Committee on Finance. - Minerals Company Bill, 1944—Second Stage.

I move:

That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

As the House is aware, there are at present two State-financed mining companies—one the Slievardagh Coalfield Company and the other the Minerals Exploration and Development Company. The object of this Bill is, broadly speaking, to amalgamate the two companies and to make suitable financial provisions for the continuing company. I may say that, as a preliminary to the introduction of this Bill, an effective amalgamation has already taken place and there is at present only one board acting for the two companies. They are operating from the same office and with the same staff. The Bill, therefore, is introduced merely to give legal effect to what has been done by administrative action.

The Slievardagh Coalfield Company was set up to exploit the coal deposits at Slievardagh, County Tipperary, and also to examine other coal-bearing areas with a view to subsequent development. The company was financed by repayable advances from the Exchequer. The total amount of the advances authorised by the Slievardagh Act was limited to £100,000 and of that amount £80,000 has been advanced to date. The Act also provides for payments to the company for prospecting, to an amount not exceeding £3,000 in any particular year. The company's activities in respect of prospecting have, however, been hampered by the impossibility of obtaining suitable equipment, particularly the diamond drills, during the emergency.

Since it was set up, £1,100 was spent in prospecting in the Leinster coalfield area, of which £600 has now been recovered from an independent mining company which subsequently commenced operations in that area. Since the company was formed in April, 1941, 28,000 tons of anthracite coal have been produced. The output has risen now to 340 tons per week, which places the company second in the list of anthracite coal producing companies in the country. I think that achievement is particularly commendable, in view of the fact that very many exceptional difficulties had to be overcome, not the least of which was the obtaining of the services of skilled miners in the locality of the mines.

The examination and development of mineral deposits, other than coal, which would not in normal conditions attract private commercial enterprise, were entrusted to the Minerals Exploration and Development Company. That company, like the Slievardagh Company, was financed by repayable advances from the Exchequer and the limit of advances that can be made to it was fixed under the Act at £50,000. When that Act was being discussed as a Bill in the House, it was pointed out that the funds likely to be needed by the company could not be estimated in advance and, in fact, it has been necessary to extend the statutory ceiling to advances by successive Emergency Powers Orders from the original £50,000 to £200,000. Of that sum, £160,000 has been advanced to the company up to date.

During the emergency the company has been engaged primarily in the production of phosphate rock in County Clare and of pyrites at Avoca, County Wicklow, both required for the manufacture of superphosphate fertilisers. About 32,000 tons of phosphate rock have been delivered to fertiliser manufacturers here, obtained partly by quarrying and partly by mining. Deliveries are continuing up to the present at the rate of about 1,300 tons per month, but the quarriable deposits are now nearing exhaustion and an extensive prospecting programme aimed at locating further quarriable deposits is in hand. In the meantime the reserves of mineable rock are being blocked out for production and they should enable the present rate of output to be maintained for over 12 months to come. Further reserves are in sight which the company are developing against possible future needs.

In the case of the Minerals Development Company, as in the case of the coal-mining company, the legislation authorised payments for prospecting purposes and limited these payments to £3,000 per year. The opportunities in that field have, however, been very limited because of the lack of equipment to which I have referred, particularly the lack of diamond-drilling apparatus. A sum of £2,500 has already been paid under that heading to the development company in respect of investigation of iron ore deposits at Ballard, County Wicklow.

The decision to effect an amalgamation of the two companies was the result of experience and the conclusion that more economical and effective working would be achieved. As I have informed the House already, that decision has been for all practical purposes given effect to. It is merely necessary now to give it the necessary legal sanction and to provide for the carrying on of the new amalgamated company as well as for the financing of that company's activities. I am sure Deputies will be relieved at the decision to effect a change in the legal name of the company and to substitute for the very elaborate titles which the companies had previously the simple title of Mianraí Teóranta. That will be the title of the continuing company. It is a name which will be used more readily than the formidable titles enshrined in the other measures.

Mianraí Teóranta will be charged with the responsibility of continuing the production of coal as well as the production of the phosphates and pyrites required by the fertiliser manufacturers for the remainder of the emergency. By more intensive mechanisation it is hoped to effect a substantial increase in the output of coal with a corresponding reduction in the cost of production per ton as soon as the requisite machinery can be procured. That mechanisation of production at the mines will, of course, involve further capital expenditure, but it should enable coal production to be continued on an economic basis after the war.

The production of phosphate rock in County Clare after the emergency is a very problematical matter in view of the high cost of production, and in view also of the uncertainty as to the total reserves of extractable rock.

And the hard nature of the rock.

I do not know that the nature of the rock would constitute a difficulty if the price and quantity were right.

It would affect the cost.

It would, of course, be possible after the war to equip the mines with modern labour-saving devices, especially for hauling the broken rock underground and thereby considerably reduce mining costs. These are matters which will have to be considered in future, however, and for the present production will continue so long as the existing demand continues and so long as the cost of imported rock remains in excess of the cost of the materials from the County Clare.

At Avoca there exists a complex ore that contains iron pyrites, copper, lead and zinc. A certain amount of trial and error was necessary before the ores most suitable for the manufacture of sulphuric acid were located, and under existing conditions it is only by a laborious and costly process that the rock with the highest sulphur content can be picked out. Owing to the lack of proper equipment not obtainable owing to the war and to the fact that there is no way of conserving the metallic values at present, the selling price is high judged by pre-war standards, but it still remains well below the price we have to pay for imported pyrites.

In order to help the company to sell pyrites at a price which would enable the resulting superphosphates to be marketed at a price within the reach of farmers, a subsidy is paid on the sale of Avoca pyrites, but that subsidy is only a small fraction of the subsidy which is paid to cover the very much higher cost of shipping imported pyrites. Despite that subsidy, however, the monetary return from Avoca is small in comparison with the sums spent so far in this area. That is due in part to the fact that the company has had to concentrate on the uneconomic production of pyrites due to the emergency and partly to the fact that the sums spent on development will not yield a return until processing plant becomes available.

To secure that rapid progress can be made at the termination of the emergency, I have arranged that all the principal mineralised areas will be examined with a view to assessing the present-day value of the minerals on the assumption that these minerals will be treated by the most modern plant for separation and concentration on the flotation principle. The deposits at Avoca have been investigated and I am advised that the working of the mines and the treatment of the ores by the flotation process would have an expectation of commercial success. An examination has also been made in the Glendalough area, where it is probable that exploitation in a similar way will be successful, but considerable exploratory work is required to establish that conclusion before capital expenditure can be incurred. Arrangements are being made to secure a detailed examination by technical and financial experts of the plans for development and of the available reserves in respect of the mineral ores at Ballard and Ballymoneen, County Wicklow; Glendalough, County Wicklow; Silvermines, County Tipperary; Abbeytown, County Sligo; Knockmahon and Bonmahon, County Waterford; Duneen Bay, Derreenalomane and Mountain Common, County Cork; North Monaghan; and Lough Gartan, County Donegal.

The introduction of machinery in the mining operations at Avoca and the adoption of the most up-to-date methods of dealing with low-grade ores by concentration should increase substantially the prospects of success in that undertaking. It will be possible to effect a decrease in mining costs by excluding most of the costly handling. The different mineral constituents in the ore will be separated and concentrated by the flotation process, which will result in concentrates consisting almost entirely of the various metallic compounds contained in the ore. The company has succeeded in obtaining a small single-circuit flotation plant which it is hoped to instal at Avoca for the immediate production of pyritic concentrates for superphosphate manufacture. The mineralised rock at present discarded from handpicking, of which there is considerable quantity in the dumps at the mines, can be passed through this plant and the sulphur values recovered, thus reducing production cost per ton. It will, moreover, be possible to conduct works scale experiments in the recovery of copper, lead and zinc concentrates from Avoca ore. In order, however, to give proper treatment to the complex ore, it will eventually be necessary to erect a multi-circuit plant which will produce concentrates of pyrites, copper, lead and zinc as a continuo is process, but it has not yet been possible to obtain a plant of this type.

In addition to the ores worked at present for their sulphur content, there are deposits poorer in sulphur, but richer in metallic value. The company has carried out considerable development work on these deposits to enable production to commence as soon as treatment plant becomes available, and exploratory work is continuing to locate additional reserves. Preliminary examinations have also been carried out in the Glendalough area with a view to its commercial exploitation for lead and zinc ores suitable for concentrating.

In order to secure an adequate capital ceiling to enable Mianraí Teoranta to carry out the programme I have outlined, it is necessary to extend the limit of advances which may be made to the company to £400,000. The advances actually provided by the Slievardagh Coalfield Development Act, 1941, and the Minerals Exploration and Development Company Act, 1941, and Emergency Powers Orders, will merge into the £400,000.

As soon as diamond drilling equipment becomes available, Mianraí Teoranta will undertake the exploration of various mineralised areas which appear to contain prospects of economic development. As I have already mentioned, the existing law provides for payment for prospecting not exceeding £3,000 in any year to each of the existing companies, and it is proposed to set a limit of £5,000 per annum to the payments to Mianraí Teoranta for that purpose. As I have said, however, it is unlikely that any substantial payments will be made under that head until proper equipment becomes available. I have pleasure in recommending the Bill to the Dáil.

The only reason that the Minister gave the House for this amalgamation is that it would make possible the more economical working of the Slievardagh mines. He did not tell us exactly in what way the amalgamation would have that effect. The original intention in regard to the Minerals Development Company was not to permit it to develop coal. Personally I felt, and I still feel, that that principle was sound and could be defended. In examining this type of set-up, we must have some regard to the report of the Vocational Commission. The Minister is aware that the Vocational Commission rather vigorously condemned this system of setting up a company with a nominal capital and having the Minister for Finance pumping money into it afterwards. Apparently we are simply ignoring the recommendation of that commission which examined in great detail many activities of our national life.

It was necessary to have a company such as the Minerals Development Company, especially in relation to the survey, exploration and development of our mineral resources, where the commercial value was rather doubtful and where an ordinary commercial enterprise might not be prepared to undertake the risk involved. That is particularly the case in connection with the development of phosphate rock during the emergency. It was unlikely that any commercial firm would be interested. They could not estimate the duration of the war and the length of time that the country would be dependent on the output of phosphate manure. For that reason a State controlled organisation of this sort was the proper organisation for the development of phosphates. We are absolutely dependent on phosphates during the emergency. The same applies in respect to other minerals such as the Minister has referred to in detail.

With regard to coal, the Minister has not convinced me that there is any advantage to be gained by the amalgamation of the two companies so far as the Slievardagh mine is concerned. The House appreciates that the Minerals Development Company are in a position, and are put in the position by this House to advise private enterprise, if the Minister so directs, on technical matters and to carry out boring operations and that sort of thing. One can envisage a situation in the Leinster coalfield where this company would be operating at one end and private enterprise may be operating at the other end. The private interest may require technical advice or ask for borings to be carried out. I have a certain amount of doubt as to whether the company could command the confidence of the people who would require their advice, in view of the fact that they will be engaged commercially in a similar undertaking. I doubt the wisdom of employing a company of that type or permitting them to engage in these enterprises commercially, particularly in the production of coal, in respect of which I think there would be very little difficulty in getting private capital for its development. Would the Minister tell us whether or not the possibility of getting private capital for the Slievardagh coalfield and letting it develop in the ordinary way as a private enterprise was examined?

The Minerals Development Company should be engaged in the survey, prospecting and exploration of our mineral resources generally. In my opinion, in respect of coal, at all events, there would be no difficulty at the present time in inducing the necessary private capital for its development. I know, as a matter of fact, that one particular group of enterprising people who were engaged in the production of anthracite at one end of that particular coalfield felt that they did not get the assistance to which they were entitled and that they were hampered in many respects—in getting the necessary fuel for pumping, and that sort of thing— although we should be most anxious to extend every possible facility to them in carrying out that important work. I believe that much more could be done in the development of anthracite in the Leinster coalfield, but I do not know whether this amalgamation is going to induce private individuals to go into further development in other areas.

I do not think there is any other aspect of the Bill with which I am concerned, but this is rather a big aspect, and I should like the Minister to satisfy the House in that regard.

I think that, on the whole, it is desirable to merge those two companies. Both are engaged in a difficult and somewhat unremunerative type of enterprise, and both are to a great extent experimental in their work, as far as they have gone. Both the Slievardagh Company and the Minerals Development Company have had to break new ground, and to prospect under very difficult circumstances. Since both are engaged in the same type of enterprise, there would seem to be a good case for merging the two, so that the staff, the engineers, and even to a certain extent the equipment might be exchangeable. Coal mining will now be in the hands of private enterprise in some areas, and in the hands of a public company in another, but I do not see any great harm in that. I think it is rather desirable to have the two types of business not so much competing against each other but having the advantages of comparing methods, costings and all the other incidentals.

In this, as in all the other types of Governmental control of productive enterprise, we have the question of direction and management cropping up. We have differences of opinion as to what is the best type of board to control this company. It is a very difficult question, and one to which considerable thought will have to be directed in the future. There are now so many companies in which the State is involved, and in which public money is involved, that it is desirable that the best and most efficient system of control should be devised. While efficiency should be the main consideration, it is necessary also that the views and the interests of the community, who have to provide the capital, should be considered. This is in many ways similar to the company which has been set up to provide electric current. As far as my experience goes—it is rather limited—I think this minerals company has been very efficiently run. It has been very efficiently run in County Wicklow. The development work carried out there has been of very far-reaching importance, and I think it does offer prospects of success. The Minister mentioned that, while the types of ore in the Avoca area are comparatively poor, they are of a complex nature; that there is a number of ores which could be more or less blended, and that, if the necessary equipment and plant could be provided in the future for the segregation and processing of these ores, there is a prospect that the industry in Wicklow will be permanent. That is a very important consideration, having regard to our comparative proverty in minerals of all kinds.

I pointed out on the Bill dealing with the electricity supply that there is a possibility, or in fact, a probability, that the development of cheap and still cheaper electric current would make for success in mineral development. I pointed out that that was one of the strong reasons why electricity development should be undertaken in County Wicklow, owing to its close proximity to a mining area. In this matter also the question of finance, of course, looms very large. There is a provision in the Bill for the advance of a sum of, I think, £400,000 to this company. I understand that the advances which have been made to those two companies in the past have been at the interest rate of 5 per cent. I think that is an excessive charge for money for such work. The cost of that money is altogether too high, and I think the position at the present time—I may be wrong—is that neither of those two companies has been able either to pay the interest in full or to repay any portion of the principal; that both are in arrears. Of course, it is rather natural to expect that, owing to the fact that the enterprises are more or less in the experimental stage.

I am glad that the Minister has indicated that there is provision for increased mechanisation in the mines. Nobody, I think, would oppose mechanisation to the largest possible extent in coal mining on the ground that it might interfere with employment at the present time. We are very short of miners and I think it is not likely that there will ever be a large number of skilled men available in future. In any case it is hardly the type of occupation to which we would desire a large section of our working population to be directed and in so far as efficient equipment can be obtained for the raising of coal and other minerals, I think it should be obtained. Generally speaking, so far as I can understand the Bill, I think it one which will make for further progress in the development of the country's resources.

There are just a few points I want to put to the Minister. I should like to know more fully his reasons for amalgamating these two companies. Is the reason a purely economic one due to the fact that the same technicians will be available for the work of the two companies? Again the Minister might give us in his reply some idea of the composition of the two companies, whether the directors will be the same or not, or on what basis the board will be constituted. I should like if he would also tell the House what amount, if any, of the moneys advanced has been repaid. The only other matter I want to mention is whether it is wise to carry on indefinitely the operations authorised by a Bill of this kind. It is, I know, wise at the moment to develop these resources to the fullest possible extent but, in the event of hostilities coming to an end in the near future, can the Minister say whether in these circumstances the production of these minerals can be carried on economically? I suppose that is a purely hypothetical or problematical consideration, but the Minister might be in a position to give us some information as to the amount of undeveloped minerals which are available according to the technical advisers' views. So far as I can see opinions have varied widely in regard to this matter. Even recently there was a pretty strong conflict of opinion in regard to phosphates in Clare—whether due to the quantity or the quality there I cannot say. I should also like to know if the Department's advisers have investigated the quantity of minerals available in private concerns like that at Castlecomer and at other places, which were in operation before the emergency.

I take it from the Minister's statement that we can visualise the continuation of the development of the mineral resources of the country after the emergency. If it were otherwise I think Deputies would have to ask themselves whether it was advisable at this juncture to undertake an expenditure which, according to various standards, might be considered large or small. The lines which the Minister has indicated for this expenditure appear to me to be sound. The proposal, I take it, is not merely to undertake the development of minerals in the areas referred to but to make a survey of specified areas with a view to the development of minerals in these areas also. I hope that the company will not confine itself merely to areas which the Minister has in mind but that its purpose will be to examine in the widest possible way every potential mineral deposit in the country. In the examination which must be part of their duty, I have no doubt at all that modern science will enable them to devise ways of utilising what might be considered in other circumstances an inferior mineral and make its development a more practical proposition than heretofore. It is true that we in this country have always had to face the position that our minerals, so far as we knew of them, were not equal in value of other minerals which we found it economic to import. In the present emergency, on the other hand, we found that these minerals, however inferior comparatively they may have been, were a great asset to the nation in this crisis. If for no other reason than that, I think there is every justification for ensuring that every means we can employ should be applied to making these minerals available in times of peace as well as in times of emergency.

While the proposed amalgamation which will, I suppose, form one of the biggest mining concerns the State has known, is a sound proposal as regards the areas referred to, there are many similiar projects in different parts of the country that might be undertaken by a few individuals with a little capital behind them, people with a certain knowledge and a certain initiative. I would say that the State owes something to these individuals and that certain facilities, financially and otherwise, should be made available for such enterprises. I have in mind in particular the coal mining industry in Leitrim and Sligo. While an immense advance in production has resulted in recent years from individual efforts within a small compass, I know that in areas less favoured but with an equally good content of coal, enterprise has been retarded through the absence of roads and certain other small facilities that would induce a reasonably enterprising man to engage in the industry.

I would say that the State should make provision for the development of minerals elastic enough to meet every conceivable from of development, even to the extent of granting facilities such as money grants, the building of roads, the development of driving shafts, etc. Many smaller enterprises could be usefully undertaken by local people who have a knowledge of the work with a little State assistance.

The question does, I suppose, arise whether it is advisable that these undertakings should be promoted directly by the State through one or more companies. Personally, I think if private individuals were encouraged to engage in mining we would probably get the best results. So far, I do not think that the Government have given as many facilities to private individuals as would encourage them to embark on the expenditure likely to be incurred in developing these enterprises. Recently I had occasion, being connected with, and having initiated, a mining area in Sligo-Leitrim, to make representation to the Government, on behalf of people who had expended a substantial amount of money there, that certain facilities should be afforded them by way of release from income-tax as distinct from those engaged in less speculative enterprises. The Government, perhaps wisely, did not see their way to give that concession, but that is one way by which the Government could encourage individuals who have a bent in that direction and who are inclined to speculate money on certain enterprises. I think they should be encouraged to undertake more of that work.

I believe that there should be a proper investigation of whatever mineral resources we have got, an investigation by modern scientific means, and we should have practical assistance from the Government in the way of encouraging as far as possible the development of our mines. That is a very essential thing in the interests of any country in order that progress may be made. This proposal is a good one in so far as it sets up an organisation with a view to examining our mineral resources.

I welcome very much the remarks made by the last speaker. I do not think that the mining areas in this country have received the encouragement they should have got from this State at any time since the State came into existence. I think that in young enterprises, where people are sinking their money for the first time, some form of State encouragement should be given to them, and the only way is by subsidy or by way of relief in taxation. In this Bill we are not concerned with a private enterprise. We are concerned with what is really a fictitious company. The State is directly engaging not only in prospecting for minerals, but it proposes to embark upon working these minerals, if found.

On the general question of State interference in what is really a private enterprise, there are many opinions. The Vocational Commission went into this matter very fully, and very roundly condemned the policy which is operating in this State of forming fictitious companies for enterprises of all kinds. The fictitious company is open to a good deal of abuse. My first quarrel with it is that if you constitute your company and put civil servants on the directorate, you are going to mess the job right away, because civil servants, by training and experience, are not fitted to engage in business enterprises. If, on the other hand, you put on the board of directors selected men, the Government leave themselves open straight away to a charge of political patronage, putting on the board their own friends or political followers, or something of that kind. There again you have a disadvantage, and as yet I have not seen clearly what process is pursued when it comes to selecting directors for enterprises of this kind.

There is another aspect that we in this House should consider. The company is not only fictitious in name, but is fictitious in the matter of finance. The subscribed capital is something like £100, but it really operates by means of advances from the State, and the company is under no obligation to account for the expenditure of these moneys to this House or to the Minister for Finance or anywhere else except in its audited accounts at the end of each working year. All we are asked to do in this Bill is to provide that the company will submit accounts audited by a public auditor within a given time after the end of the working year. I do not think that is a sufficient check upon the workings of this kind of company.

I think that companies of this kind, in view of past experience and in view of the amount of money that has been thrown down the sink in many enterprises of this nature, should be subjected not only to close supervision, but to some form of public control in the matter of their accounts. I would go so far as to suggest that their activities and accounts should in some way come under the supervision and control of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. They get the money from the State and they have no responsibility whatever to this House or anyone else afterwards. Once the company is formed the Minister may disclaim all knowledge of its operations. He may say he has no statutory power and he is in the position that he is legally not responsible to this House for the acts of the company. Here you have the Slievardagh company, which already has been advanced £80,000, at what rate of interest we have not been told; neither have we been told what amount of these advances, if any, has been repaid to the State, and neither have we been told what proportion of the £160,000 proposed to be advanced under this Bill will be given to the Slievardagh company.

Generally speaking, we are completely in the dark as to the past operations of this company and as to the reasons for this amalgamation. I could understand protection of this kind being extended by the State to enterprises of a highly speculative nature where we were going in for the development of minerals for the first time—I mean minerals other than coal. But in the case of Slievardagh we are concerned only with coal and surely we have sufficient experts in this country who can tell us whether or not there is coal in Slievardagh and how best to work it and whether or not there is coal anywhere else and how best to work it. It strikes me that there is something wrong with Slievardagh, something which the Minister has not told us.

The element of speculation comes into effect when all the experts tell you different things.

Is it not a fact that the expert in this case was brought from the other side? They had a strange habit for centuries of advising us wrongly in the matter of the working of our coal. It is the general experience in Castlecomer and elsewhere that the English expert has for centuries past advised us wrongly about the proper way of working our coal. I understand the Slievardagh people made the same mistake in going to an English expert. I will not say Irish experts, but I believe that men experienced in the working of Irish coal-fields are available who would have given them sound advice on this matter. I do not know whether it is because this company has followed very wrong advice that it finds itself in this position to-day.

What position?

That they have to be taken under closer control by the Minerals Development Company.

That is not the case. They are better off than ever and are producing more coal than ever.

They are, but we have not been told at what cost. We have not been told whether they are showing a profit or a loss, or how much of the advances they are in a position, or are likely to be in a position, to repay. My quarrel is that we are completely in the dark in this matter and that the Minister has not given us all the facts. I understand that Slievardagh was operated by a directorate of five people, all of whom were remunerated. I do not know who these people were —I have no knowledge of them—but I should like to know whether it is proposed to transfer any of that directorate of the dissolved company to the new company, because I think it is essential that, where public money is being expended, the directorate should consist of men who have experience in these matters—mining engineers and mine owners or people who have had practical experience. I do not know what experience the people on the Slievardagh company had. I do know that some people put on the board did not stay very long on it. Whether they went away because they were dissatisfied with the work the company was embarking on, I cannot say, but I feel that we have not got the information which would enable us to criticise the Bill as it should be criticised.

I object to the principle of promoting dummy companies which are really operated by a State Department. I think the tendency in that direction has gone too far. I do not object to it in the case of a highly speculative matter, such as exploring for minerals of a particular kind for the first time, but it is not the type of organisation which should be applied to the mining of coal in any part of the State. I believe that if the State gave direct encouragement to private enterprise in mining operations, we would probably get far better results than we are getting under this system. I believe that if the State took its courage in its hands, embarked on a propaganda campaign to develop Irish coal, encouraged people with capital to put their money into Irish coal concerns, and, if necessary, gave them a subsidy or relief in taxation, as least in the early days, we would get better results than we will get from this form of State activity.

Some Deputies inquired how the amalgamataion of these two companies effected economies. I think that is obvious. Instead of having two boards of directors, two managing directors and two administrative staffs, we now have only one of each, and that one is doing the work formerly done by two. I confess that I never believed that the Slievardagh enterprise, a coal mine producing 400 to 500 tons of coal per week, was capable of carrying a superstructure of a mines manager, a managing director and a remunerated board of directors. I could see no reason why the organisation responsible for general mineral development could not take the Slievardagh development in its stride, and, in fact, it has done so. As I mentioned already, the legal amalgamation effected by this Bill has been preceded by an administrative amalgamation, and both companies have, for some time past, been administered by boards of directors which consist of the same persons in each case and have been administered from the same office, with the same staff.

Not merely is there that actual saving of cash due to the reduction in the number of individuals being remunerated out of the funds of these companies, but there are further economies and increased efficiency to be obtained in the present circumstances, and more particularly in normal circumstances, in the joint purchase of equipment, the exchangeability of equipment and in the pooling of experience and knowledge.

Deputy Coogan thinks it undesirable that the State should engage through a company of this kind in the development of a coal-mining enterprise. Deputy Hughes expressed the opinion that the company should dispose of this coal mine and Deputy Cogan saw no objection to the State engaging in enterprises of this kind, even though private interests were engaged in similar enterprises. I think it would be entirely wrong for the State to dispose of its interest in the Slievardagh coalfield at present. A great deal of money has been spent in development work and in the maintenance of uneconomic production in abnormal conditions during the war, and a stage has been reached at which it is possible to contemplate remunerative operation when up-to-date production equipment can be obtained. The money sunk could not be recovered by the disposal of the State's interest in this mine at present, but I think that at some stage we could contemplate Mianraí Teóranta disposing of this mine to a private interest, provided the private interest were prepared to make a fair offer for the enterprise and to carry on the undertaking in an efficient manner.

The objection I would offer to the company disposing of its interest in the mine now is that I think it would be bad business. This is the stage at which it should not dispose of its interest in the mine, because, in the future, assuming the restoration of normal conditions, there is every prospect of recovering a substantial part of the money invested in it. Both these companies have been continued during the war, not for the purpose of making profits and not even for the purpose of earning interest on the advances made to them, but for the purpose of producing commodities which we must have and could not otherwise get—coal from Slievardagh, phosphate rock from County Clare and pyrites from County Wicklow.

Conceivably, we could have done without the coal, although the addition to our stocks, which the 400 tons a week produced there represent, is not inconsiderable. The phosphate rock and pyrites were essential, and have, by enabling the manufacture of super phosphate fertilizer, contributed substantially to the maintenance of agricultural production. If these companies were being conducted as commercial enterprises, they would just close down until the war is over and until they could get the up-to-date mechanical equipment they require. It is because they have been ordered to carry on and to maintain maximum production, regardless of commercial considerations, that they have been drawing upon the finances of the State and unable to effect any repayment of these advances or any payment of interest upon them.

I have seen no evidence that the activities of the company in Slievardagh have interfered with the interests of private persons in coal-mining operations. On the contrary, a very large number of new coal-mining ventures have been begun since the beginning of the war and others are still coming along. While all these developments must be welcomed during the war, the position may have to be reconsidered after the war, because, to the extent to which we permit coal-mining to take place, we must have regard not merely to the method and manner of production and the price of the product, but also to the reserves available. Deputy Cosgrave asked whether it was wise to develop these resources now or after the war. I think there is no doubt about the wisdom of developing them now, because we require these commodities. I think that the question of the wisdom of developing the resources of phosphate rock and, to a lesser extent, of pyrites, and, to a still lesser extent, of coal, might be debated at some future time. The phosphate rock that is there might not be a commercial proposition in peacetime but, even so, I think we should have regard to the fact that, as our supplies are limited, it might be well, in the case of some future war, to have deposits of phosphate rock here, which we could develop, rather than to stimulate their development in times of peace. On the other hand, some people might say that there is no use in having these deposits there without working them, or if you have not the equipment and the organisation to work them, and that you would not have the equipment and organisation there unless you had some normal, peacetime activity in progress for the use of such equipment. There are different views about the question of the working of phosphate rock.

I think that, so far as Avoca is concerned, there are sufficient grounds to justify the working of mines for pyrites and other minerals and that enterprise should be maintained there in normal times. Not all our efforts to obtain the necessary equipment for that area have been successful up to the present, but a limited amount of plant has been secured and is being installed in Avoca. However, it is not regarded as what would be suitable for the working of the ore in Avoca in normal times. The directors of the company are not the same at present as they were when separate companies existed. I am saying that in reply to Deputy Cosgrave's question.

Does the Minister mean that they were unloaded from the two companies?

No. A number of directors were not reappointed. The same members were appointed to both boards, and the general costs were reduced considerably in consequence. I do not think that Deputy Coogan should pay too much attention to the views of the Vocational Commission when it went outside its terms of reference. I see no objection to companies of this nature where it is considered desirable that the State should engage in commercial enterprise of a speculative nature. It means that the State can enter into these activities without being responsible either for the appointment of people, the sale of goods, or similar matters arising in ordinary commercial transactions and which are necessarily involved in an enterprise of this kind. An organisation of this kind has the freedom of function which a State Department cannot have, and I think that those who object to this form of organisation merely disclose their complete lack of knowledge of the problems of administration both in this and other countries. They are merely applying theories which are not the outcome of experience, and to facts which they misunderstand.

I do not think that there is anything more, Sir, that I have to say at this stage. The Bill does not effect any substantial change in the State's part in the carrying on mineral development. It only means that instead of having two separate companies we shall have one, but otherwise it will be the same thing.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage to be taken on Thursday, 1st February, 1945.