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.