of the amendments was not discussed. We went straight into a vote on amendment No. 9 with no opportunity for discussion of that amendment or amendment No. 19.

I will allow the Deputy to say a few words on amendment No. 19 because we are making good progress.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 9, line 27, after "Minister" to insert "following public competition among those qualified".

There must be public competition among those qualified who present themselves for a position on the board. I ask the House to support the amendment.

I am somewhat confused and baffled by Deputy Ferris's suggestion that we have public competition for appointments to State boards, or subsidiary bodies within those boards. It is a major task to find people to sit on such boards. I do not know how we would ever appoint boards or achieve conclusions if we were to ask candidates to go to the personal expense of entering a competition, and ask someone to decide on behalf of the State who should sit on the boards. This is a broad policy issue and would entail a major change in the ethos of public service appointments. There is respect for people with track records of success in various disciplines, professions and industries who are asked to give of their expertise, for nothing, to help develop the economy in various sectors.

In order to have a serious debate on this issue, a special Bill would have to be sponsored by the Department of Finance because competition is in the remit of the public service. It would not be advisable to do so in the context of a Bill, the purpose of which is to amalgamate two State bodies. To do so would mean a change in policyvis-à-vis public sector appointments, which would be a distortion of the status quo without having examined the overall policy impact it would have in terms of the macro appointments that would be made across a range of State boards. On that basis, this is not the appropriate place for introducing a major change in the general policy for the filling of vacancies in State boards and sub-boards, which in some cases would override the nominating function of producer and consumer interests.

Various organisations have a nominating function to most State bodies. It would not be up to the State, Ministers or Departments to dictate to these bodies whom they should appoint. That would be unfair. It would also be an infringement of the democratic rights of these organisations to appoint people according to existing structures and based on legislation that has been passed over the years. It would not be an appropriate place to make this significant policy change, therefore, I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 20:

In page 9, to delete lines 34 to 41 and in page 10, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following:

"(6) All members shall hold office for the period of 4 years from the date of their appointment.".

The amendment is self-explanatory. It allows time for people to fit into their positions and do justice to the offices to which they are appointed.

Serious ramifications would result from what is proposed in the amendment. A successful structure has evolved whereby, depending on the size and role of the board, membership is staggered on the basis of a set number of years, for example, one, three or five years. This is in order to maintain continuity in a board's performance and to retain experience, expertise and leadership within the board from one period to another. Section 19 has been deliberately phrased to ensure continuity in subsidiary board membership on a rolling basis. The three-year term for subsequent appointees is a normal tenure of office for such boards. Accordingly, some members will be in place for a shorter term than others. New members will come in and some existing members will continue until their term is up and so on. On that basis, one will get a mix of expertise and periods of time spent on the board which maintains continuity in the commitment, leadership and totality of abilities that are critical to the success of a board to deliver. On that basis, it would not be good policy to legislate to the effect that an entire board would be put out of office and to have it totally replaced. It would not be in the best interests of any sector or any board. I urge the Deputy to reconsider the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 21:

In page 10, lines 11 and 12, to delete all words from and including "have" in line 11 down to and including "balance" in line 12 and substitute the following:

"comply with the requirement to ensure that not less than 40 per cent of the members of such Board are men and not less than 40 per cent are women".

We discussed the amendment in some detail on Committee Stage. The Bill, as set out, indicates that the board "shall have regard to the desirability of achieving an appropriate gender balance." That is inadequate. The decision of the House is that the gender balance on State boards would consist of at least 40% men and 40% women. I am especially concerned about boards within the remit of the Department of Agriculture and Food, which falls far down the league table in terms of meeting that gender balance. For that reason, I propose that we amend the Bill by specifying a 40% gender balance.

Deputy Upton's amendment differs from amendment No. 22 in my name to the extent that my amendment proposed a 50% gender balance. However, I am prepared to withdraw my amendment in support of amendment No. 21. It would be a powerful statement from the body politic in recognition of the enormous role played by women in agriculture and rural Ireland. I fully support Deputy Upton's amendment.

I do not have any difficulty with the need for an appropriate gender balance on this subsidiary board. The same is true of the Minister and the Government. That is why subsection (9) is worded in the way it is. It imposes a statutory duty on the main board to seek to achieve gender balance in its appointments to the subsidiary board. This is an obligation which the main board may not ignore, as Government policy — to which Deputy Upton has alluded — is clear in this regard. Nominating bodies can be asked to reflect on their nominations so as to achieve gender balance in light of prevailing Government policy.

In response to the comments of Deputy Uptonvis-à-vis the farming organisations and other bodies, the Minister and the Department work closely with farming bodies to ensure that we create a much greater opportunity for women within these organisations so as to make them available for appointment to State boards. Deputies can rest assured of our ongoing commitment to this end.

A commitment also exists to achieve an increase in the participation of women. The main board has been asked to reflect on Government policy in regard to its nominations. In the event that the board should fail in its duty, the legislation allows the Minister of the day to withhold consent to nominations for appointment to the horticulture subsidiary board in the absence of an appropriate gender balance.

The subsection, as drafted, has a two-tier approach that ensures a double-check on the requirement, to achieve gender balance on the subsidiary board and also to allow the Minister to intervene if he is not satisfied with the nominations put forward. The wording is deliberate in its aim to achieve the desired result. It is a positive aspect of the legislation and it would be unwise to make any amendment to it. I regret I cannot accept the proposed changes.

Will the Minister of State confirm that "an appropriate gender balance", means 40%? This type of wording has provided a let-off for many State boards where gender balance has not been achieved. The Government decision on gender balance is specified as a minimum membership of 40% of either gender. Many State boards have not achieved this and we should not allow them a soft option to the effect that a board "shall have regard to the desirability of achieving an appropriate gender balance." The statement needs to be much stronger. The 40% requirement must be written into the legislation. Many State boards have failed miserably in this regard. I recall the debates in regard to some of the banking organisations in which we were told there was an insufficiency of suitably qualified women.

When we talk about gender balance, we should be clear that there is only one State board on which there is a majority or more than the required 40% of women serving. We need to put down a marker and identify that the required representation is 40%. That is what we need to insert in the Bill rather than the vague statement, "shall have regard to the desirability ...", which is no more than aspirational.

What is needed in this section is an example of what is appropriate, which is that no fewer than 40% of members appointed to the board should be women and no fewer than 40% should be men. A presentation was made recently by women engaged in agriculture to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food. It was striking to hear that in the not too distant past more than 50% of those engaged in agriculture were women, but there has been an alarming decline in that figure. There is also a sizeable minority of women on board positions in main farming bodies, despite the fact that they make up a large percentage of those involved in the agricultural sector. That involvement is not reflected in their representation on these boards. It is essential that we set an example in this legislation. Such example should be given by this House. I fully support the amendment, the principle underlying it having been a statement of intent by the Government and elected representatives. The insertion of such a provision would be an example to the other main bodies associated with the agricultural sector and one for them to follow.

I support what has been said by Deputies Upton and Ferris. I refer to the earlier debate on the Private Security Services Bill, which contained similar wording to that contained in this section. It must be a Government policy to insert this type of wording in this respect. The relevant section in the Private Security Services Bill states that in making appointments to the authority, the Minister shall have regard to the extent to which each sex is represented in its membership and shall ensure that an appropriate balance in this respect is maintained. The relevant section of this Bill states that the board in making nominations to the horticulture subsidiary board, and the Minister in considering whether to consent to such nominations, shall have regard to the desirability of achieving an appropriate gender balance.

The only appropriate gender balance is that such representation should be reflective of society on this island where 52% of the population is female. The wording of the section is woolly and does not give a guarantee in this respect. The Minister of State indicated that the Government will ensure that there is an appropriate gender balance, but his successor might not be as favourably disposed in this respect or a future Minister might decide, as has happened in the past, that the appropriate gender balance is zero representation by women, with the result that there would be no female members on this board. The only way of guaranteeing that at least 40% the members of the board are men and 40% are women, as specified in Deputy Upton's amendment, is by inserting the percentages in the section for the future to prevent a Minister reneging on this measure and discriminating against one sex.

The amendment tabled by Deputy Ferris seeks to ensure that 50% of the board membership should be women. That is the target towards which the Government should be moving, but the Deputy proposes to withdraw his amendment in favour of securing at least the minimum requirement in regard to gender balance. In line with its supposedly public position on ensuring a proper gender balance on the membership of boards, the Government must comply with that minimum requirement in future. The wording of the section does not guarantee that a future Minister will comply with this ideal announced by the Government in the past. We must ensure that amendment No. 21 is accepted. That would send out a message that this is the type of wording that should be included in this respect in all future legislation rather than woolly wording such as "an appropriate gender balance". That is not good enough.

In the debate on the Private Security Services Bill, the Minister said that there were not enough women in that sector, but that should not be a reason for deciding the number of women members on a board. If we are trying to encourage women to participate in farming, private security services or some other sector, we should ensure that any board is reflective of society in general. I urge the Minister of State to change the woolly wording in this section.

When the Minister for Justice, Equality and Women's Rights discussed these issues on a number of occasions, he said there are ways to ensure such provision. He said that the nominating organisations can put forward the names of two people, one male and one female, and when the Minister is making such appointments, he or she can choose to ensure membership of the board is made up of 50% women and 50% men, or in this case no fewer than 40% of each gender. There are mechanisms for meeting this requirement. In Europe and elsewhere there are examples which such gender balance on boards works. Provision for such gender balance is an important message to send, not only to those in the farming and horticultural communities but to the wider public that the Government is serious on this matter.

I am at one with the aspirations of the Deputy to achieve such balance. We are totally committed to that. It is the goal of the Government to ensure that we are able to fulfil the statutory requirement of 40% representation in all the appointments we make, but we also depend on the nominating bodies to make sure they make their contribution to that complement. That is critical. We are striving, might and main, in all our discussions, negotiations and communications with them to ensure that they do that. If a board is to proceed, we depend on the nominating bodies to fulfil their membership criteria and to ensure that, in so far as is possible, they nominate a female representative. The Members can be assured that the Minister has the right to refuse nominations that do not meet this criterion.

Deputy Upton asked a simple question and we want to ensure, in so far as it can be done, that we meet that 40% representation requirement on boards and sub-boards. We will strive might and main to achieve it. We hope will we get the co-operation of everybody concerned to ensure that we meet the targets that have been set, the achievement of which is desired by all. I am optimistic and confident that we can achieve it through the co-operation of the various bodies and the nominating organisations in particular. The wording is in place to ensure that such balance is achieved. The wording is solid and there is the security of the Minister's right to refuse nominations. On that basis, I believe Members should accept what is proposed.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 59; Níl, 45.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Brennan, Seamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Callanan, Joe.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dempsey, Tony.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Finneran, Michael.
  • Fleming, Seán.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Glennon, Jim.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hoctor, Máire.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Mulcahy, Michael.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Donnell, Liz.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • Parlon, Tom.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Sexton, Mae.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wilkinson, Ollie.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Cowley, Jerry.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Enright, Olwyn.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McHugh, Paddy.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Murphy, Gerard.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • Perry, John.
  • Quinn, Ruairi.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá: Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl: Deputies Durkan and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendments Nos. 22 and 23, not moved.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.