Dáil Éireann

09/Mar/1989

Prelude

Order of Business.

Revised Estimates 1989: Motion.

Defence Forces Contingent for Namibia: Motion.

Adjournment of the Dáil: Motion.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Private Rented Accommodation.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Mining Activities.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Lead Content in Petrol.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - General Council of County Councils.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Recruitment Cutbacks in Local Authorities.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Replacement of Dangerous Solid Fuel Heaters.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Flood Damage.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Conversion Grants for Use of Gas.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Waste Management.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - County Galway Sewerage Scheme.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - County Galway Sewage Treatment Plant.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Property Tax Proposals.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Smog Problem.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Collon (Louth), Traffic Problem.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Grant Payment.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Nominations for Presidency.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Acquisition of Derelict Houses.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Ozone Layer.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Water Monitoring Equipment.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Water Pollution.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Flood Damage Relief.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Noise Pollution.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Carndonagh (County Donegal) Sewerage System.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Waste Disposal.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Driving Tests.

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Toxic Waste Disposal Facility.

Adjournment of the Dáil: Motion (Resumed).

Written Answers. - Kerry Local Authority Housing.

Written Answers. - Local Authority Capital Services.

Written Answers. - Accommodation for Homeless Persons.

Written Answers. - Accommodation for Returning Emigrants.

Written Answers. - State Housing Support Cost.

Written Answers. - Civil Liability Act Provisions.

Written Answers. - Local Authority Housing Defects.

Written Answers. - Western Parkway Motorway.

Written Answers. - Urban Renewal Areas.

Written Answers. - Listed Buildings.

Written Answers. - Draft Development Plan.

Written Answers. - Planning laws.

Written Answers. - Third-Level Institutions' Seanad Representation.

Written Answers. - Housing Lists.

Written Answers. - Right-Hand Driving.

Written Answers. - Environmental Protection.

Written Answers. - Smokeless Fuels.

Written Answers. - Water Authorities.

Written Answers. - Stardust Disaster.

Written Answers. - National Roads Authority.

Written Answers. - Search Warrant Procedures.

Written Answers. - Surveillance by State.

Written Answers. - National Identity Card.

Written Answers. - State Bodies Statistics.

Written Answers. - Weather Forecast Service.

Written Answers. - Land Commission Officials.

Written Answers. - Magnesium Levels.

Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Written Answers. - Grant Aid for Rationalisation.

Written Answers. - Social Welfare Benefits

Written Answers. - Tax Rebate.

Written Answers. - State Bodies' Statistics.

Written Answers. - Tax Rebate.

Written Answers. - State Bodies' Statistics.

Written Answers. - Export Credit Guarantee.

Written Answers. - State Bodies' Statistics.

Written Answers. - Housing Grants.

Written Answers. - Dublin Corporation Funding.

Written Answers. - Unpaid Wages.

Written Answers. - State Bodies' Statistics.

Written Answers. - Hospital Treatment.

Written Answers. - Dublin Hospital Out-Patients Service.

Written Answers. - Maternity Services

Written Answers. - Mullingar (County Westmeath) Hospital.

Written Answers. - Dublin Hospital In-Patient Costs.

Written Answers. - Health Board Charges.

Written Answers. - School Buildings.

Written Answers. - State Bodies' Statistics.

[285] Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

Paidir.

Prayer.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take Nos. 5, 6 and 25. It is also proposed that Nos. 5 and 6 be taken without debate. It is further proposed that in relation to No. 25 the following arrangements shall apply: the speech of the main spokesperson nominated by each of the groups as defined in Standing Orders 89 (1) (a) shall not exceed 30 minutes, the speech of any other Member shall not exceed 20 minutes and a Member of the Government shall be called on not later than 4.45 p.m. to conclude the debate.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 5 and 6 agreed? Agreed.

Are the proposals in relation to No. 25 agreed?

Proinsias De Rossa:  In relation to the proposal for dealing with No. 25, I want to again place on record the opposition of The Workers' Party to this procedure of reducing the time available to us for contributing to debates of this kind. It is unacceptable.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I take it that the proposal in relation to No. 25 is agreed? Agreed.

[286]Mr. Noonan:  (Limerick East): The Minister for Finance has announced that he is carrying out an investigation into purported abuses of the business expansion scheme. Does the Minister intend to take action before the end of the tax year because if the Minister waits for the Finance Bill he is locking the State finances——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is hardly in order now.

Mr. Noonan:  (Limerick East): It needs legislation and the announcement has been made.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has legislation been promised in this area?

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  Wait for it.

Mr. Noonan:  (Limerick East): If we wait until after 6 April——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy De Rossa——

Mr. Noonan:  (Limerick East): ——the tax certificates will have been issued. Can I raise this issue on the Adjournment?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will communicate with the Deputy. I have called Deputy De Rossa.

Proinsias De Rossa:  I seek permission to raise on the Adjournment the matter I sought to raise yesterday, the threat to passengers and to the staff of Iarnród Éireann on the Dublin-Belfast railway line as a result of the continuous destruction of the line; also, the question of the threat that this poses in respect of jobs, both North and South.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will be in touch with the Deputy about that matter.

Mr. D. O'Malley:  May I inquire about the matter I raised with the Chair in the House on Tuesday last, as to whether Standing Orders Nos. 33 and 51 will apply [287] to matters that are raised in today's debate? Perhaps the position has changed because of the nature of No. 25 on today's Order Paper. It is not a formal motion, it simply says “Adjournment of the Dáil”. I, therefore, presume that what would apply to a normal adjournment debate now applies.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy's question is quite in order so far as the Chair is concerned. On the Order of Business on Tuesday last, Deputy Desmond O'Malley sought the Chair's guidance on this issue and I undertook to have it examined. I would now like to explain the Chair's position for the benefit of the House. The Chair considers every matter which arises in a fair and impartial manner and in the light of Standing Orders. In this regard I would point out that it is a well established practice that the Chair does not rule in advance or give hypothetical rulings and that he rules only on matters that are definitely before him. Accordingly, I am not in a position to give a ruling in advance of any question or motion being tabled. I would remind the House that this is in accordance with the rulings of my predecessors.

Mr. D. O'Malley:  I am very disappointed at what the Chair has just said, because I thought the Chair would——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not open for discussion now. If the Deputy feels aggrieved concerning the rulings of the Chair, he has a remedy.

Mr. D. O'Malley:  I do not know if that remedy is much use to me. It would be particularly inappropriate if it were not possible during the next four or six months, as the case may be, to raise further developments with regard to matters I have mentioned today.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy O'Malley has asked some questions of me. I have issued a reply. We will not debate [288] the matter now. The Taoiseach wishes to intervene.

The Taoiseach:  In order to be helpful perhaps I could assure the Chair and Deputy O'Malley that there is no wish on the part of the Government to prevent any further discussion on this matter.

Mr. McDowell:  That is irrelevant.

(Interruptions.)

Miss Colley:  The Chair is independent.

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach:  They want a discussion, they do not want a discussion. They want a debate, they do not want a debate.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order, please.

The Taoiseach:  If at any time it is agreed between the Whips that this matter should be further discussed, I am sure a parliamentary procedure can be developed.

Mr. McCartan:  I wish again to seek the Chair's permission to raise on the Adjournment this evening, the continuing——

The Taoiseach:  It is the Progressive Democrats that have become irrelevant.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy McCartan twice.

Mr. McCartan:  With your permission I seek to raise on the Adjournment this evening the ongoing continuing worrying reports as outlined in the Evening Herald of unlawful gaming in the city despite the decision of the city council in 1976 that it should end, and the need for urgent action on the part of the Minister and the Garda in this flagrant breach of the law.

[289]An Ceann Comhairle:  I will communicate with the Deputy in respect of that matter.

Miss Quill:  May I ask the Minister for Tourism and Transport if discussions entered into by him with representatives of Irish Ferries Limited with a view to putting——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Quill knows well that she has other ways and means of raising that matter.

Miss Quill:  What was the outcome of the discussions?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Quill, I must ask you to desist. I am proceeding to deal with item No. 5.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  I move:

That notwithstanding Standing Order 126 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, Revised Estimates for Public Services for the year ending 31st December, 1989 be presented to the Dáil and circulated to members.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I gather that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was to move the motion but the Minister for Defence, Deputy Noonan, will move it.

Minister for Defence (Mr. Noonan,:  Limerick West): I move:

That, pursuant to section 2 of the Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act, 1960 (No. 44 of 1960), Dáil Éireann approves of the dispatch of a contingent of the Permanent Defence Force for service outside the State as [290] part of the Military Observer Component of the United Nations, Transitional Assistance Group in Namibia which, pursuant to a Resolution on Namibia adopted by the Security Council of the United Nations on the 15th day of February, 1989, has been established by that Council.

Question put and agreed to.

The Taoiseach:  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:  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:  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:  What was your party saying?

A Deputy:  Ask Mark Killilea.

The Taoiseach:  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:  ——“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:  Electricity was being cut off every second day.

The Taoiseach:  Fortunately, I cannot hear a word the Deputy is saying.

Mr. D. O'Malley:  You will very shortly.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order, please.

The Taoiseach:  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:  Where was the Taoiseach at the time?

Dr. G. FitzGerald:  It was a collective responsibility.

The Taoiseach:  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:  The Taoiseach should look back at the history of them.

The Taoiseach:  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:  The B & I became a commercial company under the last Government.

Mr. Cullen:  What about Irish Shipping?

The Taoiseach:  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:  If we are so irrelevant why spend so much time on us?

[297](Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach:  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:  ——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:  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):  That is lie number one.

Mr. 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:  ——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:  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:  The Munster Final was on. I was never there.

Mr. 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:  Quote it.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  Order, please.

Mr. J. Mitchell:  Deny it.

[307]Mr. 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:  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:  There is nothing to defend ourselves against.

Mr. Dukes:  ——between the situation as it was then and the situation today.

[309](Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  What a difference.

(Interruptions.)

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

Mr. 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:  We will have a debate on that.

Mr. 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:  Remarks should be addressed through the Chair and not directly across the floor.

Mr. Dukes:  I beg your pardon, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr. S. Barrett:  The Taoiseach is being very disorderly.

Mr. 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:  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:  The Deputy had a nice hairstyle.

Mr. D. 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:  From you.

Mr. D. 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:  What about Barringtons Hospital?

Mr. D. 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:  By whom?

Mr. D. 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:  Did they visit the Hanging Gardens?

Mr. D. 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:  Does the Deputy want a judicial inquiry into that?

(Interruptions.)

Mr. D. 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:  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:  That is an insult to the House.

Mr. D. 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:  Nonsense.

Mr. D. 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:  If I did, it would have been in the Mater Private Hospital.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. D. 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:  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:  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:  I certainly will.

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

Mr. Roche:  Shame on you.

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

(Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  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:  My point was there was no tribunal of inquiry.

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

[324]The Taoiseach:  There was no tribunal of inquiry.

Mr. 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:  And a couple of Ministers.

Mr. Desmond:  There was no need whatsoever for a tribunal of inquiry——

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

Mr. 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:  There was no tribunal inquiry.

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

Mr. McDowell:  There was a resignation.

The Taoiseach:  We were not even allowed discuss it in the House.

Mr. 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:  Agreed.

Mr. 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:  Neither do I.

Mr. 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:  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:  It referred to “representatives” in the plural.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  He did so.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I certainly did.

Mr. Roche:  ——in that question but his subsequent actions——

[336](Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  I put down a written question to the Minister.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  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:  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:  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:  Keep this up and you will be a junior Minister some day.

Mr. 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:  I put down a written question. Do not make a big issue out of it.

(Interruptions.)

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

(Interruptions.)

Mr. 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:  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:  He never denied his actions.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche:  Read the press release, Deputy.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche:  When he was in office——

Mrs. 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:  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:  This is pathetic.

Mr. 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:  By the Taoiseach.

Mr. 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:  Who set the tone with the opening speech? You know what to do if you cannot take the heat.

Mr. Roche:  It struck me while listening to Deputy Dukes——

Mr. McDowell:  You are making no sense at all.

Mr. 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:  Were you here for the Taoiseach's address this morning?

Mr. 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:  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:  Deputy Liam Kavanagh was the acting chairman on that committee.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  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:  It does not matter whether the Deputy does or not.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  ——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:  On a point of order, a submission was made——

(Interruptions.)

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

Mr. 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:  What I said is that saying you have no recollection of something is not the same as saying it did not happen.

Mr. McDowell:  There is no aspersion there.

Mr. Roche:  It is a very serious aspersion.

Mr. Lawlor:  It is not true.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  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:  It is a much talked about document.

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

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I did not have to be involved.

Mr. Lawlor:  The matter was irrelevant to the Deputy.

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

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

(Interruptions.)

Tomás Mac Giolla:  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:  Get out of that one.

Mr. McDowell:  It is a straight up lie.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  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):  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:  The Minister is reading from a typed script.

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

Mr. McDowell:  The Taoiseach started off on a low.

Mr. 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:  If the Deputy is so interested, what I said was said off the cuff.

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

Mr. 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:  Take it up with the Taoiseach.

Mr. 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:  No.

Mr. 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:  Denying it was the trouble.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  He is not accused of that.

Mr. 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:  Nobody has attacked him for that.

Mr. 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:  Only by the Minister.

Mr. 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:  By members of the Government.

Mr. 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:  Their letter used the word “proposal” on at least four occasions.

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

Mrs. Doyle:  What is the difference between a serious proposal and a proposal?

Mr. 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:  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:  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:  I have kept quiet.

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

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

Mr. D. 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:  The tide is going out very rapidly.

Mr. D. 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:  He has done no such thing.

Mr. D. 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:  That is Deputy Lawlor's defence.

Mr. D. Ahern:  Deputy O'Malley should declare his interest.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Leonard):  No interruptions, please.

Mr. D. 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:  Rubbish. Get to the heart of the matter, please.

Mr. D. 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:  There is no such conclusion. Many questions remain to be answered.

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

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I cannot let him get away with this.

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

Mr. P. 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:  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:  He was not categoric. He referred to the best of his recollection.

Mr. D. 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:  Does the Deputy mean that he will not come in?

Mr. D. 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:  He was asked to do so. He had no choice.

Mr. D. 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:  Why did Deputy Lawlor resign?

[371](Interruptions.)

Mr. D. 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:  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:  He had to be called on to resign by the Taoiseach.

Mr. D. 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:  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:  They are tarred with the same brush.

Mr. D. 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:  To keep it quiet.

Mr. D. 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:  It asked if he had discussions with representatives; it was in the plural.

Mr. D. 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:  He had, and he has admitted that.

Mr. D. 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:  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:  Mr. Dilger had been working away for months.

Mr. D. 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:  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:  An attempt was not made by Deputy Dukes to mislead the House and that is the difference.

Mr. D. 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:  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:  No formal conclusion.

Mr. P. 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:  That is not true.

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

Mr. D. Ahern:  That is not true.

Mr. P. 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:  We will have Deputy Lawlor answer that when he comes back.

Mr. P. 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:  They are total lies.

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

Mr. P. 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:  That was in the letter to Deputy Lawlor.

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

Mr. D. Ahern:  Get your facts right.

[379]Mr. P. 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:  He was asked to treat it sensitively.

Mr. P. 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:  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:  The Deputy might now bring his speech to a close.

Mr. 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:  The time available to the Deputy is exhausted.

Mr. 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.

1.

Mr. Quinn:  asked the Minister for [392] the Environment if his attention has been drawn to a new campaign launched by Threshold to have regulations enacted under the Housing (Private Rented Dwellings) (No. 2) Act, 1982, to ensure that all private tenants have a right to a rent book and that a minimum set of physical standards apply to rented dwellings; when he will introduce the necessary regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

12.

Mr. Shatter:  asked the Minister for the Environment whether he will make regulations to require landlords to supply rent books to all private tenants; and if he will introduce minimum standards for private rented accommodation.

19.

Miss Harney:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the proposals of his Department to implement the recommendations of Threshold in relation to the regularisation of the issue of rent books to tenants, the condition of private rented accommodation and the enforcement of fire regulations.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 12 and 19 together.

The issues raised by Threshold last week are being examined. In relation to fire safety, action may be taken by the fire authority in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Act, 1981.

Mr. Quinn:  I have long admired the Minister's ability to eloquently put comments and views on the record. Would the Minister and the Chair not agree that the paucity of the response we have received is totally inadequate? The Minister has the power to bring in regulations making it the right of any tenant of a private flat to have a rent book. If one goes up the road to the supermarket one gets a receipt for a bar of chocolate. Is the Minister prepared to give consumers the same right in relation to their place of abode?

Mr. Flynn:  The matter is being considered. I thought perhaps the Deputy [393] might recognise that. The other question about harassment and security of tenure are matters for another Minister.

Mr. Quinn:  Will the Minister agree that this question arose on a number of occasions since his coming to office as Minister and that therefore it is not simply a matter of the Threshold document being the starting point for concern, and can the Minister indicate to the House if in principle he is prepared to give to every tenant of a private rented flat the right to have a rent book?

Mr. Flynn:  I am concerned about a number of things, about increased investment, raising standards and having an orderly rent scheme prevail. I do not want to do anything that would lead to withdrawal of accommodation from the market, and I do not want to discourage investment or reduce the supply of dwellings on the marketplace. As the Deputy knows, some rent books are mandatory, those relating to formerly controlled dwellings. The Minister for Social Welfare said that health boards recently had no difficulty in getting rent receipts where they would be involved in supplementary welfare payments. Some of the reasoning behind one or two of the questions, not necessarily the Deputy's question, therefore may not arise. The question of this and other related matters is being considered at this time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn and the House will appreciate that I cannot dwell unduly long on any given question. It is going to be difficult for the Chair to dispose of these four questions within the limited prescribed time laid down in Standing Orders. I appeal therefore for brevity and relevance.

Mr. Quinn:  I will comply with the Chair's request. We are dealing with three questions together but I exclusively am allowed to ask questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I appreciate that, Deputy, but my primary concern is [394] to dispose of the four questions within the quarter of an hour requirement.

Mr. Quinn:  Would the Minister agree that he alone is the greatest cause of the reduction in the supply of housing over the last two years, because of the reduction in local authority housing? Will the Minister put on record now that in principle this Government are in favour of people having the right to a rent book, no matter where they are?

Mr. Flynn:  I do not want to seem not to be co-operating with the Deputy. I only want to do the proper thing from everybody's point of view. I am particularly anxious that we keep up the level of investment as far as housing is concerned——

Mr. Quinn:  But you have reduced it.

Mr. Flynn:  ——from the private sector, and the section 23 arrangement has brought about a reawakening of investment in that area. I am anxious that proper standards would apply. I do not want a situation to arise because of some action that I took where there would be a withdrawal of supply of dwellings available to the market.

Mr. Quinn:  You are the biggest culprit.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I want to call another question. It is imperative that I do so at this stage.

Mr. Flynn:  I am concerned that I would not be charged with that, at a subsequent date, if I do something which the Deputy wishes me to do now which could and would lead inevitably to a withdrawal of some investment and space. It must be understood that what the Deputy suggests might not be so effective and tenants will still be open to threats of eviction in the event of disagreements and we could end up in a much more difficult situation that the one that currently exists. I have to concern myself with all of these matters and that is why [395] I have authorised a review of the whole thing.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 2 please.

Mr. Quinn:  On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Deputy going to dissipate the precious time available for dealing with priority questions by raising a point of order which may well transpire to be of a spurious nature?

Mr. Quinn:  It will not. I appreciate the Chair's concern. On a point of order, I am so appalled at the reply that I wish, with the permission of the Chair, to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will communicate with the Deputy.

Mr. Flynn:  I had rather expected that you would and I would have been disappointed if you had not.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister has confirmed my worst suspicions.

2.

Mr. Shatter:  asked the Minister for the Environment the action he has taken or intends to take to ensure that prospecting for gold, zinc and other minerals and mining activities do not cause serious environmental damage in the areas in which they are undertaken.

Mr. Flynn:  Mining development is generally subject to planning and other statutory environmental controls, including the requirements of air and water pollution legislation. Accordingly it is primarily a matter for a local authority in whose area mining activities are proposed to ensure that any development occurs in a manner which avoids or minimises adverse effects on the environment.

Since 1977, planning law has required an environmental impact assessment for [396] certain mining development which could give rise to pollution or nuisance. Further requirements as to environmental impact assessment, in line with EC Directive 85/337, were notified by my Department in July, 1988. An environmental impact study will accordingly have to be prepared for any mining project for which planning permission is sought which is adjudged likely to have significant effects for the environment. By identifying the potential impact of a development clearly and comprehensively, such studies should result in a better assessment of the action necessary to prevent or limit environmental damage.

Mineral prospecting, as distinct from full mining activity, would not normally in itself have significant effects on the environment. It is controlled by the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1979, and licences under those Acts may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Minister for Energy thinks proper.

While I am satisfied as to the adequacy of existing statutory controls and safeguards for ensuring that mining development takes place in accordance with acceptable environmental standards, I will of course continue to keep developments in this area under review.

Mr. Shatter:  Is the Minister aware that in the West Galway and Mayo region alone there are 17 different companies engaged in gold mining? Does the Minister accept that there is need for public involvement at a very early stage in the context of both prospecting for gold and other ores and in the context of the development of mines? Have any studies been conducted by the Minister's Department in conjunction with the Department of Health as to the full implications for the health and livelihoods of the people of the areas in which it is intended that mining should be carried out by many of the companies currently engaged in prospecting?

Mr. Flynn:  There is no gold mining going on in the west. No applications for planning permission for gold mining [397] development have been received in County Galway or in County Mayo.

Mr. Shatter:  There is prospecting.

Mr. Flynn:  The Deputy is right in that there is prospecting going on.

Mr. Shatter:  Is prospecting taking place?

Mr. Flynn:  Yes, and licences, I understand, have been issued by the Minister for Energy in so far as certain prospecting operations are concerned. As the Deputy quite rightly mentioned, nothing can take place by way of mining operations until all the necessary planning procedures and formalities have been gone through. No such applications have been received.

Mr. Shatter:  Has the Minister's Department, by way of forward planning, engaged in any study as to the likely health and environmental consequences if some of the 17 companies, and other companies engaged in other types of mining prospecting at present, seek planning permission? Has any study of that nature been carried out? Is the Minister aware that environmental impact assessments under his own direction are not a requirement — only a discretionary consideration — in the context of a planning application? Would the Minister now consider arranging for a study to be carried out as to the possible health and environmental consequences to the regions concerned if mining activities, of the nature that appears to be likely, are subsequently engaged in so as to ensure the necessary safeguards are properly put in place?

Mr. Flynn:  Much of this is hypothetical and I think the Deputy recognises that. I believe there are about 760 prospecting licences in operation in the country at present. I take it that prospecting is exactly what it means — that they are hoping to find something. Until such time as there is a planning application for actual mining, much of what the Deputy refers to is superfluous. It is important to [398] remember that any mining operation will require planning permission and also may require a licence for the discharge to air and water under both the Air Pollution Act and the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act respectively. So far as environment impact assessment is concerned, that will be attached to any application that may come in the future, in relation to mining. There has been provision for that in the planning laws since 1977.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let us have a reply now to Question No. 3.

Mr. Shatter:  Does the Minister believe the local authorities have the expertise to assess the environmental impact studies in this area?

Mr. Flynn:  But of course they would——

Mr. Shatter:  Can the Minister stand over their expertise in these areas?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Shatter let us make some progress. Question No. 3 please.

Mr. Shatter:  The Minister clearly cannot stand over their expertise.

Mr. Flynn:  Of course they have expertise in those areas.

Mr. Shatter:  The Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Shatter, we must make some progress. The Deputy must desist from these interruptions.

Mr. Shatter:  Can the Minister stand over their expertise in this area?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is ignoring the Chair. We must now proceed to deal with other questions.

[399]3.

Mr. Keating:  asked the Minister for the Environment the initiatives he has in mind to improve further the question of environmental policy specifically with regard to the lead content in petrol and in particular, in relation to the following vehicles: (a) ministerial cars (b) vehicles used by all Government Departments funded by the State (c) vehicles belonging to semi-State bodies, for example, CIE and Dublin Bus; and if he will make a statement on the possible time scale involved.

Mr. Flynn:  I intend to exploit fully the concession in excise duty announced in the 1989 budget which allowed unleaded petrol to retail at 5 pence less per gallon than the higher grades of leaded petrol. All sectors of the motor industry have an important role to play in this regard and, with the assistance of the steering committee on unleaded petrol, I will seek to ensure that the contribution of each sector is co-ordinated and carried out in a comprehensive and integrated way.

Specifically, I will continue to press for an expansion in the network of outlets for unleaded with a concentration on the filling of identified gaps, including larger centres of population, national routes and areas frequented by tourists. I have sought the co-operation of the motor trade in ensuring that a clear and permanent indication as to suitability to use unleaded is provided on every car which can use unleaded without adjustment and in publicising this fact in their promotional campaigns.

A revised and updated information leaflet was recently published and distributed to motor tax offices, libraries and other places frequented by the motoring public. Further updated versions will be published to take account of the expansion in the network. A radio information/awareness campaign has just ended and the need for further promotional campaigns is being reviewed.

Directive 88/76/EEC of 3 December 1987 provides, inter alia, for requiring new engines to be capable of running on [400] unleaded petrol from specified dates. I am considering at present ways and means of transposing the Directive into Irish law and I intend to consult the relevant trade interests as soon as possible on the mechanics and the timing. While the use of unleaded petrol in State vehicles is the responsibility of the Departments or semi-State bodies concerned, my Department wrote to all Government Departments last July seeking their support and the support of bodies under their aegis for the campaign to promote the wider use and availability of unleaded petrol. It was suggested that the following action might be taken: identification of the existing vehicles which can use unleaded petrol with a view to changing over, where possible, to unleaded; ensuring that vehicles to be purchased can use unleaded; and briefing of relevant staff on the benefits of using unleaded.

My Department will continue to monitor progress made with these suggestions during the coming months. I intend to pursue with the Garda authorities the use of unleaded petrol in cars provided for Ministers of the Government and I hope to be in a position to make announcements in this regard in the near future.

In the case of organisations such as Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and the Office of Public Works, the vast majority of vehicles use diesel fuel, to which no lead has been added.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must now proceed to deal with other questions. Question No. 5, please.

Mr. Shatter:  On a point of order, I would ask your indulgence considering that six minutes of this Question Time was spent on dealing with the first question from Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am sorry Deputy Shatter, that is quite irrelevant. The Chair is obliged to conform to Standing Orders of this House. If the time available for Priority Questions is [401] not sufficient this House has a remedy. Question No. 5 please.

Mr. Shatter:  I would ask with respect that the Minister be given an opportunity to respond to Question No. 4.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Shatter, I cannot accede to your request.

Mr. Shatter:  It is a matter of some considerable importance in view of——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I insist on my instruction being carried out. Question No. 5 please.

Mr. Shatter:  Could I ask that I receive a reply to that question?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Chair has no control over such matters.

Mr. Flynn:  Perhaps I can be helpful. If the Deputy would care to meet me at the top of the steps afterwards I can give him the benefit of the answer.

Mr. Quinn:  That is a very dangerous invitation.

Mr. Flynn:  I suppose it is but if I say it in the full knowledge of everybody in the House I do not run the risk of being talked about as talking to Deputy Shatter behind closed doors.

Mr. Shatter:  I want to find out when the new constituency boundaries commission will be appointed.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Minister, the next question.

Mr. Flynn:  Oh dear, oh dear.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please treat the House with more seriousness.

5.

Mr. Quinn:  asked the Minister for the Environment when he last met the General Council of County Councils; in [402] respect of such a meeting if he will indicate (i) the number of people who were present, (ii) the length of time for which the meeting took place, (iii) the items which were discussed and (iv) any decision which arose from the meeting which has subsequently given rise to new policy developments or proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  My last formal meeting with a deputation from the County Council's General Council took place on 24 February 1988. The meeting was attended by seven representatives of the General Council and I was accompanied by three officials of my Department. The meeting lasted about two hours.

The principal matters discussed included local government finance, certain aspects of housing, toxic waste and pollution, the establishment of the National Roads Authority and the general role and status of local bodies.

The meeting was not directed towards specific decisions in particular areas. Rather, its principal purpose was an exchange of information and views over a fairly wide range of ongoing activities.

The meeting was business-like, useful and constructive and the views advanced by the General Council representatives have been of great assistance to me in considering policy development in the areas concerned.

On 6 March 1989 I received a request from the General Council for a meeting to discuss a range of matters. I will be responding positively to them within the next few days.

Mr. Quinn:  I would like to thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply but in view of the fact that the majority of the local authority councils are controlled by his own party and in view of his reluctance to meet them for over a year, is he aware that their manifest dissatisfaction with the state of affairs is a cause for concern? Can he, therefore, indicate in response to this specific request for a meeting which he received on 6 March when he proposes to meet them, and, in particular — if I am in order — if he will [403] accede to their request to have on the board of the National Roads Authority a nominee or a representative of local authorities so appointed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are having an extension of the question now.

Mr. Flynn:  I am not reluctant at all to meet them. In fact I am awaiting the final arrangements about our next meeting and I think it can be concluded inside a few days. I have indicated my willingness on that. So far as National Roads Authority legislation is concerned, it is promised and it is receiving urgent attention. I think the Deputy is aware of that.

Mr. Farrelly:  When the Minister met the General Council of County Councils was a decision not made that he would meet them again with his response to the discussions he had?

Mr. Flynn:  What they said on that occasion was that they would like to see me on a regular basis. They sought a meeting some time ago——

Mr. Quinn:  That is right. The Minister should go to the back of his brief to see all the other requests for meetings.

Mr. Flynn:  I do not have to do that. It was not possible to meet them at that time but I conveyed my interest in meeting them without delay. I have a letter requesting a meeting and it will be responded to within the week.

6.

Miss Kennedy:  asked the Minister for the Environment if the cutbacks in recruitment within the local authorities has led to the non-replacement of planning officers and inspectors; if this action has led to an increase in illegal development; and if there is a lack of enforcement officers to respond to reports of such illegal developments.

[404]Mr. Flynn:  During the period from the end of 1982 to the end of 1987 there was no significant change in the total number of planners employed, according to information supplied by local authorities. Information is not available in my Department on the numbers of non-planner grades associated with planning work or ancillary staff in planning areas. During 1988 nine vacancies occurred in planning grades through the voluntary redundancy-early retirement scheme, normal retirements, etc. Three of the fillable vacancies have already been filled under the arrangements in operation whereby county and city managers may fill a limited number of vacancies in posts determined by them to be key posts.

There is no evidence available to my Department that there has been any significant increase in unauthorised development. There is no evidence that any staff shortages in local authorities have led to them being unable to take enforcement action in appropriate cases. On the basis of data supplied to my Department by local authorities in respect of 1987, the latest year for which data are available, over 1,000 enforcement actions were initiated by local authorities, representing an increase of almost one third in the number of such actions initiated in 1986.

Mr. Quinn:  Can the Minister reconcile for the satisfaction of the House the fact that he indicated his Department do not have information in relation to non-technical planning staff and yet at the same time he said no information was available? Can the Minister describe, either now or at a later date, the method of communication between his Department and local authorities vis-à-vis the planning departments in view of the fact that he has three Bills which will have staff resource implications for the planning departments?

Mr. Flynn:  As the Deputy knows, normally information flows quite easily between the local authorities and the Department so far as staffing is concerned and if there was a difficulty in that [405] regard it is the first thing they would highlight. Some managers have placed people in key posts with a view to filling such vacancies and this has not caused any difficulties so far as the authorities are concerned, or at least they have not indicated that to us.

With regard to the 1,000 enforcement actions, it takes a while to compile that information but I do not think it is a measure of any concern.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister cannot simultaneously plead ignorance and at the same time assure the House that there is no problem. He either knows or he does not know.

Mr. Flynn:  The total number of planners in local authorities in 1982 was 130 and 128 at the end of 1987. There has not been a big shift of any consequence.

Mr. Quinn:  Are they permanent, temporary or combined?

Mr. Flynn:  It does not say——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 7.

Mr. Flynn:  ——but off the top of my head I would say they are permanent.

Mr. Quinn:  So would I.

7.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  asked the Minister for the Environment if his Department will make funds available to Dublin Corporation to replace dangerous solid fuel heaters (details supplied) which were installed in local authority built houses in Finglas, Dublin 11, Ballymun, Dublin 11 and Tallaght, Dublin 24; if he has received requests from Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation for a meeting to discuss this problem; if he will agree to the request; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  I have allocated £4.4 million to the Corporation under the [406] remedial works scheme to spend this year on approved refurbishment proposals. The apportionment of the allocation is a matter for the local authority. Last December, the authority submitted a preliminary proposal seeking funds under the scheme for the replacement of the heaters in the houses referred to by the Deputy. In this regard, however, the details requested of their proposals for smokeless heating systems, which are necessary before a decision can be made, are still awaited. In the circumstances, I do not consider that the reception of the deputation requested would serve any useful purpose.

Proinsias De Rossa:  Is the Minister prepared to accept the case for the replacement of the Conserva heaters? I understand these are not just confined to the Dublin area; they have been installed also in other parts of the country, particularly in what were laughingly called “low cost” housing schemes. Would the Minister indicate his agreement that these Conserva heaters should be replaced? Will he also ensure that a scheme is instituted to assist people who have bought houses from local authorities under the tenant purchase scheme so that the Conserva heaters in those houses can be replaced as well?

Mr. Flynn:  As the Deputy knows, it is a matter for the local authority in the first instance to make proposals for funding under the remedial works scheme. They have to determine their priorities so far as approved projects are concerned. They made an application for a certain amount of money but no technical details were attached to the application. Without going into it any further, I am awaiting a reply from them concerning the details of the proposal they intend to send in for smokeless heating systems in those estates. When I receive the application I will look at it as favourably as I can, but in the first instance it is a matter for the local authorities.

Proinsias De Rossa:  I asked the Minister if he agreed in principle that these [407] Conserva heaters should be replaced for a variety of reasons. I will not go into the details here and that a scheme should be introduced to assist people who are unfortunate enough to have availed of various tenant purchase schemes and who now find themselves with Conserva heaters which are indequate, and in many cases dangerous, and which have to be replaced. I am not asking the Minister to agree the details of such a scheme but to agree in principle that this should be done.

Mr. Flynn:  I think it would be much more acceptable if the local authority gave the matter the kind of priority listing which the Deputy has given it. If they do so I believe we can reach an amicable solution to the matter.

8.

Mr. Deasy:  asked the Minister for the Environment when he will be in a position to announce details of financial assistance to local authorities whose roadwork systems suffered severe damage in the October-November floods 1988; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  The 1989 road grants are being notified to local authorities today. These grants include £1.5 million allocated to nine local authorities to fund remedial works to roads arising from storm-flood damage. Details of the latter grants are as follows:

Local Authority Grant
£
Cork County Council 740,000
Macroom Urban District Council 10,000
Kerry County Council 30,000
Limerick County Council 30,000
Monaghan County Council 30,000
Tipperary S.R. Council 40,000
Waterford County Council 140,000
Donegal County Council 480,000
Total 1,500,000

[408]Mr. Shatter:  Are these additional allocations specifically related to the flood damage which occurred?

Mr. Flynn:  Specifically.

Mr. Farrelly:  Will these sums be taken off the over allocation made available or are they extra, over and above the actual amount in the Estimate for 1989?

Mr. Flynn:  I have isolated £1.5 million to these nine local authorities from the total money available to me specifically for flood damage.

Mr. Shatter:  Arising from the Minister's reply will he confirm that no additional moneys are allocated in that sum over and above the original allocations for roads announced at the time of the budget? Secondly, will the Minister indicate in respect of each local authority area he has referred to, the sum each local authority requested in the submissions made to his Department to remedy the flood damage?

Mr. Flynn:  Submissions were made and as I promised on a previous occasion at Question Time inspectors carried out surveys in respect of the damage and they isolated what they regarded as reasonable in the circumstances.

Mr. Shatter:  How much, for example, was sought by Cork County Council and Cork Corporation, as compared to what the Minister gave them?

Mr. Flynn:  Cork Corporation sought £350,000 and Cork County Council sought £1,867,750.

Mr. Shatter:  They have got less than half the amount they sought. What did Waterford County Council seek?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Shatter, we are tending to debate——

Mr. Shatter:  We are attempting to tease out——

[409]An Ceann Comhairle:  This is Question Time and——

Mr. Shatter:  ——whether the Minister has genuinely provided additional money or whether he has camouflaged the money given.

Mr. Quinn:  The Deputy thinks that he is in the Four Courts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——if there is to be any extensive elaboration there is another way of dealing with it.

Mr. Shatter:  Perhaps the Minister would say how much Waterford sought?

Mr. Flynn:  Waterford County Council sought £442,800. The inspectors did an estimate there and figured that £350,000 would have been the sum necessary.

Mr. Shatter:  And Waterford Corporation?

Mr. Flynn:  No, they are not involved.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Sherlock is offering.

Mr. Sherlock:  Are the moneys allocated for specific proposals made by the local authority, Cork County Council in particular? Has the Minister received a plan for Mallow Urban District Council for the relief of flooding in the Mallow Urban District Council area?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That appears to be a separate question.

Mr. Flynn:  Mallow is not on the list.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Question No. 9.

Mr. Shatter:  There has been no additional allocation at all.

Mr. Flynn:  £1.5 million.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 9 has been called.

[410](Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Shatter must desist from interrupting from a seated position.

Mr. Flynn:  I am quite sure that the county councils that are going to benefit from that increased money will be very happy to accept it.

Mr. Quinn:  God bless the Minister's optimism.

9.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will introduce conversion grants for the use of natural gas in Dublin, in view of the serious problems with smog in the last two winters.

Mr. Flynn:  Section 45 of the Air Pollution Act, 1987, provides for the making of schemes for the granting of financial assistance for certain works which may be necessary to enable premises in a special control area to comply with the requirements of a special control area order. It is my intention to make schemes as necessary in accordance with these provisions.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  Let us take the example of Crumlin, my own constituency, which I understand to be high on the priority list for the next conversion scheme. Would the Minister tell the House precisely what type of grants will be available for residents living in that area? Presumably they will be comparable with the grants available to those living in Ballyfermot. Will they extend to conversion to gas heating?

Mr. Flynn:  No details about the grants will be finalised until such time as the area control order has been cleared. There are no proposals for grants for conversions outside the special control area. The impact of the Deputy's question was that there should be. I am saying that there will be no grants for areas outside areas of control as laid down following the [411] investigations. Then, grant schemes will be made available within those area control orders, once they have been cleared.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  May I take it (a) that the Minister is open to the suggestion that he might extend conversion grants for conversion to gas in the designated areas and (b) in the other designated areas outside Ballyfermot that he will extend the same terms which are available to the residents of that area, which is a designated area?

Mr. Flynn:  Natural gas is one of the range of smokeless fuel options for which grant assistance is available in the area to which the special control order, that is the Ballyfermot Order of 1988, applies. What will happen with regard to the next order we will see when that matter has been disposed of. As the Deputy knows, there is a slight hold-up in the next order area business. The gas company, as the Deputy himself knows, are operating and promoting an attractive half-price conversion scheme at present, even outside the order areas.

Mr. Quinn:  No commercials, please.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  Would the Minister be in a position to tell the House when he is likely to be able to make an announcement regarding the new designated areas scheme?

Mr. Flynn:  As the Deputy knows, the matter is temporarily held up because of High Court activity. I wish it were not so. I should like to proceed with those areas as quickly as possible. In the recent past we have had to stall in so far as progress on the matter is concerned. I hope that it can be disposed of as quickly as possible in all our interests in order to get on with the area orders for which we have some money. I want to have a nice conversion process in place, certainly before next winter.

Mr. Shatter:  Will the Minister acknowledge that the grant scheme being [412] currently confined to one designated area is acting as a direct disincentive to people living in all the other areas which have the possibility of being designated to take any action to provide smokeless fuel systems within their homes? In the light of the urgency of the matter and in the context of the need to ensure that smog in Dublin next winter will not be as bad as it has been this winter, would he not now consider extending the grant scheme to areas that have been very badly affected by smog in recent months, such as Crumlin and the other areas of which the Minister is aware, which need to be dealt with?

Mr. Flynn:  I shall apply whatever grant assistance is necessary in whatever areas the competent authority put up as subject for a special area control order. It is not my intention, as I have stated before, to provide grant assistance for conversions everywhere and anywhere in this city.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I want to come to deal with other questions. I have dwelt rather long on this question.

Mr. Flynn:  We had an experience of serious smog last winter, I accept that. This winter, perhaps. I still return to what I have said on a number of previous occasions. It can be avoided by individual action by individual people. It does not come in transboundary. What goes up the chimney comes right down exactly on that house, so people have a choice. My campaign is geared to that, trying to get people to understand that even in the short period when the wind and the temperature are in the right inversion situation——

Mr. Shatter:  People in places like Crumlin cannot afford to do their own conversions. They have not the money.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am calling Deputy Gay Mitchell for a final supplementary.

Mr. Flynn:  That is exactly the reason for the special control order.

[413]Mr. Shatter:  We will have next winter the danger of smog that we have had this winter.

Mr. Flynn:  Let the Deputy not be a prophet of doom.

Mr. G. Mitchell:  Will the Minister do everything in his power to ensure that any necessary conversion schemes are available during the late spring and early summer so that the problem will not recur and that every step will be taken to ensure that the problem will not occur in the coming winter?

Mr. Flynn:  That is why I expressed my regret that the area orders coming on stream now are being stymied——

Mr. Quinn:  Hear hear.

Mr. Flynn:  ——by action that I do not want. If we could just get over that we would have the orders.

Mr. Quinn:  Well said.

Mr. Flynn:  We would be getting on with the job. However, it seems that no matter how well intentioned I am sometimes in this matter, there are those who wish to see that negatived.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Question No. 10.

Mr. Shatter:  Would the Minister extend the grant scheme to selected areas? He would still have time to do that.

10.

Mr. D. O'Malley:  asked the Minister for the Environment the plans he has for the proper integration of waste management and the recycling of waste; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

29.

Mr. Clohessy:  asked the Minister for the Environment the plans he has for the provision of district heating schemes [414] utilising recycled waste; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 29 together.

Policy in the waste management area, both at national and EC level, is to prevent the disposal of waste in a manner which would endanger human health or harm the environment and to reduce the quantities of wastes through recycling and other measures.

My Department have on a number of occasions encouraged local authorities to provide facilities for the recovery of certain wastes and will continue to do so as appropriate. Grants have been made to voluntary bodies over the past two years in support of recycling activities and a special provision of £250,000 has been provided in the budget this year to promote recycling.

My Department's concern with waste recycling arises primarily in the context of environmental protection and the operation of waste collection and disposal services. Consideration of any initiative involving recycling for energy purposes, such as district heating schemes, would primarily be a matter for the Department of Energy.

Mr. Shatter:  Would the Minister acknowledge that the integration of waste management includes the necessity not only for recycling schemes but for ensuring that toxic wastes are properly disposed of? In that context, what steps are the Minister's Department taking pursuant to the Byrne-Ó Cléirigh report, which was made available to this House on 8 February 1988, in the context of the recommendations made in that report with regard to the preliminary design and engineering steps that should be taken so as to assess the feasibility of an incineration plan for the disposal of toxic waste?

Secondly, what steps will his Department be taking in the future to monitor the dumping of waste, including toxic waste, in the light of the considerable concern arising from that report that there are toxic wastes being dumped in [415] this country that are untraceable? Nobody knows where some of the toxic waste that we are producing is going. If it is not traced——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is a very long question, Deputy Shatter.

Mr. Shatter:  ——if it is not identified we will, in effect, have an environmental time bomb ticking away which will eventually go off, if the necessary identification of such dumping sites——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is tending to make a speech. Please desist. This is Question Time.

Mr. Flynn:  Deputy Shatter uses some of the language that I have used myself.

Mr. Quinn:  The same degree of vagueness.

Mr. Flynn:  I think that he wins the prize there. I am concerned about these matters. That is why I commissioned the feasibility study to which the Deputy refers?

Mr. Shatter:  What is the Minister doing about that?

Mr. Flynn:  We are following up on that very seriously. We are talking to the various interested parties who are willing to become involved in providing such a facility. There is a lot of work to be done in that regard and as to how it should be funded. However, it is a priority and that is why I initiated it in the first place. We will obviously give it very close consideration over a period of time. Nobody wants to see toxic or haxardous waste disposed of in an improper way and we must take note of the situation which will arise in a number of years when we will have to get rid of our own waste. The subject matter of the question was recycling and I am particularly anxious that there should be more activity in that area as we are very far behind Europe. For that reason I persuaded my colleagues to [416] allow this small amount of money in this year's budget to give a good start to those who might be interested.

Mr. Quinn:  Have the Minister's Department a map indicating the location of every local authority waste disposal pit and, if so, will he make it available to the House through the normal channels? In respect of such sites or dumps — to use a colloquial phrase — is there a proposal to have some form of incineration or waste management on each one to control the problem?

Mr. Flynn:  That matter was raised by Deputy Keating on a previous occasion. We have a list of land-fill sites functioning at the moment under the charge of local authorities although I do not know if they are pinpointed on a map.

Mr. Quinn:  Will the Minister make them available?

Mr. Flynn:  Let me think about it. I understand that the list is updated depending on when a land-fill site is filled. They are acquiring property of that kind all the time, as the Deputy knows.

Mr. Farrelly:  Does the Minister know how long the working committee will take to issue a report? Is there any proposed plan for funds from Europe for helping us in this regard?

Mr. Flynn:  To what working committee is the Deputy referring?

Mr. Farrelly:  The Minister said he had a number of people working on this aspect.

Mr. Flynn:  That is correct. We commissioned a feasibility study by a certain company to ascertain the quantity and type of waste and how to dispose of it. We also asked what they would recommend by way of a new incineration facility for certain types of waste.

Mr. Farrelly:  How long will that take?

[417]Mr. Flynn:  The report has been published and a copy is available in the Library.

11.

Mr. Molloy:  asked the Minister for the Environment the present position regarding the proposed Oranmore sewerage scheme, County Galway.

Mr. Flynn:  A revised preliminary report for a sewerage scheme to serve Oranmore has been submitted by Galway County to my Department.

The council have been asked to supply further technical information and, when this is available the proposal will be given further consideration.

13.

Mr. Donnellan:  asked the Minister for the Environment if an application has been made for funds for the purpose of providing a new sewage treatment plant at Headford, County Galway; and, if so, when a decision will be made on the application.

78.

Mr. Donnellan:  asked the Minister for the Environment if an application has been made by Galway County Council to his Department seeking financial aid for the purpose of providing a new sewage treatment plant at Headford, County Galway; and, if so, when a decision will be made on the application.

Mr. Flynn:  I propose to take Questions No. 13 and No. 78 together.

Galway County Council submitted this scheme for inclusion under the 1989 Small Schemes Programme. As the cost of the scheme is in excess of the limit of £50,000 which applies to the small schemes programme, it was not possible to consider the proposal under this programme. The council have been advised to resubmit the scheme under the major schemes programme and to prepare the necessary preliminary report. This report is awaited.

[418]14.

Mr. Farrelly:  asked the Minister for the Environment his views on the survey which the Local Authority Members' Association has sent out to local authorities for discussion on proposals for a property tax.

Mr. Flynn:  I am aware of the questionnaire to which the Deputy refers. The Local Authority Members' Association is of course free to consider any such matters. I would point out, however, that the views and interests of local authorities are already represented by two statutory bodies, the General Council of County Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, with whom I have regular dialogue.

Mr. Farrelly:  Is the Minister seriously telling us that he did not know that the local authorities' representatives association were preparing this document? If the findings correspond to his view, will he use such information in his Department?

Mr. Flynn:  The Deputy is presupposing many things. The Minister knows most things taking place at this level but I have no control over what particular organisations seek to do or achieve for their own ends.

Mr. Quinn:  I do not wish to remind the Minister of the main topic of today's debate but, bearing it in mind, will he say formally whether he saw the draft questionnaire from the secretary of the association, his colleague, Deputy Dempsey, and if he made comments in relation to one or all of the questions set out in the questionnaire? If he did——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are certainly having an extension of this question.

Mr. Farrelly:  It is of interest to Members.

Mr. Flynn:  I can assure the Deputy that I did not frame the questionnaire.

[419]Mr. Quinn:  I asked the Minister a specific question. Did he see the draft questions? Were they shown to him by Deputy Dempsey prior to the questionaire being sent out?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That appears to be a separate question.

Mr. Quinn:  I do not think so.

Mr. Flynn:  I did not authorise the circulation, seek to have it authorised, seek to include any question submitted in the questionnaire or give instructions as to how, what or why would take place concerning that document.

Mr. Quinn:  Did the Minister see it?

Mr. Flynn:  Deputy Quinn is an extraordinary man.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister himself is not too bad.

15.

Mr. Wyse:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on his proposals to combat on a continuing basis the problem of smog caused by, among other factors, the burning of bituminous coal and other pollutant fuels; and whether the implementation of totally smokeless zones in urban areas would in part correct the problem.

Mr. Flynn:  In my statement to the House on this matter on 30 November 1988, I outlined a number of proposed measures specifically designed to deal with the problem of smog pollution. Since then the following positive steps have been taken:

Special control area orders have been made for two further areas in Dublin and have been submitted for confirmation by me.

A general policy directive has been issued under the Planning Acts to all planning authorities requiring that, in [420] built-up areas where smoke emissions are or are likely to be a problem, policy in relation to planning and development should take account of the smoke problem and in particular the need for non-pollutant heating systems.

A publicity and information campaign on radio and television has taken place encouraging the use of non-polluting fuel.

Arrangements are at an advanced stage to ensure that new house grants will in future be confined to houses with smokeless appliances in the builtup areas of Dublin with corresponding provisions for new public housing.

Where major refurbishment works are being planned on Dublin Corporation's houses and flats, the existing heating systems will, where appropriate, be converted to smokeless systems.

I understand that local authorities in Dublin are considering the making of further special control area orders for other parts of the city with the worst smoke pollution problems. I am confident that these measures, along with increased use of natural gas and other smokeless fuels, will enable us to deal effectively with the smog problem and ensure that the requirements of relevant national and EC legislation can be met in all areas.

Mr. Quinn:  I compliment the Minister on some of the actions he has taken to date as it is a problem we all share. Has he — or is he — prepared to enter into negotiations with the major coal importers and local authorities in urban areas to introduce a regulation which would prohibit the sale at retail outlets of bituminous coal in built up areas?

Mr. Flynn:  I am not prepared to say that I will go that far at present. The Deputy is aware that there are attendant difficulties in regard to this matter. We are discussing it on a continuous basis but the difficulty is that it would mean banning the sale of bituminous coal.

[421]Mr. Quinn:  That is the nettle that must be grasped.

Mr. Flynn:  If one were even to contemplate that, we could end up in a worse pickle than the one in which we are in now.

Mr. Quinn:  I do not think so.

Mr. Flynn:  We are now proceeding in a satisfactory way. The High Court action is not helping the situation. Some of the orders have been made and if they were implemented a substantial number of houses would be converted before the onset of next winter. I do not think we need to refer to other measures I have listed except to say that this matter can be summed up by reiterating the remark I made on a previous occasion: “When the winter period goes away or when the wind changes, my attitude to this is not changing”. It has to be pursued relentlessly until an improvement is brought about.

Mr. Quinn:  Notwithstanding all of the positive things the Minister has done in this area, would he not agree, as urban Deputies in this House would, that a major contributory factor is the availability of small bagged units of bituminous coal and unless that problem is dealt with by whatever means there are going to be recurring problems?

Mr. Flynn:  I think that 80 per cent of smog is caused as a result of the burning of bituminous coal in open hearths and grates. We have to deal with this problem. We should all join together in encouraging voluntary organisations such as residents' associations and community councils to persuade people during the inversion periods of a particular winter to use the available non-pollutant fuels. We could then utilise State moneys to help those who cannot help themselves. That is the theory behind the practice I am involved in and it is working. I have been very encouraged by some of the responses I have received from some of the residents' associations. When we [422] have a better information system within the Department in the near future we will be able to help further in that regard.

16.

Mr. Bell:  asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the serious traffic problem which exists at Collon village, County Louth, on the N2 where 26 accidents have occurred in the past five years and five people have lost their lives and where 24 resulted in serious injury; to the fact that the traffic survey carried out by An Foras Forbartha established that 100 per cent of vehicles exceed the speed limit; if he will assist Louth County Council in providing for traffic lights; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  The question of the need for traffic lights at Collon is primarily a matter for Louth County Council. The installation of such lights is also a matter for the local authority acting at the request of or with the consent of the Garda Commissioner.

Proposals have recently been received in my Department from the local authority for the provision of pedestrian crossing traffic lights and traffic route lighting in Collon village. Additional information has been requested from the local authority, including details of the traffic survey, to enable detailed consideration of these proposals to be made.

Mr. McGahon:  Is the Minister aware that more people are killed in County Louth each year than in any other county? Given the difficult financial position of Louth County Council, is he prepared to make funding available for the provision of these very necessary lights?

Mr. Flynn:  As the Deputy rightly says, that is a matter for the local authority in consultation with the Garda Síochána in the first instance.

Mr. McGahon:  They have no money.

[423]Mr. Flynn:  I suggest therefore that the Deputy use his influence in having the estimated cost and traffic count sent to the Department as it might help.

17.

Mr. Stagg:  asked the Minister for the Environment the reason payment of a new house grant has not been made to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare.

Mr. Flynn:  The grant has been paid.

18.

Tomás Mac Giolla:  asked the Minister for the Environment if the Government will consider introducing an amendment to the Constitution to allow for nominations for the Presidency to be made from a wider range of groups and individuals than is provided for at present.

Mr. Flynn:  I have no proposals for the amendment of the Constitution along the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Mr. Sherlock:  Would the Minister agree that the constitutional procedures effectively preclude everyone apart from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from nominating a candidate? Would he further agree that it is not healthy that there has been no presidential election since 1973?

Mr. Flynn:  I do not know whether that question should be addressed to me or not. A question in relation to an election——

Mr. Quinn:  Deputy Wilson might like to answer it.

Mr. Flynn:  As the Deputy is aware, retiring Presidents may nominate themselves and there is also a formula whereby nominations can be put forward by not less than 20 Members of the Oireachtas or by not less than four counties or county boroughs. No complaints have been received.

[424]Mr. Sherlock:  Would the Minister consider opening up the procedure and allow nominations to be put forward by, say, not less than 30 local councillors?

Mr. Flynn:  I have no proposals in that regard. Is the Deputy interested in running for the Presidency by any chance?

Mr. Sherlock:  Would the Minister consider that suggestion?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let us have a reply to Question No. 20.

Mr. Flynn:  I have no proposals in that regard and I will not have. There is no point in misleading the Deputy.

20.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make funds available to Dublin Corporation to acquire and replace with local authority houses Nos. 2-6 Ballybough Road, Dublin 3, which are derelict, a public hazard and an eyesore; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  In relation to the funding of sites for local authority housing schemes from Central Funds, I wish to refer the Deputy to the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 49 of 23 June 1988.

There are no proposals before my Department at present concerning a local authority housing development at Nos. 2-6 Ballybough Road, Dublin 3.

Mr. Gregory:  Is the Minister aware that the corporation are proceeding with a CPO in respect of the houses in question with a view to erecting local authority housing on the site? They are proceeding with the CPO simply because they failed to obtain funds and have no funds to acquire the properties at present. In fact they could acquire the properties by agreement at a far cheaper price than they will eventually have to pay for them. Is the Minister aware of this? These are very large houses along one of the main roads in the city centre. They are situated [425] only about four doors away from where I live, even though that is not terribly relevant.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let us have brevity, please.

Mr. Gregory:  Not only are they a major eyesore but they also constitute a major hazard for very elderly people and children living in adjoining properties.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is becoming a very long question, Deputy.

Mr. Gregory:  Would the Minister consider this request?

Mr. Flynn:  I want to be as helpful as I can. There is no proposal concerning a local authority housing development at Nos. 2 to 6 Ballybough Road before my Department at present.

Mr. Quinn:  There is a proposal to proceed with a CPO.

Mr. Gregory:  As they do not own the property they cannot put a proposal before the Minister concerning a housing scheme but they are proceeding with the CPO and this could take up to five or six years to process.

Mr. Flynn:  Let them get on with it then.

Mr. Quinn:  There must be something left from the Gregory deal.

Mr. Flynn:  I suggest that they should get on with it and finalise the acquisition. The Deputy is aware that the financing of site acquisitions with central funds does not arise until the tender has been approved by the Department. What I am saying is that they should get on with it and present the proposal. I cannot give a favourable response until the local authority to which the Deputy refers have got their act together in the first instance.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 21.

[426]Mr. Gregory:  May I ask the Minister a question?

An Ceann Comhairle:  A brief question.

Mr. Gregory:  I will try to be as brief as possible. Can the Minister tell us if the local authority put in an application — and I can assure him that within the next week they will put in an application — to his Department relating to this problem, would he give it favourable consideration? There is no point saying we must proceed with the CPO as this process can take up to five years to complete by which time those buildings——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I did ask for brevity.

Mr. Gregory:  This is a major problem and the corporation sympathise——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Let us have finality in this question.

Mr. Gregory:  Would the Minister consider an approach from the corporation?

Mr. Flynn:  I announced the details in respect of the road grant allocations today and it is my intention to move as quickly as possible. I want to clear all of the allocations within the next week or two.

Mr. Quinn:  It will not take very long as the Minister does not have much money to give out.

Mr. Flynn:  I am doing the best I can with the little I have. I would have to say that at £194 million it was not all that little.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Question No. 21.

Mr. Gregory:  Would the Minister consider it?

Mr. Flynn:  I would consider anything from the Deputy.

[427]Mr. Gregory:  Will the Minister look at the problem?

Mr. Flynn:  I will consider it.

Mr. Shatter:  We will fly the Minister down there and he can fly over it.

21.

Mr. Deasy:  asked the Minister for the Environment the measures which are in place to prevent the depletion of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbon compounds; if he has any proposals to strengthen existing regulations or legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  The control of the production and consumption of chlorofluorocarbons — CFCs — in the interests of protecting the ozone layer can best be carried out by multilateral rather than unilateral action. In recognition of this Ireland, in common with its EC partners, is a party to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. That Protocol, which came into force on 1 January 1989, introduced control measures for the five CFCs and three halons regarded as having the greatest ozone-depleting potential. In relation to CFCs, the controls require the stabilisation of consumption at 1986 levels from 1 July 1989, a reduction of 20 per cent from 1 July 1993 and a reduction of 50 per cent from 1 July 1998. Consumption of halons is to be stabilised at 1986 levels from 1 January 1992.

The Montreal Protocol is being implemented throughout the European Communities by means of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3322/88 of 14 October 1988. That regulation restricts the production of CFCs within the Community and the importation of CFCs from third countries.

While I believe that the Montreal Protocol was an important step in the process of saving the ozone layer, it is quite clear now that it does not go far enough. On [428] that basis I proposed at the EC Environment Council on 2 March last the elimination of the production and consumption of CFCs as soon as possible and at the latest by the end of this century. My proposal was accepted by the other member states and is now official Community policy.

At the London Conference entitled “Saving the Ozone Layer”, which took place from 5-7 March last, I repeated my call for a strengthening of the Montreal Protocol measures and I also urged those nations which have not yet signed the Montreal Protocol to do so as soon as possible. I also made the point at that conference that, while formal and legally binding international measures are important, much can be done by way of agreements with industry and through an increase in public information and awareness. In this way informed individuals can help to tackle this problem by exercising choice in the marketplace. The European Communities have now reached agreement with manufacturers to reduce CFC use in aerosols by 90 per cent by the end of 1990 and, following a suggestion I made earlier, agreement has also been reached with industry at European level to label cans which contain CFCs.

In Ireland the use of CFCs in filling aerosols has already been reduced to negligible proportions. I have invited industry representatives to begin discussions with my Department with a view to achieving as quickly as possible reductions in the consumption of CFCs for other purposes. I intend also to develop labelling arrangements which will assist consumers in choosing ozonefriendly products.

I am sorry for the length of the reply, but I was asked to give a report to the Dáil on two occasions.

Mr. Shatter:  I congratulate the Minister on expressing views publicly on this issue which coincide with the views I put to him in the Dáil on 7 February last. Let me put it to him that the objective at EC level of the elimination of the use and production of CFCs by the year 2000 is inadequate and we should be aiming at [429] the complete elimination of the production, importation and manufacture of CFCs world wide by the end of 1990. A coherent programme should be put in place on a world wide basis, co-ordinated within the EC on a Community basis, for the disposal of CFCs in the context of old refrigeration units and other types of units in which CFCs are currently used to ensure their disposal does not result in further damage and depletion of the ozone layer.

Mr. Flynn:  Fundamentally, that is what I am trying to do. It is interesting to note there were 31 countries signatories to the Montreal Protocol and when I left the conference 19 extra countries had agreed to come in. It was successful from that point of view and very encouraging. What we have achieved in Brussels should not be minimised. The country has taken the initiative and a lead in this regard and a major involvement of Ireland in leading the way in matters of the ozone layer depletion being controlled is recognised. There were a number of other countries at the conference, such as China and India, which have difficulties; but there is an enormous concensus even among the large manufacturing countries now and those that have difficulties in reducing their use of the damaging CFCs and halons. It is now internationally recognised that this has to be attended to now and it will be pursued that way. The support of the House is of considerable benefit to me in making our case in Europe and at these conferences.

Mr. Quinn:  I would like to join with Deputy Shatter. We frequently criticise our ministerial colleagues but on this instance I formally congratulate the Minister on his achievement and I do so with all graciousness. Let me ask him when he proposes to introduce regulations requiring labelling now that the public awareness has been raised in relation to the damage CFCs do. When can the Irish consumer pick up an aerosol can in any supermarket or shop in this country and [430] be told whether it is damaging to the ozone layer?

Mr. Flynn:  Quite a few products on the shelves now——

Mr. Quinn:  All of them.

Mr. Flynn:  ——have that. I noticed in the displays at exhibitions at the conference that some of the major multinationals in the UK now have displays of it in special sections of their supermarkets and I intend to be involved with the multinationals and the big suppliers here to press this urgently.

Mr. Quinn:  At the end of the year?

Mr. Flynn:  Definitely we will have these meetings before that.

Mr. Quinn:  And the labelling by the end of the year?

Mr. Flynn:  Unanimously, across the board for all Europe on my proposal last year to the Council, it was agreed that we would have the labelling “user friendly” or “ozone friendly”. There was a difficulty in that they were putting the labelling the other way round. I am trying to press them to it more positively. That was raised last week in Brussels. There is total commitment among the Twelve to achieve something worthwhile in that regard. Destruction is negligible now as far as we are concerned here, but we are still importing a sizeable amount of CFCs and halons for particular industries and we are to have negotiations next week with some of the major users here.

Mr. Shatter:  The Minister did not respond to another part of the problem, the continued manufacture and use of these products. Another matter is the disposal of existing products such as refrigeration units. Is any European policy being adopted as regards disposal techniques to ensure that ongoing damage is not done to the ozone layer? In the context of my earlier question will the Minister indicate what is being done [431] at European level at this stage to bring the date forward? I suggest it is not good enough that some countries have now adhered to the Montreal Convention. We in this House on all sides recognise that does not go far enough. What are the prospects of a rapid phasing out by 1991 of the use of CFCs not just in aerosols but in refrigeration units and other forms?

Mr. Flynn:  I do not think it will be achieved by that date, but following on my intervention and getting it agreed that it will be done before the end of the century, Commissioner Carlow Ripa De Meana subsequently made the case that perhaps it could be achieved some years in advance of that. I am not sure it can be done that quickly for the reason the Deputy has mentioned, but if a better target can be achieved I will support it wholeheartedly. The Deputy rightly raised the question about the disposal of used refrigerators. Quite a good response has been achieved in America in that they are collected and disposed of and the harmful CFCs are withdrawn from them and they are sometimes re-used, but that was not given any really concerted attention at the last Brussels meeting. Perhaps it is a good point for me to take up on the next occasion.

Mr. Shatter:  Is that not something we should give attention to here?

Mr. Flynn:  Once it has been mentioned here and I know I have the support of the House I can pursue that matter at the next Council meeting.

Mr. Quinn:  The Minister has that support.

22.

Miss Colley:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he has any plans to install automatic electronic monitoring equipment, on a phased basis, upstream of abstraction points for water intended for public consumption.

[432]Mr. Flynn:  The provision of such monitoring equipment is a matter for individual local authorities to consider having regard to the existing management, monitoring and operating systems for public water supply schemes.

23.

Miss Kennedy:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the number of incidents of water pollution which have occurred in the country over the last five years; the causes of this pollution; the damage done; the cost involved in rectifying the damage; and the number of resultant prosecutions.

Mr. Flynn:  Statistics on a range of activities undertaken by local authorities in implementing the provisions of the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, which are compiled on an annual basis, include information on the numbers of fish kills reported to them, investigations into possible breaches of the Act, and the number of prosecutions taken.

More extensive records on fish kills are maintained by regional fisheries boards because of their particular responsibilities for the protection and development of fisheries. Based on this data, the Department of the Marine have produced an information leaflet on fish kills over the period 1969-87 in the various fisheries regions and copies of this booklet have been placed in the Dáil Library, together with the corresponding information in respect of 1988. This leaflet also lists the source of pollution in each case, where known.

Details are not available on the damage caused by pollution incidents nor the cost involved in rectifying such damage. However, it is important to note that local authorities and fisheries boards have power under section 10 of the Water Pollution Act to apply to the District Court for an order requiring polluters to carry out measures to mitigate or remedy the effects of pollution caused by them.

[433] The Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Bill, 1989, which is being debated in the Seanad at present, contains a provision to extend this power to any person.

Statistics available to my Department on the number of prosecutions taken by local authorities under the Water Pollution Act in the five years to 1987 are as follows: 1983, 45; 1984, 32; 1985, 71; 1986, 52; 1987, 156.

Figures for 1988 are not yet available. In addition to local authorities, prosecutions may also be taken by fisheries boards under both the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, and the Fisheries Acts.

24.

Miss Quill:  asked the Minister for the Environment if funds have been sought from the EC disaster funds for the relief of those who suffered extensive damage to property in the catchment areas of the rivers Lee and Blackwater, County Cork as a result of exceptionally severe flooding in October, 1988; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 5, 10 and 54 on 30 November 1988.

25.

Mr. Cullen:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on his intentions regarding any future legislation on the controlling of noise pollution which is an increasing problem, particularly in urban, industrial and some resort areas.

Mr. Flynn:  I have no plans at present for the introduction of further legislative controls in relation to noise.

26.

Mr. Harte:  asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the chronic need for a new [434] sewerage system in Carndonagh, County Donegal; and if he will make special funds available to meet this need.

46.

Mr. Harte:  asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that raw sewage from 60 to 100 houses is being discharged into the Donagh River, Carndonagh, County Donegal since the storm damage in 1987 washed away a bridge which carried the sewer pipe over the river; and if he will provide funds to build the bridge and repair the sewer pipe.

Mr. Flynn:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 26 and 46 together.

A revised preliminary report for the provision of a sewerage scheme in Carndonagh is under consideration in my Department. Further documentation in relation to this proposal has been requested from the council and when this is available, I will give further consideration to the proposal. The question of providing funds does not arise at this stage.

While I am aware that the sewer pipe crossing the Donagh River was damaged during a storm in February, 1988, no proposals have been submitted to me by Donegal County Council to carry out remedial works.

In relation to the damage caused to the structure of the bridge which is located on a non-national road, primary responsibility for the planning and execution of works rests with Donegal County Council.

In 1988, Donegal County Council have been allocated a total of £2.983 million in discretionary grants for improvement and maintenance works on regional and county roads. The council have also been allocated a special grant of £480,000 to fund remedial works to roads-bridges which were damaged in storms in recent years. The location of works to be undertaken on foot of these grants is entirely a matter for the local authority.

[435]27.

Miss Quill:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the Government's policy for the proper and safe disposal of waste products, including hospital, industrial and domestic waste; and the advisability of the continuing use of landfill as a means of disposing of such wastes.

Mr. Flynn:  Waste disposal policy is to ensure that all wastes, and particularly any hazardous wastes which call for special disposal arrangements, are safely disposed of without risk to public health or to the environment. This is achieved through regulations which make each local authority responsible for the planning, organisation and supervision of operations for the disposal of the vast majority of wastes arising in their areas.

I am assured that properly engineered and properly managed landfill is internationally accepted as a technically sound and environmentally satisfactory means of disposing of an extensive range of wastes, including industrial and certain hazardous wastes. There are, of course, many wastes which are definitely not suitable for landfill.

28.

Mr. Begley:  asked the Minister for the Environment the number of people who are on the waiting list for driving tests on a county-by-county basis; the average length of time a person has to wait before he can do the test; and the steps he proposes to take to rectify the situation.

Mr. Flynn:  At 1 February 1989, the number of applications on the waiting list for driving tests on a county-by-county basis was as indicated in a schedule which I propose to circulate in the Official Report. The average waiting period is currently 25 weeks.

I have taken the following measures to reduce the backlog:

(1) I have decided to increase the number of testers from 50 to a total [436] of 75 by way of redeployment from within the public service. Recruitment of these additional testers is currently under way.

(2) I introduced Saturday tests in addition to the normal Monday to Friday tests.

(3) Applicants for tests must now give at least a week's notice of cancellation of a test appointment or risk forfeiture of fee. This has facilitated the allocation of cancelled appointments.

(4) I am taking steps to ensure greater harmonisation of waiting periods throughtout the country.

I intend to keep the position under review so that a satisfactory service is restored as soon as possible.

Schedule of Waiting Lists

Carlow 327
Cavan 764
Clare 879
Cork 3,728
Donegal 1,248
Dublin 9,388
Galway 2,357
Kerry 1,043
Kildare 283
Kilkenny 318
Laois 289
Leitrim 258
Limerick 2,286
Longford 365
Louth 542
Mayo 1,424
Meath 570
Monaghan 655
Offaly 293
Roscommon 474
Sligo 467
Tipperary 780
Waterford 1,202
Westmeath 260
Wexford 675
Wicklow 241

30.

Mr. Spring:  asked the Minister for the Environment if his attention has been drawn to the publication (details supplied) in which it states that there is an urgent need for a toxic waste disposal facility to be provided in Ireland in order [437] to facilitate economic development; the steps he has taken to facilitate a request from industry to ensure such a facility is provided; the discussions, if any, which have taken place between his Department and the Department of Industry and Commerce in relation to this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Flynn:  I am aware of the publication and would refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 13, 15, 25 and 38 of 7 February, 1989 in which I dealt comprehensively with the Government's intentions in relation to the disposal of hazardous waste in this country.

Mr. Quinn:  Is the Minister in a position to give an update in relation to the replies he gave previously? Has progress been made?

Mr. Flynn:  Following the feasibility study, yes. We have been in touch with some of the interested parties and it is my intention to include those who are interested in providing the facility and methods of monitoring that would be attached thereto and also the generators of the waste. Special consideration is being given to this project, for obvious reasons.

Mr. Quinn:  We will put down the question in a different format in view of the Minister's lack of full briefing.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That disposes of questions for today.

Debate resumed on the following motion:

[469] That the Dáil do now adjourn.

—(The Taoiseach.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Liam Lawlor is in possession and has 17 minutes remaining.

Mr. Lawlor:  I was saying earlier that this document, the final draft report dated 30 June, was not even opened by the committee and was never read. We decided on that occasion to visit Thurles at the request of Deputy Michael Lowry, a fellow parliamentarian serving on the committee in whose constituency a major industry was under threat, particularly as a result of the very frank presentation by the chairman of the Irish Sugar Company and his executives on 15 March when they outlined in great detail virtually everything that has emerged in this so-called confidential report. They put this information on record at a public hearing of the committee. The matter was dealt with specifically in that way.

We proceeded to visit the plant in Thurles and to have a formal hearing of the committee in a local hotel to give everybody the opportunity of putting on the record their views as regards the plant. Another Opposition colleague, Senator Paul Bradford, asked at a subsequent meeting if the committee would visit the Mallow plant. Again I conceded and brought the committee to see the plant there. It has been widely reported that in the canteen at the end of that visit we had a very frank and open discussion with the chief executive of the company and four or five executives. Again it was repeated by the executives that it was the right strategy that the Thurles plant should close and that this was the intent, but the board had not made their final decision on this matter.

Deputy O'Malley asked this morning for specifics and detailed answers to questions. My accurate recollection of the facts is as follows. The chairman of that company sent me a specific letter with [470] the documentation in reply to our own questions as members of the committee.

Mr. McDowell:  With the documentation?

Mr. Lawlor:  Not with the document, no. They sent me a letter and the secretary of the committee, in carrying out his functions to the committee and to me as chairman, telephoned and pointed out that there was a certain recommendation that the documentation should not be circulated and that it was his intention to bring it to the next committee meeting. I concurred with that advice, direction and suggestion from the clerk of the committee, a senior civil servant.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  It did not say it should not be circulated.

Mr. Lawlor:  Deputy O'Malley was not in Mallow and did not know the questions we asked. Therefore he did not even know there was a document. I will not allow him to interrupt.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Lawlor:  I am not throwing any mud. I am explaining what the Deputy asked me to explain when he made his contribution. That is the reality. When I was asked by an Irish Times reporter if I had a confidential report on the Irish Sugar Company, straight off I said no. I knew that our report, which is supposed to be confidential, was in the possession of the clerk of the joint committee but it had been leaked to the media in the month of July causing grave embarrassment to the board of the Sugar Company and to the joint committee. Deputy Lowry, according to the minutes of the joint committee, pointed out the great disservice the leaking of that report had done to the people of Thurles and the staff of the factory.

In those circumstances, the executives and the board of the Sugar Company [471] were anxious to provide us with the maximum amount of factual information. They were also aware that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, and Deputy Lowry, represented north Tipperary and that this was a politically sensitive issue. They were endeavouring to come to a final decision on the matter. When they reached that decision they asked the clerk and me, as chairman, to treat the matter with sensitivity. Had there been a meeting on 24 November, or any time up to 31 January, the clerk, I trust, would have brought the report to the meeting and explained that there was a confidentiality request from the chairman. The terms of reference of the joint committee specifically state that if a State-sponsored company ask the joint committee to treat material with confidentiality they will honour that request. That was followed to the letter.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  It was not.

Mr. Lawlor:  It was, on the recommendation of the clerk. That is the position.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  The terms of reference refer to publishing material.

Mr. D. Gallagher:  If Deputy O'Malley is not able to listen to Deputy Lawlor, he should leave the Chamber. Members did not interrupt him during his contribution.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  Does Deputy Lawlor know the terms of reference of the joint committee?

Mr. Lawlor:  I should like to deal with my resignation from the joint committee. I have been a member of my party for 26 years and have been proud to represent them. I am not ashamed to state that if I want advice from the party leader, or senior party colleagues, I will seek it. That is what I did on this occasion and [472] the party leader, looking at the false allegations said, “you, as chairman, and the joint committee, will be turned into a political football; it is my suggestion, for your consideration, that you should step down from the joint committee and deal with these matters in a factual, honest and pragmatic way”. How could the Taoiseach come into the House and defend me when he did not know the details of the case? He left this to me to deal with at a meeting of the joint committee. That is what I did.

It is unfortunate that a civil servant is being dragged out of retirement to collaborate the facts. The truth has been recorded in the minutes of meetings of the joint committee. It is up to each Member to decide whether they wish to accept what I say as the truth or otherwise. I trust that when the matter is being reported in the political column in next Sunday's issue of the Sunday Independent there will not be any conflict or collusion like occurred recently.

I should like to address some comments to Deputy McDowell and his colleagues. Will they tell me where the conflict of interest arises?

Mr. McDowell:  The Deputy had a conflict of interest and everybody knows that.

Mr. D. Gallagher:  Deputy McDowell is not in court now; he should let Deputy Lawlor continue.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  Deputy Lawlor accepted that there was a conflict of interest.

Mr. Lawlor:  I should like to be given the opportunity to explain my position.

Mr. McDowell:  Why would the Taoiseach ask Deputy Lawlor to resign from the joint committee if there was not a conflict of interest?

(Interruptions.)

[473]Mr. Lawlor:  Deputy McDowell, as a Member of the House, does not see anything wrong with going to the courts, accepting State briefs and running around the Law Library with his wig and gown.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Andrews, sitting beside Deputy Lawlor, knows about that.

Mr. Lawlor:  Deputy McDowell dashes back to the House in the evening to get involved in the business of the day. On one occasion he returned to the House in the evening and tried to go back over business that Deputy Seán Barrett and the Minister for Justice had spent the entire day dealing with. Earlier in the day, he had been in the Law Library in his conflict of interest role but he dashed back to the House to hold up the work of the House.

Mr. Power:  No sugar for those sweeteners.

Mr. Lawlor:  I am amazed at the attitude of Deputy Dukes. I find it hard to understand the role he has adopted in regard to this. I have always held him in very high regard. I admire his pragmatic approach to politics and public life. His Tallaght strategy is an acceptable and realistic approach to the running of the country. However, I should like to put on record my amazement that Deputy Dukes on two occasions made reference to my so-called visits to Thurles. I went once at the invitation of Deputy Lowry and I have been to the Munster championship hurling games there for the last three or four years. They are the occasions I visited Thurles. Deputy Dukes should withdraw any insinuation that I was in Thurles for any other reason. I am amazed that a former Minister for Finance, and leader of the largest Opposition party, should consider it worth mentioning on the floor of the House. That is the depth of his analysis of this matter.

[474] Deputy Spring connived to embarrass the House by putting himself in the position of being asked to leave the House. It is a great slur on the role of any Deputy that that should happen to him but that happened to Deputy Spring. The Deputy is not present for the debate today. His heart is not in this and he left it to Deputy Desmond to huff and puff for about 20 minutes. That Deputy never dealt with any of the issues involved but went all over the place. He addressed the nation on a range of issues but not on the matter I have been accused of.

Mr. Desmond:  This is another can of worms and the Deputy knows it. Deputy Spring had to be thrown out to get this right.

Mr. Lawlor:  Deputy De Rossa was the only Opposition party leader to act honourably. In the debate on this issue, while I was attending a meeting of the joint committee, he put it on record that he was not making any allegations against Deputy Lawlor but wanted to put forward reasons for having a register of interests. I respect his right to do that and I would not be at variance with his views on that. However, I do not have anything to worry about on that score because my interests are known publicly. That is what has brought about this wasteful debate. I made an honourable decision to step down from the joint committee's investigation of the Sugar Company after the exchange of two letters by two chairmen of different organisations.

Deputies fully realise that the Sugar Company is a State asset. It is a matter for the executive of that company to consider any structural change. That is referred to the board of directors, then to the Minister responsible, on to the Cabinet and, finally it is a matter for the House to make any decision in regard to State assets. If that realistic approach must be gone through in regard to each item how can any conflict of interest arise?

[475]Mr. McDowell:  There was a conflict of interest.

Mr. Lawlor:  How can a conflict of interest arise if between 20 and 50 letters are exchanged between various people? Do they amount to a proposal to take over the Sugar Company?

Mr. McDowell:  Yes.

Mr. Lawlor:  This is utter rot and unfounded nonsense. As a non-executive director, I do not know what the 20 or 30 executives in any organisation are doing today, were doing yesterday or will do tomorrow. I do not know who they are meeting. Any proposals put to any board of directors or any committee will be in a proper documented form for consideration and that has not arisen in this case.

Mr. Desmond:  What are they paying the Deputy for in that case?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Byrne):  Deputy Lawlor should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Mr. Lawlor:  Who said that they are paying?

Mr. McDowell:  Are they?

Mr. Lawlor:  The Deputy is making the judgment, but does he know? I should now like to deal with the Progressive Democrats, the petty Deputies of the House. I delivered a letter to Deputy Des O'Malley notifying him of his expulsion from my party. That was the greatest service I have ever done for the country because by him being expelled from the party he has managed to make this the most dynamic, united, progressive Government we have had since the foundation of the State. His being expelled from the party was the most decisive thing that could have happened [476] to it. Deputy Des O'Malley has gone to the margins of Irish political life because of the venom he poured out on the day the House dealt with this matter while I was attending a meeting of the joint committee. At Christmas, Deputy Des O'Malley suggested that personalities should be taken out of Irish politics but when nobody followed that hare, he suggested that there should be a grand alliance between Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats because it would be dreadful if we did not have an alternative Government. When Fine Gael rightly rejected that suggestion, Deputy Des O'Malley attacked the Tallaght strategy. Deputy Des O'Malley is now reflecting in his desperation. If the best he can do today is to link Bailieborough and Babylon it is a bloody sad day.

When I was in Iraq, an embassy official asked me to endeavour to get payments for small clothing manufacturers who are facing bankruptcy at home.

Mr. McDowell:  What was Mr. Mayne doing in the car with the Deputy?

Mr. Lawlor:  I have a letter from one of those companies which recognises what I did at the request of an Irish Government official who was working on behalf of Irish manufacturers and trying to save Irish jobs.

Mr. McDowell:  What was Mr. Mayne doing in the car with the Deputy?

Mr. Lawlor:  The Deputy should get Deputy Des O'Malley to return to the Chamber to listen to the truth.

Mr. McDowell:  What was Mr. Mayne doing in the car? He is not a debt collector.

Mr. Lawlor:  In regard to Deputy Pat O'Malley I should like to point out that the only time I had contact with him was when I was his public representative and he was my constituent. He came to me [477] and asked me to make various inquiries about something or other on his behalf.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I do not believe I ever went to you in that capacity.

Mr. Lawlor:  He was not an active member of the party in Lucan, but I knew him at arm's length as a relation of Deputy Des O'Malley. The reality is that Deputy Pat O'Malley has been used.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  No. I feel absolutely happy in what I am doing. Nobody is coercing me.

Mr. Lawlor:  Deputy O'Malley has been here a couple of years but I have been in public life since 1974. When Deputy O'Malley has harrowed what I have ploughed, he will realise what I am saying to him today. He will realise that he has been used by Deputies Des O'Malley, Geraldine Kennedy and Michael McDowell.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  Why not name the rest of them while you are at it?

Mr. Lawlor:  I am dealing with it now and Deputy O'Malley does not like the medicine he is getting.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I have not got any medicine yet.

Mr. Lawlor:  The truth was told to the committee last week. The Deputy was at the committee meeting and did not even put in a reservation in regard to the statement. The unanimous decision of the committee was to release a statement putting the facts on record. Unfortunately 20 minutes is not long enough to say other than that I hold no personal malice against any Member of this House. I will accept their apologies, just as I faced their allegations, and I trust that those Deputies will be big enough to make those apologies. It is never pleasant to be accused, but to be accused in the [478] public media and found guilty before one even gets a hearing is very unfair. This House has suffered a grave disservice by the way this matter has been dealt with.

In conclusion, I would like to put it to Deputies that they should be big enough to make an apology, as I have been in dealing with questions and in making myself available to whatever forum was necessary to answer questions. It is sad that a very fine public servant who took early retirement should be dragged into this matter and made a political football. I abhor that. I never even had the opportunity to express my appreciation for the work he did on behalf of the committee. This committee concluded reports on the B & I, Irish Life and Irish Steel, all very complex companies at serious stages of development but there was not a word in the public press about them. I sought no publicity for my work on this committee. We did a job and, tragically, the country are now asking what the hell we are arguing about, what about the jobs in Thurles, what about this House dealing with the issues of the day instead of wasting time on this nonsense.

I feel totally vindicated by last Tuesday's meeting and nothing that has been said here today changes that.

Mr. Hegarty:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Brendan Griffin.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Hegarty:  I hope that as a result of today's debate one lesson will be learned, that is, that State boards should be left alone. The present sugar board is highly commercial and determined to put the company in a competitive position for 1992. They will do whatever needs to be done without fear or favour. I hope that all the publicity surrounding this sad saga will result in politicians steering clear of State board decisions and that all in public life will be conscious of any conflict of interests.

[479] The Sugar Company have, over the years, served the farming community very well indeed. Not only do we produce our full requirement of sugar but we have exported quantities of sugar all over the world. The Sugar Company, however, no longer have a monopoly of the Irish market but must henceforth compete with companies like Tate and Lyle and others who are giants in sugar production.

Sugar is very much in over supply in Europe and there is no doubt that we will have a sugar war. The sugar board must prepare for this eventuality and they must be allowed to do so without interference. The slimming down of CSET did not not begin with Thurles. Fastnet Foods, Erin Foods in Carlow, Erin Foods in Mallow, East Cork Foods, Glencolmcille and the Tuam Potato Plant were all closed, as was the Tuam Beet factory.

I had two closures in my own constituency when I was Minister of State, and I certainly did not go whinging to the board of the Sugar Company or to the Government. With the help of the IDA and an international company we succeeded in getting both operations moving again and we are now profitable, exporting and processing vegetables to the United Kingdom and to mainland Europe. If all goes well we expect to continue to expand operations of growing peas, beans, etc. for processing.

However, I have to say I did not get much support from my colleagues across the floor at that time. I still recollect quite clearly the Private Members' Bill and the howls of derision on the closure of Erin Foods in Mallow and the closure of East Cork Foods in Midleton. In the last election campaign I heard it said that I, as Minister, closed Midleton and Mallow Foods. Thankfully, the begrudgers were proved wrong. We now have the success story of the century in horticultural processing at my doorstep. The present Ministers for food and horticulture delight in coming down to Midleton and [480] Mallow — and they are very welcome — donning white coats and basking in the success with which they had nothing whatsoever to do.

Let me suggest to the Minister that in getting a replacement industry more emphasis should be placed on agri-business. For instance sugar beet pulp is probably the best base for cattle rations and dairy rations. Why not utilise some of the Thurles complex for ration making in conjunction with the major dairy cooperatives? I certainly would be concerned about any individual taking over Irish Sugar. As former chairman of the beet growers' association and as somebody who worked all my life in the beet industry, I must say the temptation to import sugar is too great at the moment. There is a lot more profit dealing in sugar than there is in growing it. Already at least one supermarket is inclined to look elsewhere for its supplies.

Beet is one of our few profitable crops for the tillage man. Nothing must interfere with this industry. The industry is as old as the State and has weathered many a storm. It is now having to face the cold easterly winds of mainland Europe. If our 40,000 tillage farmers are to survive the beet industry must thrive. Yields of sugar here are higher than they are in Europe. The French are already saying that in 1992 the price of sugar should drop. We could not live with that. Thankfully in spite of all, not only are we utilising all we produce but, if we were allowed to do so, we could grow more sugar. For this we have to thank not so much the supermarkets and the housewife, because there has been a steady decline there, but our biggest customers Rowntrees and Cadburys who are prepared to utilise all Irish sugar. They do not go looking to Tate and Lyle. They want Irish sugar and they should be complimented.

This debate has served to highlight the importance of this industry. I am not out to castigate anybody. I was the victim of criticism myself when I had the difficult [481] job of opening up two factories. I hope that as a result of this debate today the significance of the Sugar Company in the context of Irish agri-business will be noted. I hope we will not lose sight of the jobs that must be found in Thurles. I hope they are not mythical but real jobs that will materialise immediately.

Mr. Griffin:  As a Deputy for south Tipperary I am pleased to contribute to this debate. Like many on this side of the House I have no doubt about the impropriety of the actions of both the Minister for Agriculture and Food and his colleague, Deputy Liam Lawlor in this sorry debacle which is ultimately depriving Thurles town and hinterland of a long established industry. The case has been excellently presented by our leader, Deputy Alan Dukes and by many other speakers on this side of the House but I doubt, even after the conclusion of this debate, that satisfactory answers will be found to the many questions put to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and Deputy Liam Lawlor.

However, in the brief space of time allotted to me I would like to approach it from a different angle, to put a human face, so to speak, on what is happening to the Sugar Company and especially to its employees. As a Deputy across the border from north Tipperary I am only too well aware of the massive contribution Thurles sugar plant has made not only to the economic and commercial life of Thurles itself and of North Tipperary but to the vast hinterland and the many towns of south Tipperary. The plight of the 174 full-time employees comes to mind. Likewise the future of approximately 170 more seasonal workers who got temporary employment year after year during the campaign must be taken into account. We are dealing with people's lives and their future. As a family man I can appreciate how traumatic the past few months must have been to the many breadwinners who now see their future and that of their children [482] evaporating, in idle rhetoric spoken here today in this House, before their eyes. Their financial commitment to house loans, mortgages and their children's education is in shatters and ruin.

If there are to be replacement factories, in justice these present employees must get first option. Otherwise their chances of ever again obtaining full time employment are very remote. Thought must be given also to the business people of Thurles and their staff who have developed their premises and businesses on the understanding that the factory's future was secure. Indeed during the last general election campaign a categorical assurance was given by the present Minister for Agriculture and Food who on his election literature promised that if Fianna Fáil were returned to power the factory would be kept open. Fianna Fáil put the factory there, Fianna Fáil will keep the factory there — so ran the ill-fated and, as we now know, misleading election propaganda.

The farming community who down through the years geared themselves for beef production and invested heavily in machinery, fertilisers and so on are now in a quandary. To transport the sugar beet to either Carlow or Mallow will prove too expensive and often an alternative system of farming is not available to them, with quotas on milk, beet and cereals. Their whole lifestyle has been interrupted. It is widely accepted, too, that for every five industrialised jobs one service job is created. This was very forcibly brought home to me recently when a small industrialist from as far afield as Cahir wrote to me and stated that with the proposed closure of the plant in Thurles the jobs of ten or 12 of his workforce were now in jeopardy as serving the Thurles sugar plant ensured three or four months of continuous work every year for his plant. These are some aspects which must be taken into account when deciding whether a plant remains open or whether the gates are closed.

It is very hard to reconcile the morality [483] of any chairman's decision to close a factory on his casting vote. Surely in such a tight voting situation the status quo which obtains in this House should have been followed and the breath of life given to the Thurles sugar plant. So far as I am aware, the Thurles plant was in a profit-making situation. I wonder if the board of this semi-State body were more interested in balancing the books than in maintaining the plant and its workforce. For the past year the Sugar Company made a profit of £11.4 million. It is obscene against that background of such profit making that Thurles sugar factory should be closed.

The people of Thurles, the employees of the factory, the farmers and the business people, are the real victims of this debacle. I call on the sugar board to reconsider their decision and not to sacrifice the plant on the altar of financial rectitude. If this cannot be done, I ask them to keep the factory open at least until the new replacement plants are up and running when the transfer would have a lesser impact on the commercial and industrial lives of so many people. I sincerely hope that the members of the sugar board would pay attention to this, give it every consideration and treat it as sympathetically as they possibly can.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  In this debate the truth is the most powerful weapon in my armoury. I intend today to present to the Dáil, first, a clear record of the approaches made to me on the Sugar Company, secondly, a refutation that I ever mislead the Dáil and, thirdly a rebuttal of the suggestion that I sought in any way to conceal or ignore an alleged conflict of interest or that I tried to lobby the board of Siúicre Éireann except as I was entitled to do. These are the issues raised in this contrived affair. I doubt if the people who count, the people whose lives and livelihoods are affected by the matters, would see these as the priorities. [484] However, this is the agenda that has been set by the parties opposite. I do not think that parliamentary democracy is endangered by this circus act but I believe it is demeaned by it. I know why I am the target of certain Deputies' spleen, not for the first time and no doubt not for the last but I am going to present my side of events in plain and blunt terms.

This controversy stems from distortion and misrepresentation of what were unsolicited approaches to me on matters related to the Sugar Company's operations. Efforts have been made to present my listening to these approaches as being in some way sinister and as being other than what it was in fact. Here is the sequence of events. On 11 October I received correspondence from the EuroArab Group through the Minister for Trade and Marketing in which an interest in refining sugar in Ireland was signalled. I sent this to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann on 13 October, asking him to bring the matter to the attention of his board and to keep me informed.

October 19 is seen by the Opposition as a significant date. On that date I met with representatives of Finn Sugar. The meeting was at their request. The company outlined the nature of their operation and suggested that they had expertise which would be useful to the Sugar Company. I asked the company to outline this in a letter for transmission to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann. This was done by way of letter dated 16 January 1989 which was passed, on a confidential basis, to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann on 18 January 1989. The fact that it was subsequently widely leaked and reported on a selective basis must be a matter of some concern to us all.

Much has been made of the fact that at a meeting arranged with me on 19 October for another purpose, namely the question of export refunds on meat, Mr. Larry Goodman mentioned that he might be interested in having discussions with Siúicre Éireann plc about the Thurles [485] plant and other possibilities. I informed the chairman of Siúicre Éireann about this tentative expression of interest. I had no prior knowledge or indication that this matter would be raised on that day. I categorically reject that this expression of possible future interest should be represented as discussions or negotiations and I gave no response that could elevate them in any way to that status. Therefore, my reply to the question of 20 October from Deputy Pat O'Malley, which incidentally was submitted prior to 19 October, was factual and truthful. The third meeting I had on 20 October was with the chairman of Siúicre Éireann. This was one of my frequent meetings with the chairman, usually preceding meetings of the board of the company. At that meeting I informed Mr. Cahill of the tentative expression of interest by Mr. Goodman. I also outlined the approach made by Finn Sugar, without naming the company — at their request — at that point.

On 20 October and 29 November 1988 two parliamentary questions were tabled which are now being falsely portrayed after the event as being significant. The question of 20 October last, which was clearly submitted before 19 October, asked whether I had made any decision on the future of the Thurles plant. I replied:

No proposals in regard to the future of the plant in question have been made to me.

This was the truth. There were no proposals before me or my Department. At that stage the board of Siúicre Éireann had not taken any decision with regard to Thurles.

I have dealt with Parliamentary Question No. 113 in this House on 29 November last which read:

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)...

[486] (Food Industries Ltd., Liam Lawlor, director)

... regarding the possible takeover by that company of one of the three Siúicre Éireann cpt sugar processing plants....

I replied as follows:

I have had no such discussions or negotiations.

Again, that was the truth.

Deputy Desmond O'Malley attempted again this morning to subvert the truth when he purported to quote me as acknowledging — and I want to make this very clear — that I had chitchat with Deputy Liam Lawlor in this matter, that is to say, the acquisition by Food Industries of an interest in the Thurles sugar plant or Siúicre Éireann. I repudiate that. I can only assume, I hope charitably, that Deputy Desmond O'Malley has himself been misled or is now deliberately attempting to mislead the House. Can I once again state the unvarnished truth: that I never discussed with Deputy Liam Lawlor at any time any Food Industries' interest, suggestion, proposal or otherwise in Siúicre Éireann. I hope Deputy Desmond O'Malley will have the grace and honour to withdraw that unfounded allegation, like so many others that are characteristic of this approach.

The issue of conflict of interest was first mentioned in a parliamentary question, No. 36, of 23 February 1989 tabled by Deputy Pat O'Malley. That was the first reference after Deputy Lawlor had already resigned as chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-sponsored Bodies.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  It referred to the question of 29 November 1988.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Kennedy:  Deputy Desmond O'Malley has also asserted today, with [487] reference to Mr. Goodman, that his company began negotiations — to quote his own words today — certainly in October and possibly earlier; those are the words of Deputy Desmond O'Malley today. If Deputy O'Malley has information to that effect he has now, and at all times had, an obligation to communicate the source of his information to this Government because I had no such information. If the Progressive Democrats had this information available to them prior to 21 November 1988, as Deputy McDowell asserted in this House on 21 February, at column 936, volume 387, of the Official Report, at least they should have communicated that to the Government, if they were concerned or, at the very least, Deputy Pat O'Malley should have communicated it to the committee of which he was a member along with Deputy Lawlor.

I was not aware of any discussions or negotiations between Food Industries and Siúicre Éireann cpt until, on 18 January 1989, I was given, by the chairman of Siúicre Éireann a copy of a letter which he had received from the chairman of Food Industries. This letter itself confirms that fact when it states, at the end — and significantly this sentence is often omitted from the leaked media presentation:

We shall bring our interest to the attention of Government.

That was on 18 January 1989. Surely that puts an end to all allegations and suggestions that I was involved in any discussions or negotiations with Food Industries or any of its representatives? What, then, is the basis for the accusations against me of misleading the House, of failing to recognise and report a conflict of interest allegedly brought to my attention? Is the basis the substantive questions asked by Deputy Pat O'Malley on 20 October and 29 November 1988, or is it the misrepresentation and distortion of those questions by himself, [488] Deputy McDowell and Deputy Desmond O'Malley? The Official Report of 21 February 1989, columns 925, 929 and 935 to 947 demonstrate that these latter two Deputies had no interest — and have no interest now — in presenting factually the nature of the questions at issue.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I want to quote, first, what Deputy Desmond O'Malley said on that occasion at column 928:

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, in particular, was first alerted to the possibility of a conflict of interest in this matter as far back as 26 November last when a question was put down to him by Deputy Pat O'Malley calling the Minister's attention to Deputy Lawlor's chairmanship of Food Industries plc and his chairmanship of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies, asking for his views on any possible difficulties that might arise in relation to that and if he had any discussions with anybody arising out of that matter. Therefore, the Government have been on notice since the date on which that question was put down which, presumably, would have been four or five days before the date on which the question was answered here.

Deputy Pat O'Malley's question to me of 29 November 1988 made no reference whatsoever to conflict of interest. Neither did it call — as Deputy Desmond O'Malley said:

... the Minister's attention to Deputy Lawlor's chairmanship of Food Industries plc and his chairmanship of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies...

Neither did it ask the Minister, as Deputy Desmond O'Malley quotes it as doing:

.... for his views on any possible difficulties that might arise....

[489] or ask, again as Deputy Desmond O'Malley has asserted wrongly and untruthfully:

.... if he had any discussions with anybody arising out of that matter.

Deputy Desmond O'Malley's false conclusion that the Government, to quote himself, was on notice since the date on which the question was put down is based exclusively on his own distorted presentation of the question. If one distorts any basic premise it can lead to any distorted conclusion.

It is outrageous then that Deputy Desmond O'Malley particularly should require me, in the face of those deliberate misrepresentations, to respond to his accusation of misleading the House. Deputy Desmond O'Malley's ability to distort the precise nature of the question is surpassed only by his colleague, Deputy McDowell who has, on my calculations, distorted and misrepresented the nature of the same question on at least eight occasions at columns 936 to 947 of the Official Report of 21 February 1989. For the record of the House I will leave it to all Deputies to ascertain whether I am telling the truth of that record or whether Deputy McDowell is telling the truth of that record. I would find it embarrassing to go through each and every one of those eight false statements to demonstrate that Deputy McDowell can so outrageously distort the record of this House. It is there to be read by all.

There is no place, as Deputy McDowell would suggest, for the very gentlemanly hint, to quote himself in that debate, from Deputy Pat O'Malley in communications of matters of potentially serious consequence. Is that the manner in which we should communicate a gentlemanly hint? As the question is now being represented by the Progressive Democrats, if it was going to have the serious consequences they now represent it as having, surely it warranted more than “a gentlemanly hint”. If it was [490] a gentlemanly hint it was about the only gentlemanly thing that was characteristic of the Progressive Democrats in this whole matter.

The only conclusion one can reach is that the gentlemanly hint was used for concealment purposes so that, months later, they could make outrageous and unwarranted allegations against my integrity and that of other Members of this House and spread smears across this Government whose success they just cannot tolerate.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I have not finished.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I want to quote Deputy McDowell again, because this is worth quoting. It is a rehash of another quotation — column 947 of the Official Report of 21 February 1989:

all these things are part of a piece and show low standards in high places.

As the Progressive Democrats have conclusively demonstrated through their perversion of the truth, there are very much lower standards in very much lower places in this House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  Apart from perverting the truth, the Progressive Democrats seem determined to frustrate the normal operation of the Dáil and Government through the abuse of the procedures of the Dáil.

Deputies Desmond O'Malley and McDowell are on the record of the House of 21 February 1989 at columns 927-936, Volume 387 of the Official Report. I will now quote Deputy D. O'Malley:

It is common knowledge that for some time apparently Food Industries plc, .... have an interest in the Sugar [491] Company. They have apparently corresponded with them and have had meetings with them.

Deputy McDowell went on to say in column 936:

Deputy Pat O'Malley...came into possession of information,... prior to 21 November 1988,...that there was an intention on the part of Food Industries plc at least to investigate and certainly to pursue with some degree of enthusiasm, the possibility of an acquisition of all or part of the assets including the sugar quota of Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann.

What did Deputy Pat O'Malley do with that information? Did he report it? No, he did not. It has to be assumed that this information was withheld from the joint committee of which he is a member and from the Ceann Comhairle and other relevant Dáil committees in order to use it selectively against me and the Government at a later stage.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  I put down a question.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  His failure to recognise his responsibility and to abide by the traditions of the House renders hollow indeed the Progressive Democrats' trumped-up accusations against me. I confidently expected that Deputy Pat O'Malley would use this debate to explain his position to the House without trying to misrepresent the text of Question No. 113 on 29 November 1988. To my regret, and I am sure to the regret of the House, he has failed to do so. Perhaps he will explain his actions to the committee.

Accordingly, I strongly reject any imputation or accusation that I was remiss in not recognising or bringing the conflict of interest on the part of Deputy Lawlor to appropriate notice. I had no information available to me to this effect. As I said earlier, the first knowledge I [492] had that Food Industries plc had made a substantive approach about becoming involved with Siúicre Éireann was from the chairman of Siúicre Éireann on 18 January 1989. I understand that Deputy Lawlor stepped down from the chair of the committee at that time when apparently he also became aware of this fact. When I listened to Deputy Dukes this morning, I wondered if we were living in the same world. If a pre-arranged meeting on 31 January between himself, and his front bench colleagues and Mr. Goodman specifically to discuss Food Industries plc interest in Siúicre Éireann is to be described as “reflections” rather than even “suggestions”, how can he expect us to believe just that while he tries to elevate a comment by Mr. Goodman to me to the status of full-blown negotiations — a comment that was in no way related to the general purpose of our discussions, as I have said over and over again?

This morning Deputy Dukes made yet another allegation that I was responsible for a premature leak which endangered a major project for Thurles. I do not think Deputy Lowry or anybody in Thurles would share that opinion. The very opposite is the case, as the concern I expressed in writing to the chairman of Siúicre Éireann will prove. I expressed my concern about the leak to the chairman in writing. These latest allegations demonstrate how spurious is this whole exercise.

This factory has been the very lifeblood of Thurles since Mr. Éamon de Valera established it in the early thirties. Despite the significant reduction in capital investment since 1983, the workers feel justifiably proud of their performance since then. I owe no apology to Deputy Dukes for representing their concerns and interests.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  I would certainly owe my apologies to the workers and their [493] families if I did not try to secure the dignity of continuing employment for them in their own place, Thurles. What Deputy worth his salt would do anything less?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Mr. O'Kennedy:  In conclusion, let me say, a Cheann Comhairle, that this has been a phoney performance from the Opposition and particularly from the Progressive Democrats. It has been a puzzle to the citizen to know what was involved. I know that certain Deputies would seek to discredit me, but I believe that instead they have discredited themselves. I am glad to have had the opportunity to put the record straight.

Mr. Kavanagh:  As Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies investigating the Sugar Company, it is not my intention to be controversial. The terms of reference under which I operate are those which the Taoiseach outlined on 21 February 1989 when appointing a Deputy to Deputy Liam Lawlor's position. While the Taoiseach asserted in his speech today that I am satisfied with the terms of reference, I assure him that I have accepted the offer he made in his speech on that day to give full backing to the committee and should the terms of reference prove inadequate that we can come back to the House to have them expanded. I accepted that undertaking from the Taoiseach and, if it is necessary to do that, I intend to ask him and the House for additional powers.

The committee have invited certain people from the Sugar Company, and the former clerk of the committee to appear before us and it would be unfair of me to enter into a debate while that investigation is continuing.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I now call the Taoiseach.

[494]Mr. McDowell:  I thought the Taoiseach was going to start at 4.45 p.m. but perhaps he does not want me to speak.

The Taoiseach:  I am always prepared to let the small man pull his chestnuts out of the fire.

Mr. McDowell:  In the few minutes that remain to me I want to attempt to gather together the threads of a very ragged cloth which has been thrown around this House today. This debate was brought about by a series of unprecedented circumstances in the history of the House. It was suggested by the then Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies that he had no conflict of interest in remaining as chairman of a committee investigating the Sugar Company while at the same time being a director of a company that was trying to acquire it. He suggested there was no conflict of interest and he said so in public. We said he was wrong, he said he was right. He went to the Taoiseach and was told to get off the committee.

Mr. Cowen:  Were you there?

Mr. McDowell:  The Taoiseach has told the House that he merely discussed the matter.

Mr. Davern:  What about your own brother-in-law? He is on the health board and he is a doctor. Is that a conflict of interest? He knows the roads of Cashel.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy McDowell to continue without interruption.

Mr. McDowell:  I remind Deputy Davern that I know who my relatives are.

Mr. Davern:  Are they in Fine Gael?

[495]Mr. McDowell:  Today, Deputy Lawlor has finally admitted that he was given advice by the Taoiseach that he should quit his position. It required the Taoiseach's advice to tell him what was obvious to anybody in the circumstances: that it is unacceptable for a Member of this House to serve as chairman of a committee which is investigating a State-sponsored body while, at the same time, being a member of a board of directors of a company which is trying to acquire the State-sponsored body.

Mr. Lawlor:  I stepped down a week earlier.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy Lawlor has claimed to be exonerated. I find him convicted.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  The facts show that, quite different from the version he was trying to purvey in public and this House, he was——

Mr. Lawlor:  On a point of order, in the Chair's opinion is it correct that a Member of this House should state that another Member has been convicted? Is that in order?

An Ceann Comhairle:  On recollection, I think the Deputy will reconsider that appendage.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  Adjudicated in the wrong.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  The fact is that Deputy Lawlor has pretended in public and to this House by his remarks here today that he, as a non-executive director of a substantial public company, was unaware of a major policy initiative of that company for what his own chief executive [496] has described as a number of months. I emphatically reject that account. It is not correct. It is asking too much of our credulity to accept that that is the case.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  The Minister for Agriculture and Food asked us in this House to accept that he was unaware of Deputy Lawlor's directorship of this company. I reject that as untrue. It cannot be.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  If he is a Minister for Agriculture and Food at all, if he has any concern with his portfolio——

A Deputy:  Did you ever see a heifer in calf?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  If he is a Minister for Agriculture and Food at all, if he has any concern for his portfolio, he must have known that Deputy Lawlor was a member of the board of one of the largest agri-businesses in this country. That fact remains clear to everybody in this House. The Minister's pretended lack of knowledge simply does not wash with us.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  It has been suggested in this House that the Minister's involvement in this matter was entirely tangential and peripheral.

A Deputy:  What?

Mr. McDowell:  Yes, I know you do not understand the words, but you need not tell us.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  The Minister did not understand——

[497](Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Mr. McDowell:  The Minister said he did not understand the significance of questions put to him, that he did not understand, or was slow on the uptake in relation to the inferences which were obviously there to be drawn. You may be slow on the uptake, Minister, but you are not that slow. You are well aware and intimately acquainted with the interest of the Goodman organisation in the Sugar Company, and you took positive steps to further that interest.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  I say the same about the Taoiseach. It is stretching credibility to the utmost point for the Taoiseach to tell this House that he was unaware of the interest of the Goodman group in the Sugar Company.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  He did not say this morning that he was unaware, and I do not believe that he was unaware. I believe the Taoiseach was informed by the chairman of the Sugar Company and by nobody else that the Goodman group was interested in taking an interest in the Sugar Company.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order.

Mr. McDowell:  The Taoiseach was accordingly aware of the split role that Deputy Lawlor was playing in this matter, first as chairman of the committee and, secondly, as an executive of the company. If we have any yardstick to go by it perhaps is the credibility that is given by Deputy Lawlor's own colleagues in his own party to what he has said and done in this matter. I stand quite happy [498] by the judgment that was formed on his behaviour by his own colleague, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, that he is not a non-executive director, but a chief protaganist and promoter of the policies of this company and as in other matters including the Nigerian oil deal he has never been shy in coming to Government with proposals to privatise assets of this State.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. McDowell:  I do not accept for one minute that a person in his circumstances——

Mr. D. Gallagher:  A chief protoganist — raise that one outside of the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Order. A point of order from Deputy Lawlor.

Mr. Lawlor:  Could I ask Deputy McDowell to put these matters on the record of the House? The innuendos the Deputy is making should be documented for us so that we can factually deal with these allegations.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle:  The time has come to call on the Taoiseach.

Mr. N. Treacy:  Innuendo is easier.

The Taoiseach:  I have 15 minutes, but I do not really need them. Three or four minutes will do so I will just put everybody on notice that this debate will collapse as has the case put forward particularly by the Progressive Democrats. We can all agree that this greatly hyped up controversy has fallen flat — a pricked balloon, whatever one likes to call it. It has collapsed pathetically around the ears of those who instigated it. Certainly nothing has emerged today which has not been rehashed over and over again particularly by Deputies Des O'Malley and McDowell and by certain [499] correspondents in the media. It is interesting that as the debate developed its whole thrust shifted from the Sugar Company to the Goodman group. It just shows, and confirms again for the rest of us, that some of the Opposition Deputies, having totally despaired of making any sort of impact in their attacks on Government policy, are now casting around desperately to try to find some sort of base allegations to hurl against this Government. I deplore this. It is sad when this House starts to drag into our debates and our affairs the operations and affairs of private individuals and companies outside of the House.

We are faced with a major task of economic recovery. There is widespread agreement in that regard among all Members. We will only bring down unemployment and end emigration if we get economic activity, if we get business activity and if we get economic business projects underway and if we get an opportunity to create employment. I am absolutely satisfied — I am a fair while in this House and have seen this sort of thing happen before — that one of the most seriously detrimental things one can do to the prospects of economic recovery, is to engage in this sort of debate. It is wrong and irresponsible to try to use the sort of situation we have here as nothing more than a political stick with which to beat the Government of the day.

The debate shifted around today and we have had a fairly deplorable attack, not on Food Industries which apparently was the company interested in and involved with Irish Sugar, but with the Goodman organisation and the beef industry. Certain allegations were made about irregularities in exports. There have been not alone in this country but in all EC countries irregularities in exports from time to time particularly in areas where there are export refunds, but my opinion is that in so far as any irregularities have emerged in this area over recent years, they have all been subject [500] to parliamentary questions in this House and have been dealt with.

Our Department of Agriculture and Food and the Commission work in close co-operation and in harmony, together with our revenue authorities and our Garda authorities, to follow up every allegation that is made of irregularities and deal with them and have them satisfactorily resolved. I do not think these sort of allegations should be just thrown around loosely in this way in a debate like this. I think it is a very serious matter and I do not think it is of benefit to anybody.

I agreed with Deputy Desmond about one thing, through he did not give me full credit for what I said in my opening remarks this morning. I did, in my opening remarks this morning talk about the position of the workforce in Thurles and about the need for us all to support the board of the Sugar Company in their efforts to put new industries in place in Thurles to help that workforce. That is probably one of the most important things in this whole debate. We should concentrate now on two things, first, supporting the board of the Sugar Company in their efforts to make that company not just viable but financially strong and competitive so that it can meet the challenges which we all know it will face in a few short years time. As Deputy Desmond pointed out this morning — and again I agree with him — £12 million profit is nothing in that context. The Irish Sugar Company has an enormous job to do to generate out of its own resources, if possible, the capital it needs to put its own house in order and also to invest in these new projects. There are excellent projects coming onstream for Thurles to absorb the workforce of the former Thurles factory. I hope that this debate and all this carry-on by the Opposition Deputies, and particularly by the Progressive Democrats, will not have any detrimental spin-off effect on that operation; if it has, the responsibility rests fairly and squarely with them.

[501](Interruptions.)

A Deputy:  Talk to your own backbenchers.

Mr. McDowell:  Deputy O'Kennedy is your Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy McDowell.

The Taoiseach:  I do not blame Deputy McDowell——

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach:  I have seen fairly nasty pieces of work come into this House in my long career here and you are aiming well towards becoming one of the best——

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach:  ——and wagging a threatening finger at me, Deputy McDowell, cuts no ice. I was about to say that I do not particularly blame you for your irresponsibilities but I do blame your colleague, Deputy Des O'Malley, because he has Government experience and he was involved in these sort of situations time and time again. Deputy Des O'Malley conducted secret confidential negotiations time and time again right across the political spectrum——

(Interruptions.)

The Taoiseach:  You would not even [502] report them to your Government never mind to this House. A Cheann Comhairle, as I said I think this has been a far-fetched piece of nonsense. There is nothing in this whole affair to justify any of the heat that has been generated and there is certainly nothing to justify the establishment of an expensive judicial tribunal. This Government are grappling successfully with the economic problems of this country. This Government, in all their business and in all their handling of the affairs of this country, will conduct themselves and adhere to the highest possible standards of public administration.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  That is beyond contradiction in regard to this or any other affair. What I hope will happen is that the committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Liam Kavanagh, in whom we all have confidence, will follow its investigation through to conclusion and in due course report to this House and if there is any further action to be taken we can take it. In the meantime, I hope the Irish Sugar Company will be given the freedom now, without any hassle and without any of these allegations, to get on with its work for its beet growers, for the users of its products and for the workforce for whom it is about to provide — I hope successfully — a whole new range of industries in the town of Thurles.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 18.

Abbott, Henry.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Andrews, David.
Barrett, Michael.
Brady, Gerard.
Brady, Vincent.
Brennan, Matthew.
Brennan, Séamus. [503]Dempsey, Noel.
Dennehy, John.
de Valera, Síle.
Doherty, Seán.
Ellis, John.
Fahey, Frank.
Fitzgerald, Liam.
Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
Flood, Chris.
Flynn, Pádraig.
Foley, Denis.
Gallagher, Denis.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
Haughey, Charles J.
Hilliard, Colm Michael.
Jacob, Joe.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Kitt, Tom.
Lawlor, Liam.
Lenihan, Brian.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Leyden, Terry.
Lynch, Michael.
Browne, John.
Burke, Ray.
Byrne, Hugh.
Calleary, Seán.
Conaghan, Hugh.
Coughlan, Mary T.
Cowen, Brian.
Daly, Brendan.
Davern, Noel. [504]Lyons, Denis.
Mooney, Mary.
Morley, P.J.
Nolan, M.J.
Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West).
O'Dea, William Gerard.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Ned.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Leary, John.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Paddy.
Reynolds, Albert.
Roche, Dick.
Smith, Michael.
Stafford, John.
Swift, Brian.
Treacy, Noel.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Seán.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G.V.

Níl

Clohessy, Peadar.
Colley, Anne.
Cullen, Martin.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Gibbons, Martin Patrick.
Harney, Mary.
Keating, Michael.
Kemmy, Jim.
Kennedy, Geraldine.
McCartan, Pat.
McCoy, John S.
McDowell, Michael Alexander.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Molloy, Robert.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
O'Malley, Pat.
Quill, Máirín.
Wyse, Pearse.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and D. Ahern; Níl, Deputies Colley and Kennedy.

Question declared carried.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.10 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 March 1989.

31.

Mr. Spring:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will provide funds to Kerry County Council to carry out a building programme to ensure that no dwelling houses in County Kerry will remain without bathrooms and toilet facilities.

[438]Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I assume the Deputy is referring to local authority dwellings. The responsibility for the management and maintenance of such dwellings lies with the council. Last December, I approved their proposal to fund from internal housing capital receipts a programme for the provision of bathrooms to rural cottages which lack this facility. In addition, I have provided £245,000 to date to Tralee UDC under the remedial works scheme for the major refurbishment of pre-1940 houses at Mitchell's Crescent.

32.

Mr. Gibbons:  asked the Minister for the Environment whether he has investigated the cost effectiveness of further privatisation of services and housing maintenance in local Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The major capital services of local authorities are for the most part carried out by private contractors following the normal public competitive tendering process. The question of using private firms for carrying out day to day local authority services would of course be a matter in the first instance for the local authorities themselves and would arise in the context of the local authorities' consideration of the most cost effective manner of providing these services.

33.

Mr. Sherlock:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will outline the progress made to date in implementing the provisions of the Housing Act, 1988 in regard to the provision of accommodation for homeless persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The provisions of sections 2 and 10 of the Housing Act, 1988 in relation to homeless persons came into effect on 1 January 1989. In November 1988 I issued [439] guidelines to all housing authorities regarding the operation by them of the provisions of the Act, regarding homeless persons. The guidelines are comprehensive in their scope and set out the new powers available to housing authorities under section 10 of the 1988 Act the procedures they should put in place to deal with homeless persons. I am satisfied that the legislative changes and the finance made available by this Government, will unable steady progress to be made in resolving this social problem.

34.

Mr. J. Higgins:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will permit local authorities to put vacant local authority houses on offer to Irish emigrants who are resident abroad and who wish to return and reside permanently in this country.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The letting of a local authority house is a matter for the housing authority concerned within the terms of its approved scheme of letting priorities. Irish emigrants who are resident abroad and who wish to return and reside permanently in this country may be considered for housing accommodation by housing authorities on the foregoing basis.

35.

Mr. J. Bruton:  asked the Minister for the Environment the full annual cost of State support for housing including local authority building grants and loan subsidies and tax relief on house purchase loans; and if the overall effectiveness of the expenditure has been re-examined in the light of recent demographic trends.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I propose to circulate in the Official Report a summary statement of public expenditure on housing, for which my Department is responsible, for the [440] years 1987 and 1988. Taxation expenditures in relation to housing, such as mortgage interest relief, are a matter for the Minister for Finance. Expenditure in relation to housing costs under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is a matter for the Minister for Social Welfare.

The annual Estimates process undertaken by this Government in the past two years involved an unprecedentedly thorough re-examination of all areas of public expenditure, including housing, from viewpoints of need, effectiveness and efficiency. Of course, regard has been had to demographic and other relevant trends in these reviews.

Following is the statement.

1987 1988
£m £m
Capital Expenditure:
Local authority house building 77.3 35.5
Travellers (Group Housing and Sites) 2.7 3.5
Remedial Works 7.0 9.0
House Purchase and Improvement Loans 162.6 69.4
Private Housing Grants 115.9 75.7
Voluntary Housing 2.4 5.0
Other 1.7 2.1
Total Capital 369.6 200.2
Current Expenditure:
(a) Exchequer
Local Authority Housing Subsidy (1) 194.4 2.1
Mortgage Subsidy 25.5 23.3
Grant to Housing Finance Agency 9.0 5.3
Other 1.7 1.3
(b) Local Authority
Maintenance and Management of Local Authority Houses 80.0 75.0
Total Current (1) 310.6 107.0
Total Capital and Current (1) 680.2 307.2

Notes: (1) From 1 January 1988 the system of funding local authority housing by way of LLF loans and subsidy was replaced by a system of capital grants. The subsidy figures for 1987 and 1988 therefore are not comparable.

36.

Mr. J. Bruton:  asked the Minister for the Environment the reason section [441] 60 of the Civil Liability Act, 1961 which was passed by Dáil Éireann and which gives injured parties a cause of action against county councils for inadequate maintenance of roads, has never been brought into operation; and if he has any plans either to repeal the section or to bring it into operation.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The Government have decided that section 60 of the Civil Liability Act, 1961 should not be brought into operation because our road network is not yet sufficiently developed to justify the imposition of the additional obligation on road authorities. If section 60 were brought into force, it would place an additional financial burden on local authorities in defending and meeting claims for damages for non-feasance. This would divert resources from road development and simply result in a further deterioration in road conditions.

The Government will keep the question of bringing the section into force under regular review.

37.

Mr. McCartan:  asked the Minister for the Environment if, in view of the severe difficulties created for many families who purchased local authority houses which turned out to have seriously defective pre-fabricated chimneys and fireplaces, he will use the powers available to him under section 12 of the Housing Act, 1988 to pay the full cost of replacing these dangerously defective items; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  Under the terms of the remedial works scheme, the maximum level of grant assistance payable by my Department to local authorities in respect of eligible works to tenant purchased dwellings is 50 per cent. I have no proposals to vary the terms of the scheme.

[442]38.

Mr. Taylor:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he has received a request from Dublin County Council for the provision of boundary treatment of the western parkway motorway at Kingswood Heights and Kilnamanagh, Dublin 24 providing for a wall of three metres to (1) shield the estate from visual and noise pollution from traffic (2) have the wall constructed of a masonry type (3) have the area between the estate and the wall of the motorway road landscaped, banked and planted with trees and (4) allow the cost of this essential boundary treatment as a charge against road grants; his response to this request from Dublin County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The boundary treatment scheme originally submitted by Dublin County Council and approved by my Department provides for a 1.8m high wall at this location. This is the standard height of wall provided along the boundary of the motorway.

In October, 1988, proposals for additional boundary treatment on the lines referred to by the Deputy were received from the local authority. My Department considers that the extra cost of these proposals is not justified and accordingly the local authority has been informed that the extra cost would not be accepted as a charge against road grants.

39.

Mr. Farrelly:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the success or otherwise of the redesignation of urban renewal areas throughout the country; and if he will include Navan, County Meath as an urban renewal area.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  The urban renewal scheme has achieved considerable success. Apart from the Custom House Docks Area, it [443] has resulted so far in completed developments to a value of approximately £19 million, developments under construction to a value of approximately £35 million and developments still in planning to a value of some £100 million. The rate and extent of progress varies a good deal as between the 15 areas which have been designated for urban renewal purposes.

My Department is completing a detailed review of the urban renewal scheme in terms of developments completed, under way or in planning at end 1988. I will let the Deputy have a copy of the information involved when, as I expect shortly, it is fully compiled.

I have no immediate proposal to designate Navan for urban renewal purposes.

40.

Mr. McCoy:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement regarding protection of listed buildings; whether additional legislation should be enacted to further protect such buildings.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I have no proposal for new legislation in this area. The replies to Questions No. 30 of 3 February, 1988 and No. 61 of 9 March, 1988 outline the existing powers for the preservation of buildings which are available to local authorities under the Planning and Housing Acts. The Local Government (Planning and Development) (No. 2) Bill, 1988 and the Derelict Sites Bill, 1989, both currently before the Dáil, will further improve the powers of local authorities in this area.

41.

Mr. Keating:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the proper co-ordination of the publication of draft development plans which are at present prepared by local authorities at different times and sometimes without proper co-ordination [444] and co-operation between the local authorities involved; and if he intends to legislate for the proper enforcement of what is laid down in these plans.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I am not aware of any serious lack of co-operation and co-ordination between adjoining planning authorities in drawing up and adopting development plans. The fact that planning authorities do not carry out development plan reviews simultaneously does not in itself create any difficulties for co-operation or co-ordination.

Where a planning authority have prepared a draft development plan or variations of a development plan, a copy of the draft plan or draft variation must be sent to every planning authority whose area is contiguous to the area of the planning authority which prepared the draft. These planning authorities may, like any other body, make representations in relation to the draft plan or draft variation and prior to adoption of the plan, such representations must be taken into consideration.

Planning authorities have a duty in accordance with the provisions of section 22 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963 to take such steps as may be necessary for securing the objectives which are contained in the provisions of the development plan. The Planning Acts also contain a broad range of enforcement powers which are available to planning authorities to ensure the proper control of planning and development in their areas as set out in the policies and objectives of their development plans. I have no proposals to amend the law in this regard.

42.

Mr. Cullen:  asked the Minister for the Environment whether he intends changing the planning laws in order that future building projects and development by the State should be subject to the same planning laws and conditions as those of private individuals and be subjected to the same public appeal process.

[445]Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  As indicated in reply to Question No. 28 of 8 June, 1988, I intend to look at this matter when the next general Bill to amend the planning laws is being contemplated. However, I do not have any proposals at present to amend planning law in this regard.

43. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment when it is intended to give effect to proposals to broaden the representation of third level institutions in Seanad Éireann as provided for in the 7th Amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann passed in 1979.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I have no immediate proposals for change in the representation in the Seanad of third level educational institutions. The question of any change in this regard would be a matter for consideration in the context of a general review of the structures of third level education.

44.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for the Environment the total number of applicants for housing currently on local authority housing lists; the number of such lists as at 28th February, 1986, 1987 and 1988; and the total number of such applicants to whom housing will be offered by local authorities during 1989.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  Details of approved applicants for local authority housing are compiled showing the position as at 31 December each year. On this basis, the number of approved applicants was: 1985, 22,345; 1986, 20,637; 1987, 18,561.

Full returns for 1988 have not yet been received from all housing authorities but the number of approved applicants is expected to be in the region of 17,500.

I am not in a position, at this stage, to give an estimate of the number of first [446] time lettings which local authorities will make in 1989.

45.

Mr. Molloy:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will initiate EC proposals for right-hand driving in each member state.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I understand that the EC Commission, which is the appropriate body for initiating EC proposals, has no proposal on the lines indicated by the Deputy.

I do not propose to amend Irish legislation to provide for driving on the right, principally on road safety and cost grounds.

47.

Mr. McCoy:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he will make a statement on the environmental protection guidelines and conditions which are in force for any new industry applying for planning permission; the measures which will be taken to ensure that these shall be rigourously enforced; the penalties which will be imposed on the industry for failing to comply; and whether the industry in question will be liable to make good any environmental damage caused to the countryside by failure to comply with these conditions.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  Establishment of a new industry would require planning permission under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts and could also, depending on the nature of the industry, require licences under the Air Pollution Act, 1987 and the Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977, and a permit under the EC (Waste) Regulations. The environmental conditions appropriate to particular industrial developments fall to be determined in the context of these statutory controls.

These enactments contain enforcement provisions and provide for penalties [447] in respect of offences. The liability of industries for damage caused by failure to comply with conditions is primarily a matter for the courts. The Local Government (Water Pollution) Act, 1977 provides, however, that application be made to the District Court for an order directing a polluter to take specified measures to mitigate pollution and remedy its effects. Proposals to strengthen the law in this regard are contained in the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment Bill, 1989, which is before the Seanad at present.

48.

Mr. Keating:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he has had any discussions with State energy companies regarding the need to encourage a greater use of smokeless fuels; if he will give details of any plans these companies have to achieve this objective; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  Last November, I met representatives of Bord Gais Éireann, the ESB and Bord na Móna, as well as the other major fuel suppliers in the Dublin area, to impress on them the need for more aggressive promotion and marketing of available smokeless heating options. While I have no direct function in relation to the plans of State energy companies, I am satisfied that they have adopted a more positive approach to the promotion of smokeless options and will continue to do so.

49.

Mr. Gibbons:  asked the Minister for the Environment if he has any plans for the establishment of joint water authorities in vital regional areas who could be responsible for water pollution control, water supply, waste treatment and possibly elements of fishery protection and development.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I have no such plans. The functions [448] mentioned, with the exception of fisheries protection and development, are already the statutory responsibility of local authorities who are best placed to apply an integrated approach to water resources management.

50.

Mr. McCartan:  asked the Minister for the Environment the recommendation made by the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Stardust fire disaster which have not yet been implemented; if he will give the reasons for their non-implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 24 of the 25 November 1987 and the reply to Question No. 8 of the 25 June 1985. Apart from the few specific recommendations referred to in the latter reply which it was decided not to implement, the tribunal's recommendations represent a major input to Government policy on fire safety and the development of the fire services and have either been implemented or are being taken into account in that context.

51.

Mr. Quinn:  asked the Minister for the Environment the steps he has taken to establish the National Roads Authority on a statutory basis; if, in the interim, he will outline the administration and management procedures upon which he has decided to accelerate the national roads programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn):  I propose to introduce legislation to establish the National Roads Authority on a statutory basis as soon as possible.

I would refer the Deputy to the press statement of 20 July 1988 which sets out the Authority's functions in relation to the national roads programme. I have [449] informed the Authority that, pending enactment of the necessary legislation, the Authority will supervise the development programme for national roads, promote the case for private investment in these roads and develop proposals for loan based investment. The Authority will also promote the case for EC aid on the basis of the operational programme for roads which is being prepared by my Department for submission to the EC. Fifteen administrative staff and 13 professional staff of my Department are providing services to the Authority.

52.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Justice the procedure to be followed by the Garda Síochána where a search warrant is issued for a house but no persons are present when the search is proposed to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins):  This question is essentially a request for an interpretation of the law on the execution of search warrants and the provision of such interpretation does not come within the scope of my official functions.

53.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Justice whether communications between lawyer and client and between spiritual adviser and client are in all circumstances immune from interception, eavesdropping, or surveillance by the State; if not, the circumstances where such communications are not so immune; the safeguards in place in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins):  This question is essentially a request for an [450] interpretation of the law on the matters referred to and the provision of such interpretation does not come within the scope of my official functions.

54.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Justice whether the recent surveillance operation carried out on a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6 was a failure; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins):  The operation referred to was carried out by the Garda Síochána in pursuance of their responsibilities for the prevention and detection of crime and I am satisfied that it proved effective in relation to the achievement of this objective.

55.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Justice whether the Government has any plans to introduce a national identity card; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Collins):  The Government have no plans to introduce a national identity card.

56.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the number of employees, (c) the salary levels of the chief executive head of personnel and head of finance in each of the following State companies: (i) Bus Éireann, (ii) Aer Rianta and (iii) Bord Fáilte.

Minister for Tourism and Transport (Mr. Wilson):  The information requested by the Deputy is as follows:

Body Period Gross non-capital expenditure Number of employees Approved Salary levels
Bus Éireann 20.1.87 (date of incorporation) to 31.12.87 £72.404 million (excludes £1.533 million transferred to reserves) 2,100 (average full-time Chief Executive: £35,567-£39,700
[451][452]Aer Rianta Year ended 31.12.88 £78.2 million 1,667 Chief Executive:
(provisional) £35,567-£39,700
Bord Fáilte Year ended 31.12.88 £29.975 million (provisional) 241 Chairman:
£64,104*
Head of Personnel:
£33,832
Head of Finance:
£32,473

* This figure reflects the combination of the posts and duties of full-time chairman and director general and is personal to the present occupant who is serving on a fixed-term contract.

I have no statutory function in relation to salary levels for the grades of head of personnel or head of finance in Bus Éireann or Aer Rianta and, consequently, these are matters for the companies themselves.

57.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will give details of the revenue received by the Meteorological Service for each of the years 1985 to 1988, inclusive, in respect of weather forecast services supplied to local and national newspapers; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

58.

Mr. P. O'Malley:  asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will give details of the number of calls which were recorded for the years 1985 to 1988 inclusive, in respect of the automatic Telecom Éireann weather report telephone service; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Tourism and Transport (Mr. Wilson):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 58 together.

It would take a considerable number of man hours to extract the extra information sought and provide a further breakdown of information supplied in answer to a question from the Deputy on 7 February 1989 (Official Debates, Cols. 1478-1480). Receipts from newspapers are at present about £13,000 per annum.

Calls made to the automatic telephone weather service were as follows: 1985, 1,895,260; 1986, 1,928,394; 1987, 1,769,258; 1988, 1,999,471.

59.

Mr. Creed:  asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will outline the function of the former Land Commission officials on the conclusion of the survey carried out by the agricultural officers in the context of the extension of the disadvantaged area boundaries.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  The functions of the Land Commission inspectors in relation to the second part of the survey are to determine the potential stocking rate of each townland, to group townlands into homogenous areas are required by the basic directive, to assess the degree of handicap of such areas on the basis of their own findings and the data obtained in livestock agricultural officers in the first part of the survey, and for the information of the Government and EC Commission, to furnish concise written reports relating to the characteristics of each area submitted for designation or reclassification.

[453]60.

Mrs. Doyle:  asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if his attention has been drawn to problems arising in ram lambs from magnesium levels in certain ewe and lamb nuts; the monitoring which is done in such areas; and the regulations which control mineral and trace elements in ingredients in compounds.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  I am aware that an imbalance of mineral elements including magnesium in feedingstuffs can give rise to urinary calculi in ram lambs. This problem was highlighted some years ago when it became the practice to feed lambs indoor. The problem and its causes are now well known, and can be avoided with proper management.

Under the European Communities (Marketing of Feedingstuffs) Regulations, 1984, the only major mineral element which must be declared on feedingstuffs labels is magnesium, where the level of this element exceeds 0.4 per cent. The European Communities (Feedingstuffs) (Additives) Regulations, 1974 to 1987, specify permitted levels for trace elements.

Ongoing sampling and analysis of all feedingstuffs are carried out by my Department to ensure compliance with the above mentioned regulations.

61.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn:  asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive payment of a headage grant.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  The person named will be paid his 1988 cattle and equines headage, calf premium, suckler cow and special beef premium schemes grants when the pay directions involved are processed by computer.

62.

Mr. Cowen:  asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the outcome of an [454] application for a young farmer's installation aid grant made by a person (details supplied) in County Offaly; and when payment will be made.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  Before eligibility under the scheme of installation aid for young farmers can be determined, a detailed investigation of each application must be carried out. In this case the investigation has not yet been completed. If the applicant if found to be eligible, payment of the premium will be made in due course.

63.

Mrs. Doyle:  asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, in view of the fact that the £7 million grant aid for rationalisation was conditional on achieving increased throughput figures in terms of monthly kill, if he will give the combined kill of the companies which constitute Irish Country Bacon before rationalisation; and the figure of the kill at present.

Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. O'Kennedy):  The figure of £7 million represents the total cost of the proposed investment by Irish Country Bacon in a restructuring of its processing facilities. The grant aid involved in this investment is not conditional on the company achieving increased kill figures. The justification for supporting the project is threefold — an increase in added value products, increased exports and the fact that the project forms a key part of the Government's rationalisation and modernisation programme.

This company's kill rate is well in excess of the minimum figure of 6,000 pigs per week envisaged for the central slaughtering plants covered by the Government's programme.

64.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Social Welfare the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 2 has been [455] refused a rent allowance; if he will reconsider her position; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods):  Under the provisions of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, the determination of whether a rent supplement should be paid in any case is a matter for the health board. It is understood from the Eastern Health Board that the person concerned, whose rent is £40 a week, received a rent supplement for a period of ten months to December 1988. The supplement was discontinued on the grounds that she refused an offer of local authority housing made to her in September 1988. The person concerned appealed against the decision and her appeal was refused. However, her case is at present being re-examined in the light of further evidence which she has submitted in regard to her circumstances and she will be notified of the outcome by the health board.

65.

Mr. Abbott:  asked the Minister for Social Welfare when a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will have an appeal hearing before an appeals officer in relation to his disability benefit appeal.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods):  Payment of benefit to the person concerned was disallowed from 12 August 1988 following examination by a medical referee who expressed the opinion that he was capable of work. He appealed against the disallowance of benefit and was examined by a different medical referee on 8 December 1988 who also expressed the opinion that he was capable of work.

His appeal has been referred to an appeals officer for determination. The appeals officer may decide the case summarily or may consider that an oral hearing is necessary. If an oral hearing is to take place the person concerned will be informed when the final arrangements have been made.

[456]66.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Social Welfare if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford who is in receipt of disability benefit will be considered for invalidity pension; and, if so, when.

Minister for Social Welfare (Dr. Woods):  Invalidity pension is payable to insured persons who satisfy the contribution conditions and who are permanently incapable of work.

Arrangements are now being made to have the person concerned examined by a medical referee for determination of his entitlement to invalidity pension.

67.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Finance when a tax rebate will issue to person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if he will expedite the matter.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  The Revenue Commissioners have advised me that a cheque in settlement of his claim for repayment of tax on grounds of unemployment will be issued to the taxpayer in the near future. If the taxpayer remains unemployed, he may submit a further claim for repayment of tax deducted in the current year.

68.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Finance if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the number of employees, (c) the salary levels of the chief executive, head of personnel and head of finance in the ACC.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  The salary of the chief executive of the Agricultural Credit Corporation is within the pay range £41,049 — £47,568. The annual report and accounts of the Agricultural Credit Corporation sets out the details on the other matters which it is obliged to publish under the Companies Acts. It would be inappropriate for me to reveal additional information which [457] other financial institutions are not required to furnish.

69.

Mr. Cowen:  asked the Minister for Finance when a tax rebate will be paid to a person (details supplied) in County Offaly.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  The Revenue Commissioners have advised me that a refund of tax will be made to the taxpayer when a revised certificate of tax free allowances on a cumulative basis which will be issued shortly is put into operation by the payer of his retirement pension.

70.

Mr. J. Mitchell:  asked the Minister for Finance if a tax rebate will issue to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Reynolds):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the inspector of taxes has reviewed the taxpayer's income tax position for the years 1982-83 to 1985-86 and has arranged for refunds of £103.37 and £211.55 for the years 1982-83 and 1983-84, respectively.

The inspector has now written to the taxpayer for certain information to enable him to process the taxpayer's claims for the years 1984-85 and 1985-86.

71.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the number of employees, (c) the salary levels of the chief executive, head of personnel and head of finance in each of the following State companies:

(i) SFADCo, (ii) Córas Tráchtála and (iii) NET.

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. R. Burke):  Details of the gross non-capital expenditure and the number of employees in the case of SFADCo and [458] Córas Tráchtála are given in their latest published accounts which are available in the Dáil Library. As NET's first set of annual accounts will not be available until later this year, it is not possible to give their gross non-capital expenditure. The number of employees in NET is two full-time and one part-time. The salary levels of the chief executives as at 31 December 1988 are as follows. Córas Tráchtála, £35,355-£39,466; SFADCo, £37,410; NET, £26,000.

The salary level of the posts of head of personnel and head of finance is a matter for the day to day administration of the bodies concerned. With regard to NET, I should like to point out that the offices of heads of finance and personnel are filled by the chief executive.

72.

Mrs. Doyle:  asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce the countries which this country at present covers with the export credit guarantee system; the products which are covered for each of the countries; and the amount of export credit insurance for each product in each country currently being covered.

73.

Mrs. Doyle:  asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will give details of Ireland's exposure to date under export credit guarantees; the amount paid out for each product; the names of the products; and the name of each country of destination.

74.

Mrs. Doyle:  asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if he will give details of the process of application for export credit guarantees; the basis on which applications are considered; and the limit of exposure, if any, in any given year.

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. R. Burke):  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 72, 73 and 74 together.

The Insurance Acts, 1909 to 1988, enable the Minister for Industry and Commerce to assume liabilities in respect of export guarantees of up to a maximum [459] of £500 million at any one time. At end February 1989, the maximum liability was approximately £300 million.

The export credit insurance and finance schemes are administered by the Insurance Corporation of Ireland plc (ICI) as agent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The insurance scheme assists exports of Irish goods and services worldwide by providing exporters with protection against non-payment by foreign buyers. The finance scheme provides access to export credit finance from banks at preferential interest rates.

Applications for export credit insurance and finance are made to ICI. In line with normal underwriting practice the degree and conditions of cover are determined by market conditions in the buyer country, by the buyer's creditworthiness, and by the terms of the contract being insured. Export credit insurance is available for all countries listed on a published country gradings schedule which is provided to all policyholders. Applications for insurance for exports to countries not on the schedule are considered on a case by case basis. Under the terms of the agency agreement with ICI, ICI are delegated authority to underwrite export credit insurance without reference to me. However, very large export contracts and contracts in markets not on the published country gradings schedule are referred by ICI to my Department for approval.

Insurance cover is provided by way of either a comprehensive policy or specific policy. The comprehensive policy is intended to cover either all or a significant proportion of an exporter's business and is suitable for an exporter dealing with a large number of buyers in several markets and selling on short term credit usually of up to one year duration. The specific policy covers individual one-off type contracts, typically involving capital goods, exported on medium term credit of up to five years. An exporter with a comprehensive or specific policy of export credit insurance may also obtain low cost export credit finance from their bankers. Access to such finance is made possible [460] either by means of assignment of the exporter's insurance policy or by the provision of a guarantee to the appropriate bank.

Roughly £700 million worth of export turnover is insured annually under the scheme at present and to date approximately £5.25 billion of Irish exports have been insured under the scheme. There are about 450 companies employing some 40,000 people using the facilities available under the scheme.

Due to the large number of markets and products covered by the scheme, it is not possible to provide the detailed information sought in relation to the insurance cover in place by product and market. This information will vary from time to time according to the demand for cover in each market, the varying export orders and the varying credit periods. A single comprehensive policy covering a company's entire export turnover might cover 150 buyers in 15 markets. In addition ICI has, at present, approved credit limits in place for about 20,000 buyers in about 130 markets.

75.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for the Marine if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the number of employees, (c) the salary levels of the chief executive, head of personnel and head of finance in the Dublin Port and Docks Board.

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Daly):  The following is the information requested by the Deputy: (a) Gross non-capital expenditure in 1988 — £14.6 million; (b) Number of employees in 1988— 522; (c) The appropriate range of remuneration for the chief executive following report No. 29 of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector, and revised to take account of subsequent increases is £39,700 — £45,893. The salary levels of the head of personnel and the head of finance are matters between the board and the individuals concerned.

[461]76.

Mr. Creed:  asked the Minister for the Environment if it is proposed to reintroduce house improvement grants; and, if so, when.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Connolly):  No.

77.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for the Environment the amount of money which he has made available to Dublin Corporation in 1989 for bathroom extensions; the number of tenancy houses for which Dublin Corporation can provide bathrooms with this allocation; if he has received a request for additional funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Connolly):  The management, maintenance and improvement of their dwellings is the responsibility of local authorities. For this purpose they retain 100 per cent of their rental income as well as 40 per cent of the proceeds of sales of their dwellings. The improvement works scheme operated by the Department provides assistance to authorities by funding the type of work mentioned by the Deputy, by way of unsubsidised loans or the use of the authorities' internal capital receipts. The corporation's proposals for 1989 under the scheme were received this week in the Department and are being examined in the light of the funds available and the demands of authorities. A decision will be conveyed to the local authority as soon as possible.

79.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for the Environment if St. Joseph's Mansions, Dublin 1, where there are no bathrooms, was originally recommended to his Department by Dublin Corporation as a priority for refurbishment and scheduled for work to commence in 1989; and the present position in this regard.

[462]Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Connolly):  The corporation's allocation under the remedial works scheme for 1989 has almost doubled to £4.4 million, compared with last year and is for the refurbishment of six estates determined on the basis of the priority rating attached to them by the local authority. The demands for finance under the scheme are such that it is not possible at present to fund other proposals, including St. Joseph's Mansions, which had received a lower priority rating by the local authority.

80.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Labour if a person (details supplied) who was an employee of a travel firm which collapsed will be reimbursed for unpaid wages; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern):  Under the provision of the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act, 1984, an employee who is fully insurable under the Social Welfare Acts, is entitled to be paid outstanding wages, holiday pay and other entitlements from the redundancy and employers' insolvency fund, subject to certain limits and conditions, if the employer is in liquidation or receivership.

I understand that the employer firm in this case has not been put into either liquidation or receivership but that it may be put into voluntary liquidation shortly. If and when the firm is put into liquidation, the employee may claim payment of her outstanding wage and holiday pay entitlements by completing form IPI and forwarding it to the liquidator of the firm who should, in turn, apply to my Department for the funds to pay the employee. Any application will be dealt with by my Department as quickly as possible.

81.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Health if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the [463] number of employees and (c) the salary levels of the Chief Executive, Head of Personnel and Head of Finance in the Voluntary Health Insurance Board.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  The gross non-capital expenditure of the Voluntary Health Insurance Board was £150.098 million for the year to 29 February 1988.

The number of employees was 337 on 28 February 1989.

The salary of the general manager of the Voluntary Health Insurance Board is governed by the terms of the Report of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. The approved salary scale at present is £25,046-£27,780.

The salary levels of personnel other than the general manager are internal management matters for the board.

82.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Health if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 1 has received appropriate hospital treatment as directed by the District Justice in the Dublin District Court on 1 March 1989.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  I am having the matter investigated and I will communicate with the Deputy.

83.

Mr. Howlin:  asked the Minister for Health, in view of the fact that the number of AIDS cases has doubled in the past year and is expected to double again in 1989, if he has satisfied himself that the deferral until October/November 1989 of the opening of the new out-patient facilities in St. James's Hospital, Dublin 8 is satisfactory; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  While I accept that current out-patient facilities are inadequate I am not aware of any person with AIDS being denied treatment at St. James's.

[464] The many categories of patient attending St. James's will in the near future be able to avail of the excellent up-to-date facilities in the new out-patient department. Every effort is being made by the hospital authorities to bring these new facilities into operation at the earliest possible date.

84.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Health the cost of providing maternity services in 1987 in the Republic of Ireland; if he will give a break-down of these costs on the following basis: (a) the maternity and infant care scheme, (b) ante-natal and post-natal care provided by public health nurses, (c) maternity hospitals and units, (d) VHI payments for hospital maintenance, (e) obstetrician and anaesthetists' fees and (f) other domiciliary maternity services.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  The total cost of maternity services cannot be estimated since, as detailed below, the maternity element of certain general services cannot be isolated. The estimates sought in so far as they are available, are as follows for 1987:

(a) Fees paid under Maternity and Infant Care Scheme were £1.1 million.

(b) The cost of the ante-natal and post-natal care element of the public health nursing service cannot be isolated.

(c) The total gross expenditure by the six public maternity hospitals (Coombe, Rotunda, National Maternity Hospital, Erinville, Limerick Maternity Hospital and Waterford Maternity Hospital) was £34.1 million. This includes the cost of gynaecology and paediatric services provided in these hospitals. It is not possible to isolate the cost of maternity services in general hospitals.

(d) VHI payments for maternity care under its Hospital Benefit came to £7.3 million in the year ending 29 February 1988.

(e) VHI payments for obstetricians' and anaesthetists' fees in maternity cases under its Fees Benefit came to £1.95 million in the year ending 20 February 1988.

(f) No information available.

[465]85.

Mr. Abbott:  asked the Minister for Health when the new mortuary-autopsy facility will be opened in Mullingar General Hospital, County Westmeath.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  It is anticipated that the new mortuary-autopsy facility will open at the end of this month.

86.

Mr. Abbott:  asked the Minister for Health if he will give details of the equipment supplied for the commissioning of phase 1 of Mullingar General Hospital, County Westmeath, in 1988; and the cost thereof.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  A grant of £900,000 has been approved to enable the Midland Health Board to equip the phase I development. It would not be feasible to give full details of the equipment purchased as any such list would run to thousands of items.

87.

Mr. Abbott:  asked the Minister for Health if he will give details of the developments to date in the planning of phase 2 of the extension of Mullingar General Hospital, County Westmeath.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  Approval has been given to the Midland Health Board to proceed to stages 2 and 3 of planning of the Phase 2A development of the hospital and the shelling out of Phase 2 B. A small monitoring group which includes representatives from my Department has been established to oversee this development. The monitoring group had its first meeting on 8 March 1989.

88.

Mr. Gregory:  asked the Minister for Health the in-patient cost for persons [466] involved in road traffic accidents of one day in a public ward in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  Under the Health (Amendment) Act, 1986, charges are made for treatment arising out of road traffic accidents in cases where the patient is entitled to receive compensation from a third party arising out of the accident. These charges are only payable when the compensation has been received by the patient.

The present charge for public ward treatment in Beaumont Hospital in such cases is £218 per day, which is based on the average daily cost of public ward treatment in that hospital.

89.

Mr. Durkan:  asked the Minister for Health the charges, if any, which are levied and the basis on which they are levied on patients who are medical cardholders and/or old age pensioners in long/short stay accommodation in the various hospitals operated by the Eastern Health Board; whether there is a discrepancy in the manner and amount of such charges as operated by different health boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Health (Dr. O'Hanlon):  Medical card holders who are in receipt of hospital in-patient services as public patients are not normally liable for a charge.

Persons in receipt of in-patient services for at least thirty days within a twelvemonth period may be liable for charges under the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations, 1976 as amended by the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations, 1987. While these charges do not apply to persons with full eligibility, a person categorised as such while living at home may in certain circumstances be regarded as outside that [467] category while maintained in an institution.

Persons who are in receipt of institutional assistance in long-stay hospitals and homes may also be required to contribute towards the cost of their maintenance. The basis for these charges is the Institutional Assistance Regulations, 1954 as amended by the Institutional Assistance Regulations, 1965. Medical card holders are also liable to make this contribution. As far as possible these charges are made from the date of admission.

The amount to be contributed in any particular case is a matter for the appropriate health board. In deciding the amount to be contributed health boards have regard to the person's circumstances. Allowance is made for any outgoings the person may have e.g. dependent relatives, rent, mortgage, insurance premiums etc, and a reasonable amount is left to the person for personal needs. The following is the general procedure in the different health boards: Eastern, South Eastern and Midland, 75 per cent of income, after out-goings, is taken and 25 per cent is left to the patient for personal needs; Southern Health Board, 80 per cent for maintenance, after out-goings — 20 per cent for personal needs; North Western Health Board, patient retains £7.50 a week; Western Health Board, Patient retains £8.50 a week; North Eastern Health Board, Patient retains £12 a week; Mid-Western Health Board, Patient retains £13 a week.

The above figures are general guidelines. Each individual case is assessed separately. The actual amount allowed to a patient for personal needs varies depending on the circumstances of the individual.

Note: Patients receiving treatment arising from a road traffic accident may be liable for special charges if they are entitled to receive compensation from a third party. I would refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 149 on 31 [468] January 1989 in which the basis for these charges is explained.

90.

Mr. Creed:  asked the Minister for Education the number of new starts in (a) primary school buildings, (b) post-primary school buildings and (c) third-level education in each of the following years: (i) 1985, (ii) 1986, (iii) 1987, (iv) 1988 and the proposed number for 1989.

Minister for Education (Mrs. O'Rourke):  The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. The compilation of the information requested would take some time but I have asked my Department to forward it to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

91.

Mr. Yates:  asked the Minister for Energy if he will give details of (a) the gross non-capital expenditure, (b) the number of employees and (c) the salary levels of the Chief Executive, Head of Personnel and Head of Finance in Bord Gáis Éireann.

Minister for Energy (Mr. Smith):  In 1987, Bord Gáis Éireann incurred non-capital expenditure of £60.294 million. Including subsidiary companies, the number of permanent employees at end 1987 was 900.

Under Section 16 (3) of the Gas Act, 1976 the remuneration of the chief executive of Bord Gáis Éireann is subject to the approval of the Minister for Energy given with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The remuneration of the chief executive is currently £45,963 per annum. The remuneration of the remaining officers and servants of the BGE is a matter for the board.