Dáil Éireann - Volume 552 - 18 April, 2002

Ceisteanna – Questions. - Departmental Bodies.

  2. Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reason the statutory appeals office is not yet in operation; the factors which have caused the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12109/02]

  Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Éamon Ó Cuív): I expect the statutory appeals office to be in operation next month. Planning for the necessary staffing, accommodation and other resources is now well advanced and extensive discussions have been held with the staff associations and unions involved. The Civil Service Commission interdepartmental competition for the appointment of the director of the office was advertised in February 2002 and the selection process is nearing completion. The selection process for the appeals officers has been initiated and can be progressed further once the director of the office has been appointed. The recruitment of the remaining staff will also commence at that stage. The office will be located in new premises in Portlaoise.

  Mr. Dukes: On what date next month can we expect the new appeals office to come into existence? Will it be before or after the general election? When will the director be appointed and how long will it take after that appointment to appoint the rest of the staff? When he has reflected on all that, can the Minister of State tell me that he is still confident this will be set up next month?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The one thing I cannot tell the Deputy is the date of the election. Maybe he can tell me. The Taoiseach has indicated that it will take place before the end of May. I hope that information at least is of some use to the Deputy.

  Mr. Dukes: It is more useful to me than anything else the Minister of State will tell me.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Good, but the Deputy wants to know the rest of it, does he not? It is hoped to appoint the director before the end of April and the remaining staff will be appointed soon there[678] after. No doubt the Deputy is anxious to know why there was a delay in this process.

  Mr. Dukes: That is why I tabled the question.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: If the Deputy asked me straight out I would tell him, but since he did not ask me that, I see no point in telling him.

  Mr. Dukes: Now that the Minister has invited me, I will accept his invitation. Can the Minister recall for the House when this Act was passed? Why is there still no director appointed? Once the director is appointed and is available for consultation on the appointment of other staff, how long will it take to complete that? If the Minister can tell me, I would be delighted to hear why the whole thing has been delayed up to now.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I would be charmed to tell the Deputy. Given that both of us were involved in the debate in the House on the Bill that was enacted, the Deputy might remember—

  Mr. Dukes: The memory got lost in the mists of time.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Some of us have better memories than others. It was enacted in July 2001. There were many difficulties in setting up the office. At the time it was expected it would be built on the model of the social welfare appeals office. However, two problems arose. One problem related to staff to address the foot and mouth crisis, which was still going on last autumn even though everyone seems to have forgotten it now. The other issue related to the fact that when it was investigated it became apparent that unlike the case of the social welfare appeals office, technical staff would be needed, including agricultural science graduates, etc, to deal with appeals. That took longer to resolve than was anticipated. There were industrial relations issues, etc, that needed to be addressed to get this right. That is now progressing. In the meantime the existing appeals mechanism is operating.

  Mr. Dukes: Did some of these difficulties, delays and industrial relations issues arise because a decision was taken, as detailed in the Act, to recruit staff from the existing Civil Service? Does the Minister agree that had the advice of this side of the House been taken and we had provided for the employment of people from outside the Civil Service, many of these delays could have been avoided?

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I do not think that is so. There were difficulties within the Department due to pressures of work. Regardless of the recruitment process, it takes time. The foot and mouth disease crisis put much pressure on the work of the management services division in the Department. In addition, there was considerable staff movement in the Department last year, which created its own difficulties. I do not think the Deputy's [679] suggestion would have made any material difference to the speed at which this could be done. The Deputy will be happy to note that this matter is now moving apace, premises have been located and the director will be appointed before the end of the month. I can definitely say that the election will not take place before the end of the month so the director will be in place.

  Mr. Dukes: I bet the next Dáil will be in session before this matter is dealt with.