Seanad debates

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

7:00 pm

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Labour)
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I refer to the proposed decentralisation to Mallow of Fáilte Ireland. I was once an employee of Fáilte Ireland and I seek clarification for my former colleagues who want to know where they stand in respect of the decision, drawn up on the back of a packet of John Player Blue, to move them to Mallow. Will the Minister proceed with this decision? Staff are in limbo at present and need to know.

Many problems relate to this decision. Not one person has applied to be transferred and there is an issue regarding the transfer of pensions between the Civil Service and State bodies. The organisation is already decentralised through the integration of regional offices and has offices throughout the country. Management is not in favour of the programme of decentralisation as far as I know and has shown no willingness to proceed with it. A number of staff will need to remain in Dublin owing to their need to be close to the airport, especially for publicity events. A Dublin training centre is required and must be maintained. It is likely that, in the near future, a Minister will decide it is crazy to have two tourism agencies, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland, overlapping and this will render meaningless the decentralisation decision.

If the decentralisation programme is proceeding, why have staff been moved from the Baggot Street office to the Amiens Street office this year if they are going to move again to Mallow? Why are we spending taxpayers' money on the refurbishment of Amiens Street and the maintenance of Baggot Street while this move is proposed? How much is this costing? Why do we need offices in Amiens Street that will hold the staff in Fáilte Ireland's head office, when they will be moving to Mallow? If the move to Mallow is still on the cards, why is so much money being spent?

Has it anything to do with the fact that the chairman of Fáilte Ireland and the chairman of Irish Life, which owns the Baggot Street building, is the same person and that the 60-year lease on the Baggot Street building is a liability on the books of Irish Life? Did this have an impact on the decision?

I am being collegiate because I was a member of the staff of the body that preceded Fáilte Ireland, Bord Fáilte. The staff have been through the mill, with an extraordinary amount of change in recent times. Bord Fáilte created Tourism Ireland in 2001 and merged with CERT to form Fáilte Ireland in 2003. There were further merges with South East Tourism and North West Tourism in 2007. A move within Dublin, bringing staff together before the planned move to Mallow, took place in 2007. Staff do not know if they are coming or going.

The management in Fáilte Ireland does not believe in conversing with the staff and drove the workers to striking for two weeks earlier this year. I was on the picket line. It is unbelievable that Fáilte Ireland staff would strike and they would not need to unless things had become very bad. Fáilte Ireland has been living in Tom Johnson House with the Labour Relations Commission in recent years on numerous matters. It is ridiculous and no way to conduct one's business from the viewpoint of industrial relations.

There is still a lack of information with the regard to the move and I ask the Minister of State to clarify the matter. Management has stated that all future employees will have a stipulation in their contract that they will move to Mallow if employed by Fáilte Ireland. This was tried in the case of FÁS moving to Birr and it did not work. Why is the management doing this? Workers want to know if it will be allowed to proceed.

I have used the forum of Seanad Éireann to generate some information for the workers on their future and to determine whether the move to Mallow is on the cards and, if so, what is the projected timeline. The Fáilte Ireland staff have been through much over the years and deserve to know these answers.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism is unable to be with us. As the Members of the Seanad will be aware, Fáilte Ireland is one of three State bodies under the aegis of the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism designated for relocation under the Government's decentralisation programme. The announcement was made in the context of the 2004 budget, which identified the town of Mallow as the location for the transfer of Fáilte Ireland. However, unlike the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, which is scheduled to relocate to Killarney in the last quarter of 2008, Fáilte Ireland was not designated as an early mover by the decentralisation implementation group, DIG, that was appointed by the Government to oversee the decentralisation process.

Even so, Fáilte Ireland prepared a decentralisation implementation plan in 2004, which was made available to all staff, and which it kept under review. It is working on a reiteration of this plan and is pursuing the matter of the acquisition of a suitable site in Mallow with the Office of Public Works.

Some 86 applications to transfer to Mallow with Fáilte Ireland have been received under the central applications facility. Of this number, 74 are civil servants and 12 are public servants. There are no internal applications. The latest report from the DIG, chaired by Mr. Finbar Flood, concluded that the implementation arrangements for the decentralisation programme were generally progressing well, although it was concerned at the rate of progress in the State agencies. The Government has accepted the recommendations in the latest DIG report and has reaffirmed its commitment to the full implementation of the decentralisation programme as provided in the programme for Government. The Government has also noted that added impetus needs to be given by all Ministers to the implementation of the programme for respective Departments and State bodies.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Finance has acknowledged the remaining challenges identified by the DIG and has confirmed that his Department and the wider management of the public service will continue to work closely with staff representatives to seek appropriate solutions to address the concerns of the professional and technical staff employed in the State agencies while also ensuring the delivery of the Government programme.

The Minister asked the chairmen of the agencies under the remit of his Department to renew the drive to make progress on the transfer under the decentralisation programme. This includes the relocation of Fáilte Ireland to Mallow, the Sports Council to Killarney and the Arts Council to Kilkenny. It is expected that the Civil Service elements of the current programme will be substantially completed by the end of 2009. The Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism is expected to have relocated to Killarney by the end of next year. Killarney has proven to be a popular location and has been oversubscribed at most grade levels. Already, 70 members of staff of the Department have transferred to temporary premises in Fossa, Killarney, in two phases. The permanent accommodation for the new headquarters of Department is under construction on New Road, Killarney. The building is expected to be ready for occupation by the last quarter of 2008.

The Government expects that significant progress in its decentralisation programme will be made by State bodies, including those under the aegis of the Department, during the lifetime of this Government. The Minister has recently written to the chairmen of the three agencies, including Fáilte Ireland, asking them to accord priority to the task of the transfer of their organisations. He is aware that there are certain difficult issues to deal with but I know the Department of Finance is working to resolve issues such as the redeployment of staff in agencies who have not volunteered for transfer. The Department's officials are available to assist the agencies in any way possible and are meeting representatives of the three agencies to discuss how best to make progress in respect of the relocation of the agencies to their designated locations. Furthermore, the decentralisation implementation group has invited representatives of the Department to accompany the chief executive officers of the three agencies to a meeting to be held later this month to discuss the progress in respect of the decentralisation of the agencies.