Dáil Éireann - Volume 536 - 16 May, 2001

Priority Questions. - Area Aid.

69. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will allow his Department deal with all area aid forms and problems at local district veterinary office level in view of the recent example where modern technology allowed emergency centres to be set up at Ballymacscanlon, County Louth, and Clontibret, County Monaghan; his views on whether farmers or their agents could more easily sort out disputes or difficulties at local level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14013/01]

Mr. Walsh: The modern technology referred to by the Deputy was provided by the area aid unit of my Department at Ballymacscanlon. It involved the deployment of six staff and provided extensive information quickly in relation to all herdowners in the various zones as identified.

This once-off emergency facility required experienced staff to function effectively and was only possible because of the considerable progress made in recent years in overall IT development in the Department and in major advances in area aid processing arrangements. In normal circumstances the Department's local offices provide farmers in their respective areas with information about all schemes including area aid. To facilitate this the area aid unit's computerised mapping database has recently been made available to all livestock offices and this facility is also being extended to the farm development offices. This will further enhance the services which my Department's local offices deliver to farmers.

The area aid unit will this year again continue to hold information meetings at various local venues where farmers can have their problems dealt with on a one to one basis.

Mr. Crawford: I welcome the Minister's comments and the efforts being made in this regard. We are talking about centralisation instead of decentralisatiion. We are talking about forcing people to ring Dublin whereas in many cases one could sit across a desk in the Department and sort out many of these problems. Many find it difficult to read maps and genuine mistakes are made. Either they or their personnel, Teagasc or others, could deal with this issue at DVO level. I urge the Minister to rethink the whole policy of centralising.

Acting Chairman: A question Deputy, please.

Mr. Crawford: Will the Minister consider having area aid queries and other queries dealt with at the local DVO offices with personnel who know the background?

[603] Mr. Walsh: Deputy Crawford has made a good point. The local disease control offices set up on an urgent basis in Ballymascanlon and Clontibret were effective and their professionalism was evident to all. I did say that a similar type of facility is being rolled out to the various livestock offices and DVOs and to the farm development offices in small towns and villages. There is a requirement that ISDN lines be available in those areas. There is a facility for fibre optic cabling to a wide part of the country which is essential to provide that facility. That process is not yet complete because the IT programme is being developed all the time. We got some additional funding to make this possible. When a farmer visits his local office I envisage there would be private consultation rooms where he could see the maps and have them printed out there and then. That is our aim.

Mr. Belton: In regard to farm development, I have no doubt the Minister is aware of farmers who had put in place slabs for silage and so on and who missed out on the grants which, in normal circumstances, would have been made available to them. Does the Minister propose to compensate those who lost out on grants through no fault of their own when the Minister's officials could not visit farms during the foot and mouth scare?

Mr. Walsh: In regard to farm building grants and capital development on farms generally, there was a problem for the past three months because officers were unable to go out and give approvals and in cases where the work was complete they could not sign off and have payment made. That is now possible. Most of the officers in the Department are on Border checkpoints and we cannot remove those while the overhang remains in the North. The problem continues there. I am trying to see how we might best address that issue and, in particular, where a job is finished that part-payment might be made pending inspection of the work. In relation to bulk milk tanks, if a person gets an invoice and a payment is due I have discussed the matter with senior officers in my Department with a view to devising a practical scheme that can be initiated as quickly as possible.

Acting Chairman: Three Deputies are offering. I shall the call the three, one after the other, and the Minister to reply because we are going over time on this question.

Mr. Dukes: Is the Minister familiar with a system called Eurovet? It was developed with the assistance of a European Union technical assistance programme for Bulgaria. It is now in operation in Bulgaria and provides an on-line, real time, constantly updated database on livestock, herds, movements and status. Is he aware it is a system that could be offered not alone here but to the whole European Union with an on-line, [604] real time, adaptation capability as a database? Will the Minister consider taking steps on a partnership basis between the Government and the promoters who have been helped by European Union money to provide that system on a wider basis?

Mr. Connaughton: In view of all the money spent on technology in his Department, surely it must be possible to allow cattle sales to resume at the marts on the basis that he knows where every animal is, or is it the case that that is not perfected?

Mr. Penrose: In view of the recent problems, will the Minister consider granting some leeway to farmers who have to purchase additional suckler cows to fulfil their suckler cow quota as set down by the Department? Given what he has said, is the Minister considering setting up appeal boards on a regional basis, under the provisions of the Agriculture Appeals Bill which is going through the House, to facilitate dealing with problems on the spot as opposed to dealing with them on a centralised basis?

Mr. Walsh: I am aware of the Eurovet project but not of the detail of it. I see the relevance of it in the Irish context. The Department is modernising the old animal location file which was a feature of district veterinary offices until now. We also have the CMMS for the general livestock payments. I want to make both of those compatible so that they will be live and that those with PCs in their homes will be able to check up and get on-line systems.

In regard to the other matters raised by Deputies Connaughton and Penrose, I will see to what extent progress can be made on those queries.