Dáil Éireann - Volume 378 - 09 March, 1988

Ceisteanna-Questions. Oral Answers. - Environmental Research Unit.

13. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline the way in which he envisages the working relationship between An Foras Forbartha [2133] on the one hand and the Environment Awareness Bureau on the other to be affected by the establishment of the new Environmental Research Unit; if he will clarify precisely the proposed relationship between the Environment Awareness Bureau and the new Environmental Research Unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter having regard to the budget of the bureau for 1988 and 1989 and the commitments to existing personnel and their contracts of employment.

19. Mr. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment if he will clarify precisely the working relationship he envisages between the Environmental Research Unit which he has established by way of Statutory Instrument No. 20 of 1988, and An Foras Forbartha which clearly will continue to exist as a legal entity until the end of June 1988 at the earliest; the precise relationship in terms of financial, administrative and research functions between the two bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

22. Mr. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment if he will give the names of the five persons he proposes to appoint to the managment committee of the Environmental Research Unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

29. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment if it is proposed to transfer the legal obligations and liabilities currently enjoyed by An Foras Forbartha in respect of any contracts for property including St. Martin's House, Waterloo Road, Dublin 4, to the new Environmental Research Unit; if so, when he envisages such a transfer to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

31. Mr. Kavanagh asked the Minister for the Environment if he will confirm that all employees of the Environmental Research Unit shall hold his or her employment on such terms and conditions which are commensurate with the existing terms and conditions which they [2134] currently enjoy with An Foras Forbartha if they are so employed by An Foras Forbartha; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

48. Mr. Pattison asked the Minister for the Environment the direction which he considers appropriate in relation to the keeping and auditing of accounts and finances generally for the Environmental Research Unit which he has established; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

59. Mr. Kavanagh asked the Minister for the Environment if it is proposed to automatically incorporate by way of employment all persons currently employed by An Foras Forbartha within the framework of section 5 (1) of the Statutory Instrument establishing the Environmental Research Unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

60. Mr. Pattison asked the Minister for the Environment the amount of money which he proposes to pay to the Environmental Research Unit for 1988; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

126. Mr. Keating asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the Environmental Research Unit (Establishment) Order, 1988 and indicate the expected degree of activity of the unit; its precise relationship with local authorities; and the way in which that interfacing will be structured.

Mr. Flynn: I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 19, 22, 29, 31, 48, 59, 60 and 126 together.

The functions of the Environmental Research Unit are specified in the Environmental Research Unit (Establishment) Order, 1988, which was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on 12 February 1988. I have appointed the following officers of my Department to be the management committee of the new unit: Mr. Desmond Malin (Chairman); Mr. Brian Campbell; Mr. Brendan [2135] O'Donoghue; Mr. Patrick O'Duffy and Mr. Séan Walsh.

The Environment Awareness Bureau will cease to operate at the end of April next. An Foras Forbartha will be wound up as soon as possible. The question of a continuing working relationship between the unit and these two bodies does not therefore arise. It will be a matter for the management committee of the unit, with my consent, to decide what property, if any, it should take over from An Foras Forbartha. The new unit will be financed by grants from Subhead R — Research, Analytical and Related Services — of my Department's Vote which provides a sum of £1.750 million for research and other services in 1988. The sum to be paid to the unit in 1988 will depend on the rate of progress made in bringing the unit into full operation.'

It is intended that the number of employees necessary to enable the new unit to perform its functions will be drawn from the staff of An Foras Forbartha. The terms and conditions of these employees are being finalised and are the subject of discussions with the unions concerned. The remaining employees of An Foras Forbartha will be dealt with under the voluntary redundancy arrangements or by redeployment to other fillable posts in the public sector.

While I have not yet given any direction to the unit as to the keeping and auditing of its accounts and its finances generally. I envisage that the standard arrangements applicable to bodies of this kind will apply.

Mr. Quinn: The Minister has sought, with the approval of the House, to answer a lot of questions together when, understandably, there will be many supplementaries. I shall confine myself to asking three specific questions. First, will the Minister give the House an assurance that the ongoing negotiations between the representatives of the staff of An Foras Forbartha, his officials and himself will not result in anybody currently working in An Foras Forbartha being obliged [2136] to be demoted or to enter an open competition for an analagous post in the new unit which they currently hold in An Foras Forbartha? Second, will the Minister indicate — I do not think he did so in the course of his lengthy reply — whether the unit will continue to be based in St. Martin's House, Waterloo Road? Third, can the Minister give an indication as to whether the public will continue to have access to the information of an environmental nature which in the past was produced by An Foras Forbartha but no doubt which will now be produced in a similar manner by the ERU?

Mr. Flynn: The selection procedures were discussed between me and representatives of the staff last week — I do not want to put a date on the record that may not be right so I will say it was last week.

Mr. Quinn: Recently.

Mr. Flynn: Very recently. A fair interpretation of what transpired there is that we agreed on certain matters. I hope the whole question concerning An Foras Forbartha and the new arrangements for the ERU will be resolved in the immediate future. The question of a selection procedure was discussed in so far as the selection of those who would go into the new unit is concerned. As I indicated to the staff representatives, I would like that selection procedure to be devised, if that is the right word, in consultation with them and I would like them to be happy with it. I gave an undertaking that I would discuss it with them.

Mr. Quinn: Is the Minister repeating that undertaking in the House?

Mr. Flynn: I am saying that it will be discussed with them. It seemed to me that the clear indication from them on the occasion when I met them was that they would be happy to consult in the matter. I think we can reach a satisfactory and amicable relationship in so far as the selection process is concerned. In the [2137] final analysis I am the one who has to decide.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 14.

Mr. Quinn: With all due respect, a Cheann Comhairle, there were two other supplementary questions.

Mr. Flynn: St. Martin's House is the existing location for An Foras Forbartha and without going too far, I think it would be necessary in the short-term that the location for the ERU, or at least part of that establishment, would be there. That is what I would expect. I sincerely hope that they will have access to the environmental information that will be required by outside bodies. I am not saying that the ERU are not going to charge for their services. I think there is some scope there. In my discussions with the unions about the possibility of consultancy work, they were very forthcoming that there was great scope for making money by the officers for the expertise that will lie within the ERU. They would like to maximise that and, in fact, they will be proposing more expanded arrangements for making money that will be to the advantage of the ERU, the unions and to all concerned.

Mr. Quinn: Will the actual information that is available remain available to the public, perhaps at a charge?

Mr. Flynn: Do you mean what is stored in the computers?

Mr. Quinn: Yes.

Mr. Flynn: I am particularly anxious that the facility of the computer and all matters stored in the computer will be available to the ERU and to the public, even at a charge.

Mr. Boland: The Minister made reference to the voluntary redundancy scheme which is being offered to the staff of An Foras Forbartha but can he tell the House whether the discrepancy between [2138] the terms of that scheme and the other schemes offered to the public service generally has been addressed and whether that scheme has now been brought into line with the offers being made to the rest of the public service?

Mr. Flynn: Some have taken up the redundancy package — I think 21 — and so far as I can remember 25 others have indicated that they are interested in doing so. There will be a need for redeployment.

Mr. Boland: The question I asked was totally different. The Minister is probably aware that the terms of the scheme being offered to the people in An Foras Forbartha, because of the fact that they pay full PRSI, is substantially different and not as attractive as similar schemes offered to people in other public service type employment. There is a need for this scheme to be amended to make it comparable with the wider public service scheme. Can the Minister say if that question has been addressed and resolved?

Mr. Flynn: Yes, it has been addressed. That question and the question about salary scales attached to individual members of An Foras Forbartha who will be transferred to the ERU, about the grades they are working at in the AFF and the changes that will be necessitated by their transfer to this new arrangement have been discussed with the unions. So far as a settlement is concerned, I am very pleased, from what transpired at our last meeting, that we will have an arrangement with the unions that will be to everybody's satisfaction. It was a very fruitful meeting.

Mr. Quinn: So I heard.

Mr. Boland: It will be interesting to see how the environmental connoisseurs get on.

Mr. Flynn: As always Deputy Quinn is fully briefed on these matters and I [2139] think he realises that I was forthcoming and that the meeting was successful.

Mr. Quinn: You were.

Mr. Boland: Five more unlikely fellows to go out and market their wares in the private sector I could not picture.