Wednesday, 21 May 1986
Dáil Eireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to formulate and publish a policy for Irish deep sea shipping and  to declare its determination to maintain in Irish hands, adequate ferry services to the UK and mainland Europe.
“Dáil Éireann notes that the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements set up by the Minister for Communications, were published in the Green Paper on Transport Policy and that the Committee's report is at present being considered by the Government; and also takes note of the substantial financial support for the B & I Company recently approved by the Government.”.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. F. O'Brien): By agreement and notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Members shall be called in Private Members' Time as follows: 7 p.m.-7.10 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker; 7.10 p.m.-7.25 p.m. a Government speaker; 7.25 p.m.-7.40 p.m.-7.55 Government speaker; 7.40 p.m.-7.55 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker; 7.55 p.m.-8.10 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker; 8.10 p.m.-8.15 p.m. a Government speaker; 8.15 p.m.-8.30 p.m. a Fianna Fáil speaker.
Mr. B. Ahern: I wish to support the motion that was moved last night by Deputy Wilson. It has been two years since the collapse of Irish Shipping. There have also been difficulties in B & I and traumatic events occurred in November  1984 in respect of Irish Shipping. That was probably the biggest disaster and the greatest mistake made by the Government and that is saying something for a Government who have made some major mistakes.
The Government liquidated a semi-State company that was closely linked with the public service. For decades Irish Shipping had been regarded as an arm of the State and the company made considerable money for the Exchequer except for a few years. However, in November 1984 the State liquidated Irish Shipping and left the country without a strategic deep sea fleet. That tragedy still haunts the State and the liquidation process will go on for years. It is reliably learned that the liquidation will cost close on £100 million when the final results are known. At one time the Minister told the House that a sum of £144 million over five years could save Irish Shipping. The Government were given two options by the management whom I have never supported in the five or six debates in this House because clearly they made errors. However, they put two decisions to the Government. One was to invest £27 million in November 1984 and the other was to take the legal solution and force the company into liquidation. The Government panicked. They did not consider all the implications and they did not carry out any feasibility or viability studies. They liquidated the company. They left the country with no fleet and many skilled and trained workers were made redundant
However, the Government have not broken the spirit of the people who were formerly in Irish Shipping and who continually lobby Members of this House. All they want to do is to restore the pride the country had in the deep sea fleet. Two years after the liquidation the Minister continues to say it is a matter for the liquidator and that his proposals are in the Green Paper and that is not much use to the country or to the people who were in Irish Shipping. It is very difficult to see any justification for the Minister's attitude. Our country is seen in a different light abroad. Time and again at  international conferences and seminars people refer to the fact that a semi-State company was liquidated. Irish Shipping were not involved with any racketeers, with business tycoons or with people who were in the business to make a quick buck. The State sold out one of its own subsidiaries in one fell swoop. It was an appalling decision and there is an obligation on us in Opposition to try to force the Government to reverse their decision and try to retrieve something out of the disaster they created.
The Minister does not like to talk about the matter and he tries to keep well away from it. However, when he has to talk about it he just attacks the Opposition. Deputy Wilson has discussed this matter throughout the country and the Minister's response to that is that Deputy Wilson wants to re-establish a semi-State company at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. Deputy Wilson's answer last night and on other occasions has been that it would cost very little for the State to purchase the Irish Spruce. By doing that we could pick ourselves up and give some hope to the workers but unfortunately it seems that even that will not be done. The Minister has no real proposals to offer. He tells the House that the proposals and recommendation of experts are part of yet another White Paper, the inference being that the many White Papers which are gathering dust on the shelves may be taken down at a future date and considered.
The Minister has tried to claim much credit for the position in B & I but all of us know that improvements in that area are more to do with the work and the loyal service of trade unionists. They held the company together last year even though they suffered many taunts. The same applies to the Dublin Port and Docks Board but that is another matter.
In his amendment the Minister refers to the B & I Company. As Deputy Wilson pointed out last night, there are dangerous and worrying sections in the relevant Bill, particularly with regard to the remuneration of staff. The Bill states that in regard to remuneration or allowances  for expenses to be paid to officers or the terms and conditions of such officers, the company shall have regard to Government or nationally agreed guidelines. That seems to be taking the B & I Company out of the hands of the controlling body who have been there for years and into the hands of the Minister. This stems from the Government White Paper which says that in future all semi-State bodies or related bodies will be controlled directly by the State.
All such organisations have house agreements, rather like the conciliation and arbitration process. It is a total disaster to interfere where there are strong house agreements and where remuneration, conditions and the working relationship of management and workers are laid down. Such interference is unwelcome and unnecessary and will cause problems in the future. Whether it be Aer Lingus, the ESB or any of the other semi-State bodies, both management and unions are clearly stating that what the Government are proposing is to the detriment of the companies concerned. I ask that it be reconsidered and that recognition be given to what Deputy Wilson said last night. As a result of this detrimental legislation more State companies will close. It is being used as a vehicle for further closures.
Mr. Dowling: The previous speaker referred to the major disastrous decision made by the Government. No one believes that but yourselves. The decision taken by the Government on that issue was the proper one.
Mr. Dowling: I did not interrupt the Deputy. The Opposition are indulging in political point-scoring on what I regard as a serious matter. They bring in motion after motion seeking to spend hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money without being in the least concerned about where the money will come from. The decision to liquidate Irish Shipping was not taken lightly. I regret the fact that such a decision had to be made particularly for those involved in the company. The decisions taken by the board of the company during the period 1979 to 1981 meant disastrous losses for Irish Shipping and brought down the company. That company saw us through difficult times since the foundation of the State and we would have liked to see the company continue. In February 1984 the company received £12 million and they would have needed a further £20 million to bring them to the end of 1985 with the possibility of incurring a £150 million loss. No Minister has the right to use taxpayers' money in that way. There must be some level of accountability. The charter  agreements made with the Japanese company were disastrous.
Irish Shipping developed at a time when we were becoming economically independent. Most countries wanted to be independent in every aspect. Things have changed now and we have the EC. It is a major trading area and it is in that context that we should formulate shipping policy for the future. We do not have sufficient money to invest in a shipping company to the extent that would be necessary.
Last night the Minister set out in a fair way what Government policy is, what EC policy is and exactly what the Government are doing. In the Green Paper on shipping policy it is stated that during the first half of 1980 the world shipping industry experienced its worst depression for 50 years. This was caused by a substantial increase in shipping tonnage to cater for a boom in demand which did not materialise. It states that the industry has not yet recovered from this depression. The last three years have seen worldwide heavy losses by shipowners, bankruptcy of shipping companies, debt rescheduling, deferred delivery of new vessels and an increased laying up of vessels. The supply of world shipping is still under-utilised to a considerable extent notwithstanding some recent improvements in world trade.
The Opposition have almost demanded that the Government invest more taxpayers' money in a proposition which can only incur losses. I do not accept what Deputy Wilson or Deputy Ahern said in connection with the liquidation of Irish Shipping, that is, that it has done untold damage to the deep sea sector. The market is in recession and the forecast is not good. Conditions may have improved as a result of the reduction in oil prices but how long will that last? The position could change very quickly.
Not only is it a problem for us, but all the EC countries must look at their own areas. Last night Deputy Wilson gave various statistics from a number of EC countries. They are revising their plans with regard to the deep sea freight area. The EC share of tonnage has declined  considerably since 1980. That gave rise to the necessity for a well thought out Community policy. It has now been finalised and is being discussed by the Commission. Hopefully we will have due protection as far as the transportation and importation of goods are concerned.
We are all concerned about the number of jobs which were lost. There is much talk about the amount of social welfare paid to those who lost their jobs. The argument is made that, if they were still employed, the State would save that amount of social welfare but I do not accept that theory. In any job creation programme there must be a certain level of profitability. Without profitability, without wealth creation, it is not sustainable, and neither is any freight area, whether it be in shipping or in the air.
They are all undergoing change. They are all meeting with competition from other areas and there are people in the market area investigating market trends, trying to take a new share of the market, and unless one can keep up to date with that, one will not survive. We cannot keep pouring taxpayers' money into any area, shipping or otherwise. The taxpayer is demanding reductions in taxation. I do not know where the additional funds are going to come from to put money into Irish Shipping. It would take another £5 per year from every taxpayer to keep Irish Shipping afloat and there would be another £5 for a number of other interests which would demand the same consideration. If we were to pursue that type of policy to its logical conclusion then there should be no unemployment in the country. I do not accept that.
I would like to compliment the Department of Communications, the Minister and the Minister of State on the manner in which this whole situation is being handled. There are difficulties created in all sorts of employment. Factories have closed down not only during the period of this Government but that of other Governments too. Listening to the people on the other side of the House, one would imagine that no factory ever closed down when they were in office. I  had the experience of a closure where about 1,000 people in my own city lost their jobs. People were led to believe there was considerable wealth to be generated from the Fieldcrest complex, but that went. We did not expect to stand idly by and let things happen. We had to go out and entice in others. I support the view that the whole question of Irish Shipping and a deep sea fleet should be examined, but in the context of the whole European scene.
I am happy with the way the Minister is approaching this whole issue. I reject the assertion by the Opposition that this Government are to blame for the collapse of Irish Shipping. The decision of the Government was not lightly taken. The Opposition know that, and if they were in the same position, they would have had to take the same decision. But in Opposition they do not have to make those decisions. The committee set up to look at the transport policy confirmed the need to maintain a strategic fleet of deep sea vessels for the transport of essential supplies in an emergency. That policy has not changed. The estimated total cargo of 198,000 tonnes dead weight is now decreasing. On strategic grounds, there was an overhelming case for the provision of incentives for the maintenance and development of the Irish fleet. That policy has not changed. But what has changed is that Irish Shipping closed down because of abuse and badly researched decisions that were taken that put the company into receivership. It was not the fault of the Minister for Communications. It was not the fault of the Government. It was a Fianna Fáil appointed body that must take the greatest share of the blame for that debacle.
Mr. Durkan: I would like to support this amendment in the name of the Minister. Since I became a Member of this House quite a short time ago Private Members' Time seems to have become nothing more than an opportunity for the Opposition to explore and manipulate various interest groups to the detriment of the Government of the day. It is one of  the things that makes the general public sceptical about politicians.
Mr. Durkan: The cynical fashion in which the Opposition have responded to interest groups from time to time has given further credence to the opinion in the minds of the public that politicians merely manipulate various interest groups for their own good when and if it suits them. It is disgraceful that mature politicians in this House should continue to bring up a subject repeatedly which has been adequately discussed ad infinitium both in this House and in the other House and inside and outside of those Houses over the last number of months.
Mr. Durkan: Everybody is of the opinion that it was unfortunate that the Irish Shipping debacle should have ended the way it did. Everybody identifies with the unfortunate employees of Irish Shipping. Everybody accepts that it was not those employees on the high seas who were responsible for the failure of Irish Shipping. Everybody equally accepts that they have provided a sterling service on behalf of the Irish nation down through the years. It is also unfortunate that we in this House were not in a position to record all tributes to them in a monetary fashion.
Be that as it may, it must also be accepted that there are people in this House, both in Government and in Opposition who, regardless of what they might say at this time, knew for quite a considerable time before the whole question of Irish Shipping came to the fore, that all was not well with Irish Shipping. They are the people who are now criticising the Government while knowing in their own hearts and souls that, when they had the responsibility for the various offices within this State, they did not take decisions which should have been taken  and which would have changed the direction of that company at that time and which, if taken, would have ensured that at least when the fall came it would not have been as great as it was.
It is hypocritical for any politician to claim that the Government let down the people and the nation by allowing the loss of a prestigious company such as Irish Shipping. Of course it would be wonderful to have the prestige of a deep sea fleet if we could afford it. Unfortunately, we were in no position to afford it. Again, that was not the fault of the people on the high seas. It was the fault of the people who were given office to take decisions within the company and failed to take decisions which were in the best interests of the company at that time. This is not the first company this has happened to and it will not be the last. But it does teach us one lesson. That is that in semi-State companies we in this House are ultimately held responsible when anything goes wrong but we seldom get credit if things go right. In future when things appear to be going wrong, that is when the decisions should be taken. It is then that the changes should be made, and it is then that people should face facts and admit that perhaps they are not going in the right direction and that changes should be made. If they are not made, the right action should be taken.
In this case, unfortunately, when action time came it was too late to salvage anything. Undoubtedly the responsibility rests with a number of people. It is very easy for us on this side of the House to blame the Opposition entirely. It would also be equally easy for the people on that side of the House to blame the Government. It would be easy for both sides of this House to come together and agree that the management of Irish Shipping were solely at fault. Yet we, as a monitoring body, did not take the action we could and should have taken so the fault rests with us all. It also serves as a reminder to us in regard to the effectiveness of the Oireachtas in general, because that could be repeated in other areas, and we hope we have learned our lesson.
 I was not very impressed by the fact that Opposition speakers were drawing analogies between ICI and other companies, but Government Deputies could draw an analogy with the Talbot deal and others. That does not mean that what was done to solve one problem should be applied across the board. It must always be remembered that circumstances differ and so do remedies. There are no grounds for suggesting that what applied to ICI also applied to Irish Shipping. The circumstances were totally different and the analogy is not well founded.
I would like to deal now with the reasons for the problems in Irish Shipping. Everyone knows the world recession which hit every industry, servicing and manufacturing. For that reason one would presume that a shipping company or any freight company would take account of the changing circumstances, and particularly the lower freight rates. Obviously in this case they did not do that. They were lured into an agreement with Eastern businessmen who were sharper than they were and Irish Shipping were lured into an arena where they could not possibly win. The Opposition are suggesting that the Irish taxpayer should also be lured into that arena to bale out those who were trying to shore up the interests of the Eastern businessmen. In my view the Irish taxpayer owes no such debt to those people and he should never be asked to shore up any deal which has gone wrong. This House would have been very wrong if it had agreed to go down that particular road.
Very emotive and emotional stories have been heard in this House about what happened to the various ships which were berthed around the world. That makes good publicity, good copy, good radio and television, but it does not deal with reality, which was that the Irish taxpayer could be asked to pay something in the region of £200 million or more to ensure that the investments of financial interest groups outside this country were secure. I do not believe that is the job of this Government or of the Oireachtas.
Last night Deputy Kirk mentioned the  gloom and doom that apparently emanated from this side of the House. I do not accept that that has been the case. To the best of my knowledge, most of the gloom and doom seems to be coming from the opposite side of the House in an attempt to tell the people that, if circumstances were different, and if the position were reversed and Fianna Fáil were in Government, there would be a dramatic change in the lives of our people and the Irish economy and the world economy would automatically benefit.
Mr. Durkan: Cork knows many other things and I hope they remember them. When an emotive issue like this comes up we should be careful not to manipulate the interest group concerned. We might sympathise with them and identify with them and we might know what the problem is——
Mr. Durkan: ——but we should not try to paint the picture that if we were in Government we would help them. Every group makes their case, and if we help a specific group today it will automatically follow that another group will arrive tomorrow looking for assistance. Will we discriminate between them?
Mr. Durkan;: We then hand over control from the Oireachtas not to another institution in the State but to whatever interest group presents itself on the horizon. That is one of the problems this country has not faced up to over the last ten or 15 years in particular. Politicians seem to be prepared to say or do anything  that would placate any interest group. I accept that various interest groups have valid arguments — and Irish Shipping is no exception — but I question the sincerity of the continuous pursuit of a so-called ideal on the part of the Opposition. One of the things I dislike most about politics, and of which I have seen most in my short time in this House, is when we demean politics by pursuing that line. Our credibility and stature as politicians is lowered by pursuing that line. I accept that we are probably victims of the system, and I am sure if I were on the other side of the House I would be doing the same thing, although I hope I would not. Regardless of the political consequences I hope I would have enough sense not to go down that road.
As politicians we deal with young people who are very impressionable. They very often take us at our word and assume that everything we propose to do on their behalf will automatically become our policy and we will pursue it. Of course that does not follow because, as has happened in the past, Oppositions when given the opportunity to put into effect the various promises they made without responsibilities in the Opposition benches——
Mr. Durkan: We have a duty to get  across the message that we represent the electorate's best interests at all times. This means we should be sincere in what we say. We should not attempt to manipulate them, their feelings or their fears, and we should try not to manipulate them in a way that will leave them disconsolate and disgruntled.
Mr. Durkan: Another point mentioned in this debate was jobs in lieu of social welfare payments. It is about time we dealt with that argument, which can only be applied in certain circumstances. For instance, you can inject — a word commonly used by the Opposition when they talk about injecting funds into somebody's pocket — funds into a particular company for a short period provided it can guarantee the life of that company for a specific period. If that cannot be done, then all we are doing is throwing away good money after bad. We pretend we are providing jobs in lieu of social welfare by offsetting one against the other, but we cannot make that argument repeatedly. It would be very unfortunate if the public were to accept that argument as true and accurate because it is not.
Mr. Browne: I listened with amusement to Deputy Durkan talking about handing over control to vested interest groups. Every voter out there is part of an interest group and as politicians, whether we like it or not, we are inclined to listen to them and we represent those people. The problem nowadays is that we are not handing over to vested interest groups; we are handing over to receivers and liquidators who cream off the huge expenses and large salaries and at the end of the day the creditors and workers get very little. That is happening when firms go into liquidation and receivership.
Since the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited through motions and Estimate debates, Members on this side of the House have made every effort to get the  Government and the Ministers to recognise the importance of having a national deep sea shipping fleet. The decision to liquidate Irish Shipping was high-handed and without justification. Irish Shipping were a major company of international dimensions and importance. For many years they made an important contribution to the economy. They had a valuable content of employment and through Irish Shipping young Irish people had the opportunity to take up careers in the service of their own merchant navy. It was very important to have that outlet and to give them that opportunity.
In every aspect of strategic, economic and even security matters Irish Shipping were a vital part of our national resources. Deputy Wilson pointed out last night that the present climate lends itself to the Government setting about formulating a shipping policy that would lead once again to establishing a deep sea fleet of modest size. Oil prices have dropped 50 per cent and ships are available on the world market at reasonable prices at present. Another valuable asset, and probably the greatest reason why we should get back our shipping fleet, is the talented and outstanding Irish Shipping workers of every rank who are still available, ready and waiting for the call to serve again on the world's seas in the name of Ireland. They had an excellent industrial relationship with the Irish Shipping management over the years and it is criminal to have such workers drawing unemployment benefit when their talents could be used to the economic advantage of this country.
How much will the liquidation of Irish Shipping cost? Does the Minister really know? Does anyone really know? Sources say that it would take over five years to finalise. A figure of £170 million has been mentioned and that begs the question, could it be more than that? Surely it would have been cheaper to hold on to Irish Shipping and restructure their operations in a more reasonable manner or maybe on a smaller scale rather than getting rid of them. Remember it is taxpayers' money. Deputies on the far side talked tonight about their concern for  the taxpayer and the waste of taxpayers' money. To have nothing to show for the expenditure of £170 million at the end of the day is nothing short of a national scandal and the greatest waste of taxpayers' money by any government of this State.
The Minister and his Government panicked in calling in the liquidator. The whole scene of Irish Shipping has become clouded in secrecy and coverups. The people responsible for getting Irish Shipping into the financial mess have got off scot free and the liquidator, as usual, at the end of the day will have lined his pockets with outlandish fees while the workers are consigned to a miserable life on the dole queues. The Minister must act as quickly as possible to see that a deep sea fleet of manageable size is set up again. In comparison, Switzerland, a landlocked country, has its own thriving navy. Surely we as an island nation must get into the same position. The Government's decision to liquidate Irish Shipping with such haste and without any alternative plan was a mistake and they should set about formulating a policy to correct it immediately.
The Minister talked last night about a European shipping policy. Within that framework there must be a place for an Irish deep sea fleet. We talk about a national policy in a Green Paper. The problem with Green Papers this Government brought in in their four years in office has been that they have been brought in but they are put on a shelf in some Department never to be heard of again. Are we to wait another ten, 15 or 20 years to have the ideas, policies and suggestions in this Green Paper implemented? The Government record to date on taking action on Green Papers is not good and if I were a member of that Government I would not be proud of it.
The two Deputies on the far side of the House talked only about Irish Shipping. They made no mention of B & I, ICL or Sealink. I have an interest in ICL because they operate from Rosslare Harbour and they are the profit-making section of Irish Shipping. In reply to a question put down recently by our spokesman, Deputy  Wilson, regarding the purchase of ICL by an Irish interest, the Minister stated that the disposal of Irish Shipping Limited interest in Irish Continental Lines was a matter for the liquidator and he had no direct responsibility. That is ridiculous. The Minister must have a say directly in the interest of ICL and particularly in the interest of the Irish nation. The liquidator's interest is purely financial; the Minister's interest must be in the common good and therefore, he must have an interest in what happens to ICL and who eventually acquires them.
The continuation of ICL in their present format is vital to Ireland and above all to Rosslare Harbour and County Wexford in relation to on-shore and offshore employment and tourism in the south east and the country as a whole. Tourism has tremendous job potential and ICL are vital to this end. They must be kept under Irish control. At present they are a profit making company, and we should not allow outside multinational consortia to take them over and cream off the profits while the taxpayer pays for all this. We must ensure that the company remain in Irish hands.
We should have our own permanent sea transportation system. Sea traffic has increased its share of the market from 41 per cent in 1973 to 50 per cent in 1984. The future of this island depends on our ability to trade and compete with our EC partners. I notice that the Minister, Deputy Mitchell, is missing, for what reason I do not know, but I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Nealon, to ensure that ICL are kept in Irish ownership and remain on the Rosslare Harbour route. There is much concern at present about the liquidator's intentions. Rumours abound about who is buying ICL, who is involved in ICL, who might take over ICL, who is interested in ICL. The Minister has a duty to kill those rumours. What is all the secrecy about? Is there a buyer, locally or foreign based? Has one of the major banks a vested interest in the ownership? Tell us the truth. Let the people know what is going on in regard to ICL. We as taxpayers have a right to  know and the Minister should tell us here tonight.
The arrangement between B & I and Sealink is causing concern at present. This non-competitive cartel arranged on the southern corridor is not in the best interests of the customer. The monopoly has resulted already in excessive fare charges from B & I and Sealink which I and the consumer, the people using the route, feel is not justified. The customer is not satisfied. Recently I have had numerous complaints from consumers regarding the substantial fare hike. The Minister's responsibility is to see that the consumer is protected in such a cartel arrangement. If this cartel are to continue then they can increase fares whenever they like. There is no one to control them or to take charge of them. The Minister should ensure that this type of cartel arrangement is not allowed to continue and he should keep it under observation and control.
The Minister should clarify the situation in relation to Pembroke Dock because money from the State is being paid into it at present. Some plans should be made to hand it over to interested groups because it is not right to be paying money into Pembroke Dock and getting no benefit from it. It is also a waste of taxpayers' money.
The other area which goes hand in hand with shipping concerns Rosslare Harbour and its development. It is one of the fastest growing ports in the country but at present we have a stop-go development in the harbour. For example, recently a customs shed was under construction but the contractor was told he would have to stop working because there was no money available.
Mr. Browne: The week after he was told to come back and to start work again. I do not know what kind of messing this is or what is going on in the Department of Finance, but in the interests of the development of Rosslare Harbour this should not be allowed to continue. Its  development is vital to the national interest and the Government should get on with the job as it would be money well spent. The development and investment in Rosslare will give a sound financial return to the State and it would not be a waste of taxpayers' money. Last year over a million passengers passed through Rosslare despite the lack of development. There has been massive development in Ringaskiddy. I am not going to criticise that — fair play to them for getting such an investment. However, I wish to remind the Minister that Rosslare Harbour is just as important as Ringaskiddy and that there must be massive development there also. It is ideally situated geographically for incoming and outgoing traffic and it has had a remarkable industrial relations record over the years as there have been no strikes by the work-force.
We must also take into account that County Wexford has the highest unemployment rate in the country and we look to tourism to solve some of the problems. Our greatest potential is in Rosslare Harbour and I ask the Minister to ensure that its development continues on an ongoing basis and to abandon the penny pinching policies which have existed over the last few years. A substantial amount of money should be made available so that the development of Rosslare Harbour can be completed to benefit Wexford and the economy generally.
That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to formulate and publish a policy for Irish deep sea shipping and to declare its determination to maintain in Irish hands, adequate ferry serives to the UK and mainland Europe.
I specifically read the motion because some speakers, for reasons best known to themselves, departed from it. Perhaps it is because it speaks for itself and is very definite in what is required for the country. The only thing I would add to the motion is that, in addition to providing  and having a published policy for shipping, we should also include provision for the repair, upkeep and building of ships for the fleet mentioned in the motion. This motion is not in the interests of one particular group but is of interest to the entire nation, and I discount the suggestion made by previous speakers that it is confined to any interested group. It is not, unless you call our population an interested group. If that is so, I am quite happy to contribute to the motion.
Irish Shipping have been dealt with my many speakers. We are a maritime nation and it is required of us to indicate the need to formulate and publish a policy for Irish deep sea shipping and our determination to keep it in Irish hands. Irish Shipping was created in time of need by the late Seán Lemass to trade and to bring supplies to this country in difficult times. The hauling down of the Irish flag from ships in ports around the world is the last straw — it is nothing short of a scandal, which will be to the eternal disgrace of the Government. In hauling down our flag they abandoned staff and boats without proper consideration for either.
I acknowledge the contributions of two Government Deputies from inland constituencies, but in so doing I have to say that the absence of speakers from coastal regions in unusual. It is an indication of lack of faith in their own Government? There is something sinister in the fact that they did not contribute to the debate. One Deputy talked about being on course. Let me remind that Deputy that we are not on any course because of the liquidation of Irish Shipping. He talked about aims and ideals on this side of the House. Since our foundation 60 years ago we have never had problems with our aims and ideals, because they are the same now as they were then — the benefit and economic welfare of our nation. There is no problem in regard to our sincerity and commitment to those aims and ideals. Contrast them with the promises mentioned by the same speaker. Could he and other Members tell me about the promises which the Government  made to the people? What about the £9.50p offered to stay at home wives? What about the budget deficit, one of the main planks of their election propaganda in 1982? What about foreign borrowing? When those questions are answered the people will know where the sincerity and integrity are.
As a representative from a coastal county I should like to be parochial for a while. I refer to Cork city and county. I want to refer to where we were in times gone by and where we are now as a result of this Government, who have been in office for eight and a half years out of a total of 13 years. Cork city and county had a number of natural characteristics which would have benefited the region when Ireland joined the EC. We have the second largest concentration of population in the country. We have deep, sheltered harbour facilities. The slogan for Cork is Statio bene fide carinis— a well-protected harbour for ships. That was when we had ships, but we do not have them now. That port was also suitable for the establishment of heavy industries with products or raw materials which were most easily moved by sea. Traditionally, the lower harbour of Cork had been used by transatlantic liners, adequate proof of its ability to receive large ships. In the sixties the first signs of moves by industries to take advantage of these facilities became apparent. Other features of Cork harbour are its nearness to the Continent, and, indeed, its suitability for trans-Atlantic trade. Cork was the only major port on the south coast and should have been able to attract the bulk of trade between Ireland and the Continent.
In 1952 the tonnage of vessels entering Cork harbour from ports in England, the Six Counties and the Republic was 609,565 tonnes. In 1961 this had risen to 977,883 tonnes. The tonnage from ports other than those mentioned in 1952 was 286,194 tonnes. In 1961 this figure had risen to more that one million tonnes. Clearly Cork harbour was developing trade rapidly with countries other than  Great Britain even before the prospect of free trade with Europe.
Complementing Cork's location as a port, and its suitability for industrial development is the large agricultural hinterland. From the scale of the dairy products industry in Cork, and the pigs and bacon industry in the larger area of Munster, it is possible to envisage how strengthened trade links with the Continent could open new opportunities for agricultural processing industries and exports of agricultural goods from Cork.
This should be apparent especially from the reports on textile industries, agricultural processing industries, the printing industry, motor vehicle assembly, fertilisers and chemicals, which are of vital importance for the Cork area. While agriculture had made a major contribution in the past its role was rapidly being superseded by industry. Cork is well placed by virtue of its location and natural environment to exploit the benefits of EC membership, all we require are positive directions.
The economic development of the Cork region has been in reverse gear in recent years, through the ongoing closures and liquidations of contracting industries. This has occurred because of a lack of suitable policies by the Government, but the loss of a ferry service to Britain is a major factor in the economic decline and thus a contributory factor to the massive unemployment in the Cork area, something that is not in the priorities of the Government.
The general public must be telling Government Deputies that their priority should not be on the social changes they are pursuing in accordance with the Taoiseach's crusade. The Government have got it all wrong. Unemployment and the creation of jobs are the most important elements in our economy. However, the Government are pursuing other policies that are clearly aimed at diverting attention from our economic position.
Allowing the only ship building and ship repairing yard to go into liquidation is another hallmark of the failure of Government policies. But worse is happening. Former workers from Verlome  Cork Dockyard got together to form a consortium to take over that yard. They contributed some of their redundancy money and sat long tedious hours with the liquidator with the specific purpose in mind of reopening the dockyard, at the beginning employing 50 to 100 workers, but with the obvious intention of using the skills and abilities which are available in Cobh and in the city of Cork and surrounding areas.
All they require from the Government at this time is the support of two Ministers, Deputy Noonan and Deputy Mitchell. Their support is vital because the workers are not in a position to put up anything like the money the receiver is seeking. The Government let Verlome go into liquidation before and I am asking them now to give a positive response to the efforts being made in the Cork area so that the dockyard can be reopened.
Shipping repair work has gone abroad. The “Leinster” went for a £2.5 million refit to be followed by the “Connacht” for a similar job. We have the unacceptable situation of a semi-State body, the ESB, using foreign vessels to supply thousands of tonnes of coal to Moneypoint because we do not have our own ships since Irish Shipping were liquidated. Bauxite is being moved to Aughanish on foreign vessels. Do the Government realise what is happening? We have Englishmen repairing our ships and Liberians and Panamanians transporting our cargo while Irish people are left stranded.
The decision of the Government to lease the prototype of the Eithne, the P31, the pride of the Irish work force and design teams of the Cork dockyard, has resulted in that type of ship being built in shipyards around the world with the Government expecting to get £1 million in royalties from each ship built. We condemned the action of the Government in closing the yard because, as we said then, we believe in the achievements of our work force and the possibilities of the P31. We outlined the need to market this wonderful vessel but we were not listened to by the Government who showed a complete lack of faith in the Irish work force. The Government must stand  indicted on this issue particularly as they ignored all the encouragement from this side of the House to save the dockyard and utilise the skills of the work force. The position is nothing short of a national scandal equal only to the liquidation of Irish Shipping and to the utter disgrace of the Coalition Government.
In the south west, tourism is very important to the economic life of the region and a ferry link with Britain is a pre-requisite for that trade. Our people in Britain and their families, come home for holidays and visit relatives and friends from whom they have been separated for a long time. Some of those people have been separated since the economic depression of the fifties. It is important to recall who was in power at that time. Many people left Ireland in those years in search of work and unfortunately, the trend in recent years has been for emigration to increase. Again we have a Coalition Government in power and emigration is increasing because of the economic madness of the Government.
A Cork-Kerry tourism survey in 1985 showed the volume of traffic from the UK dropped to third place from a position of being ahead of all others a few years ago. Nobody is prepared to drive over many miles of substandard roads to get to destinations in Cork and Kerry. It is worth noting that 30 per cent of tourism plant is located in that region and that 7,000 people are directly employed and many thousands indirectly employed in the industry. The Government have not encouraged the provision of a ferry from Cork to the UK. In the five years preceding 1984, in excess of 100,000 foot passengers and 25,000 vehicles travelled the Cork route to the UK. If any industry were told they would lose 100,000 customers, there would be a revolution and the Government, and the Minister, would not be as smug as they are.
The report of the Eastern Region Development Organisation shows that 50 per cent of our population will live along the east coast in the near future. That is an indication of how important it is for the Government to pursue a policy of decentralisation. Instead of taking stock  of that, the Government seem to be concerned only about providing shipping lanes from the east coast. Three local authorities, Cork County Council, Cork Corporation and Kerry County Council, joined forces to do the Government's job by providing a ferry service. They sought £300,000 to ensure the inauguration of that service. It is true that the Minister intended to give that money but he delayed so long that the amount was inadequate as far as planning for tourism was concerned. The Minister ought to know that it is necessary to plan ahead for tourism.
The amendment refers to the support given by the government to the B & I. The granting of £38 million to the B & I for the east coast does not make sense when one considers that only £300,000 was promised to Cork. The developments at Ringaskiddy were mentioned and it is true to say that down the years Governments provided money to set the scene for the EC to make contributions from the Social Fund and the Regional Fund to develop the Cork port.
Proposals were shelved until recently when we insisted on their being taken off the shelves. We have the port and the quayside built up. However, this Government have failed to sanction provision of equipment for that quayside. I repeat that this is the equivalent of having a pub with no beer.
“Dáil Éireann notes that the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements set up by the Minister for Communications, were published in the Green Paper on Transport Policy and that the Committee's report is at present being considered by the Government; and also takes note of the substantial financial support for the  B & I Company recently approved by the Government.”
I understand the idea that the Opposition are trying to promote. Yesterday Deputy Wilson said he was anxious to promote a small shipping fleet. The Government are considering this at present and it is only right that they should examine their options now, in the light of previous bad experience. That experience came about through decisions, the effects of which were well signalled. I recall meeting people from Irish Shipping Limited who indicated that the management and board of that company were making decisions that they could not stand over.
Mr. Carey: At that time the employees did not envisage the total collapse of the company, but they were indicating that there were major difficulties. I appreciate the reasons which Deputy Wilson outlined for having an Irish deep sea fleet and a strategic fleet, but the continued political exploitation of the problems caused by the liquidation of Irish Shipping is going a little too far. From the information available to me, Deputy Wilson is doing a good job as shadow spokesman on Transport. He is operating in a very efficient way. He is asking the Minister for Communications about various problems and is continuously inquiring about ferry services to the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.
A substantial number of questions were put down on 9 April 1986 in this connection and Deputy Wilson and the Minister had very interesting exchanges. The Deputy was satisfied at the time that the Minister was making a reasonable effort to have new proposals put in train for the continuation of the Irish Continental Line and to have ferry services made available. Deputy Lyons was at pains to criticise the Government and got great mileage out of clichés which were well used in the fifties. Why go back 30 years to hammer Coalition or inter-party Governments? This Coalition took over  many economic problems from the previous Government.
Mr. Carey: Deputy Lyons does not recall, but I do, that the budget provision was all spent by June of 1982 and in July of that year the former Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, instituted cuts and imposed health charges. Does anybody remember what those who had to go into hospital had to say about those Fianna Fáil cuts?
Mr. Carey: The Minister is bringing a marine authority into the Shannon Estuary area and big boats will come up the Shannon, whether they be Japanese boats loaded with coal or others and there will be employment in Clare and Limerick.
Mr. M. Ahern: I am pleased to be speaking to this motion which is highly relevant. Its purpose is recognised by the Deputies opposite. It is a shame that nothing is being done and our motion is calling for activity. There is not only apparent but transparent inactivity on the part of the Government in the whole field of shipping. We see the need once again to put down this motion to highlight the necessity for action to remedy the present situation.
Our motion refers not alone to deep sea shipping but to the ferry services to the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. It emphasises the necessity to maintain control over these services in  Irish hands. That control is being given away by the Government as we have seen, first, by the liquidation of Irish Shipping Limited, secondly, by the proposed partnership arrangement with Sealink and, thirdly, by the likelihood of the sale of ICL to interests outside this State. It is well to reflect on what has happened in relation to Irish Shipping Limited since 1984, when they were put into liquidation. Ships were stranded throughout the world and their crews were treated disgracefully by those responsible.
Mr. M. Ahern: The Government were then and are still responsible. Even at this moment the Irish Spruce is tied up in France, but with a foreign crew. Why were the Irish crew brought back? That question has not been satisfactorily answered. Over the years we have educated our young people to be marine engineers but at the moment those who are still doing the course are being educated not for service to this nation but for emigration. The experienced seamen who served the country for many years since Seán Lemass founded Irish Shipping Limited have no alternative but to work abroad or else sign on at their local employment exchanges.
It is factually correct to state that there is an over-capacity of bulk carriers, as the Minister said last night. However, it is also true that there are ships available at very low prices and, from what I have been given to understand, it would be possible to purchase two 70,000 tonne carriers for as little as £7 million, which is small money for that type of ship. If the Electricity Supply Board were to give to one such purchased carrier the contract for carriage of half their coal needs and if the other ship were leased even at present low freight rates, the ships would pay for themselves. Should such a course be followed, it would be a commencement in the building up of a deep sea shipping fleet again. Such a fleet might evolve and develop into one comparable with the fleet scuttled so recently.
 The Minister of State highlighted the Government's attitude towards the provision of a fleet when he stated that the key recommendation of the committee is the one relating to the provision of incentives for maintenance and development of an Irish fleet. From the statement and the actions of the Government one can draw but one conclusion and that is that the Government do not intend to develop a strategic fleet which the committee also concluded was a need and whose first conclusion was the need to maintain on the Irish register a strategic fleet of deep-sea vessels for the transport of essential supplies in an emergency.
I would say to the Minister of State, what about the ships to make such implementation of that recommendation meaningful? The question which the Minister of State has not satisfactorily addressed is the cost of closure versus the cost of keeping in operation Irish Shipping Limited. He estimated that £144.5 million up to 1989 plus £59 million losses at that date would be the total cost if Irish Shipping Limited were to be maintained.
Day by day we listen to the Government telling us of the upturn in the world economy which in time should increase freight rates again. The next day we hear them saying that freight rates will continue to fall and £220 million will be the cost of keeping Irish Shipping Limited going. Still, we are not told what the final cost of the liquidation will be. Will it be £50 million, £100 million or £150 million? We get no definite figures — for one simple reason — the Government do not  know how much it will cost. They did not know the first day they made the decision what it would cost. They did not know whether or not it would be beneficial in the long run to the State to scuttle Irish Shipping Limited. They panicked and made the wrong decision in their panic. As Deputy Wilson stated last night, a deep sea fleet will be developed by Fianna Fáil and it will grow to be respected throughout the world as the last fleet grew to be respected.
The future of Irish Continental Line, which is a profitable subsidiary of Irish Shipping Limited, hangs in the balance. We regard the maintenance of this line in either State or private ownership as being of special importance. It is vitally important that we should have direct contact with the Continent, dependent on no one outside the State. It would be another tragedy should ICL be allowed to escape from control of this nation, private or public. If that should happen, there is no doubt that in the long term the employees of Irish Continental Line would be unemployed and should a crisis arise there would be no direct link available between the Continent and this country. There is no guarantee that Irish Continental Line, if sold out of Irish hands, would under any circumstances provide contact between the Continent and Ireland.
I should perhaps in this context draw attention to the fact that the Minister, in the course of a recent discussion in this House regarding Irish Continental Line, at present in the hands of the liquidator of Irish Shipping Ltd., indicated that he would take every step possible to ensure the continuation of a direct ferry link between Ireland and the Continent of Europe.
Deputy Wilson mentioned last night that the former board of B & I had plans to streamline the company and to bring  it into a profitable position. Zeus Consultants were put in and they have made other decisions. I hope the plans they have formulated will be successful and that B & I will continue and improve. There are elements which are not satisfactory. First of all, it was said that if there was competition between B & I and the new owner of Sealink of Rosslare to Fishguard or Pembroke routes B & I would lose out but it is not unknown that the opposition, Sealink, were worried about the competition of B & I. Who decided that B & I would lose out and why?
What will be the effects of the monopoly on the southern corridor? Is this in the best interests of the customers? From the experience of monopolies in whatever field the winners are always those who control the monopoly, the losers are the customers. Is there any reason to believe or to have faith in those who are effectively saying that this monopoly will be good for the customers and the country? The channel tunnel, when completed will no doubt increase traffic through the southern corridor. If the present agreement stretches into the future we will not control the ships plying from Rosslare. This is sad. The agreement is not in the very best interests of the Irish paying customers.
Deputy Wilson raised the question of the continued payment by Government for Pembroke. We have had no comment from the Minister of State or subsequent speakers in regard to this point. Hopefully, the Minister will address this problem to ensure that some form of activity will be found to offset the substantial  payments which the State has to pay. Cork and the south west region has for a number of years been without a ferry to Britain. The Government last year promised £500,000 for the provision of a ferry but this came to nought as the promise of that money came too late. Whether this was intentional or not I leave to objective minded persons to decide. The lack of a ferry has had disastrous effects on the tourism industry in that area and I would call on the Minister seriously to examine the position, with a view to filling the void.
A disgraceful situation arose recently when refurbishing of the B & I ships was contracted to a dockyard at Liverpool when the work could have been done in the Cork area where there are thousands of skilled workers available. The effects of the liquidation in Irish Shipping Limited became apparent when work on the Leinster was stopped until extra money was voted by Government because the people across the water did not trust that they would be paid unless the money was up front. For Deputies who say that the Irish Shipping Limited liquidation did not have effects throughout the world, this is simple proof that it did.
In conclusion, I would say that the chief purpose of this motion is to act as a stimulus and a goad to activity because there is no activity with regard to shipping as of now. The fact is that the Government have done nothing positive, they have been negative in the extreme and have scuttled what has taken 50 years to build up.
Birmingham, George Martin.
Boland, John. Crotty, Kieran.
Deasy, Martin Austin.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Harte, Patrick D.
Conlon, John F.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cosgrave, Michael Joe. Molony, David.
Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East)
Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
Burke, Raphael P.
Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Gallagher, Pat Cope.
Haughey, Charles J.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West)
Wilson, John P.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 01:10:56||Page of 88|