Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

5:00 pm

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have decided to raise this matter now, even though the closure of the Knockalisheen regional veterinary centre is not expected until approximately 2009. I understand a decision has been reached in the Department of Agriculture and Food to create a new facility at Macroom, County Cork, to cater not just for the closure of Knockalisheen regional veterinary centre but also the dairy science laboratory in Limerick and similar facilities on Model Farm Road, Cork.

The Knockalisheen regional veterinary centre caters for Limerick, Clare, north Tipperary, north Galway and north Kerry. Approximately 50% of all samples are delivered by hand. On average, 700 bovine foetuses are delivered per annum. The Teagasc survey indicates that farmers generally will not travel beyond 60 km to deliver samples, which means that brucellosis and other disease outbreaks may go undetected and there will be a delay in disease diagnosis. This goes against all the recommendations and policies on disease control and eradication.

The BSE and foot and mouth outbreaks highlighted the necessity for effective veterinary surveillance as a means of enabling the early detection of change or unexpected animal-related events. The closure of the Limerick centre would diminish the effectiveness of the accepted veterinary surveillance strategy. The UK had to rethink its policy on closure of local veterinary inspectorates and laboratories in light of the foot and mouth and BSE outbreaks. The following is the breakdown of animals within the Limerick regional veterinary centre areas. Clare has 295,500 cattle and 116,000 cows, 92% of which are currently within 60 km of Limerick regional veterinary centre. None of these is within 60 km of Macroom. Tipperary has 143,000 cattle and 51,300 cows, more than 88% of which are within 60 km of Limerick and less than 1% of which are within 60 km of Macroom. Limerick has 405,000 cattle and 150,000 cows, of which more than 99% are within 60 km of Limerick regional veterinary centre, with just 22.5% of them within 60 km of Macroom. I am providing these figures to indicate the significance and importance of the catchment area and the distance factors relative to the regional veterinary centre. The Limerick regional veterinary centre has 11 staff, which includes three veterinary surgeons, four technicians, two clerks and two attendants.

I trust the foregoing illustrates the importance of the retention of the regional veterinary centre at Knockalisheen. Farmers are concerned about the loss of the facility and the implications of the reduced veterinary monitoring service in the area. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Finucane for raising this important matter in the House this evening. In his 2003 budget speech, the then Minister for Finance announced the decentralisation of 10,300 public service staff to 53 centres in 25 counties, including eight Department headquarters. The Government's decision on the locations and numbers involved in the decentralisation of the Department of Agriculture and Food included approximately 100 staff to Macroom, County Cork, scheduled for 2009. The Cabinet sub-committee on decentralisation decided in April 2004 to rationalise the Department's laboratories in the Munster region and relocate them to Macroom.

The Limerick laboratories being decentralised are a dairy science laboratory on Killeely Road and the veterinary research laboratory located in Knockalisheen. The relocation to Macroom will free up the sites of the existing dairy science and veterinary research laboratories in Limerick comprising approximately one acre at Killeely Road and Knockalisheen. The Cork laboratories to be decentralised are also a dairy science laboratory, a veterinary research laboratory and a brucellosis laboratory, all located on the Model Farm Road, Cork. My Department has agreed to give the land at Model Farm Road, amounting to approximately ten acres, to the affordable housing initiative.

My Department considers that building a new state-of-the-art facility on a greenfield site willallow it to amalgamate the two existing laboratories in Limerick and the three in Cork into a single efficient and modern complex. It will enable the Department to continue to meet its commitments to food safety into the future, allow the laboratories to achieve accreditation status, which is essential if they are to continue to carry out their work, facilitate compliance with EU regulations, allow the achievement of efficiencies and allow implementation of the recommendation of the expenditure review of the Department's dairy science laboratories. This review recommended that my Department's dairy science laboratories should be reduced from three to two. It would also align my Department's facilities to the changing structure of the agriculture and food sector.

Many factors favour the new proposals, including location. The location of the Cork laboratories in a residential area such as Model Farm Road is not suitable. A greenfield site is more appropriate and should prove less obtrusive to its neighbours. Another factor is cost. Very little investment has been made in the Munster laboratories in the past decade. The laboratories are not accredited and updating them to achieve accreditation status would be expensive. Another factor is EU regulations and accreditation requirements. My Department's work requires that it achieves accreditation status in order to be allowed to continue to carry out its work. Another factor is the Government's decision of 28 December 2003 to allocate the Model Farm Road site to the affordable housing initiative. Decentralisation is another consideration. The Government's decentralisation programme committed my Department to relocate the five Munster laboratories to a new state-of-the-art complex in Macroom.

Ensuring food safety and quality are essential elements of my Department's work with approximately half of the Department's staff dedicated to that task. My Department's laboratory services play a vital role in that process. I am confident that a new laboratory facility in Macroom will enhance its capacity in that regard.