Wednesday, 29 June 1983
Dáil Eireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to reject the application of Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teo., for authority to close Tuam Sugar Factory and further calls on the Government to give a categoric assurance that Tuam Sugar Factory will remain an integral and permanent part of the company's operations.
The committee recognises, however, from the State's point of view, not to say the interests of the workforce as well, that it makes no sense for the company to close a plant until alternative employment opportunities have come on stream. The cost to the State of unemployment in terms of tax receipts forgone and unemployment benefits aid will usually exceed the deficit in the value of what the workforce produce and their wage. Provided this condition is met, it is cheaper for the State to subvent the company to maintain its plant in temporary operation, rather than allowing its workers to go on the dole.
This is a very important statement. I point out to the Minister of State here present that Tuam area has at the moment a very high unemployment rate and we do not want to add, by closing down the Tuam sugar factory, a further thousand families to the unemployment figure of over 2,500 people in the greater Tuam area. In fact, unemployment in County Galway has increased by 96.7 per cent from 1980 to 1983. That is a frightening statistic.
Much play was made in the debate of October 1981, when the Coalition Government of the time gave a year's reprieve to Tuam, of the promise that they were going to get the IDA to provide alternative employment when the Tuam factory would be allowed to close. Even if Tuam gets a new industry, it will not be an alternative to the Tuam sugar factory; rather will it be a badly needed industry to cater for the large number of unemployed in the area. Indeed, the Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, writing an article in the Irish Independent dated Wednesday, 8 June 1983, referred to the IDA also and I quote:
If there is no danger to Tuam in the mind of the Minister, why did he write that article and why does he state that the IDA may have to be called in? Does the Minister have any special information which we do not have? Would he please tell me when replying.
The beet crop for 1982 in the Tuam area was worth £4.5 million. There is no doubt but that if the Tuam factory goes, beet growing in the west of Ireland will cease. The consequences of that will be a reduction in all tillage crops, more imports of animal feed and less money in the farmers' pockets. If the factory closes, the turf-cutting operation of the company will cease. The cost of closure to the Exchequer and the loss of 430 jobs will mean a loss of £2.2 million to the Exchequer in PAYE, PRSI and unemployment benefits. In other words, it would cost twice as much to close down the Tuam sugar factory as to keep it open.
There is no doubt but that the Tuam factory has suffered discrimination. The manager of the factory was removed and of the money invested between 1978 and 1982 — a figure of £46 million — only £750,000 was given to Tuam. I understand — and the Minister might inform me if I am correct — that £19 million is to be spent on the other three factories. I also indicated last night that, of the £30 million advanced by the then Minister, Deputy Lenihan, in October 1982, not one penny was allocated to Tuam.
The operating loss of £1.4 million which has been vetted by the head office of the Sugar Company should be seen very clearly in the context of £22 million lost by CSET last year. We must ask where the other £20 million has been lost. It should be looked at in the context of the total borrowing of the State for this year — a figure of £1.7 billion. Is it any wonder that people in the Tuam area and the west of Ireland say that, if this factory were in the east, its closure would not even be in question? It is in the west and  we have this clear anti-western bias in the Government.
In east Galway two projects are under review at present by the Government. One is the Tuam sugar factory and the other the proposed briquette factory at Derryfadda near Ballyforan which is the subject of a cost-benefit analysis. Is there any other constituency which has two projects currently under review and examination? We are greatly afraid in Galway East that we will suffer the loss of these two projects. I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, and on the other Minister in Galway, Deputy Donnellan, to fight hard against these cutbacks. I call on all the Government Deputies in the west to come together and fight for what we are entitled to in East Galway. Fair play is all that we are looking for.
I am reminded of what the late Seán Lemass said when setting up the sugar factories in 1933, that we should not look at the point of view of the accountant only. I am greatly afraid that the accountants and economists in the Coalition Government are looking at facts and figures all the time. We in our party are very clear as to what we have said and our commitment to Tuam is also clear. It was given in 1981 by our leader, Deputy Haughey, and our spokesman on agriculture, Deputy MacSharry. When we got back to power in 1982 the then Minister for agriculture, Deputy Lenihan, stated very clearly that Tuam was to be an integral part of CSET. He met a deputation from the workers' committee in Tuam, told them what he was doing and said that, if the acreage of beet and the rationalisation programme of the workers were implemented, that would be rewarded. In October 1982 he advanced £30 million to CSET, but I again point out that Tuam was to be an integral part of that rationalisation plan and it would get its allocation of money from the CSET.
I appeal to the Government to look favourably on the Fianna Fáil commitment and honour it by maintaining Tuam sugar factory and the ancillary activities relating to Tuam. I am reminded of what Deputy Connaughton said in the final  paragraph of his article which is headed “Tuam needs a Fighting Chance”:
I am asking him to declare here tonight that he will give that support. There is a placard here under which the workers' committee marched when they had the rally in Tuam in 1981. It states very clearly:
An Ceann Comhairle: By agreement, the next 30 minutes will be allocated as follows: the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, 15 minutes; Deputy McCartin, ten minutes and Deputy Kenny, five minutes. For the following 30 minutes the allocation is: Deputy Noel Treacy, 25 minutes and Deputy Frank Fahey, five minutes.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture (Mr. Connaughton): I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening of contributing to this debate. So far the debate has been conducted in a mild and unemotional way which is what one would expect in the House of Parliament. It is my intention to continue in that vein.
It is worth repeating that the beet industry as a national industry is very important. Therefore, it is imperative that we have an in-depth investigation of what has been happening in the industry in the past four to five years particularly and having regard to the fact that between them, the four sugar factories have sustained losses amounting to £22 million and after £30 million by way of equity capital or, in other words, taxpayers' money, was pumped in by the Government. In such circumstances it is only reasonable to assume that a Government  who have any hope of bringing this country out of the mire would study closely what has been happening. It is against that background that at the time the Government put in the £30 million they stipulated that a comprehensive review and plan would have to be forwarded to them by the company. Such a condition was only reasonable in the circumstances. The subsequent report, in which the board of directors of the Sugar Company took the view that the Tuam factory should be axed, is one of the reasons for this debate here.
As a farmer I understand the importance of the beet crop to every area, including the west. Beet is a very useful crop in terms of cash and is one that is very suitable in terms of crop rotation. If we look at the history of Tuam we must accept that for years the Sugar Company had in mind the closing of that factory. Their approach to the closure was inconspicuous in that they starved the factory of the capital that was needed to modernise it. Irrespective of how the situation is presented, there has been a problem down through the years in respect of Tuam. I agree with the workers' action committee that one of the reasons for Tuam not being cost competitive per ton of sugar is that the machinery was allowed to go to such a stage of disrepair.
From about 1974 on beet acreage in the west decreased. By 1980-81 it was very low, so one could only assume that if the farmers were not interested in growing beet it would be very difficult to sustain the beet industry in the area. However, for a variety of reasons, one of which was the threat of closure facing the factory, the situation changed dramatically in 1981. The workers came together, as did the co-ordinating body made up of ACOT and others, and an all-out effort was made to increase the beet acreage. We have arrived at a situation in which there is an increase in this regard from about 4,500 acres to almost 8,500 acres of beet. In addition, because of last year being a very good year from the point of view of good crops of beet with the resulting increase in income per acre, many farmers who for years had not bothered to grow beet changed their attitude. The  techniques now are better. There is less labour involved and the yields are better. Unfortunately, there was a problem in the spring of this year because of bad weather and this is likely to result in reduced yields compared with last year. However, the point is that there are a large number of farmers in the west who would find it profitable to grow beet. Although my land is not really suitable for beet growing I have grown beet in the past for the Tuam factory and I am doing so again this year. Regardless of what argument there might be for maintaining the Tuam factory, if the local acreage of beet was not increasing the case of maintaining the factory would be much more difficult to sustain.
My interest in the continuation of Tuam as a beet-processing centre is well known. Deputy Kitt read extensively from an article that I wrote some weeks ago for a newspaper. The people working in the other sugar factories as well as those involved in the spin-off industries will agree on the importance of the beet factory to an area and Tuam is no exception. However, in keeping with the situation applying to all other factories, because of the losses incurred by the Sugar Company as a whole it is vitally necessary to look closely at the operation of the entire industry and that is what this Government are doing. I am making a very strong case to the Minister on the basis of the importance of considering the overall objective of this in-depth study. Only a very small amount of the total loss of £22 million is attributable to Tuam.
In certain circumstances the loss-making situation in Tuam can be turned around. This might entail the growing of more beet and also the more efficient use of labour and so on, but I am one of those people who does not believe in white elephants. That is why I say that in certain conditions there is a place for the four beet factories. I am talking of a situation in which the whole sugar industry would be revamped and its loss-making days over.
It is important that I refer to some of what the Minister said last night because it appears that there are some people  here who believe that the Government have decided to close the Tuam factory. Last evening, the Minister said he had an open mind on the matter and that so far as the Government are concerned there is no commitment to close the factory. In so far as the report to which I referred is concerned, the Government have before them a 64-page document that was presented to them by the Sugar Company. It would be remiss of them not to have regard to that document. It was important they should look through this document. This is the first time this has been done to this degree. The future of the farmers who grow beet must be assured. So must the future of the factories involved. The Government are correct in ensuring there will be no hasty decisions. I make no apology to anyone. Because of the implications for the nation it is important that every consideration should be given to the situation and every consideration so far as the Tuam situation is concerned.
The Minister mentioned that the Government would take a very close look at the employment and social implications involved. That is spelling it out. The Minister has gone so far as to say he will visit the factory in the near future and assess the situation on the ground for himself. He will talk to the staff and to the workers and to all the various groups who may wish to talk to him. Obviously they will have very concrete proposals to make. The Minister said full account will be taken of all sensible proposals put forward. That is a reasonable commitment. There is no bias against Tuam. I want to assure the workers of that. In reference to what Deputy Kitt said about my saying I would give every possible support, that is exactly what I am doing. I am doing everything humanly possible to ensure that everyone involved will be treated with equity.
Mr. Connaughton: As I say, everything humanly possible is being done. All the  various factors are being taken into account. I know the depth of feeling that exists because of the natural fear of people losing their jobs. Tuam is not a white elephant, as the media would have it. Sustainable jobs can be provided. This Government have made no commitment and taken no decision to close Tuam. The Government have an open mind. Tuam is part of the Sugar Company.
Mr. McCartin: I think the Minister spoke too soon when he congratulated Opposition speakers on keeping a cool head. In my opinion the subject has not been treated as seriously as it deserves to be treated. People have been moaning about the situation in the west of Ireland and the situation of the workers in Tuam. The west of Ireland should be wept about because of bad Government for a great many years. Too long has the west suffered from a lack of interest by the Government. They never sat down to analyse the problems of the west. They never tried to solve them. That is why there was no restructuring of the land and that is why our children found themselves homes in this city instead of in the west. All that was fed to them was tedious rhetoric. There were no economic plans. No real jobs were provided. Nothing was done which might provide people with an income for themselves and their children.
We are not the slightest bit impressed. No Fianna Fáil Deputy ever crossed the floor to vote for our economic policies for the west of Ireland. Apparently, Fianna Fáil Deputies are under the misapprehension even today that the people of the west will take this tedious rhetoric instead of real jobs and an honest understanding of what their problems are. A sum of £80 million was promised for Arigna. But when Fianna Fáil got back into office they were afraid to meet the workers. Nothing like £80 million was spent on Arigna and I wonder how Deputy O'Keeffe will vote tonight. He says one thing in public and he does something else in private.
Mr. McCartin: With regard to the EEC, as far as sugar is concerned we would have over-production. We consume roughly two-thirds of what we produce; the rest is sold on the world market. If we did not have the safety net of intervention and a guaranteed price we would be selling last year's harvest at £180 a ton instead of £440. An increased acreage is no solution. We must apply ourselves to the real problem and the real problem is our having to run down the factory in Tuam. Deputies who are so concerned about Tuam did nothing to get the Sugar Company to modernise the Tuam plant. Over the years in which they were in office they failed to implement progressive policies in Tuam. No effort was made to make Tuam competitive. No investment was forthcoming to modernise the factory. The workers in Tuam were used as political fodder.
In fairness to the Sugar Company, they have their own problems. While they got £30 million last year, the truth is that if they were a private company they would get 60 per cent grants. They did not get that sort of grant over the years and so we cannot blame them too much. The Minister and the Government are correct to look at loss-makers in the public sector. If I know the Government and their thinking Tuam will not be the first project to be axed in the interests of economy. There are far bigger losses being made on the east and south coasts. Any Government which would sustain the loss-making of Irish Steel, Verolme, NET and so on and would consider closing for the sake of £2 million the Tuam plant would not have their priorities in order.
I believe the Government will decide that Tuam must be revitalised and retor  equipped even if it means some reduction in the workforce and sacrifices on the part of the farmers. The factory could be made more viable than many of the projects Governments have sustained over the past few years. At the end of the day the scare created by Fianna Fáil for political purposes, which will allow them to say that they kept the factory open or blame the Government if it is closed, will be seen for what it is.
This motion should not be before the House. ACP sugar is being processed in England. Since we cannot increase our acreage and sell at the correct price why can we not ask the EEC to give us more ACP sugar? We were getting 22,000 tons. We should get 1.5 million. This would help to make our sugar industry more competitive. We could request FEOGA assistance for the Tuam factory. That might not fall on deaf ears. Anyone who suggests that the Minister is adopting a hard line economic approach to this subject is entirely wrong and dishonest.
Mr. Kenny: The placing of this motion is typical of Fianna Fáil and their efforts to raise matters which should not be raised except at the appropriate time. No decision has been made in relation to this. The Minister has a 65 page report before him. That must be gone through by his officials and the Minister must then present a report to the Cabinet for decision.
This is not the first time the shadow of a political axe has fallen over Tuam. It is not the first time Fianna Fáil have failed to face reality. The Minister said he was prepared to go to Tuam and meet the workers and management and see the position for himself prior to making a report to the Cabinet for a final decision.
As a public representative I do not want to see the west treated as some kind of Indian reservation always looking for handouts from the Government. We have people and representatives prepared to face reality in the eighties. We have people of drive, initiative and motivation who will create success out of failure.
 No books were examined. There were only vague talks with no final conclusions. Recently the Minister for Industry and Energy called in seven State-sponsored bodies and asked for a financial report to be given to him every quarter and for a five year projection. That was long overdue. He should be complimented on doing that.
There has been a dispute about the amount of money which Tuam has lost. Is it £1.4 million or £2.5 million? As a TD from a neighbouring county, constituents have told me that in order to save Tuam they grew beet. These people would normally be involved in the dairy business. They grew the beet out a sense of pride and dedication and because they wanted to see the plant continue. When they arrived at the Tuam plant they were often left waiting for a day or two before their beet was unloaded. They saw trucks arriving from Carlow and other counties and this beet was unloaded before theirs. The management of the factory have a lot to answer for. How can a manager in Carlow effectively manage a factory which is 100 miles away when he is not there to supervise the operation? How can he be sure that farmers who have grown beet in order to keep the factory going are treated properly?
I do not have access to the report before the Government but I assume it contains an economic analysis of what the Sugar Company deemed to be their position. Over the years the Sugar Company have deliberately run down the Tuam plant. The Fianna Fáil spokesmen have continually tried to suggest that Coalition Governments have done nothing for the west. They would do well to remember that the victim of their verbal onslaughts has been the Minister for Health and Social Welfare. To the Swinford complex for mentally handicapped children the Minister has allocated £10.5 million. Work is actively under way. He has given a specific commitment for a new general hospital in my own town.
Mr. Kenny: We heard a lot from the people on the far side about what they would do if they got the opportunity. However, as usual the promised everything and did nothing. They have a global view and never got down to the specifics.
Mr. Kenny: I was in Tuam for the byelection. I congratulate Deputy Treacy on his election. There was a big thing made of the Sugar Factory there. Representatives of the Opposition at the time were disregarded in the area.
Mr. Kenny: It is my Government's decision which will keep Tuam open or not. Deputies opposite should be reasonable. Some of them were Ministers and should know that they had to wait for reports to come before the Cabinet before final decisions could be made.
The Minister for Agriculture is not a liar. He stated categorically last night that he was prepared to examine every option and go through the report of the Sugar Company. He said he was prepared to go to Tuam and that he had an open mind on the matter. As public representatives from the west on this side I hope we will be talking to other Ministers in order to explain the agricultural, social and economic needs to keep the Tuam sugar plant as a viable operation. The Government, knowing the level of support for their policies and the understanding the people have that they will do the job, will——
Mr. F. Fahy: That decision is implicit in their directive to the board of CSET when they told them to carry out their rationalisation plan which includes the closure of Tuam. What we are now witnessing is the report back from CSET to the Government to consider putting money up to keep Tuam open. There is one man who can keep Tuam open and that is Deputy Connaghton. I have a lot of respect for him. He is a good friend of mine but I must put him on the mat on this one because he is the one person who, backed by his colleagues from the west, can convince the Minister for Finance and the other Minister that the Tuam factory must remain open. It is a political decision and therefore I must refer directly to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Deputy Connaughton. The ideas contained in a recent article by the Minister as well as his contribution to this debate are a serious disappointment to anybody concerned about the threat to Tuam. There is no point in enunciating the kind of hypocrisy contained in this article when the Minister who has responsibility for western development is the one person who should stand up and say he will not accept the closure of the Tuam factory. That is the only action which could keep it open. We will congratulate him if he succeeds in keeping the factory open but if he does not we will hang it around his neck for the rest of his days.
Deputy Connaughton wrote in this article that he lives and works in an area most affected by the threatened closure of the Tuam sugar factory and stated that he knows the people and their families who will suffer hardship as a consequence of this closure. If the Minister feels like this, why did he not tell the House that he will not allow the Government to make the decision to close the Tuam  sugar factory? Why did he not in his capacity as Minister with responsibility for western development tell the House that he would resign from this position if the Government proceeded with the decision? How could he continue in that capacity if the decision is taken to close the factory? Once that decision is taken we can throw the concept of western development to the winds.
This is not just the closure of another factory; it is the closure of a way of life. It will signal the beginning of the closure of the tillage industry in Connacht. This is the last strong food processing plant in Connacht. We cannot and will not stand for such a decision.
Mr. F. Fahey: The Minister should state clearly that he will not stand for the closure of the sugar factory. He has not done so, much to the disappointment of farmers in the west. One of the workers' representatives said to the Minister last Monday that it will be very difficult for him to drive around Tuam in his Mercedes after the closure of the factory.
Mr. F. Fahey: The inevitability of the closure of the Tuam factory is upon us. It will close unless the Government take a decision to keep it open. I call on him and his colleagues to make it clear to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance that they will not accept a Government decision which will involve closure and that instead they want the extra £1.4 million necessary to keep the Tuam factory in operation. The Minister of State says that Tuam people will see a breach of faith and a departure from policy lines  recommended by the Oireachtas if the factory is closed by the Sugar Company in the circumstances which now obtain.
Mr. F. Fahey: There is no point in shedding these crocodile tears when Deputy Connaughton is the one man who, in his capacity as Minister of State, can stand up and declare that he will not accept the closure of the Tuam factory.
Mr. N. Treacy: I am delighted to have the opportunity of supporting this motion and I believe it is imperative that this motion should be debated before the recess. When the Sugar Company was founded by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1933 our sugar imports were touching £1.5 million per annum. Against this background and realising the tremendous overall economic effect that beet growing and the processing thereof could have on the life of the nation, Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teoranta were born. Beet would be a cash crop for farmers, create new jobs and indirectly locate new business for a large number of other industries and, finally, make a contribution to our imports problems.
Why was the sugar factory located in Tuam? It was built there because of its central location in the Connacht region but above all because for geographical and historical reasons the west was Ireland's problem region. The factory was set up in Tuam because the west was weak from 90 years of post-famine haemorrhage of its youth. The purpose of setting up the factory was to stem the tide of emigration, to stimulate agricultural growth, to preserve people on the land by bringing into production the maximum amount of land possible and to create an economic base from which the west could develop and expand.
These were sound social reasons and they are as relevant today as 50 years ago. These reasons were recognised by the industrial father of the nation, the late Seán Lemass. In July 1933 when Minister for Industry he stated in the Dáil that in no country in the world is beet an  economic proposition if you regard it from purely an accountancy point of view but there are several other points of view besides those of the accountant. I would ask the Government and the Opposition to consider that statement made when CSET was born 50 years ago. In 1982 over £90 million worth of sugar and over £20 million worth of animal feeds were manufactured which would otherwise have had to be imported. This surely proves that the ambitious pioneers of 1933 were correct in their initial investment of £0.5 million of State equity. The State in return has received many millions by way of company tax, dividends, PAYE, PRSI and VAT. Tuam's contribution has been impeccable and important to the nation.
Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teoranta have been operating in Tuam for the past 50 years and in any assessment of the situation we must analyse the contribution of the workers and the farmers in the catchment areas during those years. Industrious farmers in the Tuam beet catchment area have grown over 0.5 million acres of beet in this time. This is an annual contribution of over 10,000 acres to the sugar industry, despite the fact that farms in the west are smaller and more fragmented than in the rest of the country. The soil conditions are poorer and the climatic conditions are less favourable, our growing season is later and consequently our yield has to be lower in comparison with the rest of the country. Yet during the war years, particularly between 1940 and 1950, Tuam was ahead of the other factories in the amount of beet grown.
That was a period when conditions on the land were similar throughout the country. There was little mechanism on any farm and the horse and the farm family did most of the work. The west made a major contribution to the operation of CSET during that developing period but the executive of CSET failed to recognise that contribution. Their attitude and their actions during the years have clearly shown that there was an anti-Tuam bias in St Stephen's Green House, particularly in the last 15 years.
 At that time CSET decided to close down Tuam and to replace it with an alcohol manufacturing plant in which they would use the local potato raw material. During the reign of Mr. A. J. F. O'Reilly as chief executive, he visited Tuam and called the staff together. On learning from the manager of the Agricultural Services Division, Mr. Foley, that 10,000 acres of beet were available in the Tuam catchment area Mr. O'Reilly flabbergasted the staff when he told Mr. Foley to reduce the acreage to 7,000 immediately. He said that it was then the policy of CSET to accept contracts from the bigger farmers, the bigger suppliers, and that the small western farmers who were growing only one or two acres of beet would not be entertained in future contract arrangements.
Mr. Foley pointed out to the then genial Mr. O'Reilly that it was not possible to do that and Mr. O'Reilly replied that if it was not done immediately he would find himself back home in Donegal. Was not that blatant discrimination against the Tuam factory and the small farmers of the west and the people of Connacht who had supported the factory in the previous number of years? Is it any wonder that the acreage dropped in the intervening years. All the good work done by Church, State and civic leaders promoting the growing of beet was thrown to the winds and destroyed by an arrogant executive in St Stephen's Green. The blatant discrimination against Tuam over the years was acknowledged in a report by the Joint Committee on State-sponsored Bodies, of which the Minister for Agriculture was a member. I will quote from it:
Mr. N. Treacy: There is no doubt that the Minister sat on that committee and that he had first-hand knowledge of the situation. In 1983 there were 10,000 acres of beet available to the Tuam factory but the CSET executives would only allow the catchment area 8,500 acres. Was that again not blatant discrimination and mismanagement of Tuam by the executives? Surely anybody with business acumen or knowledge would realise that if one unit of an enterprise was not going as well as the others it should be put into an economically viable position. but Tuam was discriminated against. We have lost 1,500 acres of beet in 1983 and goodness knows how low the yields will be after the bad spring.
CSET were asked to develop a food processing industry which in the past 20 years swallowed their profits and reserves. No aid was made available until 1982 when Fianna Fáil provided £30 million. The Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, and the Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Lenihan, were responsible. The lack of adequate funding is the primary reason for the losses affecting CSET since 1980 and that is the reason why the future of the Tuam factory is now in doubt.
We can go back to look at the investment in Erin Foods and see the way it was mismanaged. In 1976 Erin Foods bought a new potato grader at a cost of £100,000. When the factory was closed down in 1978 that grader and the flake lines and other equipment in the Tuam factory were sold to Holland and erected there by engineers from CSET. Now Ireland imports potato flakes from Holland and the rest of Europe at a major cost to the State. Yet this Government are trying to tell us that the reason Tuam is in doubt is that the books have to be got right.
In the Erin Foods complex in Tuam there are 15,000 square feet of empty space. The geniuses in CSET wanted to set up an alcohol plant there 15 years ago. Why is it they are not putting it into  the 15,000 square feet space available in the empty Erin Foods plant alongside the sugar factory? Would that not be a proper type of economic investment for the western region? In addition, there are 30,000 square feet of factory space available to the IDA by way of advance factories in Tuam. At a meeting today which the worker's action committee, the Tuam Town Commissioners and the Tuam Chamber of Commerce had with the Tánaiste they were told it was impossible to expect any industry to be put into Tuam. I would remind the Minister again, as a former member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee, that the committee recommended closure in Tuam only after suitable alternative employment would become available. The Tánaiste emphatically told those workers in Tuam today that in the immediate future there is no prospect of alternative employment in the town.
Here tonight we are debating a motion in respect of the closure of a factory which served that area for 50 years. The workers in Tuam, or we as representatives of the area, have not had access to the plan that has been produced by the CSET executives. The plan is now with the Minister for Agriculture, and I understand the Minister of State has seen it. An accompanying letter states that an initial investment of £1 million over three years, between now and 1986, would put Tuam into a viable situation. Surely that is not too much to expect. Would it not be only right to make that subvention available to allay the fears of the workers and the farmers in the Tuam catchment area?
It has been accepted by the CSET executives and the workers' action committee, after consultations between both parties, that the operating loss for Tuam last year was £1.4 million. Most of the sugar manufactured in Tuam, unlike in the other three factories, is packed there. Ninety per cent of the sugar packed in Tuam is worth at least £50 per tonne more than the corresponding amount of sugar in the other three factories. I submit to the Government and to the Minister that a net operating loss for Tuam last year would be the equivalent of £1.4  million less 16,000 tonnes of sugar produced at a reduced figure of £50 per tonne, leaving a net loss of £600,000, something over £½ million for Tuam last year.
I should like to point out some other startling figures to the House. It was stated in the House recently that it costs £425 per prisoner to keep criminals in jail for a week. This is a total of over £21,000 per annum per prisoner. It costs £10,000 on average, and even up to £15,000 in particular regions, to create an industrial job. I submit to the Government that for an investment of £500,000 per annum for the 230 full-time workers and the 300 part-time workers in the Tuam sugar factory, they could keep this factory in production at an investment of £1,000 per worker per annum. Surely it is economic lunacy to close down this factory when that modest investment from the State is needed to ensure its viability.
I ask the Minister and the Government and the executive of Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teoranta to point out the reasons for the closing down of Min Fhéir Teoranta, for the closing down of the Gowla farm in 1980 with the loss of 60 jobs in County Galway, and furthermore the loss of grass meal production to the nation. We also had the closing down of Erin Foods in Tuam. Surely this is a withdrawal from the west by CSET and by the Coalition Government.
The Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, made long-winded statements showing his commitment to the Tuam sugar factory over the past few months. He penned his name to several articles in the Tuam Herald and the Irish Independent. I should like to quote from the Tuam Herald of 30 April where he said the final decision on the future of the Tuam factory would be a political one. Yet my party are being accused of playing politics with the Tuam factory in putting down a motion like this. Our commitment of 50 years is there and is evident for everybody to see. In the Tuam Herald of 14 May in big bold headlines the Minister of State said that CSET bosses are incompetent, and that the management were  not up to the task and were incapable of running the affairs of this semi-State body.
Mr. N. Treacy: The Minister penned his name to an article in the Irish Independent of 6 June 1983 under the headline that Tuam needed a final chance. He terminated that article by saying there can be few cases in the history of the State where workers have contributed so much to ensuring the future of their plant. He said they deserved his support whenever it could be of use and they would get it.
Mr. N. Treacy: He can vote against the motion as he said he would in the Tuam Herald of 14 May 1983. Tonight he is in Dáil Éireann and he can deliver his commitment to these workers who are here to witness the naked truth. He represents them in this House and he can march through the lobby with his colleagues from the western region to show his solidarity with them by supporting this motion. We can make it much easier for the Government. They can withdraw their amendment and pass the Fianna Fáil motion unanimously to ensure the future of the Tuam sugar factory. The choices are theirs. Tonight is the time for positive action to preserve the economic life of Tuam, County Galway, and the west of Ireland.
There are over 10,000 people unemployed in County Galway. In the town of Tuam with a population of 6,000, over 1,600 people are out of work. Over  30,000 people are unemployed west of the Shannon. We are here tonight debating this motion because the Government are prepared to add another 500 people to that growing list. Recently within five miles of Tuam one agricultural firm closed down with the loss of 15 jobs. Ten miles up the road another firm closed down with the loss of 110 jobs. Here we are with the future of Tuam at stake.
It is the practice of CSET to sell all sugar produced at the four factories to a central division, the sugar sales, at head office. An average price is used to credit the various sugar factories for their production. I want to ask the Minister: what bad debts are provided for in the accounts of CSET? How many of these bad debts relate to the Tuam area and to the other factory areas? Are there any provisions for bad debts in respect of companies owned or controlled by directors or former directors, or bad debts incurred by former directors through their trading with the various companies in the CSET group? I am asking for categorical answers to these questions.
Fianna Fáil policy over the past 50 years was the planning, programming, financing and building of the Tuam sugar factory. It was built in record time and 700 people were employed in the building of that factory. The commitment and policy were supported consistently by Fianna Fáil under Deputy MacSharry as Minister for Agriculture and when he was shadow-spokesman on Agriculture. He gave a commitment to keeping Tuam open when it was under threat when the previous Coalition were in Government. On return to Government Deputy Lenihan as Minister for Agriculture provided £30 million of State equity and instructed that specific amounts of money should be spent in Tuam. On the arrival of a second Coalition Government, within two years for the second time the Tuam factory was under threat.
Last month our shadow-spokesman, Deputy Noonan, gave a firm commitment to keeping Tuam open permanently on the return of a Fianna Fáil Government. The Fianna Fáil contribution is permanent, ongoing and visible. We are proud of that contribution and we will  continue our commitment on return to Government. I am appealing tonight for a categorical assurance from the Minister in his winding up speech that the Tuam sugar factory will remain a permanent, ongoing and integral part of the operations of CSET.
Mr. Naughten: Like my colleagues I believe this debate is unnecessary at this time. It is based on the assumption that the Government intend to close the Tuam factory. Yesterday when the Minister was speaking in the House one could not help noticing the look of disappointment on the faces of the Opposition when he said he was examining the proposals and the documentation submitted to him by the Sugar Company, and that he would examine carefully every proposal and do everything possible to examine the situation with which he was presented. I have absolutely no doubt that the Minister will do this. I am delighted to note that the Minister is visiting Tuam where he will see the situation for himself at first hand. It is a very welcome step that the Minister is going to Tuam to examine the situation.
We need all the industrial jobs we can get in the West of Ireland. We cannot afford to lose any. I have listened to Members of the Opposition talking about all the jobs that were lost. One would imagine that only started in the last couple of months. Most of the industries they talked about closed during their term of office and they did nothing about it, including Erin Foods and the grassmeal plant that the last speaker spoke at length about. They were both closed under his Government and his voice was not heard in opposition to that. It shows the sincerity of those people. They have embarked on this campaign to try to stimulate their dwindling support in the west now——
Mr. Naughten: ——that it has dawned on them that they are in opposition for the next four years. I would like to remind the previous speaker that the Joint Oireachtas Committee of which he  spoke at length was a committee which had an overall Fianna Fáil majority under a Fianna Fáil chairman and it also recommended the closure of Tuam. Where was the commitment of Fianna Fáil to Tuam then?
Mr. Naughten: One of the Deputy's colleagues, Deputy Hugh Byrne, has on numerous occasions called for the closure of Tuam. These are the realities of the situation and the Opposition are trying to pretend that this Government are trying to close Tuam. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the last ten years under boards of management which by and large were appointed by Fianna Fáil no money has been put into improving the facilities at Tuam. It has been starved of capital. I would appeal to the Minister to examine the situation and even if it means that some loss making enterprises have to go at Tuam and that there has to be a reduction in staff levels — I am sure that Tuam is no exception and that like many of our other semi-State bodies it is overstaffed and that the output of work per labour unit in many cases is small. The Minister should examine every aspect and see what can be done to cut the losses in Tuam and at the same time retain the factory there.
Mr. MacSharry: What we are asking the Dáil to do is to support the continuation of sugar beet processing in Tuam.  The Government in their amendment ask the Dáil to support their efforts to secure the future of the sugar industry on a viable basis. As a former Minister I see those as a very suitable form of words meaning only one thing and that is that the Government will decide, if they have not already decided, to close the sugar beet processing factory at Tuam. I hope I am wrong but I do not think so. Deputies have said there was no necessity for this motion because the Government had not made any decision. The Government manipulated a situation to force the board into a decision to close the factory and that is an established fact and has not been denied by the Government.
Mr. MacSharry: The Government met at Barretstown last Monday week. They were going to solve all the economic evils of the country in that one day's meeting. The only thing that appeared on the newspaper the next day was: “Government decides to close Tuam factory”.
Mr. MacSharry: That did not appear without some discussion whether in Barrestown or elsewhere. I notice from the Minister's speech last night that he is trying to say he has an open mind, that he has not got a decision made, that the plan is the company's plan. I quote from page 6 of his speech:
It assumes that the company will have a future. It recognises that there is considerable scope for further tightening up of the company's operations. It assumes — and this is the issue underlying the Opposition's motion — that the Tuam factory will be closed after the 1983-84 campaign in January next.
The fact that the Minister puts that into his speech means that that is the decision the Minister and the Government will take or have already taken. I do not base my argument on just what the Minister said last night or throughout this debate.  It is clear from what happened the last time Fine Gael and Labour were in Government when the then Minister for Agriculture Deputy Dukes said clearly that the Government had decided to close Tuam and only deferred that decision for one year to allow the IDA to get alternative employment. That is two years ago but it is clear from all of the statement from the Minister, from the Minister of State responsible for western development, the Deputies backing him up and the former Minister for Agriculture, now Minister for Finance, that there is no commitment within the ranks of Fine Gael and Labour to the Tuam factory.
At a meeting in Tuam last Monday to which all the elected representatives of the area were invited we heard the county development officer state that it is very difficult for the various agencies in these areas to attract new jobs to the western region. That is why the Government must do everything they can to protect the jobs that are there. There is a commercial and a social aspect but there can be conflict between the two. In this case both must be taken into account. Many people from 1934 onwards have talked about the non-viability of Tuam. Almost every report or study of the Sugar Company pointed to the necessity to close the Tuam factory. It cannot be looked at in isolation. It must be looked at in the social as well as in the economic context. Do this Government want the 1,000 families affected to leave their homes and their area and transfer to other parts of Ireland or go abroad? If they transfer to other parts of Ireland will they not put further strain on the existing services in the areas to which they go — housing, education, health, employment and so on? I am not surprised to find in this Dublin-dominated Government an attitude of bias. There is no doubt but that it exists now, and existed the last time the Coalition were in Government, albeit for a short period, and let us hope for a short period this time as well.
I compliment the Labour Party in the Tuam area, small as it is, for arranging to meet the Deputy Prime Minister, who happens to be the Leader of the Labour  Party, to talk about the Tuam factory, but these people through their Fine Gael Deputies and their Minister of State could not meet the Minister for Agriculture. I see that Minister is going down there, and I am delighted because then he will see the necessity for this motion and for a commitment from both Fine Gael and Labour to that sugar factory. We hear a lot about white elephants in the west — there does not appear to be any white elephants anywhere else in the country — let it be the Tuam sugar factory or the Connacht Regional Airport. The total borrowings for this country this year will be in the region of £1,700 million between current and capital——
Mr. MacSharry: No matter what argument there is about figures, the Tuam loss is £1.4 million, and the figure for the Connacht Regional Airport is £2.7 million. Half the money spent on that airport can be secured from EEC sources if this Government go to Brussels to look for it. Do these areas in the west get their fair share of that £1,700 million borrowed, regardless of the other thousands of millions of pounds that are spent? I say no, and definitely not from a Fine Gael and Labour Government. This Government's attitude to the west is well known. I was astonished to hear Deputy Kenny and Deputy McCartin talking about the commitment they got from the Minister for Health to Castlebar hospital.
Mr. MacSharry: Since the change of Government the commitment and finance made available for the hospitals in Castlebar and Sligo has been taken away by the Government. When I hear Deputy McCartin talking about ——
Mr. MacSharry: —— the policies of Government down through the years and asking why the people had to leave this  disadvantaged area, I have to ask him why he did not put pressure on his Government to pursue the decentralisation programme which Fianna Fáil put in operation. We had got tenders and were ready to appoint contractors to transfer 800 people to the Tuam catchment area. What about arterial drainage in Deputy McCartin's constituency. What about Ballyforan? What about school transport? There is a definite bias against the west. I want to say as clearly and as loudly as I can that this attitude to the west has caused serious damage to the initiative, both public and private, in the western region. If the Government continue with these policies the logical conclusion will be that we might as well close down the west.
Mr. MacSharry: Over the years through successive policies pursued by Fianna Fáil Governments we have stabilised the population in the west. Our policies should continue to be geared towards a return of people to these regions and not restarting the exodus which took place over the last 100 years. I remember a few years ago under another Coalition Government when CIE were making substantial losses of £30 million. What was to be done to save that money? It was said that if we closed down the bus services, rail services and other CIE activity in the west that would solve all the problems, just as the closure of the Tuam factory will solve the Sugar Company's problems. What has happened since then? In the absence of those loss-making services in the west, CIE are now losing over £100 million, but not in the west. We also have — and we do not hear it described as a white elephant — £80 million to £100 million being spent on the electrification of the Howth/Dublin railway line. We support that but we also support Tuam and other development projects for the west.
Mr. MacSharry: I have tried to avoid repeating the details surrounding the Tuam factory because there have been many important debates on it in this House, but I must not let this opportunity pass to pay a tribute to, to congratulate and to thank very sincerely the workers and farmers in that region. When the case was being made by the previous Coalition Government to close the Tuam factory we appealed to the people in the area to make whatever efforts they could to ensure the viability of the Tuam factory. That they did, the workers by agreeing to rationalisation and productivity measures and the farmers by growing more beet. The losses projected then are much lower now and can be eliminated with greater effort by all concerned and I know that commitment is there from the work force and the farmers.
The loss for Tuam is £1.4 million and £22 million for the Sugar Company. Let that £1.4 million be taken as £3 million, as the Minister said, but what of the other £17 million? What are the proposals to save that £17 million? Is this money being lost in Carlow, Thurles or Mallow? What projects pursued by the Sugar Company make such losses? Why are there not proposals from the Government or the board to deal with those losses? It has to be the closure of the Tuam factory, the last flagship of the Sugar Company in the west.
Social implications must be taken into account. The Tuam factory and its future, or any other project in the west, should not be made a political issue. It is not my wish to do so, but the policies pursued by this Coalition Government in relation to the west suggest that political decisions are being made by parties who do not command much of the popular support in those regions. Shame on the Government for that.
As I said, this Government's approach has destroyed the initiative of everybody living in the west and caused many problems as far as investment in the area is concerned. Let the continuation of the Tuam factory be an example of this Government's commitment to the development of the west. Nothing less will do. The Minister of State, Deputy Conure  naughton, said he wants the factory to continue. In 1981 he made his maiden speech on a motion in my name in similar circumstances. He is now Minister of State responsible for western development. He will work many a long hour, over many a long week, month and year to secure investment in the west that would be as valuable as the Tuam factory is to that area. That is the reality, whether the Minister likes it or not.
Government is about people. There are 1,000 families dependent on the future of the Tuam factory. If this Coalition Government care about people, particularly people who live in the most disadvantaged area of this country, they should think carefully and seriously before bringing the shutters down on the Tuam factory. Not only will the people of Connacht resent what the Government are doing, but it will be an example to the community at large throughtout the length and breadth of the country of what the Government will do in circumstances such as this with regard to their futures.
 I say to Deputies on the Fine Gael and Labour benches that it is not good enough to say, as the Minister, the Minister of State and their four other Deputies who spoke here tonight said, that they have no commitment to close the factory. That is a very peculiar form of words. It is much easier to say, as this party have said, in and out of Government, that we have, and always will have, a commitment to keep Tuam factory open.
An Ceann Comhairle: Motion in the names of Deputies Michael J. Noonan (Limerick West) and other Fianna Fáil Deputies and amendment No. 1 in the name of the Minister for Agriculture. I am putting the question “That the amendment be made”.
Birmingham, George Martin.
Conlon, John F.
Cooney, Patrick Mark.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Deasy, Martin Austin. McLoughlin, Frank.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Flanagan, Oliver J.
Harte, Patrick D.
McGinley, Dinny. O'Sullivan, Toddy.
Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
Burke, Raphael P.
Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Gallagher, Pat Cope.
|Haughey, Charles J.
Noonan, Michael J.
Wilson, John P.
Question declared carried.
Motion, as amended agreed to.
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