Supplementary Estimates, 1985. - Vote 41: Communications.

Thursday, 23 May 1985

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 358 No. 10

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[1952]Minister for Defence (Mr. Cooney): Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £1,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment in the year ending 31st day of December, 1985, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Communications and of certain other services administered by that Office, for a cost alleviation payment and for payment of certain grants and grants-in-aid.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  The Minister for Defence coming in as Minister for Finance. Chairman of the board.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Where is he?

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  He is sending in more consultants.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications (Mr. Nealon): Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  The purpose of this Supplementary Estimate——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  It is not a point of order I am looking for.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  It is a point of order. We are looking for the Minister for Communications.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Where is he?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Supplementary Estimate was moved by a Minister in accordance with Standing Orders and the Minister of State is now making a speech.

Mr. Cooney: Information on Patrick Mark Cooney  Zoom on Patrick Mark Cooney  The Minister is abroad on the nation's business.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  He did not go by Irish Shipping anyway.

[1953]Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I will have something to say about this later.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): He is at a Council meeting in Brussels.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  This is a serious matter.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Will the Chair please ask the Minister to provide us with a copy of his speech?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Is it direct cause and effect?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Obviously, they did not want to come between the Deputy and the Chair.

The Taoiseach: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  On a point of order, is it in order for Deputies to imply that Ministers are not carrying out their duties when it is, of necessity, known to the Opposition Chief Whip that they are on official duties abroad at a meeting of the EC Council of Ministers?

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  If I may make an equally specious point of order, we do not and cannot object to any Minister being abroad on official business, that is his obligation and his duty——

The Taoiseach: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  Good.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  But surely the business of this House could be ordered in such a way that when Estimates are coming before the House the relevant Minister should be present to take the business? If he has to be away, well and good — not that we think he is doing the country any good wherever he might be.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  This is not in order.

The Taoiseach: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  It is a matter for the Whips.

[1954]Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): This is a very serious matter.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Minister can reply to it during the debate.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): This is a Supplementary Estimate to restore pensions to unfortunate retired personnel of Irish Shipping.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): Do not shout like bulls, just listen.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The Minister should be ashamed of himself.

Mr. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  (Dún Laoghaire): We were asked to take this matter urgently and, thanks to the co-operation of the Opposition Whip, we did so.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  The purpose of this Supplementary Estimate is to restore to certain pensioners of Irish Shipping Ltd. the ex gratia element of their pensions which was formerly paid by the company before the appointment of a liquidator by the High Court.

Pension arrangements for employees of Irish Shipping Ltd. were a matter for the company and the pension arrangements in force at the time of the liquidation of the company were those established by the company. The Department of Communications' understanding of the position is that the company operated three pension schemes — one for senior executives, another for sea-going staff and a third for shore-based staff. Although section 3 of the Irish Shipping Limited (Amendment) Act, 1984, provided that the Minister's approval would be required from then on for any alterations in the then existing pension arrangements, he was not in fact called upon to exercise that power in regard to these pension schemes. So I have to make [1955] clear that the Minister has had no function, statutory or otherwise, in the pension schemes that existed at the time of the liquidation.

The ex gratia portion of the pension, to which I have just referred, was, of course, unfunded and was met out of the company's revenues. It was not paid out of a pension fund and the company were under no obligation to pay it. So far as the Department understands the matter, the ex gratia retirement payments made by the company arose mainly from limitations in the pension fund provisions in regard to adjusting pension amounts to cost of living increases. The company evidently decided to make these ex gratia payments as a way of topping up the pensions in question. In addition, some ex gratia payments were made to retired employees who were not in pension schemes. The level of these ex gratia payments was a matter for the company, and when it went into liquidation the continuation or cessation of them became a matter for the liquidator appointed by the High Court. In view of the nature of these payments, the liquidator could not continue to pay them.

The Minister for Communications, when he spoke on this issue in the course of an Adjournment debate in the Seanad on 6 February last, gave an undertaking that, despite the fact that he had no statutory function in the matter, he would seek some alleviation for those pensioners who had service aboard Irish ships during World War II. In all, there are 23 recipients to be considered, some of whom are widows of deceased pensioners who had such service. It is now the Minister's intention that the ex gratia portion of their pensions will continue to be paid from Exchequer funds as a charge on the Vote for Communications, with retrospective effect to the date on which they ceased to be paid by the company.

I regret very much the circumstances which led to the liquidation of the company and it is an unfortunate consequence that pensioners should be among the innocent victims of the liquidation. When the Government were considering [1956] the restoration of the ex gratia pension element, the possibility of extending this concession to all pensioners of the company was considered. Due to the financial and legal sensitivities involved it has not been found possible to do this, however much we would like to do so. I have great sympathy with the plight of all the pensioners but I feel we have a special obligation to those who braved the danger ridden seas during what we know as the Emergency to enable this country to survive. These are sentiments with which I know you will all agree and it is with confidence that I commend the approval of this Supplementary Estimate to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Before calling on Deputy Wilson, I wish to refer the House to Standing Order No. 124, which reads as follows:

In the discussion of a supplementary Estimate the debate shall be confined to the Items constituting the same, and no discussion may be raised on the original Estimate, save in so far as it may be necessary to explain or illustrate the particular Items under discussion.

I ask Members to bear that in mind.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I should like to say that, in accordance with the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister should have organised this debate for a time when he was here, thus giving it the importance which it should have.

As far as Irish Shipping and the former employees are concerned, the Minister is once more rubbing the sore when he should be bringing the balm. The Minister's words show that he is dealing with 23 former employees of Irish Shipping. That is an indication of the Government's concern for the former employees of a wholly owned State company. It is an indication that the Government, knowing that the people were assessing them in the cavalier way they treated the employees, had to at least make a token award to just 23 out of the total work [1957] force. Deputy Ahern, our spokesman on Labour, will deal in more detail with the actual numbers who were thrown out of employment, some early, by the liquidation of Irish Shipping.

In his speech the Minister said: “When the Government were considering the restoration of the ex gratia pension element, the possibility of extending this concession to all pensioners of the company was considered”. That is precisely what this side of the House are asking the Minister to do — to extend it to all the pensioners of the company. That is precisely what the trade union representatives are asking of the Government and of this House. In discussions with leaders and members of the Federated Workers' Union of Ireland and the Seamen's Union, the Opposition, who have kept in close contact with the workers since the liquidation, have been asked to support those just demands.

This is an illiberal measure, a penny pinching measure. It shows the kind of parsimonious mind the Government have with regard to this company which, as we put on the record of the House, traded successfully, proudly and profitably for 16 years and then, by one stroke of the pen, was abolished, liquidated, leaving all the workers high and dry until today when the Minister came in and asked us to take seriously a measure designed to help 23 out of the total workforce.

“I have great sympathy”, says the Minister, “with the plight of all the pensioners”. Sympathy will not butter any parsnips for those who are not covered by this Bill. That is why Fianna Fáil are taking a very serious view of what the Minister is doing here or what he is not doing for the workers of Irish Shipping. We are putting it to this House that there is an obligation on the Government, on Fine Gael and especially on the Labour supporters, and on Fianna Fáil and The Workers' Party in Opposition, to see to it that all those people who were thrown out of work with very little opportunity of getting any other work, are treated properly by this Government.

If our young people, many of them [1958] unable to get jobs, assess what has happened in this instance, where a fully owned State company, which served the Irish people well since its establishment in the early forties and in particular made a profit for the Irish people for 16 consecutive years prior to being liquidated, hurriedly — I would say ignorantly from talking to the crew — by the Minister and his Government, how can they have any hope that they, as labour units, will be appreciated no matter what effort they put into the development of this country? This is the reward for that kind of service. This is the reward for that kind of commitment which those people gave.

My opinion is that the Government were shamed into doing this by the details of the careers of some of the people who were deprived of payments as a result of the liquidation. The plight of Captain Kelly, 80 years of age, got great publicity. The money he was getting was reduced from £212.67 to £29 per month as a result of the liquidation. I do not suppose it caused the Minister any worry when he was liquidating that this kind of thing was happening. Perhaps the Minister of State in his reply would tell us if the back money will be paid to Captain J.P. Kelly who served this country and who when he was interviewed with the generosity that must have belonged to those workers, said he was bad enough but what about the captains and masters, younger men whose careers were blighted by this deliberate act of Government. He, among others, said we need a deep water fleet not merely to serve the needs of the nation in peace and in war but to provide career opportunities for the like of him and the other people who are now being deprived of any moneys from the Government in accordance with their expectations. I will list those expectations later. He said with contempt, this old man, this practical patriot whose ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic during the war, that it was a disgrace that an island country is now set to have coasters and cross-channel ferries and no other shipping fleet. He must have thought wryly of 15 [1959] May 1942, the day when his ship the Irish Oak was torpedoed in the Atlantic.

Commodore Caird was also interviewed at the time of the liquidation and he indicated that his pension from Irish Shipping was gone. He retired later and he has some pension, but I would like the Minister to tell me whether people like him will have restored to them what Irish Shipping Limited were paying.

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  It is in the opening statement.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  We can come back on that. The opening statement was a general statement and I ask the Minister to expatiate a little on it in his reply.

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  It deals with a retrospective element.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Retrospective to what? Does it cover, for example, Commodore Caird?

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  Yes, it covers everyone to the period decided on.

Mr. D. Gallagher: Information on Denis Gallagher  Zoom on Denis Gallagher  It says “certain pensioners”.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The Minister will have a chance to reply. He can get his researchers going in the meantime. We have received a report that the workers who are, as far as I know, now in Hong Kong on the Irish Rowan are being put on planes and sent home. What are their pension rights? How is the Minister catering for them? Apart from the fact that their ship was sold from under them for $2½ million when its replacement value is $15 million, what about the workers themselves? What about the crew?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  You could drift into the whole business of——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  With Irish Shipping sailors on board, we will not drift unless the Government cause the drift.

[1960]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Chair will try to keep the House on a straight and narrow course.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  It will be argued that the liquidator did well for these men — somebody may be foolish enough to argue that — in that he got for his liquidated fund $2½ million, when the Hong Kong people grabbed the ship from under the sailors, those sailors who are not being and have not been treated properly by this Government. The anger of the deputations which I have met should be felt in this House. They were foolish enough to believe that they and their services were appreciated. If we do praise Mr. Tempany for having saved some money for his liquidated fund, we must blame the original decision for putting those people in that position. Why did someone not wait until the three ships —the Cedar, the Spruce and the Rowan were at home? We had a place for them in Cork, Limerick and Dublin.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  That was not possible.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  It was possible. It is not possible now, but it was possible before the liquidation.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  That is not a factual observation.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Deputy Wilson, please.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  People who know more about those things than Deputy Skelly told me that that should be done.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Regardless of Deputy Skelly or anybody else——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  They knew the ships, not like Rear Admiral Skelly from Dublin West, who did not.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Did not what?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Would the Deputies let the Chair have a word? The Chair does not propose to permit a general discussion on the liquidation of Irish [1961] Shipping Limited — the reason for it, the wisdom or the foolishness of it, or anything like that. That would not be in order.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I accept that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I will have to confine the debate to pensions and anything that can reasonably be related.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Of course, I accept your ruling entirely.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  It is not my ruling. It is there in black and white in Standing Orders.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I accept your indication to the House on what the position is. I have no intention of challenging the Chair's ruling. I just want to say that there are rules covering Supplementary Estimates. I know that, having been caught on that on an occasion or two. I do not intend to deal with any aspect of this other than that which relates to the workers and their pensions. I am sure the Chair will accept that I am entitled to do that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  What I have said to Deputy Wilson applies equally to all Deputies.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I know that. I have the greatest belief in the Chair's impartiality.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I have been getting indications that other Deputies might be thinking of a general discussion and I just want to sound a warning note.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The cold, clinical judgment of the Chair is appreciated — by me, anyway. I would refer the House to the Labour Party motion on the matter of pensions passed at the Labour Party Conference in Cork. The unions concerned, as I have mentioned, are the Federated Workers' Union of Ireland and the Seamen's Union. I think the House should hear exactly what the [1962] motion said. Mr. Terry Clare of the Seamen's Union of Ireland——

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Wexford.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  He served on the Irish Spruce— I presume that is the Irish Spruce No. 1 — during the Second World War. During a discussion on the collapse of Irish Shipping he said that the company had been established to give jobs to Irish seamen, that it had never been intended that they would be involved in the charter business or have to take huge risks. He was speaking to a motion from the Federated Workers' Union of Ireland which demanded the reconstitution of a State-owned shipping company, the restoration of all pensions and adequate compensation for those who lost jobs.

The motion also urged the Parliamentary Labour Party, including Labour Ministers, to take all necessary steps to ensure that this policy be implemented. I have the greatest pleasure in this House in joining with Mr. Terry Clare in urging the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour Ministers to see to it that the pensions of all those who were employed by Irish Shipping should be adequately catered for by the Government, by the Government parties and by this House as a whole.

As I mentioned, I had a meeting with the workers concerned about pensions and who must look at what the Minister has brought into this House, sympathy and all, with very angry eyes. According to my notes of the meeting on Saturday, 25 April, they want to see, of course, a State-owned deep sea company established again. That is a minimum desire, and again I would call the attention of the House to the kind of spirit that motivated those people. Secondly, they seek restoration of pensions and pension expectation. This Estimate before the House is not adequate for that purpose. It is for that reason that we are opposing it. I want to make that quite clear to the House. We are opposing it in the hope that the Minister, his Department, and ultimately the Government, will improve it [1963] to the extent that it meets somewhat the demands of the workers.

They emphasised also the comparatively shabby treatment which the workers got with regard to redundancy money. They are making a demand for six weeks' pay for each year of service and that is what I thought might be included in the Supplementary Estimate before the House — provision in púnts for that kind of deal for those who have been superannuated by the liquidation of the company. What is being offered now to these people? There might be some argument, in the normal course of events, for the statutory payment. An argument might be sustained that in harsh times the statutory payment was adequate but the House should take note of the particular plight of these people. There is no place for them to go. A paltry few have been able to get jobs. The British Merchant Navy, which is considerably weakened, has no vacancies or openings. I think Deputy B. Ahern will give some statistics on that and will indicate to the House how unsuccessful sailors and officers have been in their quest for jobs. A half week's pay per year of employment is what the Government are offering and one week for people over 41 years. This is the offer made by the Government who cut their throats. Because of the summary way in which the company was liquidated, because of the tuatach way this was done, there is an obligation on the Government to do better by their own employees.

They have also indicated to me that they are owed two weeks ordinary pay for the first two weeks in November of last year. That is a scandalous situation. It is a disgrace. The workers had not been paid at the time of my most recent meeting with them and I do not know if anything has been done since. I should like the Minister to tell me why people who have earned two weeks pay have not been paid it. We hear nowadays a lot of talk about industrial relations, of high demands from workers and so on. There was never an industrial dispute in Irish Shipping — another reason why the [1964] workers deserve the confidence and support of this House. They do not want our sympathy because that is not worth a damn to them.

They mentioned also the shore staff whose pensions and expectations have been cut off. In particular, they mentioned telephonists. A rather delicate matter but one that they mentioned to me was that an executive was treated in a certain way — the man in question is since dead, go ndéanfaidh Dia trocaire air. They regard that as a reasonable headline of how staff down the line should be treated. I want to put that on the record of the House. It is not an unnatural expectation.

During the years there has been no industrial dispute in Irish Shipping. There was what we talk about a lot nowadays, namely, a community spirit among the workers, a kind of freemasonry with the small “f” and there was a not inconsiderable amount of wisdom. The workers probably knew better than their management of the dangers, if we read their submissions. These are the workers we are dealing with today. The Minister is pretending to deal with their pensions, emoluments, redundancy payments and so on in this measly little offering that is being made to a very insignificant percentage of workers in Irish Shipping.

Before the liquidation the workers mentioned that there were management problems. They said:

In the main we feel there is a bunching of the managerial functions into the hands of a small number of people. It is true to state that very important and far-reaching decisions are being taken by two or three people with little, if any, reference down the line.

There is a wisdom in that statement that deserves the attention of this House. It came from people whose case we are pleading today in this House. They have said that it is hard for members of their union, who have contributed so much in the period of their employment with Irish Shipping, to see the company spiral downwards. That was said before the [1965] liquidation. On the basis of the seriousness with which they did their work and reflected on the operations of their company, they deserve extra special treatment from this House.

The workers whom I met are not really interested in being pensioned off. What they are really interested in is employment. What they are really interested in is an Irish deep sea shipping company that will employ them. Then they can do without cries to an unheeding Government for help by way of pension or redundancy. They want a State owned company. I would settle for a semi-State company — half and half, private if Irish, Irish crew, Irish flag and Irish registered.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  We are getting away from the Bill.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I am dealing with the workers' desires and that is what the Bill is about.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  It would give great scope for a general debate if we could say what we would settle for in the line of a shipping company and what kind of company that would be. I am sure the Deputy will agree that would be getting away from the spirit of Standing Order 124.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The view of this side of the House on this measly, paltry, beggarly little Bill would change considerably if we were convinced the Government had any intention of setting up a company that would employ these people again. We might not be pushed to the vote next Wednesday.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  That is what the Chair refers to as a passing reference and that is in order. However, it is not in order to go into details such as the articles of association and memoranda of association.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I appreciate that the Chair is being even-handed. The workers themselves have done a considerable amount [1966] of work on the formation of a co-operative. These are the workers we are dealing with. I should like the Minister of State to tell us in his reply if he, his Minister or the Department have addressed themselves to that matter. The workers are worried also about Irish Continental Lines, about Belfast Ferries and their future as well.

In the course of his remarks the Minister had this to say:

The company evidently decided to make these ex gratia payments as a way of topping up the pensions in question. In addition, some ex gratia payments were made to retired employees who were not in pension schemes.

From those two sentences the House can catch something of the spirit of the management of Irish Shipping vis-à-vis their workers. I do not think the word “liberal” would be too strong a word and do not forget that I am talking in the context of a company that was making profits. But by no stretch of the imagination could the word “liberal” be applied to what the Minister has put before the House in his remarks on this Supplementary Estimate.

I am also worried about this whole business of the liquidator. It is a common way of saying someone hides behind one skirt or another. But replies from the Government side since the liquidation have tended to hide behind the skirts of the liquidator and say: I cannot do anything about that; it is within the liquidator's competence; I cannot answer that question. The amount of effort, thought and hard work put into that company by the Irish people has been so great that the niceties of company law should not be allowed to come between the people and information about this company. There are some proposals about company law — Deputy Gay Mitchell raised a question about it this morning — but this House and the people are entitled to know what is the situation with regard to the whole range of activities covering, of course, workers' interests, pension rights etc. There should be some mechanism [1967] whereby we can get that information from the Minister in this House who, a very short time before the liquidation, got the permission and support of this House to raise the amount of money that Irish Shipping could borrow.

In replying I should like the Minister to indicate whether he is willing to consider an expansion of the provisions mentioned in the course of his remarks this morning. I should like him to take the opportunity to put some heart into the people who are unemployed and waiting for some kind of a gesture, not a very expensive one in a national context, on the part of the Minister in their regard. I should like the Minister to also put some heart in those who have ambitions to serve in a deep sea fleet and to indicate what the Government think about a continuation of the educational services for seamen.

I want to reiterate what I said about this side of the House. One of the men whose transport philosophy we on this side of the House follow, namely, Seán Lemass, founded the company for a specific purpose. He found, in various dealings with regard to supplies during the war, that gentlemen's agreements that he had with merchants and seamen in London etc. were not adhered to and he cryptically and characteristically said: you can only make gentlemen's agreements with gentlemen. He was convinced, as I am sure a majority in this House is convinced, that we need our own deep sea fleet. We are dealing with the servants of a deep sea fleet, those who served it faithfully and well — I do not want to dramatise it — in dangers and hazards from war and all kinds of perils at sea.

A generous gesture on the part of the Government would give hope in the future. If the Minister and the Government are not prepared to expand what is in this Supplementary Estimate — which as I said is a measly, beggarly and mean little piece of a Supplementary Estimate and not worthy of the people for whom it is designed — then we shall have to vote against it, hoping that we will defeat [1968] the Government, possibly with the aid of the members of the Labour Party who passed a resolution along the lines I have been talking about at their conference in Cork. Then we shall have another chance of putting together a decent package to show the appreciation of this House, this House being a representative House of the country and of those people who served Irish Shipping so well.

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  I shall be brief, being restricted by the Standing Order mentioned. Early in December last I was asked to call to see a constituent who was a captain with Irish Shipping and who, due to the liquidation, had lost his ship and his position. Before going to see him I found it difficult to know what to say. Having spoken to him for a short while I realised he was not going to talk about his own situation but rather that of his colleagues who are covered by this Estimate. It was then I understood that Irish Shipping had been making ex gratia payments to former employees who were not covered by the pension fund and also, in some cases where pensions were small, Irish Shipping had topped them up. The first thing the liquidator did when he took over was to stop those payments because I understand he felt he was not entitled to continue making them. That gentleman was deeply concerned about his colleagues, mentioning Captain Kelly and others who had risked their lives on the high seas during the war to serve our country well and who now found themselves without any pensions. I promised I would bring the matter to the attention of the Government and I did so personally to the Taoiseach. I was informed at that time that the Government had considered the matter on numerous occasions at Cabinet in order to find some mechanism to pay pensions to the people covered in this Estimate. I want to refute the suggestion made by Deputy Wilson here this morning that it was only when the publicity about this broke in the papers that the Government acted. That is not true. The Government were always trying to find some system and I am glad that they have come up with this here [1969] today. The Minister might inform the House more fully of the legal problems the Government faced in this instance and how they were overcome.

Many people have suffered as a result of this liquidation. But those who suffer most of all are those who will be left with nothing, people who served their country well. They are covered by this Estimate and for that reason I welcome it.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  My colleague, Deputy Wilson, has gone through a number of the aspects of this Estimate. He has outlined in great detail how we feel. As this is the first attempt we have got to debate Irish Shipping for several months it is a pity we cannot go into more detail. The Chair has outlined the restrictions on the debate, that we cannot go into the whole history of it. We have continually argued that the staff of Irish Shipping who have lost their jobs and the pensioners have been treated in an extraordinary fashion. The Kernel of the matter is that the staff were State employees. They had their jobs in a semi-State body. They had to contend with the various restrictions applicable to a semi-State body. They were bound by the pay regulations and the various conditions which apply to all semi-State bodies. They were under the direction of the Minister.

It was only a few people on the board who were not appointed by the staff, who made decisions, which in hindsight were bad mistakes, but I am sure were not regarded in that respect when they were made. The argument we have continually put forward, which unfortunately has been rejected by the Government, is that Irish Shipping is just not any company in liquidation. It is a State company. Over the 40 years many of the staff were employed by Irish Shipping they understood they were State staff. They understood that while the company made profits they had the security of tenure of any State employee. I am sure the people in the Department of Communications who dealt with this matter probably thought that too but the attitude of the Government was that they should teach some semi-State company a lesson. They [1970] decided they would pick out one to try to put the fear of God into others. Irish Shipping was picked.

This side of the House have never denied that because of the various chartering arrangements and the debts that it was not a major problem but we argued that liquidation was not the only way of solving it. We are still at a loss and the staff are also at a loss as to why the Minister did not try to renegotiate the contract, why he did not make an effort——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Deputy is getting away from the main aspect of this Supplementary Estimate which refers to pensioners purely and simply. I must continue the policy of the Ceann Comhairle.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I have been here since the start of the debate and there has been a lot of detailed discussion on the aspects I am referring to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  We are dealing with ex gratia payments to pensioners.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Why were those comments allowed over the last hour?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I was not here for the last hour.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The Ceann Comhairle allowed those comments.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I am in the Chair for the moment and I would be grateful for the Deputy's co-operation.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I will certainly give the Chair my co-operation.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Could it be arranged that when an official of the House is advising the Chair that it would be done soto voce.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Chair is well aware of his responsibilities.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I understand that.

[1971]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Deputy Ahern to continue.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  The point I am making is a relevant one. Irish Shipping employees always considered themselves to be State employees. They felt that because they were under various restrictions in relation to pay, conditions and service which apply to State employees — this was quoted in memo after memo — they should be treated like State employees. That has not been done. Their pleas for compensation and their arguments put forward have been neglected by the Government. I know this Supplementary Estimate benefits a few people in a small way and I welcome that. The situation is not so good when one examines the details of all those people who were on pension and sees the reductions made to their pensions. One captain was receiving a pension of £268 and he is cut back to £40. There are huge reductions right down through the list. A Mr. Doyle was receiving £13.81 and he is reduced to £9. It is as if somebody worked out on a calculator that the percentage cut right across the board would be so much. The employees who only had a few pounds a week were cut in the same way. I do not believe anybody can stand over that.

We will continue to fight for those people who have been treated so harshly by the Government. Deputy Wilson has gone into the history of some of those people who have served the State for years through difficult times and through times when Irish Shipping made great profits. At the end of the day their miserly pensions are even reduced. People, such as captains, receiving a pension of £300 a month, had their pensions cut by over £100. We cannot stand over those cuts. Those people paid their contributions all during their working life. The Minister of State in the House, who is standing in for the Minister in charge of Irish Shipping, did not say what it would cost to restore their pre-liquidation benefits to the staff. Surely the Government have calculated that. Was it not hard enough to throw out 240 employees and to leave people [1972] blocked in ports across the world? Was that not a very harsh Government decision? Many of those people were in their fifties and have expertise in one area only. There is not another Irish company to take up their expertise which is now lost. It is a dreadful decision to cast those people aside and also to see Irish Shipping pensioners having their pensions drastically cut.

Since I took over as spokesman for Labour I have seen firms in this city going into liquidation and the new employers have continued to give almost full pension rights to the workers. If that can happen in recession when the economy is on a downward trend, if private companies who have no responsibility and no legal commitment to pay employees after a takeover can have the interest of X employees at heart, surely, when the State is liquidating one of its companies, it could restore in full the pension payments of its workers?

The Minister of State in the House was not involved in the various discussions. The Minister obviously would prefer not to come into this debate although he ordered the time for it and we agreed to it last week, so there is no question of it being rushed through and people not knowing about it. The reason the Minister is not here is that he has met some of those people, he has read their case histories, all the documents are in the Department and I am sure his advisers have told him to go to the Cabinet table and argue for the few million pounds to give those pensioners their rights. No effort has been made by the Minister. Irish Shipping are in liquidation and those pensioners have had their pensions drastically reduced. The attitude of the Minister is hard and uncaring and once he gets away with that he marches down to the Port and Docks, the B & I and everywhere else and tramples on them also. He will threaten to do what he did with Irish Shipping.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  The Minister is on the country's business in Europe. The Deputy has said he does not care.

[1973]Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  We did not pick today as the date for the debate. I would have been quite happy, and I am sure Deputy Wilson would have, to wait until next week to debate the Supplementary Estimate. Why is it that the Minister picked the time when he would not be here and asked Minister Nealon to listen to the debate? It is the Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I will answer that when I get my opportunity.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Last November or December was the first time the Minister mentioned he might bring in a Supplementary Estimate. It is not the fault of Fianna Fáil that it has taken him four months to deal with the matter. It is certainly not our fault that the Minister chose 10.30 on the morning that did not suit him. Had he asked us yesterday I am sure we would have agreed to cancel the debate until next week. The Deputy's argument does not hold up at all.

At a later date we hope to be able to go into the various aspects of why we need a shipping company and why, as Deputy Wilson said, it must be streamlined into a realistic concern that will not be a lossmaker and will serve the purpose of the State. In the meantime we ask the Minister of State to explain to the Minister for Communications the plight of those who have been left without jobs. Last week, with Deputy Wilson, I attended a meeting of a representative group of the staff, members of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland, to discuss the matter. Some staff picked up jobs in Europe with the various carrier companies that were involved with Irish Shipping but they are only a handful of the 240 people involved. Those people got jobs because they are specialised in a specific area. Others run the risk of losing their expertise. Deputy Wilson has already announced that Fianna Fáil will set up an Irish shipping company because it is needed. Some Government backbenchers accused us of making commitments to pick up debts amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds. That is not the point.

[1974]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  That does not arise under the Supplementary Estimate. It is a matter for another debate.

Mr. B. Ahern: Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  I should like to tell those who make that point that it is a lot of nonsense and it does not carry any weight with anybody. We are giving an assurance to set up something that is necessary. I note that any time I attempt to raise certain issues the Chair gets excited; but we will make another attempt to put forward a proposal that most Members, with the exception of the Minister and some of his colleagues, will support because they hold the view that it was a mistake by the Government to liquidate a semi-State body. If that mistake cannot be rectified by the Government they should at least deal with the hardship experienced by the staff and ex-pensioners of the company. Those pensioners served the company and the country well. They served during the war years to bring much needed supplies to the country. They worked extremely hard to make one of the dreams of Seán Lemass come true and made it a profitable and viable company. For years Irish Shipping was a profitable concern and then the Government decided that they would not liaise with Chinese and Japanese and folded up the company. Surely one does not fold up the pensioners? Surely one does not cut back pensions from £50 per week to £20 per week? Those people do not have anybody to argue for them.

If Mr. Tempany and his staff feel they must cut a few pounds off the pensions, surely the Minister for Social Welfare, who has a budget of more than a billion pounds, or the Minister for Health who has a similar budget, can find a few hundred thousand pounds to restore those pensions. That is all we are asking. If the Minister has a good answer about why the Government cannot do that, we will listen to him. But I am aware from information I have — Deputy Wilson and I have kept in touch with the staff, who are still united — that a gap of six months will not stop or break them, as the Minister thought. They are still hopeful that the type of company they served down the [1975] years will again get off the ground. However, they are very concerned about their colleagues who are in ill-health, advanced in years or in bad circumstances and who have suffered a reduction in their miserly pensions. The Minister should give us an assurance that this matter will be looked at again and that the small amount of money required will be forthcoming. Will the Minister tell the House what it will cost to restore in full the pensions to those who retired from Irish Shipping to the rate prior to liquidation? It is vital that we are given that figure. It must be possible to find that amount of money from the billions of pounds spent in the public sector annually.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I am glad we have had an opportunity, even if it is limited, to comment on the plight of employees of Irish Shipping as a result of the liquidation, although the debate relates to an Estimate that has to do with pensions. The Estimate enables retirement payments to be resumed and provides a subhead under which the pensions can be restored. From the Minister's statement I gather that the company is not due to make this payment. The reason the Minister has to make it is because there was insufficient provision against inflation. As the company is not obliged to pay, the payments were made from the company's revenue, not from the pension fund, and a special category of Irish seamen who served in ships during World War II has been established so that pensions can be paid to them or their widows. The Minister has said that because they are regarded as a special category the State should undertake to pay them. He said that it was considered paying all those who were due pensions at that time and were in receipt of pensions. However, as the Minister said, because of legal and financial sensitivities it was not possible to do that. He made a case that there was a moral obligation on the State to pick up the tab here and that it was both the prudent and compassionate thing to do. He said there was a national obligation to pay them.

[1976] They are the clearly and distinguishable categories and the positive thing to say is that this is the right thing to do. There is a parallel also for the Irish seamen who were injured during World War II when bringing in supplies to the country. The payments will be backdated to November 1984, when payment ceased, to the end of this year. It may be possible to make arrangements other than an ex gratia payment by the State and through other means in the private sector to look after such matters in the future. However, the Minister's speech also makes a wider case for the other victims in Irish Shipping. I was disappointed with the approach of Deputy Wilson, his emotional appeal and negative approach of condemning everybody.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Except the workers.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  What we are looking for is a way out. We are looking for a solution that will help the people. We are not looking to gain cheap political points by attacking the Government or the Minister, as Deputy Wilson has done.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Without apology — for a man that liquidated the company. I would do it again.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I am sure it was not meant but Deputy Wilson said that if Deputy Haughey were in power he would not have let this happen. We know that that is true because he would not let anything happen; he would keep paying out all the time.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  This is more than horse dealing.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Will Deputy Skelly stay with the Supplementary Estimate please?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Deputy Wilson kept making cheap points. He said that he did not suppose it caused any worry to the Minister. That is a scurrilous remark [1977] made about the Minister, because the Minister is as deeply concerned about what has happened to Irish Shipping as anyone else; and, if there is a way out, he will find it and try to compensate those people for what has happened. Because of our backgrounds neither the Minister nor I could be insensitive to what has happened. The Minister understands hardship and the plight of the employees. We sit down in a business like manner and try to find a solution. We do not come in here and waste an hour by slandering the Government and the Minister in the House for not picking up a tab of perhaps £200 million. If they were in Government they would have done the same thing. Deputy Spring has outlined to the House where the Opposition have already promised to pick up the tabs for £800 million.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Deputy is moving away from the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I am talking about the Supplementary Estimate. If Fianna Fáil return to office they will bring down another half dozen companies elsewhere.

Let us approach this calmly. Deputy Wilson said that the deputation had demonstrated terrible anger. That is not true because in the time that I have been here I have never met a more responsible, reasoned, calm and decent deputation than the deputation from Irish Shipping.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  That is true.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  If anything the Irish Shipping employees were taken advantage of because of their patience and endurance. It may have something to do with their association with the sea. I have found the same qualities in all fishermen, and I am a fisherman too. They are looking for a solution and have offered us every help to reach a decision. I have not taken advantage of their patience. I have pressed very hard to have this matter attended to. Admittedly at the beginning we were cut off by the liquidator, the legalities surrounding the liquidation and [1978] by the fact that the Minister could not interfere with the liquidation. The possibilities of finding a way around the legalities are being examined. It is usually the Deputies on this side of the House who provide both the Government and the Opposition for most of the Bills introduced here. For instance yesterday there was not even one Fianna Fáil Deputy here while we were discussing the Valuation Bill. The force has come from this side of the House to get a solution to this problem.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  On a point of order.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  What we have seen this morning is cheap political digging across the House to impress the people——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I spoke on the Valuation Bill.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  That was on Tuesday.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I have not heard one positive proposition from either of the two main Opposition speakers yet.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The Deputy is unable to recognise a positive thing when he hears it.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I just say that to disabuse anybody whom the Deputy thinks he is fooling with the kind of diatribe that we hear almost daily from the far side of the House — the knocking party who have very little to say.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Will the Deputy please stay with the Supplementary Estimate?

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I used to give that title to The Workers Party but it can now be applied to Fianna Fáil, who have nothing positive to offer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I do not want to knock the Deputy. Will he stay with the Supplementary Estimate, please?

[1979]Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  They claim they have positive contributions to make but they do not demonstrate it whenever I am here.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  We obey the Chair at least.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Will the Deputy stay with the Supplementary?

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  The Opposition have not adopted a responsible approach and, having heard their contributions this morning, I see nothing that would help towards a solution.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  The solution is liquidation. It is simple.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  The Deputy is confused. We are not talking about the liquidation of Irish Shipping about which the Deputy keeps talking; we are talking about the redundancy payments and pensions for the employees.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Will the Deputy stay with that please?

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  The people concerned would be quite happy if that problem were addressed and they could get their just entitlements. At the beginning of this saga, when there was a possibility that the Government would have to pick up the tab, the cost of keeping the company in business was put at £144 million. A lot of things have happened since then to convince me and others that that no longer applies because of what has happened in the High Court and because of the charter contracts. A worry was expressed to me by the Department and the Minister that, if they paid Irish Shipping employees redundancy payments or pensions, they might have to pick up the tab for the rest. That line of argument may now be dispensed with. There is a document in the Minister's Department which was presented by myself and other Deputies on this side of the House which addressed a lot of the problems and asked for a solution. We have not had a reply [1980] yet, but I know it is being considered and I am anxious to get a reply.

The objective is to give redundancy payments to employees whether or not a new shipping company starts up or the people get other jobs. Hardship has been caused by only paying statutory redundancy payments. Redundancy money is a pension, it is a lump sum one gets on early retirement. It is possible to address this problem during this Estimate for that reason. If the huge sums mentioned at the beginning of the saga are now not due, then the only problem to solve is the redundancy payments. The employees have only been offered statutory redundancy, which is very small. It is possible to make an ex gratia payment to those employees. In relation to the World War, while it grabs the imagination, the logic of the thing is that if they are entitled to it, so are the other employees.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I knew the Deputy had a heart of gold. Hear, hear.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  If they make an ex gratia payment to these employees——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Kelly: Information on John M. Kelly  Zoom on John M. Kelly  Surely the Deputy can make a speech without that bodhrán over there interrupting.

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Deputy, please.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Surely we can make an ex gratia payment——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  He is saying what I said, Deputy Kelly.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I did not use the Greek version. The same amount could be made payable. If they were given the same amount as the Verolme Dock workers received and workers in other companies received, it would be something of the order of six weeks pay. It is possible to [1981] quantify it and the maximum figure would be £5 million or £6 million.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Now the Deputy is in my corner.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  There are other arguments to back that up. Upon the liquidation of the company the employees lost their livelihood. Many of them have little hope of re-employment, in some cases because of their age and in others due to a lack of openings in the specialised business Deputy Wilson mentioned. The shipping industry in Ireland is too small to absorb the sea-going staff. Most of the ships' officers will have to seek employment abroad.

It is important to mention that an extra argument for making a just and generous settlement is that those who are successful in getting employment will be employed in companies which will make no arrangements for the payment of pensions or social welfare contributions. Some of them who have managed to get employment are taking a drastic cut in salary to enable them to keep going. Many of them will receive no social welfare benefits from the State in future years. Although the employees pension funds were secured and properly funded, the demise of the company meant the demise of the pension funds. Due to this, all have lost out in benefits. They had to take early retirement or deferred pensions. Benefit at normal pension age will be considerably reduced. They also lost the life insurance which attached to pension schemes, which many people cannot afford to replace on an individual basis. If there is a moral obligation to look after these few employees there is equally a moral obligation to look after the bulk of the employees.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Hear, hear.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  In this instance I am not asking the State to expend £200 million, £300 million or £400 million to set up the company again. I am asking the Minister to give these people their due. Being the owner, the Minister could do that. We [1982] have the examples of Verolme and NET who are being heavily subsidised. Because of the small numbers in the fishing industry and because, generally speaking, they are quiet people and not effective lobbyists, they get the wrong end of the stick. Irish Shipping have got the wrong end of the stick for the same reasons. They have been lauded over the years as being a very successful company. I should like the Minister to address the problem. I honestly do not believe that it is not possible to find a way around this problem.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Hear, hear.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  It is not acceptable to hide behind the corporate veil of the liquidator. Ways around problems are found every day in the courts, in contractual matters, property matters, business matters and planning matters. They sit down with senior counsel and find ways around the problem. There is a company 100 yards from the Green with 600 employees. They spend their time and earn their revenue by advising people with tax problems, money problems, property problems and deals. This is a normal commercial activity. We need the will to do what I am suggesting. We need to accept our obligations.

I am not disappointed, as Deputy Wilson was, at the short speech made by the Minister. Ten pages of waffle would achieve nothing. The Minister's speech opened the way to a search for a solution to the problem. I want to mention a few matters which I do not think have been addressed by the Department. The charters were mentioned as a big argument because the figure would amount to hundreds of millions of pounds over a five year period. The suggestion was that there would be so many claims and so much money would be involved that the State could not look after all the employees.

There are very few Irish creditors of Irish Shipping. It is important to mention that charter hire was paid in advance and these owners were not technically [1983] creditors of the company on 14 November 1984. The court allowed the liquidator to repudiate these owners' contracts and there is serious doubt that they are entitled to claim damages in the liquidation. In that sense it is difficult to see how the Government could expose themselves more than they have already done in respect of these companies by paying compensation to the staff who are de facto and not de jure employees of the State. There is correspondence in existence between the Minister and the chairman of Irish Shipping to substantiate the fact that these employees were State employees. I ask the Minister to consider that.

There are precedents which can be looked at. The Government have already created precedents with regard to redundancy in dealing with problems at NET and Verolme Cork Dockyard. Moneys were made available to pay for redundancies when already a subvention had been made in one form or another against losses incurred by these companies. An ex gratia payment made completely without prejudice would not expose the Minister to liability for similar payments to other creditors. A solution could be found along those lines, or along other lines which I cannot come up with in this case.

Some groups in the State are very effective at lobbying and other groups are very weak at lobbying. One example in the bigger sector is the farming sector who are absolutely first class at lobbying. In the motoring sector they are hopeless at lobbying.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Deputy, you are motoring yourself at the moment.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  I am on full throttle.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I would prefer you to come back to the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  Irish Shipping workers have been decent and polite.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Hear, hear.

[1984]Mr. Skelly: Information on Liam Skelly  Zoom on Liam Skelly  They used reason. They have been very patient. We should not take advantage of that, because if we do we will be sending out a message that if people want to get anything done they must come and protest outside Leinster House, cause destruction, harass and annoy people. This problem should be addressed fully and finally. If the Government do not agree with me, the arguments should be made properly. They have not been made properly. I urge the Minister to consider these points. I do not know the procedure, and I do not know whether the Minister has the right to reply to a debate on an Estimate. I do not want much time to elapse before something final is done.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I have convinced one man.

Mr. L.T. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave  I welcome the fact that money is being provided for 23 pensioners or dependants of former employees of Irish Shipping. While welcoming the money being made available from the State to these people, like others I am disappointed that we could not have gone further. While not wishing in any way to take from those who have been selected, anyone who was involved at that time was very worthy of consideration, but there are others and there should be some support for them, too.

In his brief statement presenting the Estimate, the Minister indicated that the extension of the payment to the other pensioners was considered but that due to financial and legal sensitivities it was not possible to make the payment. One can readily understand the financial sensitivity. Money is in short supply but perhaps when replying the Minister will indicate how much money would have been required to increase the pensions of those other people. Regarding the legal sensitivities —“sensitivity” being taken literally rather than in the sense of there being a legal bar — the fact that the money was available for a certain number of ex-employees and pensioners probably means that the same could have been done for the remainder.

[1985] I agree with those speakers who have indicated how polite and disciplined they have found some of the people concerned. That, too, has been my experience of them. I recognise that the company and the Government could not have allowed the situation to continue but what has happened since the action was taken has been disappointing. There has not been a total sense of fair play in respect of the people involved. There have been difficulties with various groups. In one instance some of the money due in respect of employment from 1 to 13 November is still outstanding.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  That is correct.

Mr. L.T. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave  I do not know whether the people concerned have had any response to date. While I appreciate that both Ministers and liquidators have official functions and that certain legal requirements and technicalities must be considered, a certain compassion or at least dialogue with the various groups is warranted. So far as I know there has not been any such dialogue or if there has, it has not taken place to a satisfactory degree.

I await the Minister's reply regarding what would have been involved in extending payment to the non-World War II pensioners. Perhaps he would reconsider this aspect of the matter. While expressing the hope that even in this situation, the Opposition would have more consideration in regard to the spending of public money, I would urge the Minister to consider the extension of the payment of pensions to these other people. As a member of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies, I have become aware in the past couple of years that vast sums of money are being spent in the various semi-State areas and it is only fair to say that in many instances the money could have been better spent. However, it will be spent better in the future if we continue to consider the spending of these various bodies. What we should aim for is the expenditure of less money while continuing to provide [1986] the same level of services and, where possible, improved services.

I should like to refer briefly to the matter of the co-op that has been set up by ex-Irish Shipping workers in an effort to stay together and, as a body, to speak for the Irish Shipping people with the prospect of providing services in the future. Clearly, services will be required in certain areas, regardless of whether these services will involve the employing of a massive fleet. There will be a need at least for a scaled down fleet. I understand that in April the co-op submitted some proposals to the Minister regarding particularly the Irish Spruce. They need an urgent reply, certainly within the next seven to ten days in respect of a possible future chartering agreement.

I might mention, too, that the Irish Spruce is still in Marseilles at a cost of £15,000 per day, simply to keep her there.

An Leas Cheann Comhairle:  Perhaps the Deputy would come back from Marseilles.

Mr. L.T. Cosgrave: Information on Liam T. Cosgrave  Zoom on Liam T. Cosgrave  I am sailing back as quickly as possible. A decision should be reached in this matter of the chartering agreement to allow for the possibility of an agreement being reached before the opportunity is lost. Therefore, I urge the Minister of State to bring this request to his Minister and, through him, to the remainder of the Cabinet for an urgent decision.

I trust there is some hope yet of making some movement in the area of doing something for the other pensioners, some of whose pensions have been reduced by alarming amounts. Many of these people have had to change their entire lifestyle because of what has happened. I welcome what has been done but if there is a will there is possibly a way in which more can be done. We all appreciate the financial sensitivities involved but there were financial sensitivities, too, in respect of what happened in Verolme and in other areas but some of these difficulties were overcome. Perhaps the Minister would indicate the difficulties he has [1987] faced in the area of financial or legal bars, some of which may not be as big a handicap as might have been thought initially. I welcome this Supplementary Estimate which will provide for those people who served the country so well.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  I am very pleased with the opportunity to discuss this most important situation. Other speakers referred to the fact that we are only considering 23 pensioners and their spouses, who had sea-going experience during World War II with Irish Shipping. I concur with my colleagues on both sides of the House who made a special plea to the Minister and to the Cabinet, because that is where the final decision will rest, to try to consider all the other pensioners who will not be included in this quite restricted category we are discussing this morning.

It goes without saying that we would all like to see those involved in Irish Shipping looked after as best the country possibly can but we must recognise that the Government have no statutory function in this and that there is no obligation on the Government to do what they are doing. That must be recognised. We must thank the Minister and the Cabinet for allowing us to look after, at this stage, the World War II pensioners who served the country so well during the Emergency.

I have a particular interest in this topic because Wexford has a long sea faring tradition going back over the centuries. Before other counties had transport or communication one with the other, Wexford men were playing the sea for years. During the war the country was very dependent on the coastal shipping companies for emergency supplies, pre-Irish Shipping. One of these companies was the Wexford Steamship Company. There was also Limerick Steam and what was known as Palgrave-Murphys at the time. Wexford Steamship Company was synonymous with the Staffords of Wexford who are still serving our town and county extremely well to this day. Old J.J. Stafford, as he was known, subsequently [1988] became Chairman of Irish Shipping during the fifties. Indeed Wexford has been exporting its expertise in seafaring throughout the world. John Barry, the founder of the American Navy, was a Wexford man. J.J. Stafford was called to India for advice when they were forming their merchant fleet many years ago. Every October in Wexford we commenorate the Irish seamen, particularly the Wexford seamen, who lost their lives during World War II at the same time as we commemorate John Barry of Wexford fame.

We often pay lip service to the strategic importance of a deep water fleet and recently the question of neutrality has been aired in many arenas. There are many of us who feel that the two issues are tied together and it is questionable if neutrality will continue to be attainable unless we get back to a position of having a deep water fleet and our own merchant fleet.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Only a passing reference.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  It is a just a passing reference. In March 1941 Irish Shipping was formed —“incorporated” is the expression used by the legal eagles. To those involved in the company at the time the O'Neill family, the Stafford family and the Chairman of the day Dr. Leyden, the first Chairman, we owe a tremendous debt. Going through the annals of Irish Shipping over the years, particularly to those involved in World War II, this country is beholden for vital supplies. Many of the boats at the time plied between Dublin and Lisbon and went as far as New Brunswick and Montreal for hard wheat so that we could have proper bread rations during the war. The Wexford Steamship Company had the Menapia, the Kerlogue and the Eden Vale which became part of Irish Shipping. The Government bought older boats at the time and farmed them out to the coastal companies. All of this formed the nucleus of what we knew to be Irish Shipping.

Of the list of the 23 pensioners that this new subhead will look after, several are [1989] from Wexford. Unfortunately as far as Wexford is concerned we are talking about the spouses of World War II pensioners. In passing I mention the widow of the late Captain Poole, whose name is synonymous with Irish Shipping, and Mrs. Dillon whose husband was chief purser and who had a tremendous record and service with Irish Shipping over the years. Names like McCann, Moran, Dillon, Captain James Sydney Kerr, better known in Wexford as EI Cid, are synonymous with seafaring tradition. Other names include Dixon, Roche, McGrath, O'Rourke — the list is endless. From deck boys to masters, to cooks, to the firemen, Irish Shipping was known as the Wexfordmen's navy in the constituency I come from. Is it any wonder many of them followed with interest and great sadness the tragedy of the liquidation of Irish Shipping over the last six months?

I am delighted that the Minister has been able to make the pensions to the 23 World War II pensioners and their spouses retrospective. Other colleagues in the House have indicated the dramatic decrease in the pensions they were presented with. This debate begs the question about the funding of pension schemes in the country generally. Private companies have had their difficulties and so have pension funds. It seems incredible that a semi-State company could be caught in this situation. I understand they had a few different types of pension schemes but in all cases the provision for an increase was between nil and 3 per cent which did not match inflation or the cost of living. Those with years of service with Irish Shipping would have had paltry pensions but for the decision by Irish Shipping to top up the pensions from the company itself. Unfortunately this ex gratia portion of the pension went when Irish Shipping went into liquidation. This has now been taken up by the Government without any statutory obligation to do so but with a moral obligation particularly to those who served the country during the Emergency.

Sometimes it is very easy for my generation to forget how beholden we are as a nation to these people who, without any [1990] consideration of danger to themselves, plied the waters during the troubles. My little knowledge on this subject has been gleaned from those who lived through the time and from the hundreds of people in Wexford who recall the stories and involvement of Wexford people and other Irish people with Irish Shipping during the war. It is often very salient for my generation to listen to these people because for us it is history. Those of us who were born post-war find it difficult to comprehend what the country went through and we tend to forget that the Government brought back the Irishmen with deep sea experience and service from the British fleet to serve this country during the war. Many came out of retirement and went back into active service to ensure that we had the supplies virtually necessary at the time.

I am delighted the Government have managed to meet their moral obligations to the pensioners. I concur with my colleagues in urging them to try to find a solution to the problem of the rest of the pensioners and the other employees who have been hard done by in Irish Shipping. We must be honest and accept that there was no statutory obligation on the Government to do so and for that and what they have done in meeting their moral commitment I sincerely thank them and particularly the Minister who took a personal interest in the issue. We have now opened up a new subhead to allow payments to be made retrospectively to these pensioners. In a way this is not without precedent in the Vote for the Department of Communications because, to my knowledge, there is a subhead under which we make payments to the dependants of those lost in sea-going services during World War II and those severely injured. Over 141 Irishmen were lost during World War II. The Simrick, a schooner from Arklow, was lost plying to Lisbon with nearly all Wexford people on board. I am grateful that the Government recognise the tremendous debt we owe to all Irishmen and, as far as I am concerned, to Wexford's contribution.

[1991] Many backbenchers including my colleague, Deputy skelly, referred to the fact that in many debates the Government can provide the Opposition as well as the Government line on many issues. That is extremely healthy. It is but a reflection of the representative viewpoint and the total spectrum of opinions of the Coalition Government. I am one of the many backbenchers who pressed the Minister and the Department to look after the pensioners in Irish Shipping and I have here a reply which I received from the Minister dated 13 March in relation to representations on the pensioners, specifically of Irish Shipping:

Dear Avril,

I refer further to your letter of 18 February 1985 regarding the position of certain pensioners of Irish Shipping Limited. Irish Shipping Limited has been paying a number of pensions, either wholly or partly on an ex gratia basis. The ex gratia portion of the pension was, of course, unfunded. It was not paid out of a pension fund and the company were under no obligation to pay it.

Consequently, arising out of the liquidation of the company, having regard to his legal obligations to the creditors of Irish Shipping Limited, which has insufficient assets to meet its liabilities, the liquidator cannot continue to pay those pensions which were formerly paid by the company on the ex gratia basis.

Although I have no statutory function in relation to this matter, I will make arrangements, that in the case of those pensioners who had seagoing service during World War II, and their spouses, the ex gratia element of their pensions which they have lost will now be paid by the Exchequer. Their pensions will, therefore, continue at the previous level. I am sorry that the financial and other remifications have not allowed me to cover all the pensioners affected.

[1992] While I thank the Minister for allowing us to reach the stage of being in the House today to grant these pensions to this particular category of Irish Shipping ex-employees, I should like him and his Cabinet to consider in detail whether it would be possible to extend their moral — not their statutory — obligation to other pensioners and to the other categories of employees in Irish Shipping who have been so drastically affected by the liquidation.

Employees of Irish Shipping at all levels recognise the Government's obligation in general to the taxpayer and that decisions taken by a triumvirate at the top of the company——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Keep away from that, please.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  Very well, but I merely made a passing reference to it. We must make it quite clear that all those involved and the people supporting the case of those who have been adversely affected by decisions, recognise the reality of the situation. As well as appealing to the Minister and the Government to see if they can extend what we are discussing today, I ask them to give serious consideration to the future and to the provision of a deep water fleet. This should be considered in line with the discussions on our neutrality, as we cannot be dependent indefinitely on flags of convenience or Liberian registered ships for necessary provisions such as fuel, etc. in the years ahead.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  When one considers the manner in which Irish Shipping were sunk by the Government, the statement by the Minister of State is an insult added to injury in that so few pensioners have been granted pensions. Only 23 pensioners are accounted for and there are many more who, over the years since Irish Shipping began operating, served the country faithfully. They did us proud throughout the world and made Irish Shipping a profitable company. These people have been cast aside and ignored [1993] and the Government stand indicted on their treatment of these people.

By this gesture, the Government are trying to salve their consciences, albeit in a small way and the public will see this exercise for what it is. In the last few days the Irish Rowan was sold for a miserly sum. If the Government had conducted their business properly, the sale of this ship could have meant the provision of pensions for those who are not included in the vote.

A serious aspect of the Government's treatment of the pensioners is that it will show our young people that there is no hope for the future. It is very disheartening for them to see the pensioners of Irish Shipping treated in such a dastardly way. I appeal to the Minister to seriously consider extending the pension rights to other pensioners who are in a bad way financially. I should like him to consider the future of a deep water fleet. As many Members said, we are at the mercy of mercenary forces on the high seas. Although I welcome this measure, it does not go far enough and I appeal to the Minister once more to extend the rights to other pensioners.

Mrs. Barnes: Information on Monica Barnes  Zoom on Monica Barnes  Deputy Avril Doyle, in her highly articulate way, laid the foundation for my brief comments on the supplementary Estimate introduced here this morning. She stated, in historic and national terms, what we owe to Irish Shipping and the incredible importance of their part in the sheer survival of this nation. The dedication of some staff led to the sacrifice of their lives on our behalf. Everybody connected with Irish Shipping — not just those on the high seas — had an abiding sense of loyalty, an incredibly high level of dedication and a sense of being part of a State and a national company. They had an exemplary work ethic and that is what we mean when we refer to Irish Shipping employees, who are without pension and employment far earlier than they thought. To give an idea of the sense of uniqueness and loyalty within the company, over 35 per cent of the staff of Irish Shipping were working there for over 30 years. This must be a [1994] singular achievement in regard to companies, staff and long lasting jobs within the State.

We are not just considering the financial deprivation, hardship and shock suffered by the employees of Irish Shipping; we are also talking about the psychological effect; which is very marked. These employees had a sense of unity and dedication down the years that gave them a sense of security, a sense of family. When considering pension and redundancy rights for these employees it is very important that we do not understimate the psychological shock and sense of personal let-down these employees have suffered.

I welcome this Supplementary Estimate, which hopfully will allow further expansion. We are recognising pensioners who were serving Irish Shipping during the Second World War, but I would like this list to be extended to include people who have given many years of loyal service, sometimes more than 40 years, providing very necessary back-up services. I have heard of one woman who worked in that office for over 40 years and finds herself on a pension as low as £14 a week. She has been forced to seek cheaper, less comfortable accommodation at this hour of her life, she is in her seventies.

The Minister said that, due to the financial and legal sensitivities involved, it had not been found possible to consider extending the concession to all pensioners of the company. Other Deputies have spoken about the financial and legal sensitivities involved and we all hope that a new look will be taken at this. But the Cabinet should look at other areas too. As a caring Government we must look at the financial, physical, and psychological hardship suffered by the pensioners of Irish Shipping and recognise that we have a moral responsibility to these people.

As many Deputies have said, we must also recognise the painful circumstances these people find themselves in through no fault of their own. In the days of the company's working life there was never a more loyal, dedicated expert group of [1995] people than those working for Irish Shipping. Since the tragedy of the liquidation there has not been a more responsible, mature, wise and disciplined group than these employees, who are trying to achieve a certain modicum of their pension rights, particularly for their older workers and hopefully job opportunities in a rescaled and re-established shipping line.

As public representatives, we know the families of these workers and the hardships they are suffering. It is up to us to bring these matters to the attention of the House and to make the Government more aware of the position. These very hardworking people have found themselves at this incredible disadvantage through no fault of their own.

If we are to be seen as valuing the loyal service given to this country by people in the State or semi-State areas, then the Government must recognise they have a responsibility to respond to the hardship suffered by these people and not leave them adrift on a very cruel sea. The least we can do is to give them the protection of decent pensions. As Deputy Doyle said, this is a subject which, hopefully, we can discuss in the not too distant future so that we can provide this protection for all working people.

I accept that the Minister and the liquidator had to look at the fact that these pensions were being topped up; but we, as legislators, have to ask ourselves if we can allow long-serving hard-working people to rely on pension schemes which are so inadequate that they have to be topped up and that when a crisis erupts that topping up is taken from them. This topping up is needed to help these people to survive. If we are to be seen as valuing our workers and encouraging the work ethic, that is one of the first areas on which we will have to concentrate.

Deputy Skelly put forward a series of options which, hopefully, the Minister and Cabinet might consider. I would welcome an early response from the Minister, perhaps even today. As Deputy Skelly said, crisis situations and emergency situations are constantly changing, both financially and socially. These [1996] demand negotiations, consultations and changed structures so that bridges can be built.

I am asking this morning that structures, which in the past would not have allowed consideration of what we are putting forward this morning, be re-examined. I wish and hope that all the pensioners may be included in an expanded Supplementary Estimate and that redundancy payments be accepted as a type of pension. When a work life is cut off earlier than wished, redundancy should be seen as a pension to which these people are entitled. I support completely what other Deputies have said about a re-examination of the matter to allow decent, honourable redundancy payments to be given in recognition of the cutting short of working lives.

I hope that future Cabinet decisions will take into account what has been said in this debate. I also hope that the employees of Irish Shipping who have formed themselves into a co-operative will be allowed once more to use their responsibility, maturity and expertise in setting up a national shipping line here, giving them the satisfaction, not just personal but on a national level, of putting their talents to good use for the country. This would allow Ireland as a nation to retain its independence and neutrality. A re-established, modified, practical and profitable shipping line would go very far towards enabling us to retain the needed independence and neutrality that we have striven after and wish to continue. The employees of Irish Shipping are an absolute example of what we are talking about when we speak of what we want — a national society and an independent nation for the future.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  I join with some of my colleagues in welcoming the fact that the Government have made some moves in the direction of meeting the needs of some of the pensioners in this case. I also join with Members on all sides of the House who have expressed the view that perhaps we have not gone quite far enough.

The Minister's speech this morning [1997] raises a number of questions and I would be grateful if he would elaborate a little on some of the points which I think are, by implication, unanswered. I am struck by the fact that the Irish Shipping Limited (Amendment) Act of 1984 provided that the Minister's approval would be required from then on for any alteration in the existing pension arrangements and that he was not, in fact, called upon to exercise that power in regard to this pension scheme. Could the Minister give the House some indication as to the regulatory mechanisms, if any, which operate in his Department with regard to Irish Shipping?

We are talking here about a company which was owned, in effect, by the State. That poses obligations of a statutory nature and also undoubtedly of a moral nature. That commitment, above and beyond the statutory, is one which has been regularly met by the State in certain specific cases, either of individual employees — we have had examples of that which we could go into — or in relation to companies which, in the judgment of the administration of the day, needed supports and a treatment above and beyond the statutory, minimal norm. I submit that this is a case similar to those.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I am listening very attentively and I am not clear whether you are dealing with pensions or dealing with proposals to keep the company in existence.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  With pensions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  If you are dealing with the latter, then I must explain to you that I held this morning, under Standing Order 124, that a general discussion on the company would be out of order. There is no way that I can go back on that. I have successfully enforced it.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  I am not proposing to get into that area. The burden of what I want to say will be that the State has an obligation in relation to pensions and [1998] redundancy payments with regard to all the employees in this company.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  If the Deputy confines himself to an obligation, moral or otherwise, in regard to pensions, I did allow that this morning and I shall continue to allow it.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  That is precisely the burden of what I intend to say. Would the Minister be good enough to explain how it is that increasingly there is a succession of instances such as this one where the State is perceived to have some kind of overriding regulatory function which is seen in due course not to operate, or not to operate efficiently. When the final day of judgement of the company or institution comes about it is discovered that the particular controls that one assumed were in place were not operating in such a way as to ensure that the company's interests, and particularly those of the taxpayer, were being adequately safeguarded.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  The Deputy is very skillfully getting into the failure of a Department of the Government to monitor a company and to prevent such a thing. That is getting into a discussion on the operation of the company, which is more for the Estimate and is certainly ruled out by Standing Order 124.

Mr. Keating: Information on Michael Keating  Zoom on Michael Keating  The Minister this morning said:

So far as the Department understand the matter, the ex-gratia retirement payments made by the company arose mainly from limitations in the pension fund provisions in regard to adjusting pension amounts to cost of living increases. The company evidently decided to make these ex-gratia payments as a way of topping up the pensions in question. In addition, some exgratia payments were made to retired employees who were not in pension schemes. The level of these ex-gratia payments was a matter for the company.

[1999] To what extent was that situation generally known to those whose job I would have presumed it would have been to keep an eye on these things? Leaving aside for a moment any dissatisfaction that anyone might have about what I might call arbitrary topping up of pensions, there is a case to be made that the scrutinies that should apply may not have applied. What I really want to know in this case is whether this House feels that there is at least a strong case to be made for saying that if we have agreed, or are proposing to agree, to assist 23 particular pensioners because of the fact that they were in receipt of ex-gratia payments, out of the goodness, not of hearts of the executive of the company but out of the hearts of the taxpayers, is there not a case similarly to be made for those who are also in extremely worthy service in the national interest in that company but who might not have the area of adventure or glamour which that particular group of people had? This is without any question of denying for a moment that they were engaged in extraordinary important national service. However, national service can also be service in the accounts office, behind a typewriter, or as a filing clerk. I would certainly be unhappy about defining one group of employees as being innately superior to another while all of them were engaged in serving the State and serving a company, the shares of which were wholly owned by the State.

I have no doubt that, were I working in that company, I would have assumed that ownership was in some way a safeguard above and beyond the mere minimal norm that would apply under the law. We should consider that. If we are going to insist that the minimal is appropriate here, then we must explain how the State acted in other instances of a not dissimilar nature. In that connection I mention Verolme dockyard, NET and our readiness to respond recently because of the implicit threat to our banking institutions. In the case of Irish Shipping we must have compassion for people who have been deprived of their livelihood through no fault of their own. These [2000] people were in a position where they could reasonably have expected the State to be aware of what was going on. This is not just another company liquidation and we have to see it in a different light from the normal liquidation process. In my view here we have a question of public accountability. Obviously it is not appropriate to go into it now but it must be considered in any discussion on this issue. Ultimately somebody should be held accountable above and beyond the taxpayer.

We must bear in mind that the salaries and conditions of employment of the people in Irish Shipping were monitored and controlled by the Department of the Public Service. Surely that enforcement of authority has its concomitant responsibility? It is reasonable for an employee to expect that if his conditions of employment are circumscribed by a Department that Department thereby accept a modicum of responsibility with regard to his employment. The Government held all the shares in the company. In companies where they held minority shares they went beyond what they propose to do in the case of Irish Shipping.

It would be a reasonable interpretation, though perhaps not a correct legal one, that the employees of Irish Shipping were employed de facto by the State by virtue of the State's ownership of the company. Regardless of how pivotal we may see a group of employees in terms of their economic impact, their political relevance or their essential role in society, we should be very wary of running the risk of leaving ourselves open to being accused of not giving fair and just treatment on the pretext that we have given them the minimal requirements. This is especially the case in this company, where the problems that were created had nothing to do with the employees on the ground.

We should remember that we are not talking about lay-off or rationalisation measures or the nice euphemisms that we sometimes use for the streamlining or redeployment of staff. In this case we are talking of people losing their livelihoods, [2001] many of whom have no chance of re-employment because of their long service with Irish Shipping. In such a specialised area of commerce and industry there is little likelihood of their getting employment again. In the case of sea-going staff, because of the size of the State's involvement in this part of the industry all of those people cannot be absorbed. If these people are lucky they will have to take employment on foreign ships. Other staff will have to make do with unemployment help. In one fell swoop many of these people have been removed from what they thought was secure employment and now they find themselves unemployed and probably unemployable.

The demise of the pension funds which this Estimate is designed to meet in part needs detailed examination. As Deputy Barnes was hinting we should ensure that there will be a proper scrutiny of similar situations in other State and semi-State agencies. I am aware that the under-funding of pension funds is not uncommon. However, if there is such under-funding allied to questionable management operations and concern by employees, as happened in this case that all is not well that situation must be considered seriously. At the very least we should make sure that this kind of unfortunate occurrence does not repeat itself in other companies.

I appeal to the Minister with regard to the statutory redundancy. That cannot be considered adequate compensation. There is an obligation on us beyond that. While I admit that the Minister has gone beyond the minimal requirements in relation to the 23 employees, the question of moral obligation arises. I realise it is difficult to define moral obligation, but on a common understanding of those words it is my view that we have such an obligation in this case. To be truthful, the treatment of employees is in contrast to the treatment given to senior executives in the company where above and beyond the minimum requirement was paid out of public funds. I will say no more about it other than to say that what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. I cannot see any reason why somebody is [2002] deemed automatically to be entitled to less generous treatment merely because of his position in the company. In any case Irish Shipping employees consider they are morally entitled to the same treatment as that given to those who were senior in the company, and I cannot blame them for that.

The Minister mentioned in his speech that the question of making an ex gratia payment to all pensioners in the company was considered by the Government but he said that due to financial and legal sensitivities involved it was not found possible to do this however much the Government would have liked. This appears to me that the Government would have liked to do something in this matter if that were possible. I ask the Minister to elaborate on these financial and legal sensitivities. I presume the financial sensitivity is that there is not enough money but that is a question of priorities. I am not clear about the legal sensitivies. If there is some problem over the legality of making a pension, an ex gratia payment or a lump sum to an employee instead of the pension entitlement he could have expected, it appears that reservation has to be entered into across-the-board in relation to all employees different in that respect? If the legal and financial sensitivities to which the Minister referred could be clarified, then perhaps the door might be open so that something might be done for the employees whom all sides of the House agree have been treated in a tragic fashion in this whole mess.

I want to sum up by saying that obviously it is easy for a Deputy to get up here and ask for an open cheque book approach to any problem that arises in our economy, particularly in regard to major companies. It is politic to do it. It is the easy thing to do. In recent times it has not that often been done. We have not seen many people respond in this way to this kind of situation. I have to say that there is a perception among the public that in this case the pensioners have been hard done by. It is no solace or no persuasive evidence to say to members of the [2003] public: “Well, the reason those chaps had those pensions was because of the fact that the company paid a sum over and above that to which they were entitled. Therefore the liquidator cannot pay them any money. It is all technically wrapped up.” The reality is that people used to an income suddenly find they do not have it. They have mouths to feed, and all of the normal obligations everybody has, with no means out of which to pay. If this was a private company this debate would not be taking place. It would be another tragic statistic on the economic landscape. But the basis of my argument is that this was not a private company. This was a company which had the full aura of State ownership, thereby invoking the full aura of State responsibility.

I feel we should look at this again and in so far as it is possible, allowing for the fact that money was never so scarce, grant some measure of consideration and compensation to the other pensioners in this company. Whether it be done by a once-off payment, some form of redundancy sum, or some form of very small pension, I do not know. I have to say that I cannot see how the State could fund indefinitely pensions of groups of people some of whom would have yet to come on pension. But some modicum of consideration should apply to those people now bereft of employment, of employment opportunities and even hope of such opportunities. I would appeal to the Minister to give further consideration to the plight of those people, ascertaining to what extent the State can meet, as it has done on other occasions, their specific needs, the depth of which nobody in this House seriously questions.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I welcome this Supplementary Estimate on the basis that it gives rightful recognition to the efforts and the service of those who served Irish Shipping throughout the world over a long number of years, particularly during the war years, when they risked life and limb to serve the company and their country in order to ensure the availability of [2004] basic supplies of food and materials to this country.

Like other speakers, I am a little saddened that it has not yet been found possible to extend the facilities proposed in this Estimate to a number of other employees of Irish Shipping, including pensioners, who are somewhat hard done by. I am not suggesting that the State should pick up the tab on every occasion a company goes to the wall or on every occasion when there is mismanagement resulting in people being hurt financially. Nonetheless it is a reflection on the management of pension funds and their security that it has been found necessary for the Minister — laudable though it is — to introduce this Supplementary Estimate at this time. A great deal of hard examination needs to be undertaken in relation to the pension funds of all companies, semi-State, State and of a private nature. Although mine is not a maritime constituency I have had some experience of difficulties arising there of a similar nature. While appreciating that the Minister had no statutory function or responsibility whatsoever, no reason other than a moral or compassionate one, to introduce this Estimate, I welcome it on the basis that the need was there and represents a recognition of the plight of the people whom it proposes to assist.

Throughout the whole of the debate on Irish Shipping Opposition speakers have been highly critical of the Government's handling of this Estimate and the whole affair relating to Irish Shipping. I do not want to do other than make a passing reference to that. But we must treat with a certain amount of scepticism the howls of indignation that have emanated from across the floor on the basis that, if one is to believe what is said on that side of the House, we can expect to have a re-introduction of Irish Shipping at a later date or the reproduction of a slimmed down version of Irish Shipping.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I ruled such a discussion out of order this morning——

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I was trying to get it in, but they would not let me.

[2005]Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  I accept that. I was making a passing reference.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  ——and my ruling was accepted.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  I did see one of the handlers walking along the corridor.

Mr. Durkan: Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  It seems incongruous that this concern that has emanated from across the floor should not have indicated also, along with the proposed slimmed down version of Irish Shipping, perhaps a slimmed down version of the taxpayer who ultimately would have to carry the burden for this kind of thing.

Notwithstanding all of that, I welcome this Estimate. Bearing in mind the financial constraints within which all Departments must operate, I would ask the Minister if he can find some means in his Department of perhaps extending assistance to a number of those other employees who are similarly affected as the group this Estimate now proposes to assist and who are in as great a need and have given sterling service to their company. I would ask the Minister to consider their plight and ascertain whether he can give them some assistance. I say that without giving a blank cheque to anybody to pick up the tab in similar cases.

It is high time that a very careful examination was undertaken of all pension funds. It is unfortunate that employees, whether at senior, middle management, administrative level or whatever, should become the unwitting victims of mismanagement or changes of circumstances entirely outside their control and that they should have to suffer.

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  My intervention shall be brief in the extreme. It is very clear from the speeches this morning that the plight of the employees and the pensioners of Irish Shipping is one which causes great concern across party lines in all parts of this House. In the Fine Gael Party over the past number of months a large number of us backbenchers have been meeting on a fairly regular basis [2006] with former employees of Irish Shipping. In my time in politics no group of people has impressed me more than these. To a man, to a woman, they have been people of quality, dignity and commitment. They have been public servants in the finest and fullest sense of that term. These are people who gave of their best to a public company and who were in no way responsible for what happened. The failure of Irish Shipping, for which these people are carrying the can, owed much to the inadequate and outdated mechanism by which the affairs of public companies with large investment of public money or semi-State bodies were conducted.

I, like other speakers this morning, will want to know what changes have been made in the various Government Departments to see that something like this can never happen again and that there is proper monitoring of public money invested in this way. Like Deputy Keating, I believe that this is a question of public accountability; but it is also a case where public accountability has not been seen to operate as fully or as openly as everybody in this House and the public——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  I do not know if the Deputy was here this morning when this debate started. I requested that Deputies would proceed with a knowledge and appreciation of Standing Order 124. That was done and the Chair must insist that at this late stage in the debate it continues.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  We all know that there is a confraternity between the Cavan men in this House. But I stand reprimanded. The case which I support today has been made this morning eloquently and in a reasoned, researched way by Deputies Skelly, Doyle and Barnes. In particular I have no intention of being repetitious, as there are other speakers who want to come in. The only thing I want to say is that I fully support the case that has been made by them with such strength this [2007] morning. Their case is a just one and I urge the Government to look again to see what can be done, to see if the whole question can be re-examined. If that is done it will have the full support of all sides of the House.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney  Zoom on Hugh Coveney  I welcome this Supplementary Estimate. I would like to comment on a few points made by the Minister and to add a few thoughts of my own without being too repetitious in relation to what has already been said. It is a fact that the Minister has no function in the pension schemes of Irish Shipping. It is equally clear that those pensions were grossly underfunded and topped up out of current expenditure. It is also selfevident that a liquidator has no current revenue and, therefore, cannot continue to top up such pensions despite the fact that everyone would like him to do so.

That is the crux of the matter for the Minister, but it is also the crux of what is a horrific financial tragedy for the people involved. I am speaking about pensioners who have given a lifetime of service to the country. In February the Minister stated that he was seeking alleviation for the pensioners who had wartime service on Irish ships. This alleviation is being provided for in the Supplementary Estimate we are considering today. I was rather curious about how he was able to single out any group of people, even the most meritorious. I gather there is some clear precedent for treating people who served in the Second World War and to that extent the question of fraudulent preference does not arise. I would like to mention that matter again later.

This debate is not really about people who served on Irish ships during the war because everybody wants to see that they are protected to the maximum degree possible. It is about the question of the others. I feel that three groups of people are suffering grave hardship. First of all, there are all of the other pensioners who are not covered by this Supplementary Estimate; secondly, there are all the future pensions of those who would have retired after the date of liquidation and [2008] away into the future; and, thirdly, there is the question of redundancy, which is strictly not pension but is related. This is something which many of us on all sides of the House have been searching our hearts about. What are the obligations of the State here? We are not talking about the strict legal obligation of the State; that is probably no obligation. The question of moral obligation raises its head, as it so often does — and rightly so — in matters affecting politics and Government. Most of the speakers this morning believe that in varying degrees there is a moral obligation on the State, and I agree with them.

We are then left with trying to define what that is and why. Irrespective of how we try to describe Irish Shipping, there is no doubt in my mind that anybody working for Irish Shipping never felt he was working for the private sector or never felt he was working for a private company where his conditions of employment were in doubt. That is one of the advantages of working in some Staterelated organisation. While it does not appear to place a legal obligation on the State, it most certainly places a moral obligation on it. The State by its actions, on foot of moral obligations of one kind or another, has certainly responded positively to similar types of situations in the past. They are not identical situations but they are similar enough to create some kind of moral precedent in my mind. I believe the State under those two headings has a moral obligation above and beyond what we are talking about in this Supplementary Estimate.

I suppose it is easy to say that, but the question arises as to how far one can go with that. In this instance, apart from the financial constraints which exist more now than at many times in the past, there are also some formidable legal constraints. The total amount of money involved to top up the unfunded portion of all the existing pensioners' pensions providing for all future pension obligations, which would have arisen if the company had not gone out of business, plus giving enhanced redundancy repayments, would probably make up a figure [2009] which in all fairness the Government do not have nor could easily justify. Therefore, the question of how far one can go, and with what groups, would undoubtedly arise.

That, of course, raises the issue of fraudulent preference, of making choices between people. I would not like to say how that can be done except that I feel it has to be done. My sympathy would lie primarily with the people who have been pensioners for some time. They should be given preference. I am referring to all the pensioners, apart from those being provided for in the Estimate. They would be my first priority but not the only one.

There is also the question of the legal problem of creating preferential creditors. In discussions I have had, in the company of a number of Deputies, with representatives of the staff of Irish Shipping they have argued against this. When we discussed this with the Minister he told us that he had received strong advice about the dangers associated with creating preferential creditors. He cannot ignore that advice. There are also the questions of precedent created and knock-on effects. It is not fair to say to the people who are suffering grave hardship that this is a simple matter of the Government picking up the tab. It is a very difficult matter. I suspect that the sum of money is hardly capable of calculation at this point but it is bound to be a large amount. I am sure there are formidable legal constraints and questions of precedents.

One practical thing the Government could do in relation to those people who have been put out of work and who are well capable of working is to tackle energetically the question of the Irish Spruce and re-employing as many former employees of Irish Shipping as possible. That may not be an issue for today but it is a related matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  It is definitely not an issue for today.

Mr. Coveney: Information on Hugh Coveney  Zoom on Hugh Coveney  At the end of the day political action in a democracy is, amongst other things, about blending [2010] legal and moral considerations in an equitable and balanced manner. That is what I ask the Minister, and the Government, to look at again. They face serious financial difficulties in relation to this matter at a time when the country is grossly overtaxed and grossly overborrowed. They also face difficult issues of precedent which would be created, knock-on effects and legal problems. However, the present limited action, welcome as it is, does not get the balance right. I appeal to the Government to look at this matter again. They may be doing that. The Minister who met concerned Deputies from all sides of the House, has not come back with a response to some of the questions we put to him. I hope that he, and the Government, will address the question of the other former employees and pensioners of Irish Shipping in a way that will strike this balance between moral and legal considerations, between financial constraints and compassion, and come up with a package which will significantly add to the welcome Estimate we are considering today.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Since the sad news of Irish Shipping going into liquidation I have had but one letter on the issue from a constituent of mine. I am not rising to represent the number of people in my constituency that have suffered — there may be others that I am unaware of — but I am doing so partly as a member of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland of which many of the employees of Irish Shipping are members. I realise that the State did not have any option but to put Irish Shipping into liquidation because of the financial liabilities our taxpayers would have had to face if the company continued in existence. However, I am very unhappy at the way the workers in Irish Shipping were treated. I look upon the Estimate as a gesture to a small number of the former staff of the company.

In recent years a lot of the closures in industry here have been brought about by a desire by many people in those industries to bring the concern to its knees [2011] and close it down because of the attractiveness of the redundancy packages on offer. Irish Shipping was a different type of company. Up to 1982 it was a successful concern and record profits were recorded in that year. The company was brought to its knees by a small number of people making vital decisions at an important time in the history of the company. I have had a number of facts put before me by a correspondent in Cork concerning the company and I am sure they were put before the House today. The clerical sea-going staff did not have any participation in the vital decisions made that led to the closure of the company. In its 40 years of existence the company never faced a strike.

I am aware that a number of people in the company worked long and hard hours above and beyond the duties required of them to keep the concern going. I am aware of the role the company played during the Emergency. I have been informed that 39 per cent of the shore staff have more than 30 years service with the company. Those people were dismissed by the provisional liquidator on 16 November last and were not paid for 13 days of that month. The last speaker mentioned the liabilities and duties of a Government to make decisions and, like him, I believe there is a moral obligation on the State to cater for the workers of Irish Shipping. They have suffered grievously for the decisions made by a few people. Governments are elected to legislate for the good of the people who elect them. It is a major scandal that a few people could make decisions affecting so many people but not be held accountable. In fact, the opposite is the case in one instance.

The Government have a difficult task in trying to compensate people adequately for their long and faithful service with a company that went to the wall through no fault of theirs. Any legal arguments that have been brought forward must not be allowed stand in the way of paying compensation to these people. In early March I wrote to the Minister asking him to set up a public [2012] inquiry into the factors that brought about the closure of Irish Shipping. In the course of his reply on 28 March the Minister said that the position was that Irish Shipping Limited was in the hands of a liquidator.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  That is not very relevant to the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  I think it is.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  I do not think so. A passing reference is in order.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Minister said that the question of an inquiry was a matter for the liquidator and the Government did not have any function in that. I have been told that the High Court may order an investigation into the affairs of the company. The concern expressed throughout the community about events in this company demand that a full inquiry be held.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  The Deputy is generalising again. This is a very restricted debate.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It is a source of scandal that people can be deprived——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  This is a very restricted debate. It is a Supplementary Estimate for pensions. I appreciate the Deputy's concern but that is a matter for another day.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  This is a gesture to a section of the former employees of the company. A full investigation must be carried out into what happened and we must find a way around the legalistic problems preventing the Government from extending the gesture. A lot of people in the company are facing financial ruin because of what happened. They deserve something better than they are getting at present. They deserve an extension of the gesture being made today and a full inquiry should be made into what happened leading to the company going into liquidation.

[2013]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  This is a long passing reference, Deputy.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  I am finished now.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications (Mr. Nealon): Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  I thank Deputies who contributed to this debate. The main point of criticism has been that not all of those who have lost ex gratia retirement payments will have them restored under the arrangements for which this Supplementary Estimate provides. As I mentioned in my opening statement, the possibility of providing for all pensioners was considered but because of the legal and financial implications it was not found possible to do so. What is being arranged is that a clearly defined category of pensioners and dependants, who are distinguished in a very special way by service to the nation during war-time, are having restored to them payments of which they were deprived on the collapse of the company. I might mention that there is perhaps a useful parallel in the long-standing provision in the vote of the Department of Communications for the payment of pension and allowances to Irish seamen supplying this country with essentials, who were injured at sea during World War II and to depandants of Irish seamen who lost their lives at sea in that period. The alternatives, I might remind Deputies, were not to take any action at all in the matter, which not many Deputies would be keen to defend, or to risk overstepping the limits of prudence in a manner which might possibly have unfortunate consequences for the taxpayer.

I have been asked by Deputy Ahern, Deputy Cosgrave and a number of others if I could quantify the total amounts that would be involved in giving the ex gratia element to all the pensioners. Unfortunately because of all the on-going factors relating to how long the pensions would last and other variations it is not possible to give that assessment. More important is the precedent and the implications this might have in a variety of areas. I am sure that on reflection Deputies will agree that the Government has taken a prudent [2014] and compassionate step to deal with a most unfortunate problem.

Many other points were raised by Deputies not all of which had much to do with the immediate purpose for which I introduced the Supplementary Estimate. I do not propose to go back over the whole story of Irish Shipping's collapse, which was dealt with fully and in detail by the Minister for Communications in this House last November. Irish Shipping Limited is now in the hands of a liquidator who has been appointed by the High Court. The Government has, therefore, no longer any function in relation to the company.

Deputy Wilson mentioned that we were inclined to hide behind the skirts of the liquidator and Deputy Skelly said that we were hiding behind the corporate veil of the liquidator. It would be quite improper for me to discuss any aspect of the liquidation process and I am not about to do so. Both Deputy Wilson and Deputy Skelly said that there should be provision in this Estimate for redundancy payments. That point was made perhaps with a view to bringing the question of discussing redundancy payments within the strict rules laid down by the Ceann Comhairle at the outset. The question of redundancy payments for former employees of Irish Shipping is one for the liquidator to be dealt with under the terms of the Redundancy Acts. There are no funds available from which compensation payments other than statutory redundancy entitlements can be made. The position of the former Irish Shipping Limited employees is no different from that of other workers who find themselves redundant in similar circumstances. It is a most tragic consequence of the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited that the employees and their families are innocent victims of the situation.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  NET and Verolme?

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  They did not go into liquidation. It is a different question.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Verolme were almost wiped out.

[2015]Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  A matter mentioned earlier by Deputy Coveney, in relation to preferences comes into being, so a totally different situation arose there. Deputy Wilson also raised the question of payment to the group chairman. I should like to make it clear that there was no question of a preference payment to the late group chairman of Irish Shipping Limited in relation to the liquidation of the company. When the group chairman resigned at my request, the board of the company proposed payment to him of a lump sum in lieu of salary up to June 1986 when his term of office would have normally terminated. Following careful consideration of all the legal and other factors involved, the Government accepted that the proposal advanced by the board had fewer drawbacks for the company than all others; consequently, that proposal was approved in August 1984. The decision to ask the High Court to appoint a provisional liquidator to Irish Shipping Limited was not taken until 14 November 1984. Deputy Allen just now and Deputy Wilson earlier and a number of other Deputies mentioned the question of the payment of wages due to the employees of Irish Shipping for a two or three weeks period. The payment of the wages is a matter for the liquidator. The employees are preferential creditors of the company and in the event of the wages remaining unpaid would have first call on the assets of the company.

Passing references were made to the question of a strategic fleet and the possibility of employment in that respect. The Minister referred in considerable detail to that in November and indicated that the Government had given careful consideration to the question of a strategic fleet and was satisfied that the winding up of Irish Shipping Limited was not a cause for concern in terms of our current strategic needs. However, the Minister has recently initiated a review of maritime transport policy. This is now under way in the Department of Communications and will address the question of a strategic fleet among other matters.

Deputy Keating mentioned the question of the inadequacy of pension funds. [2016] As far as Irish Shipping Limited are concerned the Minister has not a statutory function in relation to pensions. These are being administered by trustees of the company. The statutory power given to the Minister in the 1984 Act was not exercised as the company did not approach the Minister with any proposals which would require him to exercise these powers. This was a new power which was brought in, Deputies will recall, in the 1984 Act.

As I said, the question of dealing with all the pensioners was considered. That was the source of the main criticism during the course of this debate. The implications of doing so are obviously wider in terms of setting a precedent than if a clearly defined, identifiable and particularly deserving group of people are covered and it was considered that the implications were such that the State would not be justified in taking the risk involved. I join in all the various tributes which were paid during the course of the debate to the excellent staff who unfortunately, as many people have said, were caught up in this tragedy. It is not only a great tragedy for Irish Shipping but also a great financial tragedy for many people.

This measure provides for the alleviation of a special group admittedly. Very serious consideration was given to the possibility of providing for all the pensioners. Financial implications and various legal implications were weighed up and it was not found possible to do so. Having listened to the contributions from all sides of the House I understand the great depth of feeling in those contributions. Many Deputies have personal knowledge of the situation and many of their contributions were based on meetings with people who have become redundant and have been victims of this tragedy. I appreciate the concern expressed that this should be a wider measure than it is. All I can say is that the Minister was deeply involved and took a great personal interest in this. We have gone as far as it is possible to go.

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  Would the Minister ponder and ask the Minister and the [2017] Government to ponder on this fact? The Irish Rowan at 27,532 tons dead weight was sold last week for £2½ million or dollars. A strategic fleet would cost that multiplied by five, £12½ million or dollars, and there would be no need for pensions, redundancy payments or anything else. Would the Minister consider that?

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  I have been told that the High Court may order an investigation into the circumstances of the collapse. Has there been any contact between the Department and the High Court?

Mr. Nealon: Information on Edward Nealon  Zoom on Edward Nealon  It has ordered it on certain aspects.

Vote put.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  Is that agreed?

Mr. Wilson: Information on John P. Wilson  Zoom on John P. Wilson  It is not agreed in view of the general consensus in Fine Gael — there were no Labour speakers — and on this side of the House that is not wide enough. Therefore we are opposing it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on John J. Ryan  Zoom on John J. Ryan  In accordance with the Standing Order of the House relating to divisions on Estimates, as modified by the resolution of 15 December 1982 and the order made today, the division will be postponed until 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 29 May 1985.


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