Adjournment of the Dáil: Motion.

Thursday, 9 March 1989

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 388 No. 2

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The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I move: “That the Dáil do now adjourn.”

The Government have ordered this debate so that the Dáil and the general public may have access to the fullest possible information about matters which have arisen in regard to the semi-State company Irish Sugar plc. and which have been the subject of a great deal of political and media comment.

I wish to make it clear that the sole purpose of this debate is to provide information because I do not in fact believe that we are dealing here with any major issue of substance despite all the attempts which have been made to elevate the matter into a major political issue and to create an artificial atmosphere around it.

Recently two Dáil questions were addressed to me regarding this affair which in accordance with Standing Orders were ruled out of order by the Ceann Comhairle. Had they been in order I would have stated, as I now do to the House, that I did not nor did anyone on my behalf discuss the affairs of Irish Sugar plc. with any other company or the representatives of any other company or with any of the person or persons mentioned in the questions.

I also wish to confirm that at no time was any proposal brought before or considered by the Government for the sale of Irish Sugar plc. or any part of it to any private commercial concern or otherwise. Any such proposal would represent a major change in policy and would require very detailed examination and assessment from a number of different points of view. Many different Government Departments and agencies would [291] be involved in such an examination. No steps of any kind were initiated by the Government in that connection.

In fact, at a meeting on 6 February between the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Labour and representatives of the trade unions, the Ministers clearly indicated that it was not Government policy to privatise Irish Sugar.

Let us examine the elements of this affair and what has been suggested or implied. The first matter concerns Deputy Lawlor who it appears was a director of Food Industries Limited and was also the chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Semi-State Bodies until he resigned. It was alleged that there was a conflict of interest on the part of Deputy Lawlor arising from these two appointments and that in his capacity as chairman of the committee he received information from Irish Sugar which could have been of value to Food Industries and that he withheld that information from the Members of the committee for some time.

That allegation is at present being looked into by the committee concerned under the chairmanship of Deputy Liam Kavanagh who, it has been agreed, should continue to remain in the Chair of the committee until such time as this investigation has been disposed of. Deputies will have noted that the former secretary of the committee has already confirmed Deputy Lawlor's version of a key aspect of the matter. In my view, the proper and the most effective and expeditious way to proceed is for that committee to pursue their investigation to a conclusion and then to submit a report to this House. When that report comes before the House, the House can then decide what further action, if any, is necessary.

The other matter concerns the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Michael O'Kennedy. It is now suggested that he was aware of the possibility of a conflict of interest in the case of Deputy Lawlor as a director of Food Industries Limited and chairman of the Oireachtas [292] committee, or that if he was not so aware he should have been, and that he failed to inform the Dáil fully about the matter when it was raised last November and subsequently.

There are other slightly less specific imputations that the Minister canvassed members of the board and sought to persuade them to keep Thurles sugar factory open and that apart from Food Industries Limited he discussed privatisation of the Irish Sugar Company with other outside interests.

The Minister of Agriculture and Food, who will speak later in this debate, will deal with these matters personally and officially in detail. At this stage, however, I would indicate to the House that in my view he cannot be accused of anything even remotely resembling improper conduct in regard to Irish Sugar plc. nor does he deserve to be the subject of the sort of comments and claims which are unjustifiably levelled against him.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The records show that insofar as he was made aware of the interest of any outside commercial concerns in Irish Sugar, he immediately informed the chairman of Irish Sugar of these approaches. The position is that Irish Sugar plc. is a wholly-owned semi-State company; that the sale of it or any part of it was never considered; that no discussions of any kind were entered into by the Government on the Government's behalf with a view to the sale of Irish Sugar or any part of it, and that there is no intention on the part of the Government that this situation should change. In fact, the Government fully support the efforts of Irish Sugar to turn itself into a viable profitable concern capable of withstanding the competition which will inevitably arise during the next few years and also in its efforts to establish alternative sources of employment for the workforce of the Thurles sugar factory.

I think the House should also keep in mind the fact that Food Industries Limited embarked on a round of discussions with the Opposition parties about that [293] company's interest in Irish Sugar and in becoming associated with it in some form or other. Representatives of Food industries were received in this connection by the Fine Gael Party, the Progressive Democrat Party, the Labour Party and The Workers' Party. Presumably these were reasonably serious discussions and accepted as such by the parties concerned. If those parties were prepared to discuss the possibility of some form of association, whether by takeover or otherwise, of Food Industries and Irish Sugar how can they possibly criticise the Minister for Agriculture and Food for passing on to the chairman of the Irish Sugar Company any indications which he received of interest by outside organisations in Irish Sugar?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  They apparently are free to discuss the future of Irish Sugar with a private concern but the Minister for Agriculture and Food is to be castigated for no better reason than that he became aware of some approaches which, I repeat, he correctly and appropriately passed on to the chairman of Irish Sugar.

Last Thursday the Fine Gael leader, Deputy Dukes, accused the Minister for Agriculture and Food of seeking to prevent the Sugar Company from taking sound commercial decisions and alleged that political interference could have jeopardised jobs in the two sugar factories in Carlow and Mallow. These are incredible accusations from the leader of Fine Gael who was a member of a Government which specifically overruled a decision of the board of Irish Sugar to close the Tuam plant and insisted that it be kept open for six years at a cost of approximately £15 million.

I would like to put on the record of the House a Coalition Government statement made on 23 September 1981: “Early in September the Minister for Agriculture”, that is Deputy Dukes, “asked the Chairman of the company to defer any decision on the closure of Tuam. Despite this request, repeated on [294] several occasions, the board, nevertheless, decided on 10 September to cease production there. The Minister, Deputy Dukes, then requested that an announcement be deferred in order to give time to enable the possibilities of providing alternative employment opportunities to be fully explored before an announcement was made, but the board decided that they were unable to defer an announcement of their decision”.

Not merely did Deputy Dukes as Minister for Agriculture pressurise the board of the Sugar Company to defer their closure decision, and thus interfere with their commercial judgment, his Government actually overturned and overruled the Sugar Company, a decision which cost at least £15 million.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  What was your party saying?

A Deputy:  Ask Mark Killilea.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Is it not audacious in the light of that Coalition decision for Fine Gael now to attempt to criticise the present Minister for taking an interest in the future of the Thurles plant, especially as on this occasion the Government accepted the decision of the board?

The Progressive Democrats have been talking about the establishment of a tribunal. I do not think that the Government would be in any way justified in embarking on any such step at this stage. Tribunals of that kind involve the expenditure of considerable public funds. For instance, the cost to the Exchequer of the last three such tribunals was, the Kerry babies £1,645,000, the Stardust disaster £1,248,350 and the Whiddy island disaster £1,284,609. There is absolutely nothing in all that has been said and alleged which would justify any such expenditure. The allegations which have been made can be properly and appropriately dealt with through the procedures of this House and its committees. The acting chairman of the committee on semi-State bodies has stated that he is satisfied that the committee has the [295] powers it requires to enable it to carry out its investigation adequately.

Deputy Des O'Malley has apparently changed his mind about tribunals since the days when he tried to bulldoze through a proposal by the ESB to build a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point at a cost of between £500 million and £1,000 million. In an interview with the Sunday Press on 15 October 1978, Deputy O'Malley as Minister said——

A Deputy:  He was a Soldier of Destiny then.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  ——“It is in the public and national interest that there should be some limitation of the right to object” and “I cannot defer a decision the effect of which would leave this country short of electricity in ten year's time.”

(Interruptions.)

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Electricity was being cut off every second day.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Fortunately, I cannot hear a word the Deputy is saying.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  You will very shortly.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Order, please.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Until the Three Mile Island disaster stunned the world, Deputy O'Malley was opposed to any tribunal of inquiry except a restricted planning one on a matter of infinitely greater importance to this and future generations of Irish people than this present artificial confrontation.

I could also recall for the House details of semi-State companies which at the time were the responsibility of Deputy O'Malley as Minister, such as NET and Irish Steel, which cost the Irish taxpayer many many millions because of inadequate ministerial supervision. No adequate inquiries or tribunals were ever set up to look into that scandalous waste of public moneys.

[296](Interruptions.)

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  Where was the Taoiseach at the time?

Dr. G. FitzGerald: Information on Garrett Fitzgerald  Zoom on Garrett Fitzgerald  It was a collective responsibility.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I am coming to the Deputy now. The last Coalition Government had their quota of costly fiascoes in the semi-State area, too.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Taoiseach should look back at the history of them.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Hundreds of millions were lost in the Insurance Corporation of Ireland debacle, the liquidation of Irish Shipping and the mishandling of the B & I.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The B & I became a commercial company under the last Government.

Mr. Cullen: Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  What about Irish Shipping?

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  No tribunals were set up to examine the role of the Ministers concerned in those affairs.

The Progressive Democrats in particular, but other Deputies also, are quite prepared to use the Irish Sugar Company as a pawn in their political game. They have failed to make any impression in their attacks on Government policy simply because our policies are working successfully. They have, therefore, and this is typical of them, resorted to the old game of personalised politics even though in doing so they may damage the interests of Irish Sugar, an important and valuable semi-State company in the agricultural sector who are facing their own problems apart from any which we in this House may create for them. What has happened the high-minded mould-breaking party that we were all subjected to so much cant about a few years ago?

Miss Colley: Information on Anne Marie Colley  Zoom on Anne Marie Colley  If we are so irrelevant why spend so much time on us?

[297](Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I believe Deputies in Opposition would be performing a much better service if they were to offer every support they can to Irish Sugar in their efforts to strengthen their viability, improve their performance and extend their activities into the new employment projects in which they plan to participate.

It seems to be suggested in much of the criticism of the Minister for Agriculture and Food that he should not as Minister have listened to any proposals from any source about possible developments in Irish Sugar, or entertain any approaches of any kind. That could not possibly be accepted. Ministers who have responsibility for semi-State companies must always be prepared to discuss proposals which might be of interest or benefit to the companies concerned. The Progressive Democrats, led by Deputy Des O'Malley, have been particularly frenetic about this matter. Deputy Des O'Malley has a very short memory in this respect also. When he was Minister for Industry and Commerce he engaged constantly in confidential discussions and negotiations about the affairs of companies in both the public and private sector without ever reporting to the Dáil. I am not criticising him for that. It is in fact often essential that Ministers conduct confidential negotiations in the interest of saving jobs and protecting State investments. But from his own personal experience of these matters Deputy O'Malley should be the last person in this House to countenance the sort of phony allegations his party are now hurling at the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Where is the substance in these claims and allegations against Deputy O'Kennedy, the Minister for Agriculture and Food? I suggest there is none. There is for instance no fraud, no share transactions, no insider dealing, no loss to company or Exchequer funds, no missing stocks, not so much as a pound of sugar gone astray. What in fact is there? What would a judicial inquiry investigate?

I have no hesitation in saying that [298] Deputy Michael O'Kennedy is a man of integrity——

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  ——who would never act in the performance of his ministerial duties in any way that was not upright and conscientious. The Irish Sugar Company are still intact. They have not been sold or compromised in any way. The board have optimistic plans for new projects in Thurles and for the commercial future of the company. They have our full support. Let us have an end to this artificial affair and let Irish Sugar get on with their important work in the best interests of the beet growers, the users of their products and their workforce.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  After that performance I can only conclude that the Taoiseach believes that life is a succession of soft focus, slow motion swans of the kind we saw on RTÉ on 24 January last. There are four principal areas of concern in this issue, none of which has been properly addressed by the Taoiseach. The first is that the Minister for Agriculture and Food interfered incompetently and ineptly in the affairs of the Sugar Company——

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. N. Treacy): Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  That is lie number one.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  ——thereby endangering replacement jobs in Thurles and existing jobs in Mallow and Carlow. The second is that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, and perhaps the Government, considered offers which could have led to the breaking up of the Irish Sugar quota——

Deputies:  That is wrong.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  ——and the allocation of at least part of it to another enterprise, and also considered the disposal of the company in circumstances which would have realised for the shareholders a substantially smaller sum than would have been realised after the rationalisation [299] which the board of the company wished to carry out.

A Deputy:  Lie number two.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Thirdly, the Minister for Agriculture and Food failed to understand or appreciate the existence of a possible conflict of interest between Deputy Liam Lawlor's position as a director of a private company and his position as chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies. Fourth, the Minister for Agriculture and food, in the period from 20 October 1988 to 1 March 1989, and possibly even since then, failed to give a full account, either to this House or in public, of matters in which he was involved and about which he was specifically asked.

We now know, by the Minister for Agriculture and Food's own admission, that on 19 October last, the principal of one of the largest food industry complexes in this country spoke to the Minister about a possible interest in an involvement with Irish Sugar. I must immediately add that I am making no criticism of the other person involved on that account. He clearly has plans for the development of his food industry interests but they are not our direct concern here today. It is clear also, on the Minister's own admission, that on the same day he had discussions with a representative of a Finnish company—Finn Sugar—in very much the same vein, that is to say, concerning the acquisition of part or all of Irish Sugar.

It is matter of record that, on the following day, 20 October 1988, the Minister replied to a question in this House saying that no proposals in regard to the future of the Thurles plant had been made to him. It is equally a matter of record that, on 29 November last, the Minister said, in response to a question as to whether he had any discussions or negotiations with representatives of the Irish company in question, that he had had no such discussions or negotiations. Those are clearly established [300] facts which cannot be denied. At the very least, the Minister owes it to this House to explain the discrepancy between his actions and his statements.

After the announcement on 20 January last of Irish Sugar plc's decision to close the Thurles factory, the Minister set out to give the impression that he was surprised by the decision. Mind you, there is a little question in there which I shall come back to if I have time, as to why the announcement of the closure — a decision that was taken on 19 January — was not made until some time in the afternoon of 20 January, after the media had been informed by a Deputy in my party that the decision had been made. It is an interesting little side-light that we might tease out later with the Minister.

After the announcement, the Minister attempted to give the impression that he was surprised by the decision. He stated that any such decision would be a matter for the Government. He claimed to be a shareholder in the company and tried to give the impression that this decision had burst upon him out of the blue. We now know, largely from the Minister's own admissions wrung from him under pressure, that this was not the case. We know that from November 1987, if not earlier, the Minister was in a position to know that the company were actively seeking to attract, or to develop, or to be involved in projects that would provide replacement employment in Thurles. Replacement of what we must ask. Clearly, it can only have been replacement of jobs that would be lost on the closure of the Thurles plant.

We should pay tribute to Irish Sugar plc for having successfully brought to fruition a series of projects which would at full development actually expand total employment in Thurles. They are, indeed, the kind of projects for which in other circumstances members of that Government would be loudly claiming credit. In other circumstances, members of the Government would be adding these projects and these jobs to the tot of their job creation but not on this occasion. As it happens, I understand that neither the Minister for Agriculture [301] and Food nor any other member of the Government had anything to do with bringing these projects to fruition. The central point, however, is that the Minister for Agriculture and Food was in a position to know that replacement jobs were being sought for Thurles and that the closure of the plant in Thurles was being contemplated. We now know that, at most eight months, perhaps even less, after a deliberate, specific and solemnly delivered election promise, the Minister for Agriculture and Food knew that that promise was not going to be kept. We can now suppose that that promise had at least as much to do with the threat from Deputy Michel Smith, now Minister for Energy, as it had with anything else.

On “Morning Ireland” on Wednesday of last week, 1 March, the admissions started. They continued, in a torrent, during the course of a discussion which I had with the Minister on the 1 o'clock radio news on that same day. The Minister knew last November of the interest of the other Irish company. He had been briefed the day before the closure decision as to what was likely to happen when the board met. He knew that closure was being discussed. He lobbied members of the board. The consultants, appointed by the Minister as a delaying tactic, have a brief which does not include the retention of the Thurles factory, contrary to what the Minister attempted to convey.

In all of that, we can see that the Minister was deliberately trying to create an impression that did not accord with the facts. But, since then, layer by layer, we have peeled away the wrapping that the Minister tried to wind around that central truth. He knew from November 1987, if not earlier, that the closure of the plant was being contemplated and he knew that replacement jobs were being sought.

We now know also that the Minister should have been in a position, last October, to discern the possibility of a conflict of interest in Deputy Liam Lawlor's situation. For the purpose of today's discussion, it is not necessary to come to any conclusion as to whether anything untoward happened as a result of that [302] potential conflict. What is important is that the Minister and the Taoiseach, indeed, should have ensured that even the possibility of that conflict would not arise. The Minister and the Taoiseach should have made sure that Deputy Liam Lawlor was not put in a position where the danger might appear. They did not. There was a potential for conflict there and the Minister should have seen it. He knew of a possible interest on the part of a major Irish company in Irish Sugar plc. Anybody with any connection with the food industry, and a great many people besides, knows that Deputy Liam Lawlor is a director of Food Industries plc. We know that he played, for example, a very substantial role in the Bailieboro take-over. We know he played, and continues to play, a substantial role in relation to that company's interests in Tuam. I am told that Deputy Lawlor is reputed to have been in Thurles in the last few weeks, apparently in connection with Food Industry plc's interest in the sugar plant there.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  The Munster Final was on. I was never there.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Minister for Agriculture and Food, of all people, should have been aware of this. He says that “it didn't register”. If that is true, we must ask if the Minister is really living in the same world as the rest of us.

The Minister appears to have been quite familiar with the development of the interest in Irish Sugar plc by both Food Industries plc and Finn Sugar. He knew also that a third company had expressed an interest, but this does not seem to have been developed to anything like the same extent. I want to make it clear again that I do not criticise any one of these companies for their approaches. They are perfectly entitled to pursue their commercial interests. What we are concerned with today is the way the Minister and the Government responded to those interests. In any situation, of that kind the wise and prudent owner of a company has regard, in the first instance, to his own commercial and proprietorial [303] interests. He also has regard to any principles of conduct that he might have laid down for himself. Not this Minister for Agriculture and Food.

It requires no great feat of memory for example, to recall the utterly unreasoning and unthinking reaction of the Fianna Fáil Party to the first suggestions in recent years that the State should consider the disposal of a part of its assets or of the assets of semi-State bodies, either to improve the capital position of those bodies or to provide capital resources for essential State activities. The Fianna Fáil Party were dead against the very idea.

I remember very clearly being in Cork listening to the agricultural adviser of a major bank proposing the sale of some of the State's timber to private interests. The din and the screaming from Fianna Fáil was incredible and I gather that the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Taoiseach were part of that din and screaming. Yet, what was the Minister for Agriculture and Food contemplating from October of last year until not so long ago? He was contemplating the sale to a private sector company of part or all of the assets of Irish Sugar plc. He was contemplating privatisation. Let the Minister not deny that. Because when the announcement was made that the plant was to be closed, one of the reproaches that the Minister threw at the board of the sugar company was that they had not given proper consideration to all these proposals.

From what we have recently heard, we can conclude that the Minister for Agriculture was contemplating privatisation even after the Government had decided—this time as a Government and not just as a political party — that it did not want to go along that route. At one point in the whole affair, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Labour are reported — and it is confirmed today by the Taoiseach — to have assured representatives of the unions in Irish Sugar plc that privatisation was ruled out. Yet, the Minister was looking at privatisation proposals.

More than that, in the case of two of [304] the companies which had expressed an interest, the Minister was considering the disposal of a part or all of the Irish sugar quota to a non-EC company. Had he considered the possible ramifications of that?

The Minister was considering the disposal of part or all of an asset which belongs to the State in a condition which would result in a smaller asset value than would have resulted from the implementation of the board's own plans. In other words, the Minister was considering the disposal of an asset at a point of weakness rather than at a point of strength. In the business world, there are often cases where the owner of a company which is a take-over target has relatively little choice as to the point in the company's life cycle at which a take-over happens. That was not the case here. There was no predator, there was no dawn raider operating in the market. The Minister for Finance is the shareholder in Irish Sugar plc, not the Minister for Agriculture and Food, as the Minister for Agriculture and Food seems to think. The Minister for Finance is the shareholder in Irish Sugar plc and his position cannot be eroded by any market operator.

No, the Minister for Agriculture and Food was contemplating privatisation at a less than optimal point in the company's life not for commercial reasons, not in the interests of overall employment in the company and associated ventures, not in the interests of the shareholders' net worth, but because he knew he was going to fail in delivering on a promise given in 1985 in Hayes's Hotel, Thurles, by the Taoiseach and repeated in 1987 by the Minister. For all we know, if may have been repeated on a number of occasions, even when he knew that the closure of the Thurles plant was contemplated. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture and Food made that promise but neither of them gave any consideration to what was involved in that promise apart from the short term political gain to be made from it.

From this point of view, the Minister's interference was not calculated to be in [305] the commercial interests of the company itself, in the interests of the shareholder. Nor could it have been calculated to be in the interests of the people now working in the company nor of the people who could and would gain employment from the new ventures into which the company intended to enter. It was not in the interests of the people of Thurles.

After the board had announced their decision to close the Thurles plant, the Minister announced the appointment of consultants to look into the affairs of the company again. There was a pretence for a time that the consultants' brief included the possibility of retaining the Thurles plant in operation. We now know that this is not the case. The appointment of these consultants was nothing more than a delaying tactic. That in itself is against the interests of people who will now be seeking jobs in Thurles and against the interests of workers in Mallow and Carlow.

I have been informed that the largest replacement project could not operate in Thurles as long as sugar production continues at the plant. I have also been informed that the promoters needed a decision by the February meeting of the Irish Sugar Board, at the latest. Failing a decision by that time, there was a very clear danger that the project would be moved elsewhere — out of this country, in fact. The appointment of consultants, to report by 31 March, clearly endangered this project and the jobs that would be provided by it. The re-employment of former Sugar Company workers in Thurles and the employment of even more people in Thurles in the future was, therefore, directly endangered by this action on the part of the Minister.

I have been told that an even larger project which had previously been mooted was aborted because of a premature leak, apparently from the Minister himself or from people close to him.

The Minister's action — and this has been confirmed by the Taoiseach — was subsequently repudiated by the Government's acceptance of the company's decision to close the Thurles plant.

The Minister's action was an attempt [306] to frustrate the board's decision. It was, therefore, an attempt to frustrate a company plan to improve their profitability by £20 million over the next five years and to reduce their indebtedness by £34 million over the same period. That could not possibly fail to have an adverse effect on the jobs of those who work in the company's plants in Mallow and Carlow. The Minister was putting those jobs at risk.

The Minister's readiness to contemplate the possibility of disposing of the Thurles plant, together with a part of the Irish Sugar quota, to another company, also ran the risk of endangering jobs in Mallow and Carlow. It is the company's view that those two plants could be efficient and profitable in processing 200,000 tons of sugar. They would be less efficient, less profitable and would employ fewer people if between them they were processing significantly less than 200,000 tons of sugar.

The Minister's interference did not succeed from any point of view. It did not succeed politically, he has not kept his political promise. It did not succeed in practice, the Thurles plant is to be closed. It did not succeed commercially, no outside operator has acquired any part of the Irish Sugar operation. It did not succeed in enhancing the position of the company; it has simply delayed things. It is a clear case of bungling ineptitude.

The Taoiseach must explain himself, too. It was he who gave the promise in 1985 that the plant would not be closed as long as Fianna Fáil were in Government.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Quote it.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I will bring the Taoiseach down to Thurles and in the space of ten minutes in the square I will produce ten people who heard him saying it.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Order, please.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Information on Jim Mitchell  Zoom on Jim Mitchell  Deny it.

[307]Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  This gets more interesting. There is no evidence that the Taoiseach has been of any assistance to the Minister for Agriculture and Food in what he tried to do — and failed — between last October and 19 January. To somebody who looks at this whole affair with a cold, clinical and detached eye, that might appear to be to the Taoiseach's credit. He has even disowned Deputy Lawlor. In my eyes, it reflects no credit whatever on the Taoiseach, quite the contrary.

Did the Taoiseach try to stop the Minister for Agriculture and Food making such an ass of himself? Did he give the Minister the kind of pragmatic advice for which the Taoiseach claims to have a reputation? Did he know what was going on at all? If not, why not?

Ultimately, politically, the Taoiseach is responsible for the actions of his Ministers. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has bungled his handling of this affair and the Taoiseach has bungled his handling of the Minister.

I should like to make a few remarks about what the Taoiseach said this morning which is more notable for what he did not say than for anything he said.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  The Taoiseach said that he wished to confirm that at no time was any proposal brought before or considered by the Government for the sale of Irish Sugar plc or any part of it. Is the Taoiseach saying that the Minister for Agriculture and Food was taking a pure flier on his own? Is the Taoiseach distancing himself from what the Minister was doing? That is the way it appears to me. The Taoiseach went on to say:

In fact, the Government fully support the efforts of Irish Sugar to turn themselves into a viable, profitable concern capable of withstanding the competition which will inevitably arise during the next few years....

That is a very sound statement of principle but, mind you, when the last Government were arranging the affairs of State companies so that we would see [308] conscious, forward planning and proper investment decisions, what were the present Taoiseach and Minister for Agriculture and Food — then spokesman for Finance — saying? They were resisting that move and objecting to any process of rational planning in semi-State companies. To what were they objecting? To a line of action which has vastly improved the health of B & I and very substantially improved the health of our national transport concern. Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann. It is a course of action from which many State companies are now benefiting.

The members of the Government were objecting to the increasing commercialisation of semi-State companies. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, a member of a Government who fully support the efforts of Irish Sugar plc, resisted the closure, or pretended to resist the closure, of Thurles on the basis that offers from these private sector companies had not been sufficiently considered. Deputies can read about it in the Tipperary Star— very eloquent.

The Taoiseach spoke about visits by a particular gentleman, a principal in a major Irish food company, to this House. That is quite true. He came here on 31 January and was listened to by myself and some of my colleagues, and I gather by the leaders of other parties. He arrived without an agenda because there were things about the food industry he wanted to tell us. He was listened to and he made a series of reflections rather than suggestions and departed. It is perfectly in order that Members of this House should know about matters of that kind.

The Taoiseach then referred to the case of Tuam in 1981. I was amazed that it took the Government so long to unearth that. They do not seem to be that good at defending themselves these days but there are two very significant differences——

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  There is nothing to defend ourselves against.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  ——between the situation as it was then and the situation today.

[309](Interruptions.)

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I asked earlier what were the Members on that side of the House saying in September 1981. What were they saying about Tuam? They were jumping up and down and running around like headless chickens as they frequently do worrying about it and wanting the plant to be kept open, but what happened? The Government of the day made a full public statement about all of the factors involved and in order to facilitate the company in retaining operations there until a replacement industry could be found, provided the necessary funding for Irish Sugar plc.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Information on Jim Mitchell  Zoom on Jim Mitchell  What a difference.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  I must remind the House that a strict time limit applies to this debate and interruptions are particularly disorderly and most unwelcome.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I have almost concluded, a Cheann Comhairle. The Taoiseach in his speech said that the Government accepted the decision of the board. The Government accepted a decision that the Minister for Agriculture and Food tried to obstruct. That is very interesting. The Taoiseach referred to the Insurance Corporation of Ireland. I have not seen, and the Taoiseach has far too much sense to try this, any attempt to unpick the arrangement put in place in order to resolve that problem. The Taoiseach knows as well as I do that if that arrangement had not been made our banking system would have sustained very serious damage. The Taoiseach was also in a position to know that we did not use taxpayers' funds to effect the resolution of that particular problem.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  We will have a debate on that.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  We will have a debate on it any time you like when you can tell the [310] people how and why you would allow the Irish banking system to be taken over by banks outside this country.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  Remarks should be addressed through the Chair and not directly across the floor.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I beg your pardon, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Taoiseach is being very disorderly.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  I am now coming to a conclusion, Sir. Towards the end of his remarks the Taoiseach said and I quote:

I believe Deputies in the Opposition would be performing a much better service if they were to offer every support they can to Irish Sugar in its efforts to strengthen its viability, improve its performance and extend its activities...

I agree entirely. The Taoiseach should take a few minutes today or in the near future to say the same thing to his Minister for Agriculture and Food. In fact, the Taoiseach should explain to the House — I understand he will be replying to this debate this afternoon — why all these shenanigans went on from 20 October up to Wednesday of last week when the Minister was forced into making a series of very damaging admissions. The Taoiseach should explain to this House this afternoon how all those shenanigans happened without his knowledge concerning a major company and a Minister in charge of a major sector of our economy. If the Taoiseach did not know what was going on he should have a very good explanation as to why.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The first comment that one should make on the very brief speech of the Taoiseach this morning is that he does not deny that he was kept closely in touch with the affairs of the Sugar Company by the Sugar Company. His denial, to which I will refer later and which was made at long last, is in relation to being in touch with other people. It is [311] interesting that he does not deny that he was aware of what has happening all along. It is also interesting that in the course of his speech he never made any reference to Deputy Lawlor's conflict of interest or to his own awareness of that conflict. I must confess that I regret the tone of the Taoiseach's speech. I notice that in his efforts to have some sort of personal go at me, he went back into the seventies. Quite frankly I would have thought that that was a decade he might well wish not to dig into——

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  The Deputy had a nice hairstyle.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  ——because if we all started dipping into the seventies we might find a lot of information which I think would be a lot more interesting and useful than any information we will get this morning.

In general terms the Taoiseach's speech, because of its brevity and rather brusque nature, totally overlooked the fact that a whole constant series of untruths and contradictions have been brought to light recently. This was ignored——

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  From you.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  This bears out the fear that many of us had that, by trying to ignore these matters and talking about the welfare of the Sugar Company which certainly has not been put in jeopardy by anybody, he was dealing with the real issues, which he certainly was not.

The circumstances that give rise to this debate are most unusual and our purpose is to ensure that as far as Irish politics are concerned those circumstances remain unique. The sequence of events that commenced shortly after the formation of this Government and which have led us to this debate has one common theme — a sustained and unacceptable departure from commonly accepted standards of governmental behaviour. It has been said by some that the Progressive Democrats' line of inquiry and argument has been [312] motivated by past hostility or constituency rivalry. That is not so.

Mr. V. Brady: Information on Vincent Brady  Zoom on Vincent Brady  What about Barringtons Hospital?

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  We are determined to draw attention to an emerging pattern of political behaviour which, if unchecked, has the potential to do serious damage to our economic system, our political institutions and our international standing and reputation.

We have not called for this short debate to be held at this time nor have we called for it to be held in this particular form, but we will not flinch from putting before this House the facts as we see them and the issues so far as we know them and the conclusions which we say must be drawn even at this stage when clearly the full facts are not by any means fully disclosed.

It is no secret that the catalyst in this matter has been the position and behaviour of Deputy Lawlor. He claims now to be exonerated from blame. In our view he not merely stands accused of a grave departure from proper standards of political behaviour but clearly that charge has been completely sustained.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  By whom?

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Let me say this in no uncertain or ambiguous way: it is not acceptable that the chairman of an Oireachtas joint committee which was charged by these Houses with a special duty of investigating the affairs of State owned companies should at the same time act as a director of a company which was actively pursuing the acquisition of one of these State companies. That is a blatant conflict of interest. Deputy Lawlor has denied that there was any conflict of interest but his denial is worthless. Even his Taoiseach acknowledged that and forced him to resign. He has made many claims which we entirely reject. He has claimed to be a non-executive director of Food Industries plc. We believe that such a description is completely misleading. Deputy Lawlor is and [313] was no sleeping director, inactive or just partially interested in Food Industries' affairs.

It was Deputy Lawlor who stood at the centre of a major personal canvassing drive to convince Bailieboro' shareholders to sell their stock to the Goodman empire, when that empire sought to spread its commercial tentacles into the dairy business in a significant way. After a successful job, well done, Deputy Lawlor's reward was his directorship of Food Industries plc which was set up last May. What do we know of his involvement in this regard on the public record?

I would like to refer to an article published in the Sunday Independent on 19 February last. That article refers to a trip made by three Members of this House to Iraq to celebrate the Festival of Babylon and the ending of the Iran-Iraq war. Those three Members were, Deputies Liam Lawlor, Tom Kitt and Ned O'Keeffe of Fianna Fáil. They were guests of the Iraqi Government according to the newspaper article. Deputy Lawlor was also accompanied by Mr. Gerry Mayne, an executive of Food Industries plc.

Mr. Dukes: Information on Alan M. Dukes  Zoom on Alan M. Dukes  Did they visit the Hanging Gardens?

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Deputy Lawlor is quoted as saying “Gerry Mayne was there doing his own work and travelling under his own steam. He had nothing to do with us”. Yet, Deputy O'Keeffe, a colleague of Deputy Lawlor, claimed “There was a car made available to all of us but Mr. Lawlor monopolised it. We were entitled to the same use of it but every day Mr. Lawlor went out with Gerry Mayne”.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Does the Deputy want a judicial inquiry into that?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The Sunday Independent article claimed that Deputy Lawlor and Mr. Mayne headed out of their hotel at 6.30 every morning not revealing details of their business to the [314] other TDs. Deputy Lawlor, the activist in Bailieboro, was now Mr. Lawlor, Food Industries Director, the activist in Baghdad. Clearly his own colleagues were upset by his behaviour and believed that he spent much of this semi-official trip engaged on Food Industries business with its executive Gerry Mayne. Deputy Lawlor is no flower born to blush unseen in the Goodman empire.

Indeed, I am also aware that in recent weeks Deputy Lawlor travelled to Kilkenny to discuss matters in relation to the Goodman-owned Waterford Proteins Limited, based in County Kilkenny, with the Kilkenny County Manager. This plant was closed down because of some pollution problems to which the county council objected. This assiduous activity on behalf of Food Industries plc is admirable from the point of view of shareholders in that company but it is not the normal work of a non-executive director. What Bailieboro, the Festival of Babylon and the Kilkenny visit all establish is that Deputy Lawlor has been an active player on the Food Industries plc stage.

By way of contrast, when we come to the Thurles sugar plant, and Irish Sugar plc and Deputy Lawlor's powerful dual role as the chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies and as director of Food Industries plc, he now wants to suggest an entirely different and passive role to the public. His company began negotiations for the Sugar Company in October, possibly earlier. It is most probable that he knew nothing of that. He claims to be exonerated now of any question of conflict of interest. The Taoiseach, obviously, does not agree.

A Deputy:  The Deputy did not read his speech then.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The crucial question is that a number of related matters of far greater importance than just Deputy Lawlor are now beginning to come to light and need to be elucidated. The elucidation clearly can be achieved only by a sworn judicial tribunal of inquiry. It is futile for a committee with none of the [315] necessary powers to try to do so. At best they can obtain only a very limited and incomplete picture, and they are politicians, not judges.

What alarms me about today's debate is the prospect that for a period of four to six months this House may well be gagged in such a way that all questions relevant to this issue technically might be ruled out of order. When I raised the matter with the Ceann Comhairle this morning on the Order of Business what he had to say did not in any way reassure me on that point. This short debate is a device which must be exposed for what it is, not a method of opening up this story to the public but rather the opposite, a cute political move to try to shut down one of the most useful avenues open to Members of this House, namely, the ability to ask detailed questions on this affair——

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  That is an insult to the House.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  ——and related matters.

No questions are being answered outside this House. Writs abound and injunctions fly when certain aspects of this matter are raised. I ask why. We recently heard the most grovelling apology in the history of Irish journalism. Therefore, the right and the need to speak and question in this House were never more necessary.

Speaking of detailed questions, I now want to turn my attention to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. We now know that on 19 October last year, he had separate discussions with Finn Sugar, and with Mr. Larry Goodman about their respective interests in becoming involved in, or with, the Sugar Company. Yet a mere 24 hours later in reply to a Dáil question from Deputy Pat O'Malley, the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy said that “no proposals in regard to the future of the plant in question have been made to me”. That related to a question about the future of the Sugar Company's Thurles plant.

[316] On 29 November in reply to a further query from Deputy Pat O'Malley, the Minister said he had had “no such discussions or negotiations”. The question related to discussions with representatives of Food Industries, and referred to Deputy Liam Lawlor by name as a director of that company. The Minister since tells us that he had what he calls “chit-chat” with Deputy Lawlor on the matter.

We also know from further replies wrung from the Minister over the past week that these answers amounted to his giving untrue information to the Dáil.

In addition, as the Sugar Company saga relating to the future of the Thurles plant hotted up, it became clear that the Minister discussed it with the chairman of the Sugar Company, Mr. Cahill, and also made representations to three of their directors on 18 January last — the eve of the board's crucial meeting where it was finally decided to close the Thurles plant.

In the wake of that announcement, Minister O'Kennedy feigned public surprise in a staggering act of hypocrisy. On 26 January last, a spokesman for the Minister said he, the Minister, was not told by Mr. Cahill that the question of the closure of the factory was to be raised with the board on 19 January. However, in an RTE interview on the matter on Wednesday of last week the Minister for Agriculture and Food admitted the following in relation to that crucial board meeting, and the Thurles plant: “I had reason, nonetheless, to expect something of this nature could come up... so I was, it has to be said, aware of the chairman's opinion about Thurles”.

I am not saying the Minister told an untruth about the chairman. The Minister is saying it himself. The Minister, of course, knew well for a long time that the closure of Thurles was on the cards. To say he did not is an untruth and it was said for obvious local purposes.

Yet, despite these October talks about privatisation with a number of companies, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, with his colleague, the Minister for Labour, Deputy Bertie Ahern, met with [317] a Congress of Trade Unions delegation, led by their general secretary, Mr. Peter Cassells, on Monday, 6 February last, and assured them that the Sugar Company would not be privatised, and told them that it was not Government policy to privatise them. This was another brazen act of duplicity. The announcement was made by the congress but, significantly, not by the Minister or by any agency on behalf of the Government and the first we heard from any Government source was from the Taoiseach this morning.

In short, the hapless Minister has been caught out trying to have it all ways on this issue. He has made totally contradictory statements; he has seriously misled the Dáil in reply to parliamentary questions; and he has behaved improperly and dishonourably with Members of the Dáil, the Congress of Trade Unions and the Chairman of the Sugar Company. In any other parliamentary democracy, where a member of the Government is found out in relation to such a litany of contradictory stances and statements, there is only one honourable course. That is resignation, and I believe that is the appropriate course in this case.

Dr. Woods: Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Nonsense.

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  But Deputy Lawlor and Minister O'Kennedy are not the only ones with questions to answer. In this House on 21 February, in a debate on the seventh report of the Committee of Selection, a debate which the Government fiercely resisted having, I asked the Taoiseach a number of questions — columns 958 and 959 of the Official Report — expressly regarding Food Industries plc and whether he met any director of that company to discuss matters in relation to the Sugar Company, officially or unofficially, formally or informally. As the official report shows, no direct answer was given to any of the questions I asked and no answer at all to some of them.

In particular, to my final question to the Taoiseach when I asked him if he met [318] any of the directors of Food Industries on this matter, the official report does not show any reply, although I heard him in a low voice say “no”. So did some of my colleagues and so apparently did some members of the Press Gallery. I believe that on the RTE tape of the debate the word “no” is audible.

I now want to repeat those questions. While the Taoiseach answered one of them this morning he did not answer the others. When did the Taoiseach first become aware officially or unofficially, formally or otherwise, that Food Industries plc had an interest in the Irish Sugar Company or in Thurles? Did the Taoiseach meet with Mr. Goodman or Deputy Lawlor in November or at any earlier time on this matter?

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  If I did, it would have been in the Mater Private Hospital.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  Did the Taoiseach meet any directors or executives of Food Industries plc or its associated companies to discuss this matter at any time?

I cannot understand why the Taoiseach should be reluctant to answer these questions. One assumes that he would have kept in touch with the main figure in Food Industries plc because of the prominent part the Taoiseach played personally in June 1987 in announcing a major new £260 million investment programme by associated companies of what subsequently became the Food Industries Group.

It is highly unusual for the Taoiseach of the day to attend a press conference announcing proposals for industrial investment, but in June 1987, the Taoiseach played the leading role in that press conference. He expressed considerable enthusiasm for what was then being announced, part of which related directly to the Sugar Company in as much as a major part of the investment was a new plant which it was proposed to build on the site of the old Sugar Company plant at Tuam, which had just been closed.

[319](Interruptions.)

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  The Taoiseach had no reservations whatever about the package announced. He is quoted as saying “practically everything about it is desirable and satisfactory.”

Unfortunately, it now appears that that package announced 21 months ago has not yet led to any job creation or indeed as far as one can see to any construction work being started on any of the various projects announced with such a fanfare at that time. Indeed, the very existence of this proposal, even if only on paper, as unfortunately remains the case, may well have the effect of depressing alternative investment in the Irish Food Industry through other avenues.

When this project was first trumpetted to the high heavens, the Minister of State with responsibility for Food spoke of Ireland getting into the fast lane in food. The truth is that the project and its anticipated benefits remain firmly stuck in the starting grid.

I have referred already to the prominence and support the Taoiseach has given to the Goodman business empire and its development plans within the Irish food industry. I am bound to say that this organisation's dominance is the cause of significant and growing disquiet, especially to farmers and the agri-business sector in general. Its huge size at nearly 4 per cent of our GNP, and its anxiety to extend into nearly all aspects of agri-business impose on it obligations of openness and disclosure which it has not yet chosen to meet.

Many of its activities, here and abroad, are a mystery, but its June 1987 investment programme, which was its most public announcement ever, remains largely unstarted. Again it is curious. In many respects the Government's plans for developing indigenous resource-based industry hinge critically on the Goodman proposals. Given this, and the hype given by this Government to the company's plans, inevitably the company's performance and that of the [320] Government are inextricably intertwined.

We can hardly blame the Government. They have been generous and helpful to a fault, even to the extent of accommodating the company's private jet in a State military air base.

There are other fundamental questions, too, regarding possible breaches of the monopolies and mergers legislation in the agri-business sector. Who beneficially owns Master Meats? Was the information published at the time of its acquisition true? Is it advisable for very senior public servants to sit on the board of a large company which their department dealt with daily, just after their retirement? The central role of agriculture and the food industry to Irish economic development is too critical to leave these questions unanswered.

Some sectors of the media and also the Taoiseach and his colleagues appear to regard the Sugar Company affair and the roles of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and Deputy Lawlor as matters of little consequence. I reject this blasé and dismissive attitude towards the revelation of the consistently evasive, misleading and contradictory stance of Minister O'Kennedy, inside and outside the Dáil, and the reticence of the Taoiseach to answer questions of fundamental public interest and importance.

At the core of the debate lies the question of appropriate standards in Government and of the proper role of elected representatives who find themselves entrusted with positions of public care and responsibility. Particularly we need to decide on the necessary and proper boundaries which must exist between big business and Government in their complementary, and sometimes competitive, roles in defining where the public interest lies.

If we fail to retain truthful accountability to this House as an integral part of parliamentary democracy, our whole system of Government is threatened. This is not mere constitutional theory. It is necessary in practice if we want to avoid an executive that can act arbitrarily, and [321] secretly, in its own, rather than in the public interest.

Neither I nor my party are prepared to lend our names to the undermining of the democratic process implicit in the cosy but unreal assertion that this whole affair is of little consequence, if this House condones the kind of activities I have outlined today, or indeed if some sectors of the public are to regard it as somehow excusable, where are we to draw the line? Eventually, where would the rot stop?

That is why I reiterate now the Progressive Democrats' call for a full judicial inquiry in relation to these matters.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  There are four fundamental issues facing the House in this debate. We should concentrate on those issues and avoid issues of personality and the party slagging match which has gone on in relation to this question.

The first issue is the fundamental need for the ongoing rationalisation of sugar processing plants. The second issue is the question of a replacement industry in Thurles for the plant which is now irrevocably closing, and the need to provide alternative employment in Thurles.

The third issue — and the House must regret this because it is not in the interest of the country or the Government — is the fact that the Chairman, Chief Executive, senior management and staff of the Irish Sugar Company no longer have any confidence in the Minister for Agriculture and Food. The fourth issue is the relationship of Laurence Goodman and his companies with the Government, with Fianna Fáil and with the Department of Agriculture. That is an important issue now in the context of the development of our economy.

Let me come back to the first issue, the rationalisation of the sugar processing plants in Ireland. The Sugar Company has gone from employing 3,600 people to 1,600 people. To remain competitive in the highly competitive European market of sugar processing and beet production, they undertook the very difficult exercise of rationalisation. I recall the closure of the Tuam plant. When we came into [322] Government that plant was on a life support machine of Exchequer subsidy. This continued for three or four years because we insisted that the Irish Sugar Company should use its best endeavours to provide an alternative industry in the Tuam area. Every effort we made in that direction was frustrated, attacked viciously, obstructed at local and national level by the Taoiseach of today, by his front bench and his more vociferous backbenchers. Despite their efforts, the plant closed in December 1986 but in the context of the Irish Sugar Company promising six months prior to that to put in place high technology food industry. That never happened. I do not necessarily blame the company, but it was on that basis that we gave the go-ahead for closure. Then in June 1987 the Government decided in an enormous PR exercise and, I believe, against the wishes of the IDA, to give £25 million to Laurence Goodman including a plant in Tuam. It seems quite significant that Goodman International are not doing very much about it apart from obscuring the issue with an objection about why they can or cannot build a treatment plant in Tuam. They have barely consulted with the local authority apart from one meeting about the problems of an industry in the area. The workers in Tuam deserve better from the Sugar Company and from the Government.

Then we come to the efforts at rationalisation in relation to Thurles. I really do not know who wrote the Taoiseach's speech. He has a back room of experts in political rhetoric but they should really get their facts straight. The Taoiseach referred to the Insurance Corporation of Ireland as if the then Minister for Finance had some exceptional responsibility. Does the Taoiseach not accept that the Taoiseach of the day went to him on that famous Friday afternoon before any Government decision was announced and briefed him thoroughly in relation to the crisis which the Government then faced in relation to the Insurance Corporation of Ireland and the appalling position of Allied Irish Banks in landing [323] themselves in dire trouble? Their behaviour was inexcusable and the Taoiseach knew that as well as we did; but we had a fundamental responsibility as a Government to preserve liquidity and we did so with the concurrence of the present Taoiseach in the national interest and with his agreement and support. That must go on the record. So, let the Taoiseach not dare to come into this House and talk about the Insurance Corporation of Ireland.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I certainly will.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  In relation to Irish Shipping, I was a member of the Government which decided to pull the plug on Irish Shipping.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Shame on you.

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  What have you done about it, with all your criticisms?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  I discovered in Government, as did Deputy Mitchell — and Deputy Barrett and I both had to face the wrath of the electorate in Dún Laoghaire over it — that the Irish Shipping Company management had blown £84 million of Exchequer resources and we were faced with a further £120 million if we did not liquidate that company.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  We did so in the national interest and the present Taoiseach shed crocodile tears on behalf of an Irish merchant fleet and promised that if he were returned to office he would spend a couple of hundred million pounds to bring about a new Irish merchant fleet.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  My point was there was no tribunal of inquiry.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  The reality was, and I say this as a socialist——

[324]The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  There was no tribunal of inquiry.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  If there was a tribunal of inquiry we would be doing what some Eastern European countries do; we would be lining up certain managements behind a public toilet and executing them forthwith. That is what we would have been doing——

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  And a couple of Ministers.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  There was no need whatsoever for a tribunal of inquiry——

Mr. S. Barrett: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Are you being rehabilitated, Dick? You have been very quiet for the past couple of months.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  ——and as a democratic socialist I would not indulge in that exercise.

That deals with the question of Irish Shipping and the Insurance Corporation of Ireland.

I regret to say that the Taoiseach referred to the B & I. The saga of the efforts to restore it to some degree of effective operation is so well known that it does not require any further elaboration on my part. I agree with what Deputy Dukes said in relation to the B & I. Again there was no need for a tribunal there, having gone through the mill recently with £0.5 million for Cork plus another £0.5 million and still no ferry on top of that. Even Deputy Quill of the PDs understands the situation now; not even she is calling for a tribunal of inquiry, so I would concur with Deputy Quill rather than with the Taoiseach in relation to that.

There is one serious flaw in what the Taoiseach said this morning. There has been not one single word about the 120 full-time workers who are going to lose their jobs, 35 of whom got their redundancy notices the other day. There is no reference to the fact that there are 100 [325] campaign workers down there. I know those workers. As a trade union official between 1957 and 1969 I organised, represented and negotiated on behalf of those workers. I know the industry very well. I know that Tuam had to go. I accept that Thurles has to go. Admittedly the company made £11.8 million this year and paid back £8 million of that in deficit support. It made £8 million last year and barely paid back its deficit for the year. It needs to make between £14 million and £15 million a year in profit to have any prospect of real investment and continued modernisation of its plant, particularly in Carlow. Carlow will be the axis and the totality of the operation in the nineties, as we know. I accept all that but what infuriates me is that the efforts of the Irish Sugar Company to bring about an alternative industry in the Thurles area have been obscured, obfuscated and politically mishandled in such a way by the current Minister for Agriculture and Food that if I were chief executive or chairman of the Irish Sugar Company I would simply despair.

As the Taoiseach knows, the chairman of the company, when he was on holidays in recent weeks, had to be restrained from making statements about the Minister for Agriculture and Food, statements which would have been very damaging to the Minister who told two huge whoppers but there is no need to go into that now. The Minister has obscured that ever since. He thought he could undermine the decision of the Irish Sugar Company by canvassing support among the worker directors. As far back as 1987 the board made a unanimous decision which the Minister for Agriculture has tried to subvert. I will quote from a letter of 24 February from Mr. Comerford, the Managing Director of the Sugar Company, to the ITGWU:

The Board meeting of November 1987 considered the Company's 5-year Plan. This was agreed unanimously——

That now includes a Mr. Bulfin who [326] became embroiled in an election manifesto on behalf of the Minister.

—by the Board subject to the following resolution which was also unanimously agreed:—“The Board is concerned about the future viability of sugar processing in Thurles in the long term. In the light of the consequent threat to employment caused by the potential non-viability of the plant the Board decided to secure an alternative industry for Thurles. When this industry is identified, the Board will then decide on the future of the Thurles Sugar Factory”.

On 19 January 1989 the board identified the industry and said that it would employ 300 people by the end of this year and 450 by the end of 1991. The board then proceeded to put this into operation.

Overnight the Minister for Agriculture and Food decided that he could secure a 7 to 5 majority against that decision. He canvassed members of the board and brought great pressure to bear on them. The board then met. The worker director from Mallow, understandably trying to preserve the plan there, voted the other way which resulted in six people in favour and six against. The casting vote of the chairman carried the decision of the board. The Taoiseach should know that and if he does not he should be briefed on it by the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Since then the Minister has been going around Tipperary saying the Government decision was 14 to 1 against him. He said that Deputy Smith voted with the Government and absolved himself. That is what can happen when there are two Ministers in the one constituency. In 1973 I was not appointed a member of the Government because I was told there could not be two Ministers in the same constituency, as the Taoiseach well knows, in terms of the conflicts that can arise at Cabinet.

The chairman of the board is doing his best trying to get the replacement industry into operation. The senior Irish industrial figures involved in trying to put the plant into operation do not know what the Government want from one day [327] to the next. They certainly do not know what the Minister for Agriculture and Food wants. He is a hero locally because he tried to stop his own party from doing the right thing while the Taoiseach and Deputy Smith are being bad-mouthed.

I suggest to the Taoiseach that he should call in the Minister and tell him that if he does not behave himself the Taoiseach will do the right thing himself. I recall one junior Minister in the last Government who went through a very traumatic experience. He attended a fairly innocuous meeting, fairly minor, in a conflicting situation, but he had to go.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  There was no tribunal inquiry.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  There was no need for a tribunal inquiry. The evidence was there. It was fairly minor but he had to go.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  There was a resignation.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  We were not even allowed discuss it in the House.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  There was no need to discuss it. The man had to go. The Taoiseach should tell the Minister for Agriculture and Food to behave himself in relation to the situation in Thurles and to stop trying to mess up the company and the unions. From talking to the trade union representatives they have almost thrown their hat at it. There are 80 workers on a full-time basis in that factory who are under the age of 50. I have the age profile of the full-time workers in that company. These people should be given, and are entitled to, consideration for alternative employment in the Thurles area.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Agreed.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  The future of the Fianna Fáil Party, the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, Larry Goodman and so on is almost a kind of Italian politics side [328] show — with due respects to Italy, I hope I have not offended them unduly — when compared with the reality facing the workers in the Sugar Company. Of the general and craft workers in the company there are 55 under 50 years of age and there are 20 between 30 and 40 years of age. We must try to provide alternative employment there and that can be done. There is the prospect of four major industries commencing operations there and the Taoiseach should encourage that rather than coming in here and slagging the rest of us about what we allegedly did or did not do in Government. That book will be written and all the information will come out. It will not be the kind of revisionist history that is going on now in relation to what happened between 1981 and 1988.

For example, there are seven supervisory staff in that company under the age of 50 and I am sure they would be quite capable of taking up alternative employment in a new industry. There are 18 clerical workers under the age of 50 and these workers are entitled to some hope that the Government are working day and night to attract replacement industry rather than trying to control Deputy Lawlor and his involvement in this regard. I would make an earnest plea that the alternative industries must be provided as a matter of urgency.

The question of Deputy O'Kennedy and the Sugar Company must be considered. As I have said, the company have little confidence now in the Minister for Agriculture and Food. I earnestly ask the Taoiseach to try to restore that confidence and stop the nonsense that has gone on in that regard. We must also consider the question of Goodman International. I am concerned about whether the Minister for Agriculture and Food should be at this stage having discussions with Goodman International particularly in relation to export refunds. The Minister said here on 2 March, “On 19 October 1988 during the course of a meeting with the Chairman and Chief Executive of Goodman International regarding export refunds and other issues relevant to my Department....” I particularly [329] home in on the words “export refunds”. As the Taoiseach knows there is currently a major Garda fraud squad investigation taking place into Goodman International in relation to certain major documentation which has been forwarded to the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Revenue Commissioners and which is likely to be the subject of court proceedings in relation to that company and which has a bearing on the decision of the Government to withhold £20 million by way of refunds to the company. I do not want anything to obscure that investigation and the outcome thereof. I asked the Minister for Finance by way of a supplementary question in this House on Thursday last, 2 March 1989 at column 2259 of the Official Report, and I quote:

... is the Minister certain that the alleged fraud cannot be laid at the door of certain beef export contracts out of this country?

The Minister replied as follows:

I am sure the Deputy is aware that there have been cases and that cases are pending in relation to fraud allegations.

The Minister went on to say:

... there is no question but that a serious fraud has occurred. The Department of Finance are chairing and co-ordinating the interdepartmental committee, and the Government are concerned, we will co-operate fully with the Commission in trying to combat this fraud.

We are aware that Goodman International are involved; we are aware that Waterford storage plants are involved; we are aware that Ballymun plants are involved. We are aware of allegations that boxes of beef were not found to contain what they should contain, that they had contained trimmings and offal, the export of which would certainly not be in the national interest. We are aware also that on 19 October last the chairman and chief executive of this company was [330] discussing export refunds with the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Is there a proposal that there should be a fine of £2 million or £3 million on that company and that they get back £20 million — the balance of the money paid by them? I do not know but I hear disturbing and disquieting comment in relation to this matter.

In any event I am comforted that when the Ceann Comhairle allowed me put the following final supplementary question as follows:

But the Minister would agree that a fraud does appear to have been perpetrated?

the Minister for Finance's response read:

I will not comment on that. That is to be decided in the High Court.

Hopefully it will be decided in the High Court. Meanwhile the Minister for Agriculture and Food should be told that he should not discuss those matters if he has discussed them. He stated in the House that he had discussed the question of export refunds with the company. He should not discuss such export refunds. The matter should be allowed run its full course because there is grave concern.

Lest I be accused of singling out one particular company I am reasonably assured — I have no reason to doubt my source in this regard — that one other company is also involved, not on the basis of collusion but rather that there has been a major investigation into another company in relation to this matter. I am very concerned. I refer to the United Meat Packers Exports Company — Hal Al associated. Equally I am aware that there is grave concern there in relation to the Charleville plant and that substantial investigations have taken place at that level.

We must remember that we are talking about something in the region of a £30 million investigation; that is substantial money by any standards. In that regard [331] the Government must show considerable circumspection, to say the least, in relation to their association with companies of this kind, particularly in the light of the fact that a £25 million IDA grant was assured to the company in the middle of 1987 and that subsequently there has been a great deal of discussion. I say that because I am equally conscious of the fact that Deputy O'Malley has raised the matter.

Any efforts by newspapers to refer to such matters have resulted in writs flowing all over the place, to the BBC, to RTE, to Irish newspapers. No doubt my party leader and I will receive — as did Deputy Stagg when he made a comment here about the same company — substantial letters demanding that the matter be dealt with elsewhere. As far as I am concerned, unless the matter is resolved in an effective manner, in a way in which the State's and the European Community's interests are protected, I will call for a tribunal of inquiry. Indeed the Government have little option but to hold an inquiry, a very detailed one, even if it were to cost £1 million or £2 million to get to the bottom of this matter. We must protect the integrity of Irish beef exports.

The final point I want to make in relation to this matter is that I am not at all convinced that there is not an intention at Government level — if they could get away with it — to privatise the Irish Sugar Company. Even in today's Cork Examiner the chief executive of the company, Chris Comerford, is reported as saying that the Irish Sugar Company will be ready for privatisation in two to three years. I put this to the Taoiseach in the national interest: I do not want to see the Irish sugar quota, which is a national resource of 200,000 tonnes allocated to us, given away under whatever guise.

The Taoiseach: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Neither do I.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Barry Desmond  Zoom on Barry Desmond  Well, in that case, Mr. Comerford, their chief executive, should [332] be told a few things because he is working up to it. It is even suggested that Laurence Goodman came and offered him £120,000 a year to come over and join his company with the staff of the Irish Sugar Company.

The reason I am suspicious is this: apparently Mr. Goodman was to go in and talk to the staff of the Irish Sugar Company about how he was taking the whole company over when he was called off to Iraq to answer some questions there about one-year-old or two-year-old mutton. I do not know what goes on there. I have been to Iraq. I want to assure the Taoiseach that, in that regard, the Irish Sugar Company is a ripe plum when it gets into a totally viable position, making £20 million a year from the Irish sugar quota, probably employing approximately 1,200 people. It should not be up for sale at that stage. I accept the assurance given by the Taoiseach but the Irish Sugar Company needs to be told in no uncertain terms that this State company will not be handed over to an accumulation of multi-agri businesses effectively owned by a private individual and, as such, could be sold overnight to another multinational company, the country being left high and dry in that regard.

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, then Opposition spokesman on Finance made a statement in the course of the last general election that Fianna Fáil had brought the sugar factory to Thurles and Fianna Fáil would keep it there. He went on to say:

We will not accept executive luxury at the cost of worker misery. People count as much in Thurles as in Merrion Square. The managing director and board that closed the doors of their luxury offices to the public representatives and workers of North Tipperary must at least open their minds to the new opportunities.

That was a magnificant piece of rhetoric, resonant in many ways of the Taoiseach's statement today.

I revert to the remarks of the present [333] Minister for Agriculture and Food when, as Opposition spokesman on Finance, again in the course of the last general election he had this to say: “You change the Government and we will change the board”. I suggest the Taoiseach might contemplate telling the Minister that he will be doing that in a slightly different way, that the Taoiseach will change the Minister — the board does not have to change — if he does not behave himself and come on board in relation to this matter. I am glad we have had the opportunity of discussing this matter today.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  The ultimate issue in this debate is truthfulness. There are four basic issues in the campaign of smear and innuendo that has led to this debate. The first of the allegations, now dismissed in the minds of any reasonable and disinterested person, is that Deputy Liam Lawlor was guilty, always in some unspecified way, of a conflict of interest or of an abuse of his position while chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies. The second issue which has developed — as the veracity of the first allegation diminished — is the suggestion that the Minister for Agriculture and Food had in some way, inappropriately or unethically lobbied the board of a State-sponsored body in an effort to save the jobs of his constituents. The Taoiseach has already illustrated how hypocritical, unfounded and malicious are those charges. The third issue is whether the Dáil was misled. I believe that the Dáil was misled and I will explain later how I think it was misled.

The fourth issue, in the long term, is perhaps the most disturbing of all and one which has not been touched on, that is that there were evident efforts made from outside this House to misdirect Members of this House to hijack the work of an Oireachtas committee and manipulate the direction of public policy. That is a very serious matter.

On the question of Deputy Lawlor's chairmanship of the Oireachtas Joint [334] Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies, the facts have been established but bear repetition. The first fact is that the Progressive Democrats have not produced a shred of evidence to support the suggestion that Deputy Lawlor has been guilty of any abuse. Deputy Lawlor provided the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies with a full statement of the facts in his case. His statement goes into great detail. The truthfulness of his statement has not been challenged. Indeed, the matter goes further. In a full statement published by the joint committee, it is clear that the former clerk of the committee, a distinguished outstanding public servant now in retirement, has fully corroborated every aspect of Deputy Lawlor's statement. The most important point regarding the alleged conflict of interest is that it did not raise its ugly head until after Deputy Lawlor declared an interest and requested the deputy chairman of that committee, Deputy Liam Kavanagh to take his place for the Sugar Company investigation.

The issue was not raised in the Dáil on 29 November as has been alleged by a variety of Progressive Democrat spokes-persons. This is an important and indisputable fact. Its distortion has been a key element in this whole shabby affair. The record of the House for 29 November relating to the parliamentary question is as follows:

Mr. P. O'Malley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he had any discussions or negotiations with representatives of a company (details supplied)——

Those details were the names of Deputy Lawlor and of the company with which he was associated.

——regarding the possible take-over of that company of one of the three Siúicre Éireann CPT sugar processing plants on condition that part of the Irish sugar quota will be made available to that company; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

[335] That is a very precise question. The relevant words in the question are “discussions or negotiations”. They clearly intend probing whether the Minister had at that point been personally negotiating regarding the Thurles plant. The additional information supplied was the name of Deputy Lawlor and a reference to Food Industries. The question asked whether the Minister had been negotiating with or discussing the take-over of the Thurles plant with Deputy Lawlor. The Minister answered:

I have had no such discussions or negotiations.

That is a truthful answer to a specific question.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  It referred to “representatives” in the plural.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  A conflict of interest was not mentioned. Since the end of January last Deputy Michael McDowell, Deputy Pat O'Malley and Deputy Desmond O'Malley have consistently repeated falsehoods with a deliberate conscious and premediated intention of deceiving on this point. Throughout the Dáil debate on 21 February 1989, Deputy McDowell and Deputy O'Malley on no fewer than 18 occasions misrepresented that question. The fact that these Deputies should misrepresent the event is not in any way noteworthy in itself. Misrepresentations, the inversion of truth, the rewriting of history has been the coin of their politics since they formed themselves into a political party. What is amazing is that their misrepresentations should have been so widely accepted as fact. Not only did Deputy Pat O'Malley not raise the conflict of interest issue——

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  He did so.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I certainly did.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  ——in that question but his subsequent actions——

[336](Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  ——prove that he was not, as Deputy McDowell is trying to suggest, even remotely concerned with the issue. A conflict of interest being the issue, the Minister's reply of 29 November clearly was not the answer. Conflict of interest and abuse of position are very serious matters. If these were issues that Deputy Pat O'Malley was trying to deal with in this question of 29 November, his subsequent actions are totally and absolutely inexplicable. The Minister's reply does not deal with conflict of interest or abuse, yet Deputy O'Malley did not make any effort to follow up that question. The Deputy could have sought to raise the issue on the Adjournment. The record shows that he did not. Deputy Pat O'Malley could have written to the Minister on the issue. Indeed, in the Dáil on 21 February Deputy McDowell said that Deputy Pat O'Malley wrote to the Minister on the issue. The evidence is at column 939 of the debate——

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I put down a written question to the Minister.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  That was another untruth. Deputy Pat O'Malley did not write to the Minister and he confirmed this on public radio last Saturday.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Deputy Pat O'Malley could have raised the issue at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies. Heavens only knows there have been enough of those.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Deputy Pat O'Malley had plenty of opportunity to do that. The committee's record shows that the Sugar Company featured in the committee's deliberations on 21 occasions between July 1987 and February 1989. Deputy Pat O'Malley could have raised any suspicion [337] he had about conflict of interest or abuse of position or any other issue at any of those 21 meetings. There were other meetings of the committee during that period, not on the Sugar Company issue and he could have raised the question at those. The fact is that he did not. So disinterested was Deputy Pat O'Malley in the issue that he missed 13 of the 21 meetings at which the Sugar Company was discussed. Does anybody seriously believe that this is an issue that Deputy O'Malley was so exercised about.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  If any suspicion of conflict of interest or of abuse existed in the dark and dim recesses of Deputy Pat O'Malley's mind, it took a hell of a long time to emerge. It is clear from this that the Dáil was indeed misled. It was misled repeatedly by Deputies P. O'Malley, D. O'Malley and McDowell. Deputy McDowell and Deputy Desmond O'Malley misled the House and set out to misrepresent the significance and the intention of written question No. 113 of 29 November.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Keep this up and you will be a junior Minister some day.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Deputy O'Malley misled the Dáil again — the truth stings — when he said that Deputy Pat O'Malley had written to the Minister. Happily Deputy Pat O'Malley admits that he did not.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I put down a written question. Do not make a big issue out of it.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  You are the one who is making a big issue out of it.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  He also misled the House — this is a serious matter — when he dealt with a meeting of the board of the Sugar Company which took place on 17 [338] November last. The full truth of this will only emerge on 20 March when the joint committee meet with all of the members of the board of the Sugar Company. Last night I summoned all the members individually and severally to the next meeting of the committee.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Deputy Pat O'Malley was operating on the same script when he presented his version of events, his distortion of the truth in the Dáil, at the Oireachtas committee and at many interviews which were conducted by the media.

The arguments about lobbying by the Minister were both hypocritical and baseless. The hypocrisy of the allegations becomes all too obvious when the ministerial performance of Deputies Desmond O'Malley and Alan Dukes are examined. In this affair Deputy Dukes has yet again illustrated his stunning political maladroitness when he castigates Minister O'Kennedy for speaking with members of the board of the Sugar Company. It is evident that he has forgotten his own actions in 1981. As the Government Information press release of 23 September 1981 shows, not only was Deputy Dukes willing to interfere in the affairs of the Sugar Company, but he was willing to boast about his interference.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  He never denied his actions.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Read the press release, Deputy.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  When he was in office——

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  He put it in writing for the public to know what he did. He did not deny what he did, like the present Minister.

(Interruptions.)

[339]Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  When he was in office, Deputy Desmond O'Malley was well known for his willingness to interfere in any matter that attracted his attention. I was sufficiently close to Government at that time to know about his efforts to overrule the IDA and his Cabinet colleagues to bring De Lorean to the empty Ferenka plant. Thankfully, wiser counsel than Deputy O'Malley's prevailed in that matter, but how short is his memory about interference. It is ironic indeed that the same political figures who last week were clamouring for the Minister, Deputy Ray Burke to interfere in a private company in which the State has no stake are now objecting to the quite legitimate exchanges between the Minister and board members. Deputy Dukes, the Members of this House and the members of the public should not forget that the last time a Minister lost contact with a board of directors of a State-sponsored body, we lost Irish Shipping. We lost Irish Shipping because a hapless, worthless, ignorant Minister was out of contact with the board and his Civil Service Department failed in their responsibilities to bring him back on board on that issue. That is why Irish Shipping sank.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  This is pathetic.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  The fourth issue raised in this whole sordid affair is the most important of all. Over the last four weeks something unique in Irish public life has been occurring, something which is quite without precedent. The business of this House and the operations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee and the public media, in particular RTE, have been dominated by an issue which has arisen because of the highly selective leaking of documents. I blame none of the people I have mentioned here for this. I happen to believe that at least one of the Deputies of this House was a hapless dupe of clever people outside of this House. The material that has been leaked has a specific purpose. The material that has been leaked has also got a common thread. That purpose and that common thread is the closure of the sugar plant at Thurles. [340] As Deputy Desmond said a few moments ago, that is the issue that should concern us, so it is.

It is my belief — and I do not wish here to comment on the wisdom or otherwise of the board decision regarding the Sugar Company because we can deal with that in the Joint Committee — that there was a malign intent in the leaking of these documents. I do not wish to speculate as to the source of these leaks which are highly damaging to the Sugar Company and to its workers. The facts are that they were highly damaging and that they were intentionally misleading.

Some representatives of the media and certainly Deputy Pat O'Malley and Deputy McDowell clearly know the source of those leaks. They should question themselves as to the intention and the aim of those leaks. Why were selective bits of information brought to them at a certain time? They should establish whether the public interest has been served in this matter. It is my view that these selective leaks have been intended to manipulate the considerations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies regarding the Sugar Company, that they have been intended to impede the proper public debate on the issues raised by the closure of Thurles. I note that some of the documentation circulated was sent to the Sugar Company and was marked “strictly confidential”, yet that documentation was leaked. Surely this will impair commercial contracts with the Sugar Company in the future. I do not think anybody can dispute that. I am not suggesting — and I want to put this on record — that Deputies in this House sought that information. The point I am making is that they should ask why, at this particular time, was such sensitive and selective information circulated to them and to members of the Oireachtas Committee. That is an important point that has to be established. The leaking of those documents will, at a minimum, mean that any commercial contact with the Sugar Company will, in the future, be on a much more circumspect basis than has been the case in the past.

[341] The depths to which debate has plummeted were well illustrated by the total irrelevance of the countributions made——

Mr. D. O'Malley: Information on Desmond J. O'Malley  Zoom on Desmond J. O'Malley  By the Taoiseach.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  ——in this House today by Deputy Desmond O'Malley who is, after all, the prince of muckraking and always has been and by Deputy Dukes who was maladroit as ever.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  Who set the tone with the opening speech? You know what to do if you cannot take the heat.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  It struck me while listening to Deputy Dukes——

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  You are making no sense at all.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  ——how apt were Deputy Donnellan's comments about him standing in the rain with a fork in his hand. Other than reiterate the now well rehearsed mistruths neither Deputy produced any fact of relevance. During the course of this debate the only fact of relevance that has emerged is that the Opposition are now totally bereft of any issue on which they can attack the Government. The Opposition have once again descended into personality politics, into muck. I am pleased that it is not the Government's intention to descend——

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  Were you here for the Taoiseach's address this morning?

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  ——to those particular depths. The problem with the Opposition parties, in particular with the Progressive Democrats and latterly with Fine Gael, is that the Government's performance on all the important issues of the day has been sparkling and what they are trying to do is tarnish that image. In this tardy, shabby, sordid affair they have manifestly failed to do that.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  It is now just over three weeks since Dick Walsh in The Irish[342]Times, opened up this can of worms and we are no closer to establishing the truth or of having a totally clear picture of all the events. Things are being revealed day by day but the whole affair has been characterised by evasion and half truths. With each new disclosure more questions arise. Questions are arising about the honesty and integrity of Government both in the handling of this affair and, generally, a number of issues are arising which reflect on them.

I do not accept that anything that has emerged so far from the meeting of the joint Oireachtas Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies on Tuesday last or anything that has been said in the debate so far here in any way answers the serious questions that have been raised about the conduct of the Minister for Agriculture and Food and of Deputy Lawlor.

Even before the specific issue of the Food Industries' bid for the Irish Sugar Company became public knowledge, we felt it was most inappropriate that a person who was a director of a major private food company should also be chairman of the Oireachtas committee charged with supervising the State food company, the Irish Sugar Company. We drew attention to this possible conflict of interest in a question which Deputy De Rossa addressed to the Minister for Finance on 31 January 1989 — Official Report, Columns 630 and 631. That was a couple of weeks before this story broke. The question reads as follows:

Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Finance if there are any plans to introduce legislation establishing a register of commercial interests for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Minister replied:

I have no plans to introduce legislation on the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Deputy De Rossa then went into the specifics and asked:

In view of the fact that a committee [343] of the House examine the affairs of semi-State companies, will the Minister agree that it is important that members of that committee should have a register of their interests, if any?

In reply, the Minister for Finance said:

I have no plans to introduce legislation in that regard and I have no further comment to make.

That was specifically in regard to Deputy Lawlor's presence on that committee representing a conflict of interest in examining the affairs of the Irish Sugar Company before any of this story broke on 31 January.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  Deputy Liam Kavanagh was the acting chairman on that committee.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  When the story first appeared in The Irish Times I issued a statement saying that the article raised many questions about Deputy Lawlor's conduct and called on him to resign from the committee because of the apparent conflict of interest. Deputy Lawlor said he had no intention of resigning but two days later he did resign. I do not think he has still adequately answered a number of questions. Deputy Lawlor has shifted his position on a number of occasions.

In the original article in The Irish Times on 15 February 1989 the Deputy is quoted as saying that he had not seen the Irish Sugar Company document which had been sent to the committee and did not even know of its existence. On the following day he is quoted as admitting that he knew of the existence of the document. But he still insists that he had not seen it. A couple of days later he said something to the effect that the document might have been sent to his secretary. What is now accepted is that a separate letter was sent from the Irish Sugar Company directly to Deputy Lawlor advising him that the report had been sent. What Deputy Lawlor is asking us to accept is that he knew of the existence of a report on the Irish Sugar Company — a report [344] which would clearly have been of great interest to anyone seeking to acquire the company — and that, despite the fact that the Goodman company's interest in getting their hands on the Irish Sugar Company was fairly widely known in commercial and in some political circles at the time, he did not even look to see what was in the report.

I would like to know why Deputy Lawlor could not see his conflict of interest on that committee in November last — the time that report arrived. Regardless of whether he read it, he was advised that it was there and as to what it contained. After all, Larry Goodman had told the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, on 19 October of his interest in the Irish Sugar Company and specifically in the Thurles plant. Deputy Lawlor would surely have been aware of that either through his association with Minister O'Kennedy in the Fianna Fáil Party or through his association with Larry Goodman in one of whose companies he is a director — Food Industries Limited. By one or other of those means he would have known in November of the Goodman company's interest in the Thurles plant and in the Irish Sugar Company. At that time he should have seen his conflict of interest. However, he was able to recognise that conflict three or four months later, in February. Neither do I accept the claims by Deputy Lawlor——

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  It does not matter whether the Deputy does or not.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  ——that the statement by the former clerk to the committee, Mr. Chris O'Brien, vindicates him, as he has stated. We have not seen the letter from the former clerk to the committee, but we have seen the vice-chairman's statement of what was in the letter, which seems to have been drafted to a rather precise legal formula. Mr. O'Brien said that he had no recollection of having a photocopy made of the Irish Sugar Company document or of transmitting such a copy to Deputy Lawlor. Saying that you have no recollection of something is not the same as saying it did [345] not happen. Mr. O'Brien pointed out that if he could have foreseen later developments——

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  On a point of order, a submission was made——

(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman (Mr. S. Walsh): Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  Deputy Mac Giolla should not cast aspersions on the former clerk.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  There were no aspersions cast and it is wrong for the Chair to accept advice that aspersions were cast. The man was being truthful.

(Interruptions.)

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  What I said is that saying you have no recollection of something is not the same as saying it did not happen.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  There is no aspersion there.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche  Zoom on Dick Roche  It is a very serious aspersion.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  It is not true.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  The secretary also said that photocopying and distributing such documents was not unusual and if he had foreseen later developments he would have made a record of what exactly he had done. He does not remember what he did.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  It is a much talked about document.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  The Deputy was not involved and, therefore, he does not know anything about it.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I did not have to be involved.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  The matter was irrelevant to the Deputy.

[346]Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  The Deputy should answer the questions.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Does the Deputy not realise that there was a conflict of interest?

(Interruptions.)

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  Unfortunately most of those who have played central roles in this affair seem to have been struck by exceptional levels of amnesia, and that goes for the Minister as well as the other people involved.

Many serious questions have been raised about the role of the Minister in this affair. What is beyond doubt is that he has been less than fully honest in the replies he has given to a number of Deputies, including myself, about his role in this affair and his knowledge of what was going on.

The evasive and incomplete replies given to questions from Deputy Pat O'Malley have already been well documented but I should like the Minister to explain the clear conflict between the information given to me in reply to a Dáil Question as late as 28 February regarding a possible takeover of all or part of the Irish Sugar Company and details of the offer made by Finn Sugar which was subsequently published in The Irish Times.

In his reply to my question the Minister clearly indicated that he did not have any discussions on a possible takeover of all or part of the company. A letter later published in The Irish Times, which was written by Finn Sugar, showed quite clearly that as far back as 19 October this company had had a meeting with the Minister and this had been followed up with a detailed written proposal regarding the possible establishment of a consortium to get full control of Irish Sugar. No reasonable person could describe the exchanges between the Minister and Finn Sugar — first in face to face discussions and later in a document which was exchanged — as anything other than discussions, yet the Minister chose to deny this on 28 February in response to a question from me. I asked the Minister if he [347] had any discussions with representatives of private companies regarding the possible takeover of part or all of the Sugar Company and if he could identify any such companies and the representatives of the companies he had met. The Minister replied that he had not discussed or considered the possibility of selling Siúicre Éireann or part of it to a private company. He said: “I did not have any discussions on any proposals to this effect”.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Get out of that one.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  It is a straight up lie.

Tomás Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  He further said in his reply to me on 28 January 1989: “On 18 January 1989, I was made aware for the first time of a direct approach from Food Industries plc to Siúicre Éireann when the chairman of Siúicre Éireann gave me a copy of a letter to him dated 17 January 1989 from the chairman of Food Industries plc.” However, it transpired later that on 19 October, three months earlier, the Minister was advised by Larry Goodman of his interest in the company, yet in his reply the Minister said that he was made aware of his interest for the first time on 18 January. The Minister was evading something and misleading the House in regard to discussions which had taken place.

The Taoiseach tried to distort all this in his statement this morning. He said that Larry Goodman had discussions with all parties in, I think, late January or early February, and if those parties had been prepared to discuss the possibility of some form of association either by a take over or otherwise of Food Industries plc and Irish Sugar plc how could we possibly criticise the Minister for Agriculture and Food for passing on to the chairman of the Sugar Company any indications of interest he received from outside organisations. Nobody has criticised the Minister for passing on information to the chairman of the Irish Sugar Company but we have criticised him for giving misleading and distorting information to this [348] House, for giving us wrong and false information and for telling us no discussions had taken place when they had taken place three months earlier. That is what we are talking about. All this is typical of the sort of evasion and equivocation with which the Minister has responded to questions from Deputies on this matter. The public are entitled to have the full information.

The Workers' Party believe there is need for a full and wide-ranging public inquiry into all aspects of the affair and related matters in order to allay the serious concern which exists. I suspect that what we have heard in recent weeks represents only the tip of the iceberg in regard to overlapping political and commercial interests, which have been a feature of almost every Administration in this House, I suppose since the State was founded and certainly during the years I have been aware of it. There have been repeated rumours of attempts by political figures to interfere with the efforts of customs officials and agricultural officers to stamp out illegal practices in some meat plants around the country. Deputy Desmond has already referred to this. There are also serious doubts about the way some financial grants to the food sector have been made.

Incidentally there was an article in last Sunday's The Sunday Press about a Goodman company, EIRFREEZE which was located in the North Wall area and which was shut down on Saturday evening by Department of Agriculture inspectors. This story suddenly died and there has not been a word about it since. Why was that Goodman plant shut down at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. on Saturday by inspectors from the Department of Agriculture and Food? My information is that it was closed down — and probably this is part of what was referred to by Deputy Desmond — because of very serious illegal activities by a team acting on behalf of one of the Goodman companies — changing labels on meat, changing dates in other words, the dates on which the meat was killed and packed in intervention. That could be ten years ago. These labels were being changed, and [349] changed in different parts of the country by a team moving around to change them. My understanding is that they were down in a plant in the North Wall on Saturday afternoon changing labels on meat. Serious allegations have been made before, some charges have been made against individual employees of the Goodman Company before, but it appears that many things seem eventually to have been quietened down, hushed up and so on. I would hope that all the Department's inspectors will get a free hand to investigate whatever they have to investigate.

While the current issues are correctly under scrutiny in the Fianna Fáil Administration, there is evidence of similar overlapping of political and commercial interests on the part of previous Governments. In 1986 it was disclosed that a number of Coalition backbenchers held shares in oil and gas exploration companies at a time when the companies were lobbying very strongly for improved exploration terms, improved terms which they eventually got from that Coalition Government. It should also be remembered that a Minister of State in a previous Government was forced to resign after a number of Dáil questions put down by The Workers' Party had revealed that he had continued to involve himself closely in the day to day operations of his family business in clear breach of Government guidelines for Ministers and Ministers of State. This is not the first time that the public have seen these low standards in high places.

Given the issues that have been raised in this whole affair, there is need for an inquiry, not just into who did what and who knew what, but a broader inquiry which would look at whether or not it is appropriate at all for Members of the Dáil to have involvement in business or commercial affairs. Members of the Dáil are, after all, paid a full time salary for what should be a full time job. This is even more so in the case of Ministers and Ministers of State. The effect of the events of the past few weeks can only be to further diminish the standing of politicians in the view of the public. Only [350] a full inquiry on the lines that I have suggested can prevent serious damage to our political system.

This affair has also raised important questions about the extent to which one company, or indeed one person, can be allowed to control such a large part of one of our most important industries. The Goodman organisation is the very hub around which Fianna Fáil seem to have built their whole food development policy — beef, dairying and now sugar confectionery. Goodman has got the public backing of the Government, as has been pointed out by Deputy O'Malley, of over £200 million two years ago, that is, in 1987. How much money he actually got we do not know, but certainly backing for £200 million or £250 million by the State gives him tremendous credit in raising finance wherever he wishes to go. It is understood that he has got IDA grants of up to probably £25 million. There is also some evidence which has been brought to my attention to suggest that the Taoiseach himself directly intervened with the IDA in some of these grants to get the IDA to drop their insistence on what is called the performance clause. The performance clause is required by the IDA in their contracts when issuing grants and this performance clause was dropped in the case of grants to the Goodman company. I do not know why that should be so. This is a huge concern. It accounts for more than 42 per cent of the total beef exports from this country. Alone they now probably account for up to 6 per cent of our gross national product. They seem intent on gobbling up more of the food industry. Furthermore, the Goodman company, I understand, have also in a much smaller way broken the law. They do not seem to have much time for rules or regulations, or perhaps even the law. They certainly have not made their returns to the Company Registration Office, contrary to section 127 of the Companies Act, 1963.

In all this discussion, we must not lose sight of the Thurles Sugar Company workers who may seem to have been pawns in the whole game. I do not blame Minister O'Kennedy, either in his [351] capacity as Minister or Dáil Deputy, for trying to keep the Thurles sugar factory open. I see no reason for his being attacked or blamed for that. What I do blame him and Governments for — this and previous Governments — is the manner in which they failed to provide money to the sugar company to keep factories open for social reasons. If they insist on factories being kept open for social reasons, then these factories should be provided with the funds to do so. It seems that there now will be no going back on the decision to close the Thurles plant. I hope that Government and Opposition, all of us, will follow through to ensure that there is a replacement industry in Thurles for the workers who have been made redundant by the closure of the plant.

Minister for Energy (Mr. Smith): Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Good, solid opposition is extremely healthy and most valuable. We do not claim to have a monopoly of wisdom or to be immune from criticism. Many wortwhile exchanges in this House have led to the enactment of better laws, new insights into various problems and, ultimately, improvements in the way we run the country. However, I have to say that this particular ramp has been raised to levels out of all proportion to the real issues involved. I am sorry that as the day goes on the deabate is degenerating into a series of unsubstantiated claims, swiping criticisms——

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The Minister is reading from a typed script.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  When was that typed? Was it last night?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The Taoiseach started off on a low.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  It is not typed. What I am actually saying at the moment is not typed, if the Deputy would like to check it.

[352](Interruptions.)

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  If the Deputy is so interested, what I said was said off the cuff.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  The Deputy should bring it up with the Taoiseach, who started on the most irrelevant tack.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Seldom has a Government been so quick to provide parliamentary time to address alleged concerns by Opposition parties on an issue which has, for one reason or another, captured prime media space and time. The Government are quite comfortable in having this debate, because there is nothing to hide. Secondly, we want to lay to rest quickly a contrived political move, in order that we can press ahead with the main tasks which face this Government.

The Government have been working extremely well and notable achievements have been made. Opposition parties continually claim that they are part of the Government's success because they have tried to put the country first. Where in this debate on the Sugar Company have the Opposition parties met the standards that they apparently set for themselves? In this regard, how will the country benefit? Will this naked political opportunism help anyone in Thurles? In particular, will it help anyone losing his or her job? I do not believe that political point scoring will either solve the broader national problems that we have——

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Take it up with the Taoiseach.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  ——or solve the particular problems which face Thurles. The concerted attack on the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, is ultimately intended to embroil the Taoiseach and the Government. What are the charges? Is the Minister accused of feathering his own nest.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  No.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  No. Everybody accepts [353] that there is no personal gain. Did he exceed his ministerial powers? The answer, of course, is no, and since when did it become a crime to try to keep a factory open in one's own constituency?

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Denying it was the trouble.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  He is not accused of that.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  If that is a crime, then many crimes have been committed and I am not going to say where they were committed.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Nobody has attacked him for that.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Statements have been freely made that the Government were actively considering the question of the privatisation of the Sugar Company plc. The Deputies have already heard the Taoiseach's statement this morning that no such proposals were ever considered by the Government.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Only by the Minister.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Yet, in spite of that statement, both Deputy Dukes and Deputy Desmond kept on emphasising that this matter was being actively considered by the Government.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  By members of the Government.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Every Minister can come into this House and reinforce what the Taoiseach has said, that this did not happen — not even the semblance of a proposal and, secondly, Deputies in this House know full well that it would require legislative change. This is a minority Administration. It would have to pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is utterly and totally ridiculous to accuse the Government of consistently considering a proposition, the first signs or semblance of which did not appear on the agenda.

[354] A letter from Finn Sugar was mentioned and a passing reference by Food Industries to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. Neither of them constitutes a proposal in any business sense. The most that could be attributed to the letter from Finn Sugar was that it was an outline indication of interest and could not be construed as a serious proposal.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Their letter used the word “proposal” on at least four occasions.

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Even if there was a serious proposal, Finland is outside the European Community and would have difficulties——

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  What is the difference between a serious proposal and a proposal?

Mr. Smith: Information on Michael Smith  Zoom on Michael Smith  Food Industries are known to act very swiftly but in this place the company had not even got to the starting gate. This House can be assured, despite all the hullabaloo to the contrary, that the question of privatisation of the Sugar Company did not arise, and not even the semblance of a serious business proposal to this effect had come to light. Innuendos kept surfacing. Every day of our lives as Ministers' ideas are mooted, some too speculative and remote even to take a note of. There are always people who will snap at the heels when making deals for themselves. We do not refuse to talk to individuals. One naturally has to sus these matters because it is important to catch any fish that is around.

The Government are anxious to encourage creativity but we will give no individual preference. We can safely establish that there was nothing wrong with the fact that the Minister for Agriculture and Food had these discussions, listened and ultimately made up his mind about what action, if any, should be taken. Arising from the discussions in this context, he passed on the information which was given to him to the chairman of the Sugar Company. If there is anything [355] wrong with that, the best thing for Ministers to do is to enter a cloister or a monastery in some isolated place and let the world pass by.

There is not a Minister — past or present — or Deputy in the House who has not from time to time tried to salvage something from the wreckage of job losses in his or her constituency. Are Minister O'Kennedy and I to be blamed whenever we try to do something to help our own constituency? We know and represent the people of Thurles and we will not apologise for doing anything that might help. Is it a crime to try to extend the life of the Thurles sugar factory until the alternative jobs are in place, recognising that the commercial obligations of the company have to be managed in a viable way?

The management of the Sugar Company in their own right, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and I have had endless discussions with a view to bringing new industry to that beleaguered town. A number of projects have been attracted and are virtually ready to start and there may well be a few others in the pipeline. The training of staff for the first project is now getting under way and there is a traditional workforce in Thurles second to none. I want to ensure that the existing workforce in the company and the younger generation now seeking employment in the Thurles catchment area will have job prospects equal to those their grandparents had when sugar was a developing industry in the thirties. The sort of industries planned as a replacement in Thurles have these characteristics. They could be described as excellent industries sponsored by companies which had proven staying power in their own markets. They should give job security in developing areas which will greatly benefit the town.

It is particularly important, however, that both imagination and creativity are exercised to ensure that there is the closest possible fit between the employment in the new industries and the existing workforce at the sugar plant. I am calling on the Sugar Company to ensure that [356] whatever is required by way of personal planning and training is laid on so as to maximise the transfer between the existing workforce and the emerging job opportunities. I have also had discussions with Minister Ahern and the chairman of FÁS so that a special task force could be provided, if necessary, to help in this case.

It would be very comfortable if the core business of the Sugar Company had been untouched by the fundamentals of the market. Sadly, this was not the case. Many Deputies will be aware that this product has been in chronic over-production within the Community for some years. The Community has a self-sufficient ratio of 130 per cent. The world price of sugar is approximately £180 per tonne. The EC price is £500 per tonne. The Council of Ministers are at present grappling with a proposed price reduction of 5 per cent in an attempt by the Commission to reduce the surplus of sugar. With 14 million tonnes produced and only 11 million tonnes consumed within member states, one fact emerges with painful clarity, there is no question and indeed no hope of any increase of our fixed quota of 200,200 tonnes.

Like any other industry, our Sugar Company must remain competitive. This is the only formula for the survival of the company and the fact that we see for the most part only bags labelled “Siúcra” on our supermarket shelves should not lull us into a false sense of complacency. Our sugar market is vulnerable with Community wide sugar over-production. Looking for a market share outside national boundaries, the competition will become more keen in a declining and more competitive market as larger players in Europe hunt for a bigger slice of the sugar market. Our hope is that as the Sugar Company become more profitable, they will develop a broader base and will not wait until the dagger is in their neck before they get involved in these ventures. I want to ensure that the Sugar Company have a continuing viable base in Thurles and that these new projects get off the ground as speedily as possible.

The Opposition want to reconstruct [357] the events of the past few months. They have the time and the desire to examine every word. They have the ambition to raise all kinds of question marks and innuendos. The facts still remain that nowhere else in the history of Sugar Company activities has such a concerted effort been made to cushion the town and surrounding area against the fall-out from a closure and we will be there to insist that the Sugar Company deliver on their promises in this regard.

The Sugar Company should have been more open with the loyal workforce in Thurles. In modern day management systems and communication, their financial predicament should have been better known to the workers and indeed to everybody in Thurles and the surrounding area. Their position should have been explained much more thoroughly and with better understanding. It is important that decisions are not seen to be taken just for crude profit reasons alone but that the survival of the company in the longer term was at stake. Neither is it good enough to be saying that our job is in the sugar business, and the sugar business alone. New development, new adventures must continuously be taken on board. Workers have to be helped to adapt to that changing environment.

The problems which face this country are too serious for Ministers to go into solitary confinement, as is being suggested by Members of the Opposition. Ministers will continue to embark on new initiatives and have creative discussions wherever possible and we will not hang back just because we may be ridiculed or criticised. We will use every possibility for betterment. Sometimes this may involve certain political risks but we need more and more people in this country who are prepared to seize opportunities and take risks.

Let us move quickly away from sterile political debate and from the negative blocking intervention which characterised the last Administration. With so many young people without jobs and emigrating it is simply not good enough to be chasing hares, as it were, in an effort [358] to embarrass the Minister for Agriculture and Food and indeed the whole Government. Yes, they had their pound of flesh, and if they want to drain the last drop that is their business. The Minister for Agriculture and Food has nothing to be ashamed of, he and I will continue to have a constructive approach to the rebuilding of Thurles. While the Opposition are on this negative line we will be working together to get the new projects under way and will continue to combine our work on the national scene with looking after the interests of those who elected us to this House in the first instance.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  I wish the time allocated today to what might purport to be an agricultural debate could be directed towards serious agricultural issues and to resolving some of the serious problems we face in this field. Alas, that is not the case.

The incompetence and mishandling of this entire episode by the Minister for Agriculture is now characterised as “Sugargate” in the media and it underlines the Taoiseach's lack of judgment of character when one of the most vital portfolios as we face into the Single Market of 1993 could still remain in Minister O'Kennedy's hands.

This debate has little to do with agriculture and economics. It has everything to do with parish pump politics, low standards in high places and the abuse of power. For any Minister to try to exert undue influence on the chairman and members of a commercial State-sponsored body is an abuse of power. To deny his action subsequently and mislead Dáil Éireann is a tragic example of low standards in high places. I say “tragic” because as politicians we are all tarred to some extent by the non-discerning public and the political process so essential to the proper order of this country is tarnished yet again.

Even the local newspaper in the Minister's constituency, the Tipperary Star in an editorial on 5 December 1987, stated:

[359] The ball will ultimately land in the court of the Minister for Agriculture, Michael O'Kennedy, whose position in relation to Thurles is clouded by statements which to say the least are difficult to reconcile and do not inspire confidence or give assurance.

That was very serious stuff from the local newspaper in the Minister's constituency.

As with all State-sponsored bodies, Siúicre Éireann are required to submit a five year plan to their parent Department, the Department of Agriculture and Food. The plans of Siúicre Éireann for the period 1987 to 1992 or 1993 were submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Food in December 1987 following the November 1987 board meeting at which they were approved, and at which there was a unanimous decision by all present, including the worker directors, to seek an alternative industry for Thurles in view of the social implications of closure. In December 1987 the fate of Thurles was sealed. It was to close as soon as an alternative industry was found. That decision was taken in line with the recommendations of the five year plan, one full year before this latest saga erupted.

I must say that the wording of the resolution that accompanied the adoption of the plan by the board at that meeting in November 1987 was somewhat disingenuous. Perhaps a lot of the ambiguity and the sheltering the Minister has done behind this resolution has resulted from that wording. The resolution states:

The Board is concerned about the future viability of sugar processing in Thurles in the long term.

In the light of the consequent threat to employment caused by the potential nonviability of the plant, the Board decided to secure an alternative industry for Thurles.

When this industry is identified the Board will then decide on the future of the Thurles Sugar factory.

That is a quotation from the resolution [360] which accompanied the acceptance of the five year plan by the board in November 1987. That five year plan contained a number of main features, the third of which was that the Carlow and Mallow factories were to be expanded to cater for 7,000 tonnes of beet per day by 1989, in other words, the two factory configuration was accepted by the board in November 1987. The fourth feature of the plan was that the company were committed to major investment in an alternative industry in Thurles and the fifth feature was that the objective was to establish Thurles as a major food processing centre for the group with as many as possible of the existing workforce being retrained for employment in the new activity. We laud and support that objective and hope it will turn out to be true.

Above all else in this saga as we bicker and hurl insults across the floor of this House at one another and dig into political history some 20 years old there is a workforce in Thurles who as yet do not know what the future holds for them. They are the people about whom all of us should be concerned instead of spending our time hurling abuse at one another across the floor of the House. The point I am trying to make is that when the board in November 1987 accepted the five year plan, the closure of Thurles was firmly ensconced within that plan. That plan was accepted and I have a copy of it in my hand along with a copy of the resolution I quoted from. I think the wording of that resolution has led to many of the problems and misconceptions, along with the attempts to mislead, that have evolved since.

As promised, the board of the Sugar Company have found an alternative industry so as to protect jobs in the area. The Minister for Agriculture and Food was sure at that time that that would not be the case. In fact following a meeting held on 25 September 1987 between the Minister and the Sugar Company, a memo of which the Minister got a copy, cific issues raised at that meeting. This memo, of which the Minister got a copy, deals with the background and rationale [361] of the proposal to close the Thurles sugar factory and it details the company's commitment to the development of the new agricultural related industry in Thurles. The memo of September 1987 states and I quote:

The decision to cease sugar production at Thurles was reached after detailed and careful analysis of the economic parameters determining present and future profitability of sugar production in Ireland. The proposal is not a new one. It was first highlighted in the review and rationalisation plan submitted to the Department in June 1982.

The closure of Thurles was first mooted in June 1982 when the Minister's own party were last in Government and effectively the governing decision to close Thurles when an alternative industry was found was taken on 25 November 1987, by a unanimous decision of all present, including the worker directors of the Sugar Company.

When subsequently the Minister was proved wrong and an alternative industry was found — the Moulinex-Glen Dimplex joint venture with the Sugar Company — involving 300 jobs in two phases he then resorted to the tactics he had alluded to in his personal election manifesto. I have a copy of it in my hand and it reads “Statement of Michael O'Kennedy, T.D., Fianna Fáil Spokesman on Finance, Thurles, February 9th, 1987.” This statement contains categoric promises. It is no wonder the people of Thurles are demanding that he deliver on what he promised. I do not know how many votes he would have got on the basis of those promises but it behoves all of us as politicians and would-be politicians to be honest with the electorate. Of course, we all must look after our own constituencies, in particular the employment prospects and problems within our constituencies, but if we give categoric promises, put them in print and put them through letter boxes during a three-week election campaign, it should be demanded by those constituents that the promises be delivered on. If any of [362] us fails to deliver on categoric promises, we should be called to book, which is what is happening here.

“You change the Government”, Deputy O'Kennedy declared in his election manifesto in February 1987 as Fianna Fáil spokesman with aspirations to be Minister for Finance, “and we will change the Board”. In other words, if the members of the board could not be trusted to put political considerations before economic ones they would be axed at the first possible opportunity and replaced. It did not work out, did it, Minister? The decision of the board in December 1988 was lost on the casting vote of the Chair. The vote was 6-6 and not 8-4 as he had expected, having fiddled around with the political representation of the board at the first opportunity he got.

One of the questions which my Ceannaire, Deputy Dukes, wished to ask last week but which was disallowed was if the Minister would outline the events leading to the non-appointment of IFA representative, Billy Maher, to the Board of Siúicre Éireann. The Minister had told him that he had appointed him but later failed, in his own words, to “acquire the Cabinet approval”. What happened? Who put forward McGuickian? None of these questions have been answered but let us remind ourselves that in his election manifesto the Minister promised that if he did not get his own way with the board of the Sugar Company, he would change the board. That is in print.

Bad and all as those tactics were, the Minister then had the audacity to mislead the House by indicating that he did not know the matter was to be considered by the board at their meeting last December. In fact at the chairman's own request, the chairman of the board had met the Minister the evening before. The meeting was to have taken place at 6 p.m. and was put back at the Minister's request to 4 p.m. What more precise details than that do you need? At 4 p.m. on the eve of the board meeting at the chairman's request the Minister was fully briefed and handed documents to be dealt with next day on the agenda. The Minister, Deputy [363] O'Kennedy, then rang around and canvassed personally as Minister for Agriculture and Food those members of the board of the Sugar Company he felt he could influence. He still had the audacity to feign surprise and ignorance of the agenda when questioned. All we are asking for is honesty, not any denial that the Minister wanted to look after interests in Thurles. He denied he was even trying to act in the best interests of his constituents in Thurles. He misled this House — low standards in high places, very low standards.

Unlike others, and to be as balanced and fair as possible, I can almost forgive the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, for the misinformation contained in the answer to Deputy Pat O'Malley's parliamentary question of 20 October last. Perhaps it is naivéte, but I will try to be fair and balanced. I have been fairly critical. I will put another possible scenario. I could almost forgive him for that answer on the basis that civil servants prepare the answers to parliamentary questions some days in advance. Subsequently the Minister has admitted to discussions on the evening of 19 October with Larry Goodman and Finn Sugar. Under our written PQ system it is conceiveable that the information concerning those discussions was not up to date as the PQ was answered the next day and the discussions were held the night previous. Perhaps that is a reasonable explanation. I am trying to be magnanimous here. However, regarding the further PQ some weeks later, I am afraid I cannot be generous in accepting the Minister's explanation. He misled this House. He denied he had discussions and that there were any proposals. There had been, he had discussions. On Finn Sugar's own words as stated here this morning, on four occasions in their letter they referred to proposals in different contexts.

I gave the Minister the benefit of the doubt on the first PQ but not on the catalogue of clouded and misleading statements, bad judgment, incompetence, political interference, abuse of power and low standards in his important [364] office that pre-dated 20 October 1988, not to mention the saga that has developed since then. The Minister's release to his backbenchers in each constitutency last autumn of confidential information concerning the farm improvement grants programme to individual farmers pales into insignificance.

I have concentrated on the earlier period because, firstly, it has not been developed during this debate or in the debate of the last few weeks to any extent. Secondly, the board decision that sealed the fate of Thurles was taken as far back as 25 November 1987. Thirdly, since October 1988 the events have been well chronicled. As a non-executive director of FII Deputy Liam Lawlor's possible conflict of interest became apparent as soon as the news of FII's interest in the Sugar Company's affairs became public on 17 January this year. With the wisdom of hindsight and what has been revealed since, I say there was an apparent conflict of interests since the Minister's “chit chat” with Larry Goodman in October last year. Deputy Lawlor subsequently resigned — others prefer to suggest he was pushed by the Taoiseach — as chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies which happened to be in the process of investigating the affairs of the Sugar Company. Many questions are still not answered. I hope today's debate will not be used as an excuse to suppress the answers, as the Irish public and this House are entitled to the truth.

There is no doubt that a Sugar Company with Thurles closed would have an increased net value of £50 million. Any information concerning proposals on Thurles' future would be of great commercial value to parties with an eye on a partial or complete takeover of the company, and this would not just be a matter of political sensitivity as Deputy Lawlor has suggested. The Sugar Company were also of this view and their chairman stated in their covering letter to Deputy Liam Lawlor dated 17 November 1988 when the chairman and his board responded to questions raised by the joint [365] committee during their visit to Mallow on 3 November last:

We must be mindful of the sensitivity of the Thurles issue and we are concerned that the information being forwarded might be mistakenly perceived and used to political advantage.

The information referred to was being forwarded to the committee. We have established beyond doubt that it was politically sensitive but surely it was also of considerable commercial value. I contend that the information the Sugar Company were responding with to the Joint Committee was of extreme commercial value.

We await the outcome of the investigation of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies into this affair and I hope what it reveals will put to an end once and for all this appalling debacle which has tarnished most of all the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Government, and also all of us as politicians to some extent, because the less discerning public do not differentiate between us as much as I would like.

Ultimately the future profitability of sugar production in Ireland will depend on EC quota considerations, EC pricing policies, competition from imports and other sweeteners, cost reduction policies and the most economic factory structure possible in this country to produce Ireland's full quota allocation of 200,200 tonnes, which the Minister for Energy, Deputy Smith, has said is unlikely to be increased. Regrettably, I must concur with him as that appears to be the position.

The EC is self-sufficient in the production of sugar, and production worldwide has exceeded consumption each year in the eighties with the exception of 1985 and 1987. Human consumption has fallen each year for the last ten years and sugar prices in the EC are much higher than world prices which have fallen by half since 1979, and with cutback on agricultural subsidies there is little prospect of increasing our sugar quotas. Sugar is a capital intensive industry which benefits [366] from economies of scale. The European sugar industry is highly modernised and since 1970 the number of factories in Europe has been reduced from 262 to 188. Average throughput per factory has increased from 3,260 tonnes of beet per day to 6,300 tonnes of beet per day in Europe. In the same period our throughput increased from 3,000 to 4,000 tonnes per day. Europe is now looking at figures of up to 10,000 tonnes per day throughput of beet. That has to be our target ultimately.

We ignore at our peril what is happening in Europe with the advent of the internal market if we want to ensure a future for commercial production of sugar in our country, a very important indigenously resourced industry. We will watch developments in the months to come and the bids and counter-bids with interest.

I, like many, felt that for the last 18 months of this Government the Fianna Fáil Party had changed their spots and that stroke politics would no longer dominate the agenda. Recently, however, we have witnessed the abuse of lottery funds by Ministers for political gain, an attempt to rig constituencies, the issuing by the Minister for Agriculture and Food of confidential information to his backbenchers regarding farm improvement programme grants and now this latest debacle.

I, like others, was very disappointed with the tenor of the Taoiseach's speech this morning. It set the tone for what is turning out to be a futile and sordid debate. When he of all politicans indulges in dipping into political history he is on a very dangerous wicket. Is it possible for him to forget that a former Taoiseach, a member of his own party, put him, the present Taoiseach of our country, on trial in the dock some 20 years ago for effectively giving effect to a decision of a Cabinet sub-committee? No, tragically for the workers of Thurles, the future of Siúicre Éireann and our country, the leopard has not changed his spots.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It surprises me to hear [367] Deputy Doyle say that the Taoiseach and other speakers on this side of the House have taken a certain stance. Throughout this debate we have kept relatively quiet. Abuse has been hurled at both Deputy Lawlor and the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  I have kept quiet.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  They tried to bring the Taoiseach into the debate and to bring personal politics into the issue.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  He came in this morning and set the tenor of the debate — appalling historical political abuse.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Fianna Fáil Party have kept quiet. The debate has turned, particularly as a result of the submissions made to the Joint Oireachtas Committee last Tuesday by the former secretary, Chris O'Brien. The tide is now turning and people, particularly those in the Progressive Democrats Party, see that this is the case.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  The tide is going out very rapidly.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  As a member of that committee, I did not have an opportunity to express publicly my views on the submission made by Chris O'Brien to the committee last Tuesday. I am glad of the opportunity today to put on record my disgust at this whole sordid affair which the Taoiseach has referred to as an artificial confrontation. The debate is a waste of good Dáil time, not because of the way it is structured, as some would like to make out, but because we are spending a full day debating something which is at this stage a non-issue. Is it any wonder that the public treat politicians with scepticism? If members of the public were here in numbers listening to this debate they would believe that politicians were irrelevant and spend their day arguing. We would be better off debating the future of Irish Sugar and holding on to jobs. Fine Gael and the Progressive [368] Democrats have shown how redundant they are in their thinking by keeping this non-issue going. Is it any wonder that the Irish people would not allow either party to get into Government after the next election?

The people who have made allegations against the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy and Deputy Lawlor have done so without a scintilla of proof. They have made statements in the Dáil, at the committee and also outside in the hope that some of these allegations will stick. They have twisted replies to suit their own warped political aims. People outside this House see that the two main Opposition parties have very little fault to find with the Government, which is the most popular and successful Government for many a decade. The polls speak for themselves. We have left the Opposition floundering in our wake. Their only answer is to try to destabilise the Government by lowering themselves to personal innuendo and allegation. I have no doubt that the public will give them their answer at the next election.

Deputy Des O'Malley again accused Deputy Lawlor of a conflict of interest, despite the fact that the former secretary of the committee has totally vindicated Deputy Lawlor in his submission.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  He has done no such thing.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  If anyone should declare a conflict of interest it should be Deputy Pat O'Malley because he represents the same constituency as Deputy Liam Lawlor and it is to his political advantage to attack Deputy Lawlor.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  That is Deputy Lawlor's defence.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy O'Malley should declare his interest.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Leonard): Information on James Leonard  Zoom on James Leonard  No interruptions, please.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is quite blatant that [369] Deputy O'Malley is trying to make political gain out of Deputy Lawlor's situation.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Rubbish. Get to the heart of the matter, please.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Speaking privately or publicly to members of the committee afterwards, it was blatantly obvious that the submission by Chris O'Brien totally vindicated Deputy Lawlor. Anyone who says otherwise is twisted.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  There is no such conclusion. Many questions remain to be answered.

Acting Chairman:  No cross-fire. Deputy Ahern, without interruption.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I cannot let him get away with this.

Mr. Byrne: Information on Hugh Byrne  Zoom on Hugh Byrne  Why did Deputy O'Malley scurry out the back door the other night instead of going on television?

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  I went on television after the last committee meeting.

Acting Chairman:  I appeal to Deputies to stop this cross-talk, which is interfering with the time allotted to Deputy Ahern.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Certain people, despite the very categoric submission made by Chris O'Brien to the committee, have persisted in trying to find fault where no fault lay.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  He was not categoric. He referred to the best of his recollection.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The former secretary of that committee is very well known to us all. I do not for one minute query his forthright submission and it ill-behoves people to do so. The fact that Chris O'Brien has been requested to attend a private session of the committee in order to question him on his statement is in my opinion a smokescreen to try to delimit [370] the sentiments of the statement issued by him last week.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Does the Deputy mean that he will not come in?

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy O'Malley states that the submission raises more questions than it answers. That is total nonsense and is an insult to Chris O'Brien's integrity.

One issue remains outstanding in regard to Deputy Liam Lawlor's situation, that is, what was in the mind of the chairman of Siúicre Éireann, Mr. Cahill, when he sent the much vaunted document on 17 November 1988 to the secretary of the joint committee, along with a separate letter to Deputy Liam Lawlor. He stated in that letter, which Deputy Lawlor subsequently made available to us, that the information might be “mistakenly perceived and used to political advantage”. Did he mean political advantage per se or did he mean commercial advantage to Deputy Lawlor or anyone in the committee or outside? When he and the directors of Siúicre Éireann come before our committee in due course I hope this point can be cleared up. It strikes me as very doubtful that he, Mr. Cahill, would have sent a very sensitive document to Deputy Liam Lawlor or to the committee if he had felt that there was a conflict of interest. This point should be made.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  He was asked to do so. He had no choice.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  He could quite easily have refused to send any documents to the committee. He could say he does not want anything more to do with the committee because Deputy Lawlor has, in his view, a conflict of interest. He did not say that. Obviously he feels that Deputy Lawlor had not got a conflict of interest. Otherwise he would not have sent the document.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Why did Deputy Lawlor resign?

[371](Interruptions.)

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It now transpires that Deputy Lawlor was not sent a copy of this document until mid-January by Mr. O'Brien's successor, Richard Manley. At that stage Deputy Lawlor was out of the country. On his return when that document came to his notice he resigned in order to prevent any slight on him, the committee, Siúicre Éireann or the Government. He should be complimented on that.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  It was brought to his notice the minute it was received.

Acting Chairman:  I would ask Deputy O'Malley to refrain from interrupting.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  He had to be called on to resign by the Taoiseach.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The Opposition have tried to throw mud in the hope that it would stick. They have failed and they should admit it. As a leading Sunday newspaper stated in its editorial, even before Chris O'Brien's submission last Tuesday, the Opposition were making a meal out of morsels. How right they have been proved to be. Deputy Lawlor is in the Chamber and he would be wise to have a long chat with his lawyer. He has plenty of grounds for doing so.

(Interruptions.)

Acting Chairman:  I would ask Deputies to refrain from interrupting. They will have the opportunity to reply to any points. There is a limited time debate and I do not want any further interruptions.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  This brings me to the position of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy. At meetings of the committee a number of Members, including the Minister's constituency colleague, Deputy Lowry, tried to drag into our deliberations the Minister and the Taoiseach. I wonder if Deputy Lowry saw that as an opportunity [372] to gain politically over his constituency colleague, like Deputy O'Malley.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  They are tarred with the same brush.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy O'Kennedy did no more than any Member of the House would do, he tried to keep Thurles open——

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  To keep it quiet.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  ——or if it was to close that there should be an alternative industry for the town. The board of Siúicre Éireann decided on 17 November 1988 that they were concened about the future viability of Thurles. They went on to state in their report:

In the light of the consequent threat to employment by the potential non viability of the plant, the board has decided to secure an alternative industry.

Obviously, in his role as Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy would have potential customers coming to him concerned about Thurles and other plants around the country. For example, on 13 October 1988 he received correspondence from EuroArab which he forwarded to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann. On 19 October he had meetings with Finn Sugar and Larry Goodman. Finn Sugar indicated an interest in doing business with Siúicre Éireann and the Minister asked them to confirm in writing their ideas in the context of Government policy. In the case of the Mr. Goodman meeting a casual reference only was made to Food Industries being interested in Siúicre Éireann.

The content of those conversations was passed on by the Minister to Mr. Cahill on that day, 19 October. The famous parliamentary question tabled by Deputy O'Malley asked whether the Minister had negotiations or discussions with Deputy Lawlor on behalf of Food Industries. The Minister replied in the negative and we are all aware of that. The question put to [373] him was specific; had he discussions or negotiations with Deputy Liam Lawlor?

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  It asked if he had discussions with representatives; it was in the plural.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  The question asked if he had discussions with Deputy Liam Lawlor. Deputy O'Malley tried to twist the answer. He inferred that the Minister should have said, “No, but I have had discussions with Finn Sugar and Food Industries”. He had not.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  He had, and he has admitted that.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  He had no specific discussions.

Acting Chairman:  I should like to ask Deputy Ahern not to address his remarks across the floor of the House at the Opposition.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Nothing specific happened in regard to Deputy O'Kennedy, apart from the initial discussions he had with Finn Sugar and Mr. Goodman. There was also the letter from EuroArab, but nothing concrete happened until mid-January. The Deputies opposite know that. In mid-January the Minister received a letter from Finn Sugar outlining their interest, in accordance with what they had said some two or three months previously. On 18 January the Minister passed on to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann on a confidential basis the letter he had received from Finn Sugar. The chairman, on that date, gave the Minister a copy of a letter he had received from Alex Spain of Food Industries which outlined their interest. That was the first definite and specific proposal. In that letter Food Industries said, “we shall bring our interest to the attention of the Government”. That was done subsequently by letter on 27 January. That was the only time that the Minister, and the Government, had any definite word that Food Industries, or [374] Finn Sugar, were interested in Siúicre Éireann.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Mr. Dilger had been working away for months.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  It is one thing to say, “we may be interested”, but the first definite expression of interest was made in that letter. Some people have made great play about the promises made by the Minister and in my view all he was doing was trying to fulfil the promises he had made, as any Member would do. Like any other Member if he failed to fulfil his promises at least he would be able to prove to his constituents that he did the best he could. I have no doubt that the people of Tipperary know that Deputy O'Kennedy had the good of Thurles at heart at all times and not the good of anybody else.

Deputy Pat O'Malley, and other Opposition Deputies, have expressed the view that Deputy O'Kennedy should have been more specific in his reply to the Parliamentary Questions. How could he have been when there was nothing definite in the proposals until late January? If the Minister had told the Deputy that he had proposals he would then have been asked what they were. His response then would be to say that he had had an initial discussion. The Minister was correct in stating that he did not have any specific proposals until mid-January.

Deputy Dukes has not covered himself in glory in this debate. He accused the Minister of bungling and of interfering in Siúicre Éireann in such a way that they would not be in a position to make good financial decisions in regard to the company. I will not go over that ground again because it has been covered by other Members today. Deputy Dukes interfered to a greater extent than could be alleged against Deputy O'Kennedy. It may not be constructive to say that but it is important to make the point. Deputy Dukes should not make such allegations unless he has clean hands, and they are definitely not clean.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  His point is that he never [375] denied it. We are not saying that Ministers should not speak to the chairmen of boards but that they should not deny it subsequently.

Acting Chairman:  I do not want any further interruptions.

Mrs. Doyle: Information on Avril Doyle  Zoom on Avril Doyle  An attempt was not made by Deputy Dukes to mislead the House and that is the difference.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Deputy Dukes' hands are definitely not clean. Deputy Doyle referred to stroke politics but she must be aware that we have not had anything else in this Dáil from the Opposition in their efforts to pull down the Government. However, as the Taoiseach has said, the Opposition have no chance of succeeding. The Government are on line and will continue in office. The debate should close this issue once and for all. It is unfortunate that on Tuesday next Chris O'Brien will be attending the meeting of the joint committee and I have no doubt that some people will try to take advantage of that. I hope Chris O'Brien attends and elaborates on his statement although I do not think that is necessary. In my view his statement vindicates Deputy Lawlor. It is clear to everybody that the Minister was doing what any other Deputy would do for their constituency and he should be congratulated for that.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Ostensibly we are being given an opportunity today to debate this issue thoroughly and to have questions that have been hanging around for several weeks answered by the people who need to answer them. However, I am afraid that the format of the debate will not enable us do that. I greatly regret that but these are the tactics of Fianna Fáil, have the issue discussed now so that it can be suppressed for six months. There appears to be a great wish by the Government that this issue should be left to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies, of which I am a member, so that it can be kicked around by them inconclusively. [376] The Government are aware that the joint committee cannot reach a conclusion on this matter because under their terms of reference they do not have the power to embark on the type of investigation that this issue warrants. At a recent meeting of the joint committee I went into that issue in great detail. The House will be aware that the joint committee cannot compel witnesses to attend. We had a shambles of a meeting last Tuesday when the witnesses who were supposed to attend did not do so.

I have pointed out that those who opt to appear before the joint committee to give evidence do not have any protection and feel inhibited from giving evidence on that score. Indeed, Mr. O'Brien said that he felt inhibited from giving evidence to the joint committee because of the Officials Secrets Act and the fact that immunity did not extend to him. That is a major drawback to the effectiveness of the joint committee in investigating this issue. Under our terms of reference we do not have any authority to embark on the type of investigation we are proceeding with.

Last week the Taoiseach said he wanted this whole affair to be investigated from top to bottom, and very grandly suggested that our terms of reference could be expanded or that the matter could be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, and went so far as to suggest that we could set up a tribunal of inquiry to investigate it fully. We have clearly come to that stage now. I agree with Deputy Ahern that today's exercise is a total waste of time. We will not get answers to the questions we have been posing for several weeks until we have an effective body, such as a tribunal of inquiry, to elicit the answers to the questions we have raised.

I am disappointed at the Taoiseach's approach. He has not addressed the issues that have been hanging around on this major matter for so long. In soccer parlance, he has been kicking the ball around in his own penalty area. The great wish of Fianna Fáil, of course, is that this issue will go out of the area of public attention.

[377] Deputy Lawlor's statement that he has been vindicated as a result of what Mr. Chris O'Brien said at the committee meeting is entirely without foundation. First, the committee came to no formal conclusion on the letter that Chris O'Brien submitted to the committee, and indeed, the committee released——

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  No formal conclusion.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  The committee released the letter Chris O'Brien sent in and his statement to that committee was converted into a third party statement by the committee. In other words, what we released was actually Chris O'Brien's statement. In that statement he clearly says a number of things: “I have no recollection of having photocopied the document” or indeed “no recollection of having transferred it to Liam Lawlor”. Bear in mind that this is the very document which uniquely had a letter attached to it telling the secretary to the committee to check with the chairman if it was to be circulated to other Members of the committee. That was a unique request to the former secretary of the committee and, in my opinion, is one reason his memory on this matter should be less defective than it apparently is. I am not accusing Mr. O'Brien of anything but I highlight again that I and other members of the committee did not have an opportunity to cross-examine Mr. O'Brien on the substance of his statement in public at the committee meeting, and that is a major defect.

The letter Chris O'Brien sent in to the committee was, as I understand it, available to Deputy Liam Lawlor before the committee meeting started.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is not true.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Deputy Lawlor produced a statement for the benefit of the political correspondents——

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That is not true.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  ——and they are aware that he knew the contents of Chris [378] O'Brien's letter to the committee before it was formally revealed to the committee because he had his statement prepared.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  We will have Deputy Lawlor answer that when he comes back.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Again that indicates the collusion that exists in the committee and the lack of impartiality Fianna Fáil members are bringing to bear on the way this issue needs to be addressed.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  They are total lies.

Acting Chairman:  I would ask Deputy Ahern not to interrupt. Deputy Lawlor will be speaking later.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  Mr. O'Brien, the former secretary to the committee, as a result of a conversation with Deputy Lawlor which he admits took place, decided not to circulate this document to the members of the committee. I do not know whether there is any precedent for that but I am certainly not aware of one. Any documents that did come into us were either circulated or referred to in the memorandum attached to the agenda for the meeting on a particular day, and any document that came in which was relevant to any other matters under consideration by the committee was always referred to in that memorandum. Again, uniquely, that was not done in this case.

Deputy Ahern referred to the fact that the chairman of the Sugar Company in his letter to Deputy Lawlor suggested that he should be careful about the contents of this document, that it should be treated sensitively and that it might be used to political advantage. Is the secretary to the committee supposed to adjudicate on what is meant by political advantage?

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  That was in the letter to Deputy Lawlor.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  But he had a discussion with Deputy Liam Lawlor about this very matter.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Get your facts right.

[379]Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  My point is we are a political committee comprising all shades of political opinion in this House. I do not know whether the secretary's function is to serve the chairman or to serve the committee. At the very least, the fact that that document had been sent to the committee shows it should not have been suppressed, and nowhere was Deputy Lawlor asked by anybody not to circulate it.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  He was asked to treat it sensitively.

Mr. P. O'Malley: Information on Patrick O'Malley  Zoom on Patrick O'Malley  That does not mean that one does not circulate it to the Members of one's committee, nor does it mean that one does not refer to it as having come in to the committee. These are the kind of questions I would have liked to put to the secretary if he had presented himself for examination at our meeting last Tuesday.

There are a number of unique aspects to this document, and I have just referred to them. It is difficult for me to understand why so many people had difficulty recollecting where this document went and what happened to it. These important questions have never been fully answered. In relation to the document itself, Deputy Lawlor claims that it has no commercial value. On the other hand, he claims that he never read it. There is an obvious query there. How does he come to the conclusion that it does not have any commercial value if he has not read it? If Deputy Lawlor had not read the document, how can he judge if it should be circulated to the committee? This is another question I would like to put on the record, hopefully Deputy Lawlor will enlighten me when he makes his contribution. The document was clearly suppressed and there is no precedent for that in the committee of which I am a member.

I do not want to dwell overlong on the document itself, given the limited amount of time I have. I would like to move on to the question of the conflict of interest of Deputy Liam Lawlor which he officially admitted on 27 January. We [380] know as a result of questions that have been referred to on many occasions in the House already today that as far back as 18 October last an associated company of the Goodman Company, of which Deputy Lawlor is a director, expressed an interest in acquiring some of the assets of the Sugar Company to the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

It is clearly on record that that company was interested in the Sugar Company as early as 18 October last. We also have on record that Mr. Dilger, the chief executive of Food Industries, in a statement he made on RTE radio on 1 February last, said his company had been in active negotiations with the Sugar Company with a view to acquiring some or all of their assets — and that was several months before 1 February. It has been clearly established that Food Industries, of which Deputy Lawlor was a non-executive director, had an interest in that company.

I do not want to go over the ground that Deputy Des O'Malley covered this morning on Deputy Lawlor's involvement in Food Industries, but he certainly had a very major involvement with them. He was the man who did their political lobbying for them. It is incredulous for anybody to suggest that Deputy Liam Lawlor would not be aware of Food Industries' intentions in the area of policy and particularly in acquiring assets of companies such as the Sugar Company.

We have established that Food Industries were interested in acquiring the assets of the Sugar Company. This was at a time when Deputy Lawlor continued to be an active director of Food Industries while at the same time he was chairman of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies of which I am a member. Nobody in this House can deny that given that situation there was what I have up to now been calling a potential for a conflict of interest but what can now be described as a definite conflict of interest on the part of Deputy Lawlor at that time.

Deputy Lawlor has accused me of using this issue on the basis of a difficulty [381] arising between him and me in terms of constituency politics, but I reject that totally. I am a member of the committee and I have a job to do. I have raised questions, both at the committee and in the Dáil, with the Minister for Agriculture and Food on the matter. I did so on foot of information that I received about the involvement of Food Industries in the sense that they were in negotiations with the Sugar Company about taking over that company. It is ludicrous to suggest that, while I could be in possession of that information, the very active director of that company would not be in possession of it at that time. To say there was a possibility that Deputy Lawlor would not have known those facts is going too far. In my opinion, he definitely knew the facts.

Arising from my knowledge of that information I put down questions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, as has been referred to on a few occasions already. I put down one question on 20 October and another on 29 November. It is important that we should examine these questions in a little more detail. The question on 20 October asked if the Minister had made any decision in relation to the Sugar Company's plant at Thurles. He answered by saying that no proposals had been made to him in relation to that matter. We now clearly know that on the previous day two sets of discussions took place, one of which was in the form of a proposal. In the discussion with Mr. Goodman he expressed an interest in acquiring the assets of the Sugar Company. The discussion with Finn Sugar was much more detailed and was referred to at some length in an article in The Irish Times on 3 March last. The political correspondent who wrote the article drew the attention of the readers to the fact that on the previous day the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, had read selectively from a letter from Finn Sugar about what had happened at the 19 October meeting. That letter came into the possession of The Irish Times and they referred to what took place at that meeting. I will read [382] from some particularly relevant parts of that letter, as quoted in the report.

Our view at this stage is that we would create a consortium including strong Irish interests, which should get full control of the company.

The report goes on to say:

ICC Corporate Finance Limited have been appointed as the company's “financial advisers in relation to the proposal”. It went on: “We appreciate that our proposal will require detailed assessment and negotiations and, ultimately, a decision by the Irish Government. We would wish to meet again with you for further discussions on these proposals”.

How could the Minister on the following day stand up in the Dáil and in reply to my question of 20 October say that no proposals had been made to him in relation to that plant or to the Sugar Company in general? It is totally disingenuous for anyone to suggest that the Minister could give such an answer particularly when we now know that detailed proposals were made to him on 19 October.

I would like to deal very briefly with the question of 29 November which I put to the Minister. That question mentioned Deputy Liam Lawlor, his capacity as a director of Food Industries and so on. As we know, the Minister said he had no such discussions or negotiations, but he has clearly now accepted that he had discussions with Mr. Goodman on 19 October. It is unbelievable that the Minister would not have known that Deputy Lawlor was a director of Food Industries. Deputy Lawlor had a very high profile with that company which is one of the major companies in the whole agrisector. The Minister's claim that he had no hint that Deputy Lawlor was a director of Food Industries does not stand up to scrutiny. There are other aspects of this matter also but I am conscious of the fact that I do not have very much time.

The Minister and Deputy Lawlor have used the same expression when trying to explain the difficulties that have arisen as [383] a result of their replies to these questions. They both said they had chit chat in the Dáil lobbies in connection with Food Industries' expressed interest in the Sugar Company. I had put down questions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, which were due for reply today, to know what exactly did chit chat constitute and what was the content of the conversation. The Ceann Comhairle's office wrote to me saying that I was anticipating today's debate. If that is so, I hope the Minister, when replying, will answer that question. A second question of mine was similarly disallowed. If today is to be the day when we get all the answers that we have been waiting for I hope, but I have my doubts, that when the Minister comes into the Chamber he will finally enlighten us.

Mr. Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry  Zoom on Michael Lowry  I could deal with this matter on the basis of being involved firstly as the local constituency Deputy in North Tipperary and secondly as a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee which has been investigating the allegation of conflict of interest involving Deputy Liam Lawlor. My first concern in this debate is for the future of the Thurles Sugar Factory and for the many people and families affected by this whole sorry debacle. The serious repercussions of the closure will not be fully felt for approximately 18 months. In that time people will receive pay-related social insurance and they will also have a flush of money from redundancy payments. The grim reality and the stark facts of the bleak future will strike home in the local economy only after that period of time.

It would be impossible for me to overstate the disastrous consequences for the workforce, their dependants and the local economy. There is no point in pretending that alternatives can take the place of the sugar factory. Its loss is incalculable. I would say that what is lost is lost and gone forever. The sugar plant was unique and was given support from the local community down through the years. The company enjoyed that support and endured for over 50 years, from one generation to the next, to such an extent [384] that the factory has become part of the very culture of Tipperary, mid-Tipperary in particular. Very few families in mid-Tipperary have not been affected either directly or indirectly by the Sugar factory. Most would be connected with persons directly employed in the factory or in a downstream activity with strong connections with the operations of the factory.

If we examine the benefits to the local economy and examine what we are attempting to replace, we appreciate that approximately 200 persons were employed full time at the factory. During the campaign, as it was affectionately referred to in Thurles, an additional 150 workers were engaged temporarily while hundreds were engaged on sub-contracting, haulage, harvesting, storage and so on. Because of the timing of the campaign it meant many small farmers could supplement their earnings during an otherwise slack period in farming activities.

The approximate total of wages paid during 1987-88 was £4 million which, it will be appreciated, had a major bearing on the commercial life of the Thurles area. For example, the factory paid over £5 million to Tipperary beet growers and approximately £1 million to beet hauliers in 1988. Contractors earned an additional £1.5 million in 1988. If we take into account the spin-off effect of such revenue it will be readily seen that an industry of this magnitude is exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to replace. In many respects the effect of the closure on the local economy will be immediate, severe and widespread, with the direct loss of approximately 200 jobs together with downstream losses. This will have a devastating effect as Tipperary already has a very high rate of unemployment.

The additional loss of 150 part time jobs in the course of the campaign will affect workers who have engaged regularly in campaigns, whose earnings form a significant part of their annual incomes. Small farmers in surrounding areas rely heavily on these earnings to supplement their farm incomes. Indeed the vast [385] majority of others employed on a temporary basis would be social welfare recipients who depend on that additional source of income in the period leading up to Christmas to provide them with an adequate standard of living. Those are the people who will suffer most and for whom I feel most sorry throughout this saga. The loss of wages to those directly employed will have severe consequences for many businesses in the town and, I fear, could lead to further job losses and closures.

The other people who will be most affected by this closure decision in the long term will be the beet growers of Tipperary who have remained solid in their support of the Irish Sugar Company in their period of existence in Thurles. No doubt in the interim there will be negotiations taking place between the beet growers section of the IFA and the Irish Sugar Company executive to ensure that subsidies are provided for the transportation of beet from Tipperary to the plants in Carlow and Mallow. It must be said that that will be a very expensive exercise. The predominent beet growing area of Tipperary is located in the lower Ormonde-Borrisokane district approximately 100 miles from either of those factories. It will be readily seen again that the closure of Thurles will add to production costs of the beet growers of that area, a problem which will have to be addressed. While the flag is flying, while this is an emotive issue, I feel confident that the IFA will be anxious to allay the fears of the agricultural community and will provide subsidies. However, the question I would pose is: in the long term what will they do? I have no doubt but that, as soon as the dust settles on this issue, inevitably what will happen is that there will be a gradual withdrawal of contracts from the farmers of Tipperary. I am convinced that those farmers who have invested heavily over a long number of years in the growth of this crop will discover that contracts are no longer available to them, that their services will not be required, because the Irish Sugar Company executive will be informing them that they are prepared to [386] draw their beet from the localities adjacent to the Carlow and Mallow plants. That is the logical conclusion to be drawn by the decision of the Irish Sugar Company in closing the Thurles Sugar factory.

I would be most concerned that we be given a firm commitment from the Irish Sugar Company with regard to subsidisation of transport but, more importantly, that they would give a solid commitment to the agricultural community and the beet growers of Tipperary in particular that ongoing contracts will be available to them, that they will not be discriminated against or disadvantaged compared with farmers located in the areas adjacent to the two remaining factories.

I have raised this matter in this House on a number of occasions. It would be fair and not boastful of me to say that I dealt with the matter in a responsible manner, always being conscious of the difficulties surrounding the overall question. I have been conscious that it has been a sensitive issue. Indeed I warned this House on a number of occasions that decisions being taken by the board were leading to the closure of the Thurles factory. I requested the Minister for Agriculture and Food to brief himself on the happenings and exercise his ministerial responsibility in the matter.

I would be the first to admit that the Thurles sugar factory has been under threat for a number of years. The factory has been starved of a capital investment programme by successive Governments and Ministers for Agriculture. There was general acceptance in the Thurles area that there was need for urgent action, that unless a modernisation programme was implemented, Thurles would suffer the same fate as had Tuam previously.

The matter became a political issue in the course of the last general election. I daresay I and other candidates suffered as a result. Prior to that election the present Minister for Agriculture and Food saw fit to make a document available to the workforce and the general public in the area stating specifically that under a Fianna Fáil Administration the factory would be safe, that Fianna Fáil [387] had brought the factory to Thurles and that it would not be closed under a Fianna Fáil Government. Indeed he asked the public for a mandate to ensure that Fianna Fáil were returned to Government to implement a developmental/ expansionist/capital investment programme for the Thurles plant. In effect he was asking the people of North Tipperary, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, to give Fianna Fáil two seats from that constituency.

In the course of canvassing in that election campaign I found it exceptionally difficult to get a hearing, never mind suport, from the workforce of that plant. I fully understood the reasons. I accepted and appreciated that, with that kind of a gilt-edged commitment and promise, they would be foolish to do other than what Deputy O'Kennedy had requested. I ran the gauntlet for three or four weeks. However, Fianna Fáil in the course of that election, managed to deliver the two seats so badly required by the Taoiseach. I want to make it perfectly clear today that, were it not for that specific promise and commitment, I have no doubt that Fianna Fáil would not have gained approximately 52 per cent of the vote in the Thurles area. In return they gained an additional seat at the expense of the Labour Party in that constituency and were then in a position to form a minority Government. But for the fact that Fianna Fáil gained that additional seat in North Tipperary I am convinced the Taoiseach would not be holding the office he holds at this time. It annoys me intensely to find the Taoiseach washing his hands of the affair and hanging the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy and the other representatives from Tipperary North out to dry. This is inexcusable, and we in Thurles and North Tipperary think it is unforgivable.

The Minister's handling of the situation has left a lot to be desired. He has been indecisive and notable for his fumbling and many contradictory statements. One of the problems is that the Minister, Deputy O'Kennedy, failed to face up to the fact that in reality we were tumbling [388] towards the closure of the Thurles plant. The board met in November 1987 and took a decision to seek alternative industries. I warned the Minister at that time that the word “alternative” meant it was the beginning of the end of the Thurles plant.

I want to state clearly and categorically that the five year corporate plan, which effectively embodied a proposal to close Thurles, was the first occasion on which the long term viability of Thurles and the fact it might be closed was referred to. I asked the Minister to intervene, as was his entitlement — and you cannot call it interference — and as he has a responsibility to overview the Irish Sugar Company's long-term policy. It was quite obvious that if the Irish Sugar Company were seeking alternatives they would take a decision to close the factory when those alternatives were in place. It was also quite evident that if the board were seeking alternatives for Thurles you could not expect the same board members to make a capital investment in a modernisation programme. I told the Minister that in this House on several occasions and he accused me of scaremongering. I asked the Minister to go back to the Irish Sugar Company board and say that the plan that they had presented to him was not compatible with Government policy and was not in line with the commitments and promises that he had made to Thurles and the people of Tipperary North because it meant effectively that the plant was going to close. I was ruled out of order and dismissed as being young and inexperienced and not wise to the ways of Government and the workings of State-sponsored bodies.

We then had a sequence of speeches and addresses within the local plant. People representing the Minister went about putting out different stories on a daily or weekly basis. This was meant to be protective of the Minister's image and interest in the whole affair. This continued right up to the end; and the reason that the closure of Thurles came as a shock to everybody was that the Minister [389] had succeeded in convincing the workforce, their dependants and the local people that under no circumstances would the plant at Thurles close while he was Minister for Agriculture and Food. His promises have been seen to be false and he has failed to deliver. While I blame the Minister for not delivering on his commitments, it is just not sufficient to say that it was Government policy prior to the election not to close the plant but that circumstances have changed and since they have come to Government they have a new perspective. That is a con job and convinces me that the Minister has duped the electorate in Tipperary North into giving him a mandate which he is not entitled to because he did not deliver his part of the bargain.

We have a major problem in the Thurles area. We must all work together, and I am prepared to work with Deputy O'Kennedy and Deputy Smith to ensure that viable and sustainable jobs are provided. I want to make it clear that the alternatives offered by the Irish Sugar Company at present have nothing to do with Government decisions. I do not want to see the Minister for Agriculture and Food or indeed his esteemed colleague, the Minister for Energy, Deputy Smith, making any attempt to claim credit for the alternative industries being promoted by the Irish Sugar Company board. Deputy O'Kennedy's vaccillation on this issue has put the jobs that the Irish Sugar Company are offering in jeopardy. This has been well documented and has been referred to by numerous speakers today. I ask Deputy O'Kennedy not to come back to Tipperary North and tell us that he has provided additional jobs as a result of Government policy. In fact the Irish Sugar Company board went out and got these projects.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  The Deputy might now bring his speech to a close.

Mr. Lowry: Information on Michael Lowry  Zoom on Michael Lowry  The present Fianna Fáil Government have abandoned Thurles. The district hospital has been closed and the bed numbers in the local hospital have been drastically reduced. The plans [390] for the regional technical college have been put on hold under the guise of waiting for the recommendations of an interdepartmental committee, which was set up by the Minister in spring 1988. Employment in the town and hinterland has been decimated by the closure of Tiklas and Eiraf Pharmaceuticals, Phoenix Yarns, Dwans and Bord na Móna and there is also a suggestion of rationalisation in Erin Foods. The local authority services have been hit by the cutbacks and our roads have deteriorated to such an extent that they are no longer any better than dirt tracks. No local authority houses have been approved for the Thurles area in the past two years. Thurles was ignored in the decentralisation programme. I call on the Government to set up a task force, representative of the various Government agencies, Shannon Development and the county development team to identify projects which would re-vitalise the Thurles area.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy  Zoom on Seán Treacy  The time available to the Deputy is exhausted.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  I rise to speak on this debate with a great deal of sadness. I feel sad that the workings of this House and its committees should be abused and misused, as has been the case in recent weeks. I never thought I would see the day that the procedures of this House would be devoted to what I believe is a matter that has been taken out of context and out of shape or form of fact. False allegations and innuendoes were made against me personally. I did the honorable thing and I stepped down from the committee in order to research and establish the truth. I then went back to my former colleagues on the committee and dealt with the issues that were causing them concern in a realistic and pragmatic way. At the very time and hour when I was doing this, this Chamber, the national political assembly of this country, was devoting an hour to a kangaroo court hearing. The party leaders on the Opposition benches were devoting their time to accusations and allegations [391] and they were debasing the procedures, workings and traditions of this House.

It is a matter of major personal concern to me that an opportunity, in whatever form, should be afforded to a Member of this House to put fact and truth on the record. That was what I was doing at the committee meeting when this House decided to hear the list of allegations. The party leaders who had no scintilla of fact — as I was for the first time dealing with the facts — were making half hour speeches in this Chamber. I regret that the workings of the Dáil have been partly tarnished and damaged as a result of this. However, I have no doubt that it will recover from the episode, but it is the wrong way to proceed with public life.

I will deal specifically with the issues raised. While Deputy Lowry is in the Chamber I would like to refer to my chairmanship of the committee. When I took over as chairman, Deputy Lowry, Deputy Pat O'Malley and Deputy Ahern were appointed to the committee and we inherited a hearing on the Irish Sugar Company from the previous committee. On 30 June the consultants to the committee provided us with a draft final conclusive report. I had served on the committee from 1977 to 1981, but I had now been appointed as chairman. Deputy Lowry was new to the committee. He made a very valid request that we would go and visit the Thurles sugar plant, that we would go and meet the staff, that we would show cause and concern and not be accused of making decisions in their committee rooms in Dublin on important matters that would affect the town and people of Thurles, as Deputy Lowry has so eloquently put on the record here today. I felt it my duty to my parliamentary colleague to take that action.

Debate adjourned.


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