Dáil Éireann - Volume 434 - 13 October, 1993

Adjournment Debate. - Oakpark (Carlow) Research Centre.

[1099] Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): It is accepted at European level that Ireland falls far behind when it comes to research. For that reason it is unacceptable that our meagre resources should be further diminished by the sale of necessary land in which agricultural scientists can carry out experiments.

As far as the proposed sale of land at Oakpark Research Centre is concerned, the land proposed for sale is absolutely necessary for the work that goes on in Oakpark. There is a belief, because Oakpark Estate is quite big, that there is plenty of land available. The Minister will have to accept that 50 per cent of Oakpark Estate comprises of woodland and lake. This certainly reduces the arable land available, but the woodland and lake area is a marvellous amenity to have so close to Carlow town. For that reason I am astonished that serious negotiations going on between the management of Oakpark and the Office of Public Works have been shamefully ignored. The plan was to convert the lake and woodlands into one of our planned natural reserves for use by the local community and for national and international scientific studies. The news of yesterday that under the Structural Funds the development of national parks and nature reserves is allocated £10.6 million surely means that the plan is much more feasible now.

There was a major fear in Carlow that this area could be sold off into private hands to solve the financial crisis. The people of Carlow would never accept this. It is unbelievable that the Teasgasc management should jump the gun in the middle of these negotiations. It is extremely unwise to take any precipitate action while this plan of opening a nature reserve is being discussed with the Board of Works.

Will the Minister put a halt to the sale of the 77 acres needed for research and follow through with his colleagues in the Office of Public Works the plan to take over the woodlands and the lake district? In doing that the Minister will save the land that is needed, help the financial situation in Oakpark and, above all, will be providing a marvellous facility for the people not alone of Carlow but of [1100] Ireland, who will visit these nature reserves as part of their planned holidays.

The Minister should not let anybody destroy the facilities at Oakpark. Once the land is sold it is gone forever. We should make up our minds about research and agriculture. We need diversification now more than ever in an era when normal agricultural products are forming mountains in some cases or are tied up in quotas in others.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. O'Shea): I thank Deputy Browne for raising this important matter. Deputy Pattison and Senator Townsend have also made strong representations to me in this regard. Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, has responsibility for the Oakpark centre. In recent years Teagasc has experienced some financial difficulties and in order to help remedy this situation and to provide for the efficient and effective operation of the body, an efficiency plan was prepared by Teagasc in consultation with the Department. That plan which is now in the course of implementation contained a number of elements, including the utilisation of Teagasc resources, human and physical, in the most cost effective manner. In addition, some disposal of assets is essential in order to provide the resources for necessary capital expenditure required by Teagasc to fulfil its mandate.

Such action has already been undertaken in a number of Teagasc centres throughout the country. It was decided by Teagasc that some land at Oakpark should be sold because of the capital requirements I have mentioned. Initially the Teagasc proposal was to sell approximately 150 acres. This included the adjoining lake and the woods immediately surrounding it. Following consultations between Teagasc staff and the OPW on possible acquisition by the OPW of the woodlands and lake area, it was decided to exclude these areas. Instead, 77 acres of agricultural land have now been offered for sale.

It is not the practice for Ministers to get involved in the day-to-day activities of Teagasc. Under the Agricultural [1101] (Research, Training and Advice) Act, 1988, Teagasc may dispose of assets subject to sanction of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. In practice this sanction is given if the Minister is satisfied that the best possible price is being obtained for the asset being disposed of. I am happy to assure Deputies that if and when an application is received from Teagasc my Department will assess the full implications of the sale of this asset prior to recommending whether or not sanction should be given.

Teagasc has confirmed that if this sale takes place, it will not lead to a downgrading of Oakpark in any way. In fact, Oakpark has been identified under the efficiency plan as one of six centres to be developed as lead centres for the entire State. The centre will, therefore, get preference from the point of view of investment and it will continue to be the lead centre for the Teagasc corps research programme. In order to fulfil the role of lead centre a capital injection is necessary. It is in this context that the disposal of any Teagasc assets, including some land at Oakpark, must be viewed.