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Priority Questions - Departmental Agencies

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 5.  Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  the costs associated with the plans to move the Teagasc facility to Ashtown from Kinsealy, County Dublin; and if he will ensure that these moves are halted in view of the fact that the site is unsuitable and too small. [7006/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney This is an operational matter for the Teagasc authority. Teagasc has statutory responsibility for the delivery of education, advisory and research services to the agriculture sector. It is a matter for Teagasc and its board to prioritise activities in the delivery of these services and to allocate its resources in accordance with these priorities. Ministerial responsibility is confined to matters of policy in accordance with the Act and the Minister does not interfere in the day-to-day operations of Teagasc. Accordingly, the future of the Kinsealy Research Centre is an operational matter for the Teagasc authority. It would not be appropriate to interfere in decisions made by the Teagasc authority in regard to the centre.

I am aware that the Teagasc authority approved a major change programme in 2009 to reorganise and refocus the organisation to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. This required Teagasc to implement a credible rationalisation plan to enable the organisation adapt to medium-term budgetary constraints. The programme provides for rationalisation measures across the organisation, including the advisory office network, research lands, staff reductions and prioritisation of programme activities.

As part of this programme, the Teagasc authority concluded that the Kinsealy Research Centre is no longer strategically essential to its activities and that it should be closed with staff and activities relocating in the main to the Ashtown Research Centre.

It is the view of the Teagasc authority that it cannot maintain four sites in the greater Dublin area in close proximity to one other and that they are not being used to capacity at present. Teagasc evaluated all four sites relative to one other. It considered the potential savings on overheads and whether programmes currently carried on at the four sites could be streamlined. Following this assessment, it reluctantly concluded the Kinsealy centre should close. The decision was not taken lightly but was driven by the need to review services and rationalise where feasible.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I must interrupt the Minister. The rest of the reply will appear in the Official Report.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney It is important to note that Teagasc has committed to spending approximately €4.8 million on the Ashtown site to facilitate the move from Kinsealy.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Teagasc has developed excellent facilities in Ashtown following significant investment in recent years and relocation provides an excellent opportunity to optimise the usage of this valuable centre. Teagasc has carefully assessed the potential investment attributable to relocat[87]ing from Kinsealy. I understand an investment programme costing an estimated €4.8 million is currently being finalised to provide appropriate facilities at Ashtown to facilitate the movement of activities from Kinsealy over a planned, phased basis. This relates to once-off relocation costs and is constantly being reviewed by Teagasc to reduce actual costs and achieve savings where feasible. In any event, the actual costs will depend on the outcome of competitive tendering processes.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly While I thank the Minister, there are a couple of problems with that response. It is not acceptable to have a statement to the effect that it is not appropriate for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to interfere in this area. I do not count it as interference when the State body responsible for horticultural development in the State makes decisions that are, at best, questionable. Moreover, that body already has been brought before, and is at present before, the Committee of Public Accounts because of this very move, which as the Minister has noted involves the expenditure of just short of €5 million of taxpayers’ money for a new facility in Ashtown of a far less superior status than the existing facility in Kinsealy. Is the Minister aware the students still will be sent to Kinsealy for training purposes because there is not enough land at Ashtown? Is he aware that more land must be acquired at the latter site because it is not big enough to meet the present needs, including the rent of other premises, even though Kinsealy has 100 acres of the best horticultural land in the State? Does he consider that to be a worthy use of taxpayers’ money?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I must take my briefing from Teagasc on this issue. I can understand the importance of Kinsealy, particularly from a horticultural research perspective, but my understanding is the planned move to Ashtown and the consequential investment will be able to maintain the standard of service that already exists. It is possible to rationalise and to move four centres into three, particularly when they are in close proximity to one another. I have received a detailed briefing from Teagasc in this regard on its proposals to maintain services, while simultaneously rationalising. This is not just about Teagasc services in Kinsealy, as it has managed to rationalise all over the country. It must prioritise how it spends money both this year and into the future to ensure it derives the maximum benefit from the resources available to it. That is what this move is about.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly How could this be rationalisation if Teagasc is obliged to spend more money to acquire lands when such lands already exist at the Kinsealy facility? Everything it needs already is located there. Can the Minister comment on the fact that a further €2.5 million will be spent by Teagasc on doing up classrooms for the Office of Public Works in the Botanic Gardens to train students, when such facilities already exist in Kinsealy? If, as I firmly believe, what I am saying is true, does the Minister consider that, in the public interest and in the exercise of oversight of taxpayers’ money, he has a role in calling in Teagasc and calling it to account somewhat?

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney There is a role for me to ensure that Teagasc spends its budget properly and gets value for money. I have spoken to the director of Teagasc many times on a series of matters, including how it prioritises and where it spends money and how it envisages its strategic role in respect of developing the agrifood industry. I note it is doing a great deal of good work in this regard. Consequently, I have a role from a policy perspective. Teagasc is a hugely important part of the agrifood story in Ireland from the point of view of horticulture, crops, animal husbandry and research on all areas from developing cheeses to pesticides. However, this is part of a broader rationalisation programme that involves reducing the number [88]of sites from which Teagasc operates and which also involves some expenditure to ensure it can continue to operate at a high level from a research and development perspective. It should be seen from that perspective, rather than pointing to specific expenditure and ignoring the savings that are made as a result of the move from Kinsealy over a longer period.

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