Wednesday, 11 February 1953
Dáil Éireann Debate
“If the Government will take steps to have a public inquiry conducted into the sale of Bord Fáilte property at Tramore, County Waterford, in view of the great prevailing dissatisfaction therewith, such inquiry to investigate the circumstances in which the property was sold privately and to ascertain why the property was sold at a figure much below the amount of public expenditure involved; and, if so, if the proposed inquiry will be a judicial one or by a Committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas with power to send for persons, papers and records.”
This whole transaction, Sir, is a transaction surrounded by very grave suspicion. It is surrounded by suspicion in the mind of every honest citizen, in the mind of every taxpayer and particularly in the minds of the people of County Waterford and in Tramore. But it is not something that concerns County Waterford alone. It is something that concerns the taxpayers of the whole country, when we see that the Hydro, the Casino, the Boys' Club and the pitch and toss course, the property of Bord Fáilte in Tramore, involved a total expenditure of £84,550.
The Minister for Industry and Commerce states that in 1950 the Tourist Board recommended that this property should be sold. The usual procedure for the sale of Tourist Board property was that announcements would be made in the public Press advertising the sale. In most cases public auctions were conducted and it was only in the event of public auctions not realising the amount required, that attempts were made to secure more than the highest bid that could be secured at a public auction. Here, however, we see in the case of Bord Fáilte property in Tramore a situation which has been responsible for bringing protests of a very serious nature from the Tramore Town Commissioners who represent the people of all political classes and all political creeds. Quite recently the Tánaiste received a deputation of members of the Tramore Town Commissioners, and published in the daily papers on the day after was a report of a meeting of the Tramore Town Commissioners in which they called for a public inquiry, and in the public Press the chairman of the Tramore Town Commissioners is reported to have said that he led a deputation and that the decision to dispose of the property by private treaty had been made in May of last year although the Minister, in a by-election speech in Tramore in June stated that the sale would be by public auction. It is  despicable that a responsible public person, in order to capture the votes of the people of that particular district, should make a statement to the effect that this sale would be by public auction and then reverse the decision later. If there is a public inquiry I can challenge the Minister to deny that two of the four people that were interested in this sale were subscribers to the Fianna Fáil election fund. That is well known in Waterford. It is well known by the Tramore Town Commissioners and by the general public in Waterford. The people who subscribed so generously to the Fianna Fáil election fund in that year knew that their voluntary subscription to Fianna Fáil was the first instalment on £87,000 worth of property for £22,500.
In my opinion, this is a scandalous state of affairs, and it is a racket sponsored by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. This transaction stinks in the nostrils of every decent taxpayer in the country, when we see that the taxpayers' money has been sunk into £87,000 worth of property and that the local people were denied the right of forming a company of their own for the purpose of purchasing this property.
We are told that the three people who purchased this property have not purchased it as a company, not as the Tramore Development Company, but that they have purchased it as private individuals. What guarantee have we that these people will not erect tin huts and have pitch-and-toss schools, everything that would be contrary to the decent regulation of the tourist trade in this country? What guarantee have we that there would not be advertisements appearing in the English and continental newspapers asking racketeers to come and spend the season in Tramore and giving such groups or individuals £600 or £700 a year in order to carry on chancing their arm and making a good thing for themselves during the tourist season?
I believe that the sale of this property is something that should command the serious attention of the Government. I am quite well aware that, under the administration of  Fianna Fáil, we have had a number of serious scandals and rackets during years past, and into one of them an inquiry was conducted at my instigation and only for that the distillery at Kilbeggan would not be there to-day.
Mr. O. Flanagan: I am convinced that this is a matter of vital importance to the taxpayer and is something that calls for public inquiry. I would like to ask is there anything unreasonable in the demand of the people of Waterford for the Government to give them the inquiry the town commissioners want. When a Minister of State goes down the country, as the Tánaiste did, and says that there is going to be a sale by public auction although he knows sincerely in his heart that the property is to be sold privately, there is something there that requires investigation. He knew during the by-election campaign in Waterford that that property was going to be disposed of privately and it was known to certain people in Waterford that those three individuals were anxious to acquire this property and they were prepared to get it at all costs. Surely it is a deplorable state of affairs to say that others who were anxious and prepared to establish a company to purchase the property could have purchased the property at a greater sum which would have rendered a greater return to the revenue if it had been put up for public auction. The Tánaiste tells us he knew that a better bargain would be made by private sale. How does he know? How does he know what bids would be at a public auction? How does he know what bids this property would realise by public auction? I venture to say that if it had been sold by public auction it would raise at least £45,000.
That is why the serious attention of the Government should be directed to the reasonable demands and requests of the taxpayer of this country and all. Deputies in this House should know that this is a distasteful and smelling transaction. It is one of the three distasteful  Ts. of the present Government during this year of 1953—Tulyar, Tramore property and An Tostal, three scandals, three rackets. It is up to the Tánaiste to be honest about this and to give the town commissioners of Tramore a reasonable explanation as to why people were denied the right to purchase this property by public auction and to give us a sound reason as to why he made the promise in Tramore in the presence of the chairman of the Tramore Town Commissioners that the property would be disposed of by public auction.
He has not satisfied me, he has not satisfied the House; and I would ask that this House give very serious attention to this matter, in view of the very grave issues involved, the breach of faith and the breaking of a solemn undertaking and obligation, when the Minister said to the people of that particular area that such a thing would be done, when he knew in his heart that such a thing would not be done. I believe that a sworn inquiry should be held with the least possible delay, or a judicial inquiry, or a Committee should be set up representative of all Parties in the House, with power to send for papers, persons and records, to inquire into this horrible and distasteful transaction.
Mr. Sweetman: There are three points I want to make in the very short time at my disposal in regard to this transaction. The first point is that here we have property purchased at the direction of the present Minister for Industry and Commerce by his nominees when he was Minister before 1948, and that cost some £84,000, and that this property has now been sold, under his direction and at his decision, at a figure of only £22,000. There is clearly, therefore, something to be explained as to why Deputy Lemass, when Minister before 1948, permitted the purchase of a property and permitted development costs up to £84,000 for something that he himself now comes to the House and says is good value for sale at £22,000.
The second point is that the Minister, in his reply last week, gave an  impression that this was a normal method of disposal. That is a perversion, and a gross perversion, of the facts. He tried to make that case on the basis, first, that it was in accordance with precedence in regard to disposal of Tourist Board property.
I have the files here of the Irish Press for 1949, when Deputy Lemass, the present Minister, was in a very eminent position in that paper. The issue for the 28th May 1949 shows public auctions to be held at Ballina-hinch, Inagh Lodge, Glendalough House and Courtown Harbour. I have also here the Irish Press for the 4th June, 1949, which reports a public auction for the Portmarnock property when “32 bids were recorded from a crowded room” before the property was knocked down at £25,750. Speaking last week, the Minister tried to make the case that this was a normal method adopted by the previous Government for the sale of Tourist Board property. He said, as given at column 29 for the 4th February 1953, that many of the properties then in the possession of the Tourist Board were sold by private treaty. That is untrue. Two properties were sold by private treaty. One was the Killarney property, which had been bought over the heads of the Killarney Golf Club by the previous chairman of the Tourist Board at the instigation of the present Minister for Industry and Commerce. It was bought over their heads by the Tourist Board and when it came up for sale they were given the option of buying it back. And at what price? At the full cost to the Tourist Board, plus interest on the money that had been expended. If this was a case in which these people in Tramore were being offered a chance of buying this property for £84,000 plus interest on the £84,000, it would be one thing, but instead it is being handed over to these people secretly and privately at quarter of the cost, compared to the other case where they were charged the full cost, plus interest. The other sale by private treaty was one concerning two or three acres that jutted in to the golf club on the site of the Portmarnock property and which did not in any way affect the sale of the property.
Mr. Sweetman: It also was sold by public auction by Michael McMahon, auctioneer, Ennis. Every single one was dealt with in this way. I can give the Deputy the list if he wants it. In one case we got the full cost plus interest charges. Here, however, we get a sale at only 25 per cent. of the cost, leaving any question of interest out of it.
There is much more in it than that. I would not mind if this property were sold by private treaty after full and proper advertising. However, there was a specific statement by the Minister in Tramore during the election— and which I heard at the time—that this property was going to be sold by public auction and not in any other way. Everyone knows that when notice is given that property is to be sold by public auction, the effect is that all persons intending to bid hang back and do not put in offers or make any approach unless and until the advertisement of the auction is published. No advertisement was published in this case, no notice was given to anyone that there was going to be this sale by private treaty, and no notice was given that there would be acceptance of a tender for the property. The Minister, to use his own words, “directed that it was to be sold in this manner.” It is entirely illusory and unreal and politically dishonest of the Minister to suggest that this was the normal basis.
There are three questions I want to put on the records of this House. The whole tenor of the Minister's answer last week was that An Bord Fáilte, and the Tourist Board before it, recommended that this property would be sold to the local Tramore development company. In column 26 the Minister himself stated: “The Tourist Board were always in favour of selling this property to this local development company.” Lower down in the same column the Minister said: “The Tourist Board were always in favour of sale to this local company. They never recommended any other course.” This is not a sale to the local company: it is a sale to three private individuals, and purely a sale to individuals and not  to a local company. The local development company, as we will see when the articles of association and the memorandum of association are placed in the Library, was an entirely different thing. They were restricted in certain ways and not allowed to make profit for themselves at all. This is being sold, not to that company, but to three private individuals—assuming that there is no one else other than the three names we have heard, and I have no knowledge of that at all and must go only on the facts given by the Minister.
Here is a sale to three private individuals and not to the local company and the Minister has put it on the records of this House that the advice that was given to him by the Tourist Board was advice that it would be sold to the local company and nobody else. We have got the Minister's own word for that statement. It is there on the record of this House, that they never recommended any other course. Yet there is a sale not to the local company but to these persons as private individuals.
I do not know whether I am entitled to refer, in addition, to answers that I got to-day to other questions. In one of those answers, the Minister said that he did not take the decision, that he only approved. When he was speaking last week, the Minister said, as given at column 26: “I decided it should be sold by public auction.... I eventually decided to direct....” The Minister cannot have it both ways. If he says last week that he decided to direct, if he says last week he decided it was to be sold one way, equally when it is being sold in another way he must stand over that and take responsibility for the decision.
This is a transaction in respect of which there are three things on which I would like to have further investigation. First, that property was bought at the behest of the man who now occupies the position of Minister, at a total cost of £84,000, and he considered that the same property should be sold for a quarter of that cost. Secondly, in selling it he announces to the public as a whole that everyone is going to get a chance and an opportunity  of having a crack at it, that everyone would get a chance and an opportunity of bidding for that property and then, having announced that, secretly and without knowledge to anyone else in the country he sold it to three private individuals. Finally, the whole advice which he has put on the records of the House which he received from the Tourist Board was advice that it be sold to the local development company, yet it is not sold to them but to three private individuals.
These are three simple issues that have to be decided in regard to this Tramore property. Anyone who reads calmly the report of the Minister, the speeches of the Minister and the replies of the Minister last week, cannot fail to realise that, to put it in the mildest possible way, there was one of the grossest blunders ever made in that the Minister went down during the by-election and, for the purpose of assuaging public opinion in Tramore, told the people the property was going to be sold by public auction and then, without giving anyone an opportunity to put in a tender, without giving anyone an opportunity to bid, leaving everyone under the impression they would have a chance to have a go at the property by public auction, he came back and decided, initiated and directed An Bord Fáilte to sell by private treaty behind everyone's back to three private individuals.
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): First of all, as regards the original cost of the property, let us get the fact clear. The scheme for the development of Tramore, on which a considerable amount was spent, had not proceeded half-way before the Coalition Government came into office and decided to stop the scheme; and from that day in 1948 not one penny of capital expenditure has taken place on this property. Consequently a large part of the money which was spent on the development was lost. Portions of the property were allowed to go into disrepair and, in fact, in 1950, the town commissioners were writing to the Tourist Board about derelict property of theirs and there was a motion before the Waterford Corporation  for the compulsory acquisition of part of it as a derelict site. That is how the money was lost, because, before the scheme was half-way completed, work on the scheme was stopped and the benefit of the previous expenditure lost. The decision to sell the property was taken then in 1948, but nothing had been done about it until I came back into office in 1951.
What is the property worth? That is a matter for anybody's opinion, but I will tell the House what it is producing. According to the information supplied to me by An Bord Fáilte, it is producing a surplus of revenue over expenditure of £470 per year, and, on the basis of 20 years' purchase, the price would be £9,400. That is a figure which I want Deputies to keep in mind when considering what price might be realised for this property at public auction and whether the recommendation of the Tourist Board that the offer by the local directors of the development company should be accepted was a wise recommendation or not.
It has been said that this was done by the Tourist Board under my direction. The Tourist Board, when asked by my predecessor what they proposed to do about this property, recommended in 1949 that it should be sold to these local directors of the management company, the company that had been managing the property on their behalf. They recommended again in 1950, and my predecessor brought that recommendation to the Coalition Government for decision. No decision had been conveyed to the Tourist Board when the change of Government took place in 1951. I then considered the position anew—the general policy of tourist resort development and not specifically the disposal of the Tramore properties—and I decided that the policy of disposal of these properties had gone so far that I might as well let it go the whole way, and I directed the Tourist Board to proceed with the disposal of the rest of the properties.
Again, they recommended to me that the best course to follow, in the interests of Tramore as a tourist resort, was that these properties should be sold to the local directors of  the management company. I decided then that they were to be sold by public auction. I decided on that course because the offer which was made by the local directors of the company did not appear to me to be good enough. It was an offer to pay for the property over a period of years, and I felt that approval by me of such an arrangement would be undesirable. Subsequently, the Tourist Board came back and said that they had now got an offer in cash from the local directors of the management company and urged strongly that it should be accepted. They expressed the view that the offer exceeded anything that might be secured by public auction and that it ensured that the properties would be developed in the interests of Tramore as a holiday resort. When that offer of £20,000 was subsequently increased to £22,500, I approved of the proposal of the Tourist Board that it should be disposed of.
I am told that these people who are getting the property are well-known supporters of Fianna Fáil and subscribers to Fianna Fáil funds. Let me tell the House who they are. Let me put their names on the records so that the people of Waterford will realise what type of nonsense is talked in this House and what rotten allegations are made without foundation by members of the Fine Gael Party. There is Alderman James Aylward, for many years Mayor of Waterford and a director of the Tourist Association. Will Deputy Sweetman agree with me that he is a well-known supporter of the Fine Gael Party?
Mr. Lemass: He is a responsible and important business man in the City of Waterford and a very suitable person to be entrusted with development of this nature. There is Mr. J. J. Lodge, who is a general merchant in Tramore. He is, I believe, the largest employer of labour in Tramore and one of the founders, 15 years ago, of the Tramore Development Association which led to all this effort to extend Tramore as a holiday resort. There is then Mr. Martin J. Malone, another founder-member of the Tramore Development Association and proprietor of the Majestic Hotel, Tramore. It is going to be news to them and to the people of Waterford that they are well-known supporters of Fianna Fáil and subscribers to Fianna Fáil funds.
Mr. Lemass: I am told that there is some alternative proposal for the purchase of these properties. I met the Tramore Town Commissioners. Originally, there had been some suggestion that the town commissioners as such might buy these properties upon the basis of a small annual payment stretched over a period of years. That proposal was made to my predecessor in 1949 and the commissioners were invited by the Tourist Board to submit their proposals. Nothing was heard from them about that proposal because they discovered that they had not got the legal power to do what they were contemplating. When I met the town commissioners, it was made quite clear to me that there was no suggestion of selling these properties to the town commissioners as such, but there was  a suggestion to sell the properties to a company to be formed by individual members of the town commissioners.
That may have been a good arrangement, but it was also clear that they contemplated buying these properties with money borrowed from the Tourist Board, and, as between the two alternatives—that which was recommended to me by the Tourist Board, the sale of these properties to the local directors of the company which the Tourist Board had itself set up to manage these properties, and their sale to some other nebulous company not yet formed, without any obvious resources and relying for the financing of the transaction on money to be borrowed from the Tourist Board itself—I decided that the Tourist Board recommendation was the sounder. I thought that when I approved of it.
I have no interest in this matter except to see that the original plan I devised for the development of Tramore should proceed somehow. A large part of that money which was spent on the development of Tramore went on the removal of a number of shacks and half-derelict buildings and eyesores which were impeding access to the Tramore promenade, so much so that one very prominent English journalist once described it as like the backyard of a deserted mining village. The money which was spent on acquiring these properties, on removing these eyesores and opening up access to the promenade was completely lost when the property was never subsequently developed. I am hopeful that this new company which is to be formed——
Mr. Lemass: An announcement has been made by the local directors that they are going to form a new company for the development of these properties. I am hopeful that they will be able to carry through that part of the plan for the development of Tramore which will improve it as a holiday resort and bring it increased business. I cannot see that it is going to do any harm to Tramore to have an energetic company comprised of people like those I have named undertaking its development as a holiday resort. It is not going to do any harm to the business people and certainly not going to do any harm to the workers of Tramore.
Mr. Lemass: The town commissioners are interested in acquiring the Casino as a town hall. The Casino was one of the properties acquired originally and allowed to go derelict, so that it is now in a complete state of disrepair. They have no town hall in Tramore, but I cannot hold out the slightest prospect to the Town Commissioners of Tramore, or any local authority that they can under the Tourist Act, borrow money from An Bord Fáilte to build town halls. The Tourist Act was passed for a different purpose and the funds available to the Tourist Board must be used for that purpose.
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