Thursday, 16 November 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce what action he proposes to take in regard to the report by the Industrial Development Authority to the effect that 2,000 jobs will be lost in industry, causing increased unemployment; and if he will make a statement on his plans to prevent such a situation.
Mr. Lalor: I have recently had discussions with the Industrial Development Authority about the current situation. The authority now propose to increase their publicity and promotional campaign at home and abroad with a view to having a greater number of factories established here both in the immediate future and over the next five years.
Dr. O'Connell: and Mr. Treacy asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will state the details of the report of Atkins Planning Consultants which recommends the closure of six wool textile firms; if he will indicate the firms affected; and the total number of resulting redundancies.
Mr. Lalor: I am not prepared to give the details requested by the Deputy as this would not be in the interests of the industry. Copies of the consultants' report have been made available to management and trade union interests.
Mr. Treacy: Surely the Minister will agree that the recommendations contained in the Atkins Report are of a startling nature with widespread consequences for a large sector of the textile industry? Surely he has an obligation to place these facts before the House? Can the Minister assure us that he is taking into account the  social consequences which will arise from the implementation of this report, if it is adhered to by the Minister? Is he not aware that it will virtually wipe out whole communities dependent on the textile industry? Before implementing it will he satisfy himself that the Atkins Report is relevant to the situation, that it is a factual report and will he have regard to the latest information in respect of many of these mills which indicates their potential viability if assisted by the Minister and the various agencies under his control?
Mr. Lalor: There is nothing extraordinarily startling in the findings of the Atkins Report because it was quite clear for some time, arising from CIO reports, that it was an industry which needed to look into itself with a view to rationalising and modernising itself. Everything possible is being done for this industry. The object of this exercise is to make sure that instead of the redundancies we have we will avoid still greater redundancy issues. I should like to stress that the allegation here is that the Minister for Industry and Commerce is closing mills. Where they close they do so due to the pressure of economic realities because they cannot pay their way. For a considerable time a number of those mills have been operating uneconomically and would have closed down long ago if the Government had not intervened to support them. The big difficulty now is to ensure the viability of the remainder of this industry and to achieve the maximum amount of continued employment within the woollen and worsted industry. No action by the task force which I have created will be taken except with that one end product in mind.
Mr. Treacy: I am asking that the Atkins Report be circulated to Deputies. It contains a stiputation for  the closure of nine textile factories, one of which is in my constituency. Will the Minister have particular regard to safeguarding the future of the Ardfinnan, Clonmel, mill which is the life's blood of the local community especially since re-adaptation has taken place there and that there is new management?
Mr. Enright: Can the Minister state whether the Atkins group have carried out a survey into the textile industry in England and, if so, what recommendations of any such report were implemented? Can he say whether any such report has now proved to be accurate? Will he tell us also the address of the company? Perhaps he would tell us, too, why he engaged an English company to conduct an inquiry into the Irish textile industry when we are competitors with England in the industry? Was it not a great mistake to engage an English company in this occasion?
Mr. Desmond: Is the Minister aware that among those who have received the report were the industrial  organisation branch of his Department, the IDA, the trade unions concerned and the CFU, as also have the Woollen and Worsteds Association? All of these bodies have received this so-called secret report. Therefore, by what stretch of the imagination can the Minister assure the House that it would not be in the best interests of the industry for Members of the Oireachtas to read the report? Is he aware that three of the six companies concerned have been named and that one of them was quoted on today's news bulletin as being in receivership?
Mr. Treacy: Due to the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply I intend, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to raise the matter on the Adjournment so that the Minister will be forced to come in here and debate the report. I want an assurance——
Mr. Donegan: If the Minister considers that the placing of the report in the Library would not be in the interest of the 14 mills concerned, would he consider making it available to individual Members of the Oireachtas who have an interest and a responsibility in this matter?
Mr. Lalor: I will consider that. If an individual firm decide to make a statement arising from the report or from discussions with the consultants, that is their business. Each of the companies concerned have had a copy of the report and have also had discussions with the consultants. The trade unions concerned have had copies of the report and have acted responsibly in connection with it.
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan): In view of the fact that many of these companies which it is now proposed to close have been aided substantially by State finance and since the report on which they are to be closed was commissioned by the Minister and paid for, presumably out of public funds, does the Minister not consider that the taxpayers are entitled to know what is in the report?
Mr. Enright: Why is the Minister not agreeable to publishing the full report which was paid for out of public funds when he is allowing the names of three companies to be quoted? One of these companies, who are in Tipperary, are already in receivership. The receivers are moving in, too, in respect of the Irish Worsted Mills at Portlaoise and I am afraid that the third may come to the same fate. Why is the Minister not prepared to publish the report when he is sounding the deathknell of the three factories?
Mr. Enright: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce the date he received the Atkins report; if he has accepted this report and if he intends to act thereon; and if he will make a full statement on the position regarding the spinning and weaving section of the textile industry.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will make a statement in regard to the closing of a number of mills and the redundancies in the woollen and textile trade in this country; if he will indicate his plans to ease the hardships of the workers who will lose employment; and if in each case additional State-aided employment will be provided.
On 18th September, 1972, I received the report which is concerned with the position of 20 firms engaged in spinning and machine weaving and whose business is for the most part based on the home market. The report confirms that the sector is in a very weak position and that some firms are in imminent danger of closure. Moreover, the report states that if the industry were to continue in its present form there is a grave danger that further firms would be forced out of business, thereby creating far greater redundancies than those now envisaged. It is, accordingly, essential to set about restructuring the industry on the lines envisaged in the report.
To secure restructuring of the industry in a way that would provide employment opportunities at the highest level consistent with viability, I have set up a “task force” to work in conjunction with the consultants and with both sides of industry. As an exceptional measure, in the special circumstances of the industry, and having regard also to representations made to me by both sides of the industry, I have agreed that limited and short-term financial support should be provided where the “task force” consider it appropriate, or necessary, to those firms assessed as not viable and which would otherwise have to close immediately or in the very near future. Such support will be limited to the amount needed in any particular case to maintain activity at not more than its present level and to discharge only those obligations which would arise during the period of support.
The estimated total net redundancies if the consultants proposals were implemented in full would be 1994. It is envisaged that the unavoidable redundancies will occur gradually. I have requested the IDA to take all  possible steps to provide alternative employment opportunities in the areas where closures are seen to be inevitable.
Dr. FitzGerald: Would the Minister not agree that this industry was, in fact, totally studied, first of all, in 1960, in the pilot study and, secondly, by the CIO some years later and that these reports identified problems and included confidential reports to the Minister, not published, on the position of individual firms and that the Minister and the Department had in their possession ten years ago and more the information required for any restructuring which is thought necessary? Would he not further agree that the failure to act on these reports, including the confidential reports, has contributed to the present situation and that firms now in danger could indeed, have been saved if action had been taken in accordance with the recommendations made and would he state why, in fact, no adequate action was taken on the basis of these reports?
Mr. Lalor: None of the questions refers to the reports which may be ten years old. I want to say in this regard that there is no doubt that the reports issuing on this subject over a period and some ten years ago did indicate that the woollen and worsted industry would need to make a close examination of itself and that there have been COIP reports since in this regard along similar lines. This is why it surprises me when I am attacked for using a group like Atkins to examine this proposition and to make recommendations to me, especially in view of the fact that the appointment of those consultants was made with the agreement of both sides of the industry and that they were fully in agreement with the appointment of this group which they looked upon as experts in this field.
Mr. Treacy: Would the Minister be  kind enough to give us some additional information concerning the task force to which he has referred in respect of the personnel involved, their qualifications and their terms of reference and could he please indicate whether the task force referred to have powers to vary the Atkins Report in any manner or are they obliged by the Minister merely to implement in their entirety the Atkins recommendations?
Mr. Lalor: I do not think there is any reason for me to say that it is possible to set up a task force to implement a report that will have the power to vary the report. The report is a report of the situation as found by the experts in the earlier part of this year. Having accepted that report, the task force are examining the situation from the point of view of trying to carry out the restructuring operation, not from the point of view of trying to change the experts' report.
Mr. Enright: Would the Minister confirm whether or not the position is that the task force are a group who provide short-term aid at the moment to companies three of which have been named for closure and that it is only while they are discharging some of the orders on their books that they are being allowed to help them? Will the Minister not also agree that in regard to the closure of particular factories, particularly the worsted mills in Portlaoise, who have orders on their books for £250,000, of which £75,000 worth are for export, and also a company who have assets valued at approximately £300,000—
Mr. Enright: Does the Minister not agree that they would be far better employed in trying to keep open some of the factories which are open and are working properly, whose employees have skills and have been a lifetime  in the industry, instead of having airy-fairy factories coming and going?
Mr. Lalor: The Deputy said last week that he would not get a chance until after Christmas. I am glad he has got a chance this week. I take exception to the suggestion that any industry that goes into Portlaoise is what he described as airy-fairy. They are very welcome in Portlaoise. I hope that nothing that the Deputy said here today will interfere with any industrialist going in there.
Mr. Lalor: The situation is that, as already publicly announced, the task force is headed by a Mr. T.S. O'Neill, the executive director of the IDA. They are all Irishmen. I hope I have not to apologise for that. There is also a representative of the National Manpower Service of the Department of Labour, of AnCO, of Fóir Teoranta and of my Department.
Mr. Desmond: Would the Minister not agree that the pilot study in the early sixties clearly indicated the  problems we are now facing and that the CIO Report in the late sixties, in the consultative procedure of which I personally participated, contained a great many recommendations and suggestions for adaptation and rationalisation and that the COIP Report in the late sixties and 1971 also contained major rationalisation proposals?
Mr. Desmond: Would the Minister not agree now that the recommendations were known to him and to me and to trade unions and employers for the past eight years in respect of these industries and that the respective responsible bodies, the employers, managers and the Department of Industry and Commerce—I would not entirely exonerate the trade unions— did not ensure that those recommendations were fully implemented, thus preventing the quite dreadful situation that we are now facing where 1,000 workers must lose their jobs in this industry, and that it is a lesson to be learned?
Mr. Lalor: I agree with the Deputy that there was slowness in the implementation of the recommendations. The Government endeavoured to do their bit by introducing re-equipment and adaptation grants in order to encourage industry to adapt itself. I and my predecessor exhorted the industry to endeavour to adapt itself on the lines recommended in the report.
Mr. Enright: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce by whom the Atkins report into the spinning and weaving section of the textile industry was commissioned; the cost of the report; the registered headquarters, the principal office and address of the firm which made this report.
Mr. Lalor: The report was commissioned by me with the agreement of both sides of the industry. The estimated  cost of the report is £24,000. This does not include costs that may be incurred in connection with the implementation of its findings. The headquarters and principal office of the consultants is Woodcote Grove, Ashley Road, Epsom, Surrey, England.
Mr. Enright: Would the Minister state if, in fact, this company had held an inquiry into the woollen and textile industry, which report was commissioned by the British Government and if, in fact, this report has been implemented; or can he give us any information on this? Can he say if, in fact, many of the projections they gave to the British Government have since been proved to have been incorrect?
Mr. Lalor: Everything the Deputy said up to the very last statement is correct and, in fact, the observations made in connection with the wool and worsted industry in Britain have proved to be pretty well 100 per cent factual and accurate.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will implement the undertaking given by the Government that they would draw on the finances of the EEC Social Fund in order to compensate for loss in Irish industry such as the textile industry where, as a result of the Atkins report, almost the entire economic activity will disappear in the affected rural areas; the action he proposes taking; and what EEC funds will be available in this regard.
Mr. Lalor: I do not accept all the implications of the Deputy's question. I can say however that recourse will be had to the European Social Fund from the date of our entry to the EEC in any case deemed eligible for assistance from the fund. The possibilities in relation  to the situation in the wool textile industry are being explored.
Dr. O'Donovan: Is the Minister aware of the discussion which took place in the European Parliament and which was reported in today's newspapers that, in fact, there is no European Social Fund in this sense of the term.
Mr. Lalor: I presume that the Deputy's question relates to the position of firms in that sector of the wool textile industry which has recently  been examined by consultants with a view to the formulation of proposals for its restructuring. The industry's difficulties can be attributed to various adverse factors including the following:—
Dr. O'Donovan: Despite this long litany of explanations, is it not the truth that the difficulties of this industry are entirely due to the operation of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement? Is that not the fact?
Dr. O'Donovan: As a matter of fact a man in close contact with the industry said this to me the week before last: he said the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement, of course, brought all this about. Is that not the case?
Mr. Lalor: In relation to the CIO report of 1960-61 that would not be authenticated and the report was much the same. In addition to that, this present problem is being blamed on membership of the EEC.
Dr. O'Donovan: Let me make a remark about the CIO report for a moment. May I ask the Minister is it not a fact that the CIO was set up to examine things analytically, from a theoretical point of view, and is it not a fact that if the tariffs had been preserved—they went by the board under the—Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement—this situation would not  be occurring now because we would have the home market preserved.
Dr. FitzGerald: Would the Minister not agree that the causes of the problem he has mentioned were identified even in the original pilot survey of 1960, in which I myself was involved, and in the CIO report, and that, indeed, the CIO report identified individual firms likely to find themselves in difficulty? Would the Minister now say why, therefore, nothing has been done in the meantime and why he is now telling the IDA to look for alternative industries for these centres when the CIO specifically recommended that centres which were likely to be affected by free trade, and identified as such in the confidential report, should be given special assistance in order to provide an alternative industry 12 years ago? Why was that not done and why are we now finding ourselves in this position?
An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair is doing nothing of the kind. The Chair is trying to help Deputies, those who have questions on the Order Paper, and there are Deputies who have had their questions on the Order Paper for four weeks now and, if these supplementary questions by the Deputy and others continue, they will not be reached until after Christmas.
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