Thursday, 15 October 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
6. Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the measures in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programme specifically targeting cuts at Teagasc which are to be implemented. [36215/09]
Deputy Tony Killeen: The Government has not made any decisions regarding implementation of the recommendations in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programme as they concern Teagasc. The 2010 Estimates process is under way and measures to secure savings in the public finances will be considered in that context. It is not possible at this stage to comment on the specific outcomes of the budgetary process.
It is the responsibility of the Teagasc authority to exercise full and effective control over the organisation. Ministerial responsibility is confined to matters of policy in accordance with the Act establishing Teagasc and is not concerned with day-to-day operations. The Teagasc authority agreed a major change programme earlier this year to reorganise and refocus the organisation to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. The planned programme has a medium-term implementation timeframe and provides for rationalisation measures across the organisation, including the advisory office and educational networks, disposal of land resources and prioritisation of programme activities. As part of the programme, Teagasc also plans to increase support for science-based innovation in the bio-sector and increase emphasis on transferring knowledge to farmers, the food industry and other clients.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: I asked this question, given that Teagasc’s procedures and operations have already been reviewed. I do not doubt that the recommendations will be implemented. However, the McCarthy report states that there is scope for reducing Teagasc’s staff numbers by a minimum of 250 in the short term by rationalisation of agricultural colleges and locations, reducing lower priority advisory and research activities, reducing administration and advisory services, the latter by 50%, reducing education and training functions by 30% and 20%, respectively, by 2011 and reviewing the network of offices.
If the economy is to get back on its feet, the research, administrative and support services provided by Teagasc will be necessary to ensure people operating in the rural economy have the advantage they require. I strongly suggest that the Minister of State should defend the services operated by Teagasc, particularly scientific research where McCarthy proposes that all research should be codified in one body. This will not necessarily assist in agricultural or agribusiness-related research and this should be revised and reviewed.
With regard to those people who are employed by Teagasc in the agricultural colleges, a question arises about their future if this report is implemented. I agree there is a budgetary process in train but I ask that this area be defended. If it is not defended, and we see post-budget in 2009 and 2010 a further reduction or diminution in the services operated by Teagasc, it will have untold consequences for the rural economy which we will not stand over.
Deputy Tony Killeen: The remit of Teagasc is very wide, as Deputy Sherlock rightly said. Considerable emphasis is being placed on co-operation with other third level colleges and universities with regard to research, but also co-operation on development with agrifood businesses both in this country and abroad. A substantial element of the programme of Teagasc in the revised programme will be directing some of its resources to that area. Considerable resources are also dedicated to training farmers and others with an involvement in the agrifood and bio sectors and this will continue — in many instances, in co-operation with some of the third level colleges, such as the institutes of technology in particular.
Deputy Michael Creed: The revised programme for Government contains a proposal to recruit in the region of 1,000 third level graduates across various Departments. Does the Minister of State not consider it somewhat contradictory that Teagasc staff who have accumulated great expertise and who are, by and large, third level graduates may well be made redundant, but others will be recruited? I ask the Minister of State to comment on this proposal in the revised programme for Government.
Deputy Tony Killeen: As I explained, the Minister’s role is a policy one; the board of Teagasc has a particular role. The document which sets out the remit and functions of Teagasc to 2030 considers issues and areas referred to by Deputy Creed and previously by Deputy Sherlock. It charts a course for Teagasc which clearly includes an input from recently qualified graduates and others who have a contribution to make. It also sets out a strong and inherent role for Teagasc at a new level which must be attained very quickly. I am satisfied the role of Teagasc as set out by its board has the capacity to achieve this.
Deputy Seán Sherlock: I tabled a question on the public service numbers and expenditure programme. This report was sanctioned by Government and makes specific recommendations. When I ask about these specific recommendations, with all due respect to those Ministers, I get blasé, bland answers about the wonderful role of Teagasc. My questions are pertinent to what is in the report. I want to know whether those services will be defended; I do not want an answer that hides behind the budgetary process which is still a long way off. We want definitive answers. I ask those questions on behalf of those people who live in rural Ireland, who live beyond the so-called Pale, and who depend on these services.
Deputy Tony Killeen: Members will be aware the report has been presented to Government but has not in any sense been sanctioned by it at this stage. The consideration of the report can only happen in any realistic sense in the context of the consideration of the budgets for 2010, 2011 and subsequent years. There is no other way it could be done. The governance of Teagasc is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the board and a particular direction has been taken which takes account of the implications of the agrifood sector both nationally and internationally. I commend Teagasc in that regard.
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