In the Dáil last Thursday, I confronted the Minister for Agriculture and Marine, Charlie McConalogue with the urgent issue of the shortage of places on part-time and distance learning Green Cert Courses and challenged the Minister to take the necessary action to increase the number of places to meet the demand.
We cannot continue with a situation where the Green Cert course is a government requirement for farmers and then not provide adequate places on part-time and on-line courses.
Three times I asked him the same question to reassure farmers that those who are required to do the course would be provided with a place. Three times he evaded the question. This is not good enough. The buck stops with him and his ministerial colleague Minister Simon Harris.
People will be very disappointed that the Minister did not use the opportunity to assure them that extra places will be made available.
This has real life implications for many farming households and incomes both in terms of higher taxation and eligibility for schemes.
The government has been letting down young farmers for years by not providing the part-time courses they need. Frighteningly, as things stand this is set to get worse.
6,067 students have been turned away from part-time green cert courses since 2016 and the situation will get worse if the Minister for Agriculture does not act.
This amounts to half of all applicants being denied a place with circa 6,500 enrolled in the same time period. 551 of these are from Mayo.
Teagasc has confirmed that they need the resources to recruit twenty Training Education Officers posts to ensure that part-time and distance education demand is met.
Colleges of Further Education are validated to provide 200 places in Westport. This course was hugely oversubscribed with 1,400 farmers requesting a place. How much more evidence does the Minister need before he acts.
Intake capacity is directly related to available staffing resources.
Sinn Féin is calling on Minister McConalogue to ensure existing posts are maintained and additional staff hired to meet demand for part-time green cert courses.
He must also work with the Minister for Further and Higher Education to make sure that Further Education centres delivering Green Cert Courses are adequately resourced and facilitated to target local areas with high demand.