Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Priority Questions

Departmental Agencies.

11:00 am

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 90: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has an influence on the direction or work programme of agrifood research in Teagasc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4246/10]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Under the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Act 1988, Teagasc has statutory responsibility for the provision of research, education and advisory services to the agriculture sector.

In accordance with section 13(3)(a) of the Act, Teagasc is required to submit a report in writing to my Department before the end of the financial year outlining its proposed programme of activities for the following year. The report, in the form of a programme of activities, covers the principal functions of Teagasc in the provision of education, research and advisory services to the agriculture sector.

The current programme is informed by the Teagasc statement of strategy, which sets out the strategies and priority actions for the Teagasc food and agriculture research programmes over the period 2008 to 2010. Teagasc research activities are designed to support Irish food and agriculture within the framework of Government policies and priorities. They are consistent with national objectives to support agrifood research and development as set out in my Department's Agri-Vision 2015 strategy. They are also in line with Government plans to build a knowledge economy as far as the agrifood and wider bio-economy is concerned.

Teagasc continually develops its research programmes in conjunction with its clients and partners including the main stakeholder groups in the agrifood sector. Particular emphasis is placed on transferring the outcomes of research and development activities to the farming and wider agri-sector to support increased efficiency and economic sustainability at farm and firm level.

The programme also provides the scientific basis for a range of other public good activities in food safety, biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation, and to meet the demand for environmental goods and services.

During the past 15 years Teagasc has built up internationally recognised research programmes in areas such as food safety, food technology, animal breeding and functional foods. Teagasc is currently investing significant resources in restructuring its research and development resources into centres of excellence. The Moorepark Food Research Centre is internationally renowned as a significant research hub. Several major multinational companies are collaborating with Teagasc researchers and in the process, strengthening their commitment to Ireland as a location of choice.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Did either the Minister or one of his ministerial colleagues recently write to Teagasc complaining about research published in the agency's research magazine on the issue of a GM-free island, which is Government policy, and the impact this would have on the pig sector? The research quantified that Government policy is costing the sector in the region of €13 million per year. If such correspondence exists, will the Minister publish it? If that is the case, what can we expect? The Government tours the world promoting a knowledge and science-based foundation for economic regeneration. Can we expect the Minister for Education and Science to write to UCC to ask it to cease research in its biotechnology centre? Can we expect the Minister for Health and Children to write to the HSE to advocate that we no longer use drugs that have been developed with the aid of biotechnology research? What will the endgame be with this nonsense in the programme for Government on a GM-free island? It has reached ludicrous proportions and it will damage our reputation internationally as a knowledge-based economy. Will the Minister publish the documentation sent to Teagasc?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I am not aware of any documentation to which Deputy Creed referred.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister should research the matter and revert to the House with the information.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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It is important to recognise the excellent work carried out by Teagasc at all its research centres throughout the country. One such eminent centre is in the north of the Deputy's county of Cork at Moorepark, where there is great collaboration with many major international companies based in the country, both of Irish and foreign origin. The Deputy will be aware of the development alongside the Moorepark research centre involving a collaboration between industry and the State. The Deputy will be aware also of the initiative, Food for Health Ireland, in which Teagasc is a leading player.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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That is not what I was referring to. I was referring to correspondence from Teagasc.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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There was nothing in the Deputy's question that I could ascertain in respect of GM crops. It was a general question-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister anticipated my intervention well because he tried to have the question ruled out of order.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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No.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister knows full well to what I am referring.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Teagasc works to the Government programme and priorities. It does so in a very effective way and will continue to do so at all its research centres that it is developing as centres of excellence.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is being disingenuous. He knows full well to what I am referring because he attempted to have the question I tabled on the Order Paper ruled out of order. The Minister should not be so disingenuous. I asked the Minister if he will publish the correspondence sent to Teagasc either by him or the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. What will the endgame be for this nonsense in the programme for Government? Will research in biotechnology in our universities close down as a result?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is not the solution.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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What are the consequences for the knowledge-based economy that Ireland goes throughout the world promoting as the cornerstone of our economic recovery? Will the Minister publish the correspondence in question?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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A final reply from the Minister.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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May I say that-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister publish the correspondence?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy has asked his question. He should allow the Minister to reply.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Creed should note that in no way am I being disingenuous. We are entitled to check if a question is suitable when it refers to the detailed work of a semi-State organisation.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is aware of what I was referring to. I laud Teagasc for its research.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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That is good and I appreciate it. The Deputy might also consider lauding the Government for the major investment in the past-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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It has its head in the sand with regard to GM research.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy should allow the Minister to reply.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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This is a backward approach.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should also laud the Government in parallel terms for the major funding that has been put into research, development and innovation in recent years, including in our universities, institutes of technology and our research centres.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister is working against innovation and development.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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We are not working against innovation and research; we are supporting it very well and we work in collaboration with Teagasc to ensure the needs of Teagasc are addressed and that it works to priorities.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister publish the letter?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I did not send any such letter and I am not aware of any correspondence.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Did the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, send a letter?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I am not aware-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, comment on whether he sent such a letter? Did he send a letter to Teagasc?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Deputy is not allowed to hector Ministers. He has put a question-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I cannot get an answer.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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That is a matter the Deputy should pursue in another way. The Deputy is aware that there are a variety of ways of getting access to information under the law.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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That is what makes a mockery of the Parliament.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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We will now move on.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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It is not possible to get answers to questions. Will the Minister of State acknowledge that he has seen such correspondence, that it exists and will he publish it?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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The Minister has answered the question. The Minister of State is not entitled to answer separately.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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That is ridiculous.