Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh has asked for Minister Charlie McConalogue to take the “necessary action to increase the number of places” on part-time and distance Green Cert courses.

In January, students in the deputy’s constituency “were told that they had secured places on Green Cert courses”, but, “only after paying their fees were they informed that a mistake had been made”.

Time-sensitive problems

There has been a great increase in demand for places on Green Cert courses and deputy Conway-Walsh told the minister in the Dáil last week:

“There is a real problem with the part-time online courses. We had a situation in Westport some weeks ago where the course was over-subscribed to the extent that there were hundreds of applications but only 200 places.

“Applicants were accepted and then they were told later the same evening that they were no longer accepted but that they could be given a place in 2022. What has the minister put in place specifically to address this shortage of part-time Green Cert places?

Can the minister guarantee me that every young farmer who wants a place will be guaranteed such a place? I need not outline to the minister the implications for farmers in terms of income if that does not happen.

“These are time-sensitive problems – the minister knows that. I really need to ensure a solution and this is easily solvable.

“We need to renew the contracts for the Teagasc education officers. We need to put the resources into the further education colleges so that they can be put online.”

Implications for many farming households and incomes

The minister said he has been engaged with Teagasc on the potential to put in place additional capacity for part-time and online Green Cert courses, but that he was not in a position to give any guarantees around increasing the number of places.

Speaking since, deputy Conway-Walsh said that 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,” she said.

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.

According to the deputy, “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,” the deputy said.

“Teagasc has confirmed that it needs the resources to recruit 20 training education officers posts to ensure that part-time and distance education demand is met.

“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.”