Thursday, 12 February 1998
Seanad Éireann Debate
Ms O'Meara: I am raising the matter of the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute company because of my concern at the attitude of the Department of Education and Science to this unique project. Only last Tuesday my attention was drawn to a cutting from a 1981 edition of a local Tipperary newspaper. As there was an election at the time, the question of a regional college for North Tipperary was a political issue. That is how far back this issue dates. However, a regional college was only an aspiration then and did not become a reality.
The question of a third level college for North Tipperary only became a reality when the idea of a rural business development institute was born. That idea became a realistic aspiration when it appeared in writing in the Rainbow Coalition's Programme for Government when the then Minister for Education, Ms Niamh Bhreathnach, agreed that the TRBDI college would be instituted. Since then the process has been one of seeking to bring that idea to fruition.
The TRBDI will be unique not only in Ireland but across Europe. I know from my discussions with the former Minister, Ms Bhreathnach, that its development is being watched with great interest in countries such as Spain and Portugal where the issue of tackling rural development in an era of rapid change in the EU, where much social and economic change is occurring in a rural context, is being considered. Tipperary is an obvious place for such an institute to be located.
The previous Administration and the previous Department of Education were totally committed  to this project. I wonder if the present Department of Education and Science is similarly committed. Two weeks ago, my colleague, Deputy Brian O'Shea, tabled a parliamentary question asking about the establishment of this company. In spite of the fact that a local newspaper had been informed, obviously unofficially, that the company was being established, the answer received was that the issue was still under consideration and action would be taken as soon as possible. That is typical departmental speak which results in bells ringing in the heads of people like me who are determined to see that this project proceeds as soon as possible.
I made repeated efforts to obtain information from the office of the Minister for Education and Science but I was continuously fobbed off and my phone calls were not returned. I placed this matter on the Adjournment last week but withdrew it when the Department asked me to do so on the basis that the Minister was about to make a statement. I discovered the information contained in it was not new and had already been given to the local media a week before. This week we were given more information which is not new and has already been in the public domain.
I am seriously concerned at what I consider a level of foot dragging in the Department of Education and Science on this project. The project will not meet its deadlines unless there is a commitment on behalf of the Minister to give it priority. It will not be possible for people such as Mr. Luke Murtagh and Mr. John Slattery, who are working tirelessly on this project, to make it happen on time. A prospectus has been published, literature has been issued on this project and deadlines have been met. There has been no foot dragging in Tipperary on this issue, but we know that unless the commitment of the last Government is matched by the Minister, we have a problem.
I make no apologies for raising this matter in the Seanad today. Certain comments were made in the local media about my challenging the Government on this issue. I want to clarify that I consider it my duty and responsibility to raise this issue, as I am sure does Senator Tom Hayes. We are public representatives for the people of Tipperary, north and south. This is the most important project happening in the whole county.
It is our responsibility to ensure the Government does its duty by the people of north Tipperary and by this college. The economy of north Tipperary and its future economic potential and prosperity depend on this institute succeeding. I want to hear the Minister say that commitment is shared by the Government. If our unhappiness about this issue continues, we will not be slow to return to it. I am keeping a close eye on this project, as I know is Senator Tom Hayes. I make no apologies for raising this issue and I will do so again, if necessary. I look forward to the Minister's response.
Mr. T. Hayes: I thank Senator O'Meara for raising this issue on behalf of the people of Tipperary and for allowing me some of her time. The unique nature of this project is that people from both north and south Tipperary joined together in a community spirit never before seen in the county for a huge battle fought long and hard, day and night, for many years to achieve this college. There was great joy in the county when it was decided on the formation of the rainbow Government that the college would definitely be built. Everyone was so pleased; it was good for the county. That hope is still there, but people wonder when the first block will be laid. There is huge concern throughout the county about whether this Government is seriously committed to building this college and accepting the ideas in the plans of the body established to lobby for it, headed by John Slattery and Luke Murtagh.
The effect it will have on County Tipperary has been well documented. The concept of the out — reach centres in small villages dotted throughout County Tipperary is a good one. Villages such as Cappawhite, Dundrum, Killenaule and Golden and many other villages throughout County Tipperary are hoping an outreach centre of the TRBDI will be built there. If there is foot dragging at this stage, when the money has been sanctioned and the commitment given by the previous Government, I wonder if those outreach centres will ever become a reality.
How long will it take to build the second campus in Clonmel? It is well known that Tipperary has been devastated by news of recent factory closures. The outreach centres and the second campus in Clonmel, the main one being in Thurles, are needed now more than ever because of the unemployment situation. The education aspect, where people who lose their jobs can be retrained, is a huge element of TRBDI. That is why it is needed now more than ever. I hope the Minister will give a good and positive response. We will return and keep hammering until this college is built in County Tipperary.
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): I thank the Senators for raising the matter and I am glad of the opportunity to clarify the position. The Minister regrets he cannot be here to reply to the matter.
After considering the report and recommendations of an interdepartmental committee, the Government decided to proceed with the establishment of TRBDI on the following basis: to establish a steering committee representative of the then Departments of Education, Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Environment, Enterprise and Employment, Tourism and Trade, Taoiseach and Finance, together with the Higher Education Authority and Tipperary North Riding and South Riding vocational education committees, which would establish, develop and monitor the ongoing operation of TRBDI as set out in the report of the interdepartmental committee; and to establish TRBDI as a company limited by guarantee  with a board of directors as set out in the interdepartmental committee report and with an academic/development council as an essential part of the management of the institute.
The steering committee was set up in October 1995 and was chaired by the Department of Education and Science. It met on 20 occasions and was responsible for overseeing all elements of the planning process, including the role and activities of TRBDI, campus organisation and building programme, programmes, courses, students, certification, marketing, resourcing and governance.
On Wednesday, 4 February 1998, the Minister announced details of a major capital investment plan and the appointment of directors of the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute. The investment programme involves the progressing of all stages of the institute's development at Thurles and the acquisition of a site for a second campus in Clonmel. The Minister also announced that tenders have been received for the new development at Thurles. These are being evaluated by his Department and a contract for the new campus will be placed very shortly. With regard to TRBDI Clonmel, he was delighted to be able to announce that the Minister for Finance has given the go-ahead for the acquisition of a 21.5 acre site to facilitate the development of the second campus of the institute. The combined effect of this investment programme means the institute will receive a much greater investment in its early years than previously had been planned.
TRBDI is being established in the first instance as a private company and the formalities are underway and near completion. Legislation will be introduced in the next year or so to place the new institute on a statutory footing. It has already been agreed that an Exchequer grant will be paid annually towards the cost of the institute's general running expenses. Once TRBDI is established as a private company, it will be in a position  to embark on the process of appointing staff and to focus more intensely on a range of matters such as the planning of education programmes, including the first intake of full-time students.
TRBDI will be a different type of institution to the traditional model in that it will be a development institute integrating mainstream third level education and activities designed to promote rural enterprise and community development. It will provide educational services to students and development services to small and medium sized enterprises, rural communities, voluntary organisations and community groups. TRBDI will harness the latest developments in information and communication technologies in all aspects of its work and will place a strong emphasis on the telematic delivery of programmes.
The institute will be run on the basis of a distributed campus with a core centre in Thurles, a second in Clonmel and an extended network of outreach centres, initially throughout County Tipperary. When fully operational it will have the full time equivalent of 1,000 students. Phase 1 will cater for 500 full time equivalent students and phase 2 for a further 500. A major focus will be on continuing education and the admission of mature students. It is proposed that staff of the institute will be employees in accordance with the company model.
The developments I have referred to, particularly the imminent establishment of TRBDI as a private company and the major capital investment plan, represent major milestones in the development of the institute. I am confident that these developments will further facilitate this innovative and exciting project.
|Last Updated: 21/05/2011 01:13:23||Page of 10|