Thursday, 4 May 1995
Dáil Éireann Debate
85. Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry when flexible opening hours will be introduced in agricultural offices throughout the country; when he intends to upgrade accessibility to such offices and staff at local level; the progress, if any, he has made towards ensuring the right to privacy and confidentiality to the public in their dealings with the Department and its staff; when the right of appeal will be introduced for farmers; if he will outline the way in which these measures will be financed due to the level of Government spending in 1995 and its commitment to keep Government expenditure at 2 per cent in 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8131/95]
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): As part of the commitments laid down in the Charter of Rights for Farmers, all of my Department's offices will be open to the public from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. with effect from 1 September 1995. In the interim, a full phone  service is available and personal visits can be arranged by appointment. The need for more flexible opening hours will be considered in 1996. The upgrading of local offices is being undertaken over two phases. Work has already commenced in some offices and will be undertaken in the remainder over the shortest possible period. This upgrading involves, as a minimum, the adaptation of reception areas to facilitate privacy and confidentiality and the provision of interview rooms where they do not already exist.
Farmers already have the right of appeal against decisions under the premia and headage schemes. The appeals system will be put on a more formal footing and include the right to an oral hearing under the procedure announced in the charter of rights for farmers. The appeals unit will be operational later this year when it will be available to deal with appeals against decisions under 1995 premia and headage schemes. The Deputy will be aware that in this year's budget the Government allocated £5 million to my Department to ensure that the charter is implemented. This funding has been granted within the context of overall government spending limits. As regards 1996, I will be assessing the Department's financial needs for the charter in the context of the normal estimates cycle which all Departments engage in.
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