Wednesday, 23 June 1999
Dáil Éireann Debate
10. Mr. Bell asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the discussions, if any, he has had with oil exploration companies generally and a company (details supplied) regarding the maximum possible use of Irish workers in exploration and development work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16004/99]
Dr. Woods: As I have previously stated in the House, arising from discussions which I had with the Irish Offshore Operators Association and SIPTU, I arranged for my Department to set up and facilitate discussions between representatives of the Irish Offshore Operators Association, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Offshore Suppliers Association on the utilisation of Irish resources and services in the offshore petroleum industry. These discussions are ongoing. I am anxious that Irish involvement is increased and sustained over the longer term.
However, I must again point out that responsibility with regard to employment of workers and the provision of services and related issues are strictly matters for the exploration companies and their contractors. There are no powers available to require undertakings in regard to jobs or the provision of services with the oil companies involved in offshore exploration activities. As I have explained before, the imposition of such conditions on licence holders is precluded under EU legislation in force since 1968, Regulation 1612/68, in relation to the freedom of movement of workers.
It is Government policy to ensure that the Irish economy benefits to the maximum extent possible from offshore exploration activities within the constraints of EU legislation. I have continually impressed on the Irish Offshore Operators Association and the individual operators that Irish workers and suppliers of goods and services must be given opportunities to participate in such activities and I will continue to do so.
Mr. Bell: I would not suggest that there should be restrictions within the EU. However, the information I have which was given in reply to a question on 8 December last by my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, is that effectively the company referred to could be in the process of employing not only workers outside Ireland but outside the EU. In the event of that happening, what steps would the Minister take? What he said today was a repetition of the information given to Deputy Rabbitte on 8 December. The Minister said on that occasion that discussions had taken place  between the Irish Offshore Operators Association and SIPTU and ICTU. What has happened in regard to those discussions? What positive reply or guarantee has the Department got from this company or other companies in a similar position?
Dr. Woods: The company is currently involved in a further appraisal. In that connection a number of workers have been involved in the Killybegs area. Up to about the middle of June Killybegs handled a number of ships – I do not have the exact number – and has been turning boats around very quickly. They are getting a good share of the work and they seem to be doing a good job. However, the port would require some development to meet future needs in that sector. The helicopter services are operating out of Donegal airport. Deputies on both sides of the House did their utmost to try to resolve disputes that arose last year and the trade unions did their utmost to help us in that situation. Unfortunately things did not work out and the location was changed to Ayre in Scotland. Currently the work is divided between Ayre and Killybegs. It appears that Killybegs will be able to handle a great deal of the business for the future and is getting increasing business from the company.
Mr. Bell: Will the Minister give the House an assurance that in the event of a large proportion of the workers concerned being non-EU or EU nationals they will be subject to the same conditions of employment and that the payment of taxes, social welfare contributions and so on will be subject to Irish law?
Dr. Woods: They have to comply with EU regulations. The salaries and wages are those that apply within this region. The company has also taken on 20 people to work in office services onshore because the signs are good and it is making plans for the future.
Dr. Woods: Some of them will be based in the head office in Dublin and others will work in places throughout the State where it plans to increase its developments. We want to encourage the maximum volume of business in Ireland.
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