Wednesday, 30 October 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Spring: asked the Taoiseach if, in view of the public anxiety arising from reports in The Sunday Business Post of  Sunday last which are in direct conflict with his statements in Dáil Éireann last week, he will make a statement on the matter with a view to correcting any inaccurate or untrue statements made by him in Dáil Éireann; and if he intends to apologise to the House for misleading it.
Mr. J. Bruton: asked the Taoiseach if, at any time, he discussed with Mr. Bernie Cahill the question of an instruction by Mr. Cahill, in his capacity as Chairman of Irish Sugar, to the effect that certain payments be made to John S. O'Connor & Company, Solicitors.
Mr. J. Bruton: asked the Taoiseach if he met Mr. Bernie Cahill to discuss the Irish Sugar business on 26 May 1990 or on any other day or date; if he will outline in respect of each such meeting (1) its location, (2) purpose and (3) outcome; and if he will further outline the involvement of the Minister for Agriculture and Food in each of these meetings.
Mr. J. Bruton: asked the Taoiseach if he had a phone conversation with Mr. Bernie Cahill of Irish Sugar on 27 May 1990 during which the Goodman decision not to go ahead with the meat processing plant on the site of the Irish Sugar factory at Tuam was discussed; and, if so, the purpose and outcome of the conversation.
Mr. J. Bruton: asked the Taoiseach if he proposes to take legal action to have The Sunday Business Post correct any aspect of its news story entitled “Comerford to tackle Cahill” of 27 October 1991 and in particular to correct its allegation that he discussed the appointment of advisers to Irish Sugar for that company's privatisation at a meeting with Mr. Bernie Cahill on 26 May 1990.
Proinsias De Rossa: asked the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to a report in The Sunday Business Post 27 October 1991 which claims that he had a meeting with the then Chairman of the Irish Sugar Company, Mr. Bernie Cahill, on 26 May, 1990 at which matters relating to the privatisation of the company were discussed; if he will confirm that this meeting took place; how he can reconcile The Sunday Business Post report with the statements he made in Dáil Éireann in reply to parliamentary questions on Wednesday, 23 October 1991 when he denied that any such meeting took place; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I wish to repeat my categorical rejection of the suggestion made last Tuesday, 22 October 1991, in this House that I had meetings with the Chairman of Greencore at which I suggested that NCB and John S. O'Connor and Company Solicitors be appointed for the privatisation of Greencore.
This exchange with Deputy Spring took place in the middle of a series of supplementary questions being addressed to me by Deputy Joe Sherlock when Deputy Spring interrupted me and the subsequent remark should be read in the context of the cross-fire which ensued.
I did not say as is now being suggested that I had no meetings with Mr. Bernard Cahill, Chairman of Greencore. What I  said was that no meeting of the kind suggested by Deputy Spring took place.
Last Tuesday in the Dáil when I said no meetings or no such meetings had taken place I was stating that the specific type of meeting alleged by Deputy Spring never took place; nothing else. I invite the House to examine the record for Tuesday 22 October 1991. The relevant exchanges are in two separate parts. The first part reads as follows:
Mr. Spring: May I put it to the Taoiseach that there is a grave inconsistency between his treatment of Mr. Smurfit in Telecom, Mr Paircéir in the Custom House Docks and the tolerance shown to Mr. Cahill and Mr. Desmond in their chairmanships at that time? May I further put it to the Taoiseach that he had meetings with the chairman of Greencore at which he suggested that NCB stockbrokers and Mr. John S. O'Connor and Company, Solicitors, would be appointed for the privatisation of Greencore and that as a consequence of that meeting he is in no position to take any action in relation to Mr. Cahill's position?
The Taoiseach: I reject that with contempt. That is totally untrue and it does the Deputy no credit to make this sort of unfounded allegation. I suggest to him on that score that he too await the outcome of the present investigations when he will find——
I believe it is clear from the totality of this passage that what I was rejecting with contempt was not the fact that I had a meeting or meetings with Mr. Cahill but the unfounded allegation that I had sought to influence the Chairman of the company in any way as to the choice of its advisers for privatisation. This is fully  confirmed by the latter part of the exchanges which went as follows:
That exchange clearly indicates that I was asserting that no meeting of the kind Deputy Spring had suggested, that is a meeting at which I made the type of proposal to the Chairman about advisers, ever happened. “No such meeting” was the phrase I used.
I would also like to observe that, despite what has been claimed, nothing that appeared in The Sunday Business Post contradicts my statement to the Dáil. The article in that paper did not allege that I made any proposal to Mr. Cahill about the appointment of advisers to the company.
I did have meetings with Mr. Bernard Cahill, Chairman of Greencore. One of them was held in May 1990, when Mr. Cahill came to my home on his own initiative for a general briefing on the company's plans for privatisation and the many benefits that would accrue to the State and the industry.
At this meeting I put forward views on two issues only. These were matters of concern to me and which I felt were in the public interest. The first was my concern that the workers of the company and the beet growers supplying the company should be given special treatment in the allocation of shares in the new company. The second was my concern that a commitment made by the Irish Sugar Company to the people of Tuam to put up an investment of £2 million to support an industrial project in Tuam would be adhered to.
At another meeting held in my office, which was also attended by the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Labour, the question of trade union representation on the new board was discussed.
My understanding is that, at the time I was being briefed by the Chairman, well in advance of privatisation, Mr. Comerford was briefing the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour, as part of the company's preparations for privatisation. I would be interested to hear if the two parties confirm this.
It was my duty as head of the Government to be fully informed about a matter of such major importance as the privatisation of one of our principal and more important semi-State commercial companies. I reject any suggestion that I should not have had such meetings or that there was any impropriety in having them. There was no secrecy about the meetings I had with the Chairman of Greencore. I had no doubt at that time that the board of Irish Sugar were aware of them.
I reject the suggestion made on RTE Radio this lunchtime by the Fine Gael Leader, Deputy Bruton, that there was any lack of liaison on the matter of the privatisation of the Sugar Company between myself and other members of the Government concerned, including the Minister for Finance. The principal issues were discussed at Government on several occasions. The criticism made by the representative of the Minister for Finance this morning at the EGM about lack of consultation by the board referred entirely to the transactions concerning Sugar Distributors Holdings, and had nothing whatever to do with the process of privatisation.
I see all this as nothing more than part of the concentrated campaign of personal attacks on my integrity which has been carried on now over a considerable period. Meetings that I held and actions that I took in the normal performance of my duties as Head of Government are now being retrospectively attacked as  suspicious or improper without the slightest justification.
The approach seems to be that as Taoiseach I should sit in my office in some kind of splendid isolation, meeting no one, hearing nothing, discussing nothing. In one newspaper this morning there is a headline: “Haughey may admit meeting Cahill”. Things have now got to the stage where, apparently, the head of the Government must not even meet the Chairman of a State company. As I said in the confidence debate, to suggest, as has now become the practice with a number of Deputies in this House, that there is something wrong with such contacts or something improper about them is completely irresponsible.
I wish to repeat now what I said to Deputy Spring on Tuesday, 22 October. The affairs of Irish Sugar are being thoroughly investigated by two inspectors appointed by the High Court. I am confident that the report will show that I had no involvement of any kind in the affairs which have caused so much public disquiet. I believe the House should await that report.
Finally, Ceann Comhairle, I wish to state to you and through you to the House, that I have never misled this House and that I did not intend to do so on this occasion and that any fair and reasonable interpretation of the record will confirm that I did not do so.
An Ceann Comhairle: I called the questions in that order. There was a number of questions before me; six of those questions were in the name of Deputy John  Bruton, the leader of the main Opposition party, and I chose to call him first.
Mr. Spring: For the last number of years, a Cheann Comhairle, if questions are submitted first, irrespective of whether they are from the Leader of The Workers' party, the Leader of Fine Gael or myself, they are called in that order. I merely make that point.
Mr. J. Bruton: Would the Taoiseach not agree that in his answers to questions here in the House, last Tuesday, he proved himself to be either grossly incompetent, deliberately deceptive or downright deceitful? May I ask the Taoiseach if he applies the same standards in regard to the truthfulness of answers to questions to himself as he and the Progressive Democrats applied to Deputy Lenihan when he was required to resign as Tánaiste? Do the same standards apply in regard to the Taoiseach as applied to Deputy Lenihan? Would the Taoiseach not agree that the point has now been reached where it is necessary in the interests not only of this country but also, for that matter, of his party, that he should resign as Taoiseach?
Mr. J. Bruton: Would the Taoiseach not agree that either he must resign or the Minister for Finance must resign in view of the statement made by the Minister for Finance on Sunday on radio that the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party no longer had confidence in the Taoiseach and that his——
The Taoiseach: I reiterate firmly and categorically that I did not attempt, nor did I mislead this House with regard to meetings with the Chairman of Greencore. As I said, taking the record as a whole, it is quite clear that what I was rebutting to Deputy Spring was any suggestion that a meeting of the kind he was talking about took place. I was saying that no meeting at which I had made an improper suggestion to the Chairman of Greencore ever took place. If one reads the record fully and takes all the combination of answers into account, a fair minded person would not come to any other conclusion. Also, it would be quite impossible for me to have attempted to suggest to this House that no meetings took place between me and Bernard Cahill the Chairman of Greencore. The meetings I had were well known to a  number of people. The meeting in my house was certainly known to the Chairman of Greencore and, I believe, to the board and to many others. The meeting I had with him in my office was attended by the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Labour. That was equally well known. The outcome of the discussions I had with Bernard Cahill, Chairman of Greencore, in connection with the privatisation were conveyed to the appropriate Government Departments. It is absurd to suggest that I would have attempted here last Tuesday to say to Deputy Spring that I had no meetings with Bernard Cahill.
Mr. Spring: I want to focus on one point. I have read and reread the record of the House of last Tuesday, 22 October, and I find it totally unacceptable that the Taoiseach would come in here today without one hint of an apology. From the evidence available it is my conviction that the Taoiseach had a strong obligation to come before this House to offer an apology not just to me but to the House and the people for what happened last week.
Mr. Spring: Twice, as the record shows clearly, on Tuesday, 22 October, the Taoiseach told me he had no meetings, that no such meetings took place. Every newspaper in the country and RTE, reported the Taoiseach's statements as a  denial that he had ever had meetings with Mr. Cahill. Given what was published in The Sunday Business Post——
Mr. Spring: ——and what was said by Mr. Cahill at the extraordinary general meeting of Greencore this afternoon, there is no other reasonable conclusion for this House to come to but that the Taoiseach lied in this House last week in reply to my question. I put it to the Taoiseach, without any particular personal pleasure——
An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Spring is circumventing the rule of the Chair. That kind of reflection should not be made on any Member of this House, especially when we have had a disclaimer from the Member concerned.
The Taoiseach: I totally reject again the allegation that there was any attempt on my part to mislead the House or that I did in any way mislead them. I refer  again to the record. At one stage I was replying——
The Taoiseach: ——to Deputy Sherlock and Deputy Spring interrupted me and said that the Taoiseach had no meetings. I said I had no meetings. The record clearly shows that I did not finish that sentence. Quite clearly what I was saying was, and the whole context bears out that, that I had no meetings of the kind suggested by Deputy Spring. That is further confirmed at the end of the exchange when I said that no such meetings took place.
The Taoiseach: I emphasise that no such meetings took place. Again, I go back to the question Deputy Spring put. It was quite clear that he wanted to suggest that a meeting took place at which I had made improper and wrong suggestions to the Chairman, Mr. Cahill, about the appointment of advisers. Any fair and reasonable interpretation will confirm that my whole reply was to the effect that no meeting or meetings of the kind Deputy Spring was referring to took place, and nothing else.
Proinsias De Rossa: The Taoiseach is certainly stretching credibility in trying to argue here that he did not mislead the House last week. Every Deputy who heard his reply went away from this House last week believing that no meetings took place between the Taoiseach and Mr. Cahill. The Taoiseach is now attempting to explain this by speaking of the content of this meeting. However, I put it to him that at the EGM of Greencore today Mr. Cahill indicated that, among other things discussed at that meeting on 22 October, NCB was discussed. Will the Taoiseach indicate how many such meetings took place between himself and Mr. Cahill, if on 22 October anyone else other than himself and Mr. Cahill was present, if the Minister for  Finance was present or if any private individuals were present at that meeting or at any other private meetings which were held between himself and Mr. Cahill because again Mr. Cahill said at the EGM today that several such meetings took place?
The Taoiseach: The only two matters on which I voiced a view at that meeting were the two I have mentioned — the question of shareholdings in the new company for the workers and the beet growers, and the question of the contribution to an industry in Tuam. I have not got a record of the EGM today and to that extent I am at a disadvantage. The reports I have indicate that Chairman Cahill, used the words that he had “a list of advisers selected by the company and that I did not in any way comment or make any suggestions or references to that list”.
Mr. J. Bruton: I would like to put it to  the Taoiseach that his reference to “no such meeting” was in the following context: he was asked by Deputy Spring last Tuesday week: “Secondly, may I ask the Taoiseach why he transferred a question I put down before the Dáil reassembled in relation to any meetings he had had with the Chairman of Greencore?” In reply to that question the Taoiseach said that no such meeting took place.
Mr. J. Bruton: In other words, his reference to “no such meeting” was in the context of a question by Deputy Spring in regard to any meetings on any subject that he had with the Chairman. Quite clearly this reliance by the Taoiseach on the use of the word “such” in this context only confirms that he was actually misleading the House.
Mr. J. Bruton: I am simply asking the Taoiseach if he is aware — and this relates directly to Question No. 3 — that the Chairman of Greencore confirmed  today that the issue of advisers was discussed at the meeting of the 26th. Could I ask the Taoiseach why he has chosen not to answer Question No. 2 that I put to him today? Could I ask him further why he has not answered that portion of No. 4 which relates to the involvement of the Minister for Agriculture and Food who is the Minister in charge of Irish Sugar at any of these meetings?
The Taoiseach: ——“I have no hesitation in giving the Deputy a categoric assurance that whatever meeting he has in mind” and then I asked him if it was the one with the Chairman of Greencore and Deputy Spring said yes. It was not meetings but a meeting with the Chairman of Greencore. Deputy Spring said “yes” and I said: “No such meeting took place”——
Mr. Spring: Can I ask the Taoiseach some questions in relation to the meeting that took place in his home? I assume, his home being in Kinsealy, that Mr. Cahill flew by helicopter from Cork to attend. Was that meeting arranged by an officer in the Taoiseach's Department? Second, has a record of that meeting been kept and will the Taoiseach produce that record? Does the Taoiseach accept, as Mr. Cahill has said at the EGM today, that the question of the appointment of financial advisers was discussed at that meeting and can he explain to this House why the Minister for Finance, who has ultimate responsibility for these affairs, and the Minister for Agriculture and Food, were either not invited or not wanted at that meeting? Will the Taoiseach not now, in view of all these circumstances, make the apology I asked for at the outset?
The Taoiseach: The meeting in my home took place. There was only the chairman and myself present. The meeting was at the request of the chairman who indicated to me that he wished to brief me fully on the proposed privatisation and the company's strategy in regard to it and to enlist my support as Head of the Government for the privatisation process. I am also reminding the House that at that time my information is that while chairman Cahill was briefing me, Mr. Comerford was briefing the leaders of Fine Gael and Labour.
The Taoiseach: I have indicated that my information about chairman Cahill's statement today was that he spoke about a list of the advisers for privatisation which had been selected by the company and there was no suggestion by the chairman that I made any reference, recommendation or suggestion with regard to that list of advisers, because I did not. I did not. The only two matters that I put forward views on at that meeting were the question of the shareholdings and the question of the contribution to an industry in Tuam. I want to repeat that it is absurd to suggest that I said to this House that I had no meeting with chairman Cahill because I could not have said that.
Proinsias De Rossa: If the Taoiseach expects us to believe that he did not deny  meeting the chairman of Greencore, why has he waited until today to correct the impression which was clearly reported in the newspapers since the question was replied to last week in this House? Will the Taoiseach indicate the date or the dates on which the various meetings he had with Mr. Cahill took place, specifically the date of the meeting at which the Minister for Labour and the Minister for Agriculture were present? I ask this because on 21 June, more than three weeks after the meeting that the Taoiseach had with Mr. Cahill and at which he discussed the privatisation of Greencore, the Minister for Agriculture and Food in this House at Question Time stated that the options regarding the future of Greencore were still being discussed by the Government, and it was not until 25 October that a Government announcement was made that Greencore was to be privatised and it was not until December that the Bill was published regarding the privatisation of Greencore?
Proinsias De Rossa: Yes, exactly, a Cheann Comhairle, and we are trying to find out the truth of what the Taoiseach is stating here regarding the matters discussed between himself and Mr. Cahill at a private meeting at which the Taoiseach says nobody else was present but at which Mr. Cahill claims NCB was discussed.
Proinsias De Rossa: I am simply putting the Taoiseach in the picture with regard to an anomaly in what he is stating. How could he be discussing the establishment of a new company for the privatisation of  Greencore when the Minister for Agriculture and Food was stating in this House three weeks later——
The Taoiseach: The meeting between myself, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Labour took place. I cannot give the exact date but it took place in my office before the legislation was introduced because we were discussing aspects of the legislation of vital importance. The chairman of Irish Sugar, as it was then, was at that meeting and the results of that discussion were helpful in enabling the whole process of privatisation to go through. I want to go back again to the meeting in my house. One of the main purposes of chairman's Cahill's approach to me was to secure my support as Head of the Government and specifically to suggest that, if at all possible, the legislation dealing with the privatisation should be brought in before the summer recess. That is one of the reasons why he sought the meeting in May. In the event that did not happen, but that is one of the reasons he approached me on that occasion.
The Taoiseach: I will answer the questions. These are questions addressed to me and I will answer them. I want to assure the House that the account I have given of the answers I gave last Tuesday is correct. There was no intention on my part to mislead the House. I did not  mislead the House and I reiterate again and again——
The Taoiseach: ——that it would have been absurd for me to attempt to suggest to Deputy Spring that I had no meetings with chairman Cahill because those meetings were well known to a wide variety of people.
Mr. Spring: I asked the Taoiseach in my last supplementary question if he would inform the House if the meeting was arranged by a civil servant of his Department, if a record of the meeting has been kept, if he would make that record available and why the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Agriculture and Food were either not asked or not in attendance at the meeting.
The Taoiseach: The chairman asked for a meeting with me as Head of the Government; I was quite prepared to accede that meeting to him as Head of the Government. I thought it entirely proper; I thought it necessary that I should hear his views on this very important subject. I cannot recall whether the meeting was arranged by anybody else but I believe from my recollection, the meeting was asked directly by chairman Cahill.
The Taoiseach: The meeting, as I said, was sought by chairman Cahill in order to fully inform me of the company's strategy and proposal for privatisation so that  I would be fully aware of them, and to urge my support for what was proposed.
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