Thursday, 23 March 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Ellis: I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment. The reason I raise the possibility of establishing a district veterinary office to serve County Leitrim, particularly its southern part, is that it is currently served by the district veterinary office in Sligo which acts for both counties. However, as the Minister of State is aware, many areas of south Leitrim are situated up to 60 miles from Sligo. If farmers have business to do which cannot be done by telephone they must visit the office in Sligo which can often be a full day's work.
There is a need to establish a veterinary office in the southern part of County Leitrim to serve that area. The area to which I refer is home to a large number of farmers who have, for a long period, stated that there is a need to provide facilities close by. Modern technology should enable the establishment of such an office without any great inconvenience in respect of staff displacement or other matters. Members are aware of the number of people seeking transfers under the decentralisation programme and there will be no difficulty in encouraging them to take up positions should it be decided to provide a veterinary office to serve the south Leitrim area.
There is no need to discuss in detail the hardship which has been caused in the past, not as a result of inaction on the part of departmental officials but by virtue of the fact that people have been forced to travel to Sligo to rectify problems or clarify queries which cannot be dealt with by telephone.
I ask the Minister of State to request the Minister to investigate fully the possibility of establishing a district veterinary office in south Leitrim. This service should be made available on as local a basis as possible and the provision of such an office would ensure that the service would be of benefit to the community and to the economic well-being of the area.
Dr. Moffatt: I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this matter on the Adjournment. In terms of customer service the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development endeavours to provide a readily accessible efficient service to all its clients and customers. The Department is committed to achieving the objectives of the strategic management initiative and to giving effect to the principles of quality customer service for customers and clients of the Civil Service which were recommended in Delivering Better Government. The Department also recognises that its fundamental purpose is to serve the citizen in a proper, fair and impartial manner and is determined that all its dealings should conform to the Ombudsman's guide to standards of best practice for public servants.
It is for this reason the Department already has a highly decentralised structure. The Department employs some 4,500 people, including 600 job sharers. Over 75% of these staff are decentralised. For administrative and customer  service purposes the decentralised staff are located in four main regional offices, Wexford, Portlaoise, Cavan and Castlebar, 27 principal local offices and 37 subsidiary local offices; 13 laboratories, including six veterinary research laboratories, one brucellosis laboratory, one meat control laboratory, three dairy science laboratories, one pesticide control laboratory and one seed testing laboratory; five farms/stations – Abbotstown research farm, Dublin, Tully bull station, Kildare, the potato farm and propagation centre, Raphoe, and two cereal variety testing stations in Kildare and Cork, and 115 commercial food premises, mainly meat and dairy processing plants.
Providing a service in close proximity to our customers must be balanced with achieving certain economies of scale, which allows some scope for temporary redeployment of staff to meet peak demands in certain areas in order to achieve optimal efficiency and effectiveness. The current arrangement of combining the Sligo and Leitrim district veterinary offices in one location seeks to achieve just such a result.
The Department would also highlight the fact that most contact with its local offices is through the telephone system. The Department's telephone system has been significantly upgraded in recent years. Farmers contacting the local office by telephone can make inquiries not only about schemes operated by that local office but can also have their call transferred to other offices of the Department. In this way they can easily inquire about the progress of schemes being operated by offices such as Portlaoise, where our special beef premium unit is based, or the Wexford office which deals with rural environment protection schemes and early retirement schemes.
It should also be borne in mind that a number of departmental and Teagasc offices are already located in County Leitrim. The county is served by a farm development service office located in Carrick-on-Shannon and Teagasc has offices located in the County Leitrim towns of Carrick-on-Shannon, Mohill, Manorhamilton and Ballinamore.
The Department is satisfied that the present arrangement of having both district veterinary offices located in Sligo is more efficient, both administratively and operationally, than if the Leitrim office was relocated to an area in County Leitrim. There are administrative advantages in having both offices together, such as a pooling of staff to cover duties in either county. If a dedicated district veterinary office were to be set up in Leitrim, extra staffing resources would be required, the benefit of which would not be readily apparent.
|Last Updated: 11/09/2010 04:33:11||Page of 208|