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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Oct 1947

Vol. 108 No. 1

Minerals Company Bill, 1947— Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. Before indicating the main purposes and provisions of the Bill Deputies might wish me to give a brief review of the circumstances which led to the intervention by the State in the working of the mineral resources of the country. The Minerals Development Act of 1940 is the Act under which persons desiring to work any particular mineral resource in the State are given facilities for doing so. As Deputies will remember, the fundamental assumption on which that Act was based is that the working of our mineral resources is primarily a matter for private enterprise. Deputies therefore might ask why the Government has taken direct action to ensure the working of some of our mineral resources, having regard to the fact that its general policy in regard to them is to facilitate their development by private enterprise. The answer which should be advanced to that query is that the Government has engaged only in propositions which it was satisfied would not appeal to private enterprise since there were no good prospects that the working of the deposits in question would prove to be profitable. During the war the Government also engaged in the working of mineral properties so as to secure the maximum possible production of certain essential raw materials.

I shall deal first with the development and the working of the anthracite coal deposits in the Slievardagh coalfield in County Tipperary. During the years 1934-1937 the Government arranged to have a detailed examination of that coalfield carried out by a firm of consulting engineers. The purpose of that examination was to ascertain the nature and the quality of the coal deposits there and to report on their suitability for commercial exploitation and on the advisability of undertaking their commercial exploitation. The consulting engineers employed estimated the reserves of coal in the area at about 5,500,000 tons and recommended that the commercial working of the coalfield should be undertaken. Their report was made available for inspection in the office of the geological survey. It was there for quite a period but nobody with the necessary financial and technical resources came forward with acceptable proposals for the commercial working of the property.

Can the Minister give us any idea of the extent of the area involved?

The coal in Slievardagh is quite extensive. I cannot give the Deputy the actual measurements at the moment.

It is only at the Slievardagh end of the Leinster coalfield?

Yes. It is only on these workings that the report was prepared and that is the report to which I am referring now. Originally the Government felt it had done its duty by having these deposits fully explored, by having information as to their nature and extent made available to the public, together with the recommendation of this very reputable firm of consulting engineers that the deposits could be worked commercially and worked profitably. As I have already said, nobody came forward to work them. After the war started, when it appeared likely that difficulties would arise in maintaining coal supplies, it was decided that the development and working of the coalfield should be undertaken by a State-financed company.

In the year 1941 the Slievardagh Coalfield Development Act was passed by the Dáil and it authorised the creation of a company known as the Slievardagh Coalfield Company Limited. That company was charged with the responsibility of developing and working the Slievardagh coalfield and it was financed for that purpose by means of repayable advances from State funds. The Act placed a limit to such advances at £100,000. In the same year it was also decided that the Government should assist in the exploration and development of other Irish mineral resources, and the Minerals Exploration and Development Act of 1941 was passed. That Act also authorised the creation of a company which was known as the Minerals Exploration Company Limited. It was intended that that exploration and development company should survey and examine mineralised areas other than those containing coal which had not been examined previously and that it should report on the deposits which it considered to be worth developing. That company was also financed by means of repayable advances from State funds, the statutory limit being fixed at £50,000. That sum was subsequently raised by Emergency Powers Order to £200,000 because shortly after the formation of that company difficulties began to be experienced in importing phosphate rock and pyrites which are used in the manufacture of superphosphate. It was, therefore, decided that the Exploration and Development Company should, during the emergency, instead of undertaking the exploration and development work which was originally contemplated, engage in the actual commercial production of phosphate rock in County Clare and of pyrites in County Wicklow for use in the manufacture of superphosphate.

Subsequently, after some years' experience of the working of the two companies, it was decided that they could be worked more economically and efficiently if they were amalgamated and in 1945, the Minerals Company Act of that year was passed which provided for the dissolution of the Slievardagh Coalfield Company and the transfer of its undertaking to the Minerals Exploration and Development Company, under the new title of Mianraí Teoranta. That continuing company was charged with the responsibility of producing coal, phosphate and pyrites during the remainder of the emergency. The limit of advances which could be made to it was increased to £400,000. The advances actually provided by the Slievardagh Coalfield Development Act, 1941, and the Minerals Exploration and Development Act, 1941, and under Emergency Powers Orders all merged in that £400,000.

The full advances were made, then?

The point I am making is that that Act increased the limit to £400,000 but in determining whether or not that limit had been reached all the moneys previously advanced under the previous Acts and the Emergency Powers Orders were taken into account.

Under both of the previous Acts?

That is right.

And the full limit was reached?

Yes. The total quantities of minerals marketed by the company up to the 31st December of last year were: coal, 64,047 tons; phosphate rock, 66,114 tons, and pyrites, 6,096 tons. The company has now prepared a programme for the post-war period, a programme which is based on the advice of expert consultants and is designed to ensure the detailed exploration and development of our mineral resources. The programme comprises geological and geophysical surveying, diamond core drilling, sinking of shafts and so forth, and is estimated to occupy a period of seven years at a cost of £85,000 per year or £595,000 in all. Exploration work, I may say by way of clarification, consists of the sinking of bores, the driving of tunnels and the systematic sampling of cores, while development work consists of sinking of shafts and drainage and general work designed to bring the deposit into a condition for commercial working. The object of this exploration and development programme is to obtain definite information in regard to the nature and quantity of the mineral resources of the country and the advisability of commercial exploitation of the more promising of these resources in the light of modern methods for the treatment of minerals.

This Bill, as Deputies will have noted, is mainly a financial measure. It is intended to provide, first, further capital for the development and working of the Slievardagh coalfield by Mianraí Teoranta and, secondly, the capital required for the large-scale exploration and development programme to which I have referred. That will be effected by certain amendments and extensions of the Act of 1941 and the Act of 1945.

As regards Slievardagh coalfield, the House is aware that, on my instructions, Mianraí Teoranta made an effort to dispose of it to private enterprise. It was offered for sale as a going concern but no acceptable offers for its purchase have been received.

Has any offer at all been received?

In effect, no serious offer has been received. The matter for decision, therefore, is whether the operation of the coalfield by Mianraí Teoranta should cease or whether Mianraí Teoranta should be authorised to continue its working there and the conclusion which the Government arrived at is that it is preferable to authorise Mianraí Teoranta to continue the working of the coalfield. That is due not solely to the continuing difficulty regarding coal supplies but also to the belief that the possibility of successfully disposing of it to private interests may be improved as a result of fresh exploration work and fresh development at the coalfield. Section 3 of the Bill accordingly provides for the financing of the company for that purpose by means of repayable advances and it fixes a limit to future advances for that purpose of £50,000. It is provided that the provisions of Sections 11 and 12 of the Act of 1941, which deal with the payment of interest and the ultimate repayment of advances, shall apply to moneys paid in future to the company under this section, that is, moneys for the continued development of the Slievardagh coalfield. The House is, I think, aware of the Government's view that it would prefer to see the property worked by private enterprise. There is a hope that at some stage in the future that may be reached. We regard it as rather undesirable that a State-financed company should be operating one coalfield in this country when all other coalfields are developed by private enterprise, but how long it will be before the State can get out of this position it is difficult to forecast. Apart, however, from that operation of working the Slievardagh coalfield, it is intended that Mianraí Teoranta will not in future have any commercial enterprise under its direction, that it will confine itself to the exploration and development of our mineral resources as distinct from their commercial exploitation.

Section 5 of the Bill provides that the Minister for Industry and Commerce may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, pay to the company in the current financial year and in each of the six following financial years, a grant not exceeding £85,000 to finance the exploration and development work to which I have referred, work which it may carry out either on its own initiative with the approval of the Minister for Industry and Commerce or at the request of the Minister. Grants made to the company under the section must not be used for any purpose other than that for which they are made available. If the exploration and development work performed by the company reveals information which would appear to justify commercial working, it is intended to recover the cost of the work carried out by the company from the commercial operators who may lease and work the property.

Mianraí Teoranta was, of course, very considerably handicapped during the war in the working of mineral deposits, not only by the technical difficulties arising from the irregular and faulted nature of the deposits which it was exploiting, but also by difficulties in the recruitment of skilled miners and in the purchase of mining equipment. It has incurred losses as a result of its operations during the emergency. It is estimated that at the passing of the Bill these losses will amount to approximately £414,000. That figure represents the difference between the total amount of repayable advances which will have been made to the company together with interest on the advances and the actual value of the assets remaining to the company. Since the company will not in future be in a position to earn profits out of which its debts might be paid off, it is proposed to write off the balance of its indebtedness on the 30th September, 1947. I think it would be undesirable to leave the company saddled with a debt arising out of its war-time operations which it would have no possibility of paying. Section 2 of the Bill accordingly provides that the Minister for Finance will issue a certificate certifying (1) the value of the assets of the company on the 30th September, 1947, and (2) the total liability of the company on foot of repayable advances made to it, together with accrued interest. By virtue of sub-section (3) of Section 2 of the Bill the company will stand released from that portion of its liabilities represented by the difference between its assets and its liabilities as certified by the Minister for Finance.

I have explained that the company will in future be financed mainly by means of non-repayable advances. In view of that arrangement, the details of the company's operations, particularly those that are financed by means of grants, will be subject to closer supervision. Provision is made in Section 7 of the Bill for the furnishing by the company to the Minister of an annual report giving the results of its prospecting exploration and development work during each year, and also such information in regard to its operations as the Minister may from time to time require.

Section 8 of the Bill provides that the company shall not publish the results of any prospecting exploration or development work carried out by it or any information in relation thereto, without the consent of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. Having regard to the arrangements for financing the company's operations, as set forth in the Bill, it is provided in Section 9 that no further advances shall be made to the company under the Act of 1941 after the date of the passing of this Bill. I have explained, of course, that advances will continue to be made to the company to continue the working of the Slievardagh coalfield. These will be made under Section 3 of the Bill. Section 10 provides that after the passing of the Bill the Minister for Industry and Commerce shall not require the company to carry out prospecting work under Section 13 of the Act of 1941, nor shall he pay any grants to the company for the purpose of complying with the provisions under that section. The position of the company in the future will be that it will be entitled to receive repayable advances to the limit of £50,000 for the working of the Slievardagh coal, but apart from that particular activity it will have no commercial operations in progress, and its sole revenue will be the non-repayable advances to be voted to it each year by the Dáil for the next seven years, amounting to £85,000 per year.

It seems to me, from various Press comments which have appeared from time to time, that there is some confusion in the minds of many persons as to the state of our knowledge of the value and extent of our mineral resources. We have, I think, a good idea of the value of our coal deposits. Although we know of the existence of deposits of other mineral resources, our knowledge of their probable extent and of their value is very incomplete. The Geological Survey is, of course, engaged in studying the geology of the country in its scientific and economic aspects. The Geological Survey derives information from studies of surface and of underground workings, old plans, old bore holes and other indications, which information is supplemented by geophysical surveys of different types. The Geological Survey carries the work to the stage where, if possible, a positive or a negative recommendation can be made as to the advisability of further exploration by methods of mining. Exploration by methods of mining consists in the construction of underground working—the sinking of bore holes, the driving of shafts and tunnels, the testing and sampling of ore. In that way the extent and the value of the deposit is determined and the advisability of working on a commercial scale is demonstrated.

It is intended that the stage of exploration of our mineral resources which usually does not come within the province of the Geological Survey will be entrusted to Mianraí Teoranta. That will be the main function of this company in future, apart from the special and, I hope, temporary arrangement under which it operates commercially at Slievardagh. I feel that, as a result of the programme which has been prepared for the company and on which it is about to embark, we will be enabled to say definitely at the end of that seven-year period what accessible resources of minerals are available to us and what is their commercial value. We should be able to decide what strategic reserves of minerals exist which we could in another emergency produce for ourselves. We can prepare our plans for future development with much greater reliance on the accuracy of our data than we can at the moment. It is work which, I think, should be undertaken. It may or it may not produce activities of commercial value. We are all rather optimistic and hope that the survey will reveal the existence of valuable mineral deposits worth exploiting commercially.

Have they any survey of Slievardagh up to this?

Yes. This company will have nothing to do with coal except in the case of Slievardagh. The original survey was carried out in the case of Slievardagh by a British firm of consulting engineers. Its report was made available in the library of the Geological Survey. It made a report very favourable to the commercial working of the deposits but in fact nobody undertook their commercial working. In 1941, when the emergency developed, the State decided that a State company would in fact do so and that State company has carried on the working up to this. It tried to sell the coalfield as a going concern without success. It has been decided to continue its working as a commercial undertaking for the time being in the belief that we will be able to demonstrate its value as a commercial concern more satisfactorily by doing so and ultimately dispose of it and also because we need coal. We would not be justified in suspending any coal winning operations at the present time. However, it must be remembered that the working of the Slievardagh coalfield will be rather an accidental activity of Mianraí Teoranta in the future. Its main preoccupation will be the exploration and development programme prepared for it so that we may be able to have reliable data for our mineral resources. If this data reveals the existence of mineral deposits capable of satisfactory commercial working, then we will consider methods for securing the commercial workings of these deposits preferably by private enterprise.

Is the mine properly mechanised now?

I would not say Slievardagh is completely mechanised, or that the production difficulties have been overcome. In fact, I am satisfied that has not happened. The other mining operations of the company have been closed down.

Is there any further mechanisation planned?

Yes. It is proposed to give another £50,000 for further capital expenditure.

Not for working expenses?

That is the limit of the advances that may be made to the company. It is primarily for capital expenditure, but some part of the sum may be utilised for working capital purposes.

Has the Minister had proposals put before him for that capital expenditure?

Yes, there have been proposals for the development of other areas in the coalfield, for the sinking of new shafts. As a result of exploration work done by the company, they believe they can improve the working, both as to the quantity of coal mined weekly, and the quality of the coal produced as the result of new operations.

I was talking about mechanisation—the new shafts and the new operations the Minister includes in the £50,000. Has he any proposals before him for adding to the mechanical equipment of the mine?

No. The company have prepared an estimate of the capital expenditure which they propose to undertake and the amount that they require if they are to try to carry on. That is this £50,000.

Does that £50,000 provide for any plant additional to the mechanical machinery?

I understand so. So far as I am concerned, the question which I had to decide and on which I had to make a recommendation to the Government was whether to close down the workings now to avoid any further expenditure or any possibility of further losses or let the company continue. The company persuaded me that they could in fact considerably improve the commercial value of the works, subject to the provision of a further capital sum of £50,000. If, in fact, as we must always assume in mining operations, their plans do not work out as they hope and a stage is reached when they cannot continue without further capital expenditure, the decision of the Government will probably be to close down the workings.

After a further advance of £50,000?

Yes. I do not want to say that this is a final decision. I say that we nearly decided on that course, and the factor which weighed heavily with us was the present coal shortage. If that shortage had not existed, the decision might have gone the other way, even though the company believed they could further improve the value of the workings as a result of further expenditure. In mining operations it is always difficult to resist the temptation to go further with development work in the belief that it will solve the problems that have emerged up to the present. In this case we decided to go this stage further. If that puts the company in a position where it can finance its own extensions in future out of profits of working, well and good. If it fails to do that, I think a decision will have to be taken to dispose of the property if we can, or, if not, to terminate the working.

I do not want to embarrass the Minister, but could he tell the House the present commercial value of the mine?

What it is worth?

It is hard to tell. I can tell the Deputy what we spent on it.

What would the Minister be prepared to take for the mine as the market value? It may not be wise to ask that.

The Minister indicated that the Minister for Finance is going to issue a certificate which will state the value of the assets of the company on the 30th September.

The assets will include much more than Slievardagh. The company has been working Slievardagh, the Clare phosphate rock, and the Avoca pyrites. It has closed down in Clare and Wicklow. A substantial part of the loss incurred would have been in these two centres. There are also assets in the form of mining equipment.

In certifying the value of the assets, the Minister for Finance will differentiate between the three places? He will not lump them all together and say "These are the assets"?

He will take the full amount of the losses of the company——

And say nothing about the details?

——and the value of the assets of the company and deduct the total sum from the amount of the advances.

When the Minister for Finance is preparing that he will have before him an estimate of the assets as far as Slievardagh is concerned and Clare and Wicklow?

There is a balance sheet in which these assets are valued.

They will be valued in detail?

Yes. The Deputy asked what it is worth. You can decide on what it is worth from the amount spent on it or from what it earned. Up to the present it has not earned anything. We are hoping that it will earn something in the future.

This Bill proposes, as the Minister pointed out, to confine the operations of this company to exploration and development. We are to continue to operate Slievardagh in the hope that some person will turn up and buy it. So far as that is concerned, I hope it is not like the Dairy Disposals Company. If it is profitable, the Government might keep it; but if it is not, they hope some person will come along and buy it.

Quite the reverse. If it is profitable, we will be able to sell it; if it is not, we are stuck with it.

I am suggesting that that is the reason why the Minister is desirous that a buyer should come along. He might not be half as anxious to sell if it was profitable. We are asked to provide a very substantial sum for the exploration and development of minerals. I understand from what the Minister said that exploration will be directed to minerals other than coal; that there will not be very much further exploration so far as coal is concerned. In the Minister's opinion they have sufficient information as to that in the Department. Even this big sum of £595,000, if it were definitely going to determine what our mineral resources are, would provide very valuable information. So far as coal resources are concerned, quite a lot of people, even people in this House, believe that we have very substantial coal resources. This might possibly explode that. At all events, it would give us the information that is necessary as to what extent it is a commercial proposition, what are the possibilities of development of other mineral resources which are obviously there. It is a very substantial sum and will be expended over a period of seven years in instalments of £85,000 per annum. We have no objection to that.

So far as the whole problem that is presented to the House is concerned, the Minister certainly cannot be congratulated on it or even on the manner in which it has been presented. We are asked to provide moneys to write off a deficit of £414,000. So far as that deficit is concerned, it is a complete muddle. We are given no information. As a matter of fact, this is scarcely the place to examine how much has been lost by the company in Slievardagh and in its activities in phosphate development in Clare, and pyrites development in Wicklow. Surely in expending public moneys, particularly where losses of this sort are incurred, there ought to be some precise information and there ought to be other machinery for examining that. It is true that when we discussed this matter before the Minister informed us that the accounts of this company were not submitted to the Committee of Public Accounts and that there was no statutory responsibility for doing so. So far as accounting for public moneys to this Parliament, which voted the public moneys in this matter, is concerned, we are completely in the dark. We have to accept the information which the Minister has given the House that £414,000 has been expended to little or no purpose. The Minister has told us that we got 64,000 tons of coal from Slievardagh. That was a very low output indeed. If we had some costings—and I presume that some costings are available—the Minister might be able to tell us at least what it cost per ton to raise the 64,000 tons and what the actual loss incurred in the production of the 64,000 tons was.

With regard to the production of phosphates and of pyrites in Wicklow, I feel that the whole method of financing these projects was completely wrong and that Parliament should disapprove of it. If, in the emergency in which we found ourselves, it was essential to work the phosphate deposit in Clare—from a purely agricultural point of view a deposit which was not of good quality, not being very soluble—and pyrites in Wicklow, and to provide the finished article at a certain price to the agricultural community, I feel that the phosphate should have been paid for at what it cost and that the subsidy should have been fed in at a particular point. If that had been done, we would know exactly where we stood, but the way the money has been pumped into this company and the muddle that has been made of it makes it impossible for any man, no matter how able an accountant, to disentangle the financial muddle which has been created as a result. It is this sort of State organisation which the Vocational Commission so emphatically condemned—the nominal company, the shares held by the Minister for Finance, with a nominal board of directors. The Minister might tell us later the personnel of the board of directors, but the whole system gives rise to the sort of operations and method of financing of projects of this kind that the Minister has described to the House.

As a matter of fact, when we discussed this matter last, on 25th January, 1945, the Minister asked us for a further financial provision for Slievardagh and said, at column 1706, volume 95:—

"The 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 Minister certainly was optimistic at that time and his information does not appear to have been correct. So far as the reputable firm of engineers the Minister told us about are concerned, their advice does not seem to have been very sound, because the development, from a purely business point of view, has been most unfavourable and the condition of the seams, so far as I understand, down in Slievardagh is most unfavourable. They are tilted over very much—standing almost perpendicular in some cases—which makes for a condition in which it is almost impossible to work the seams at an economic price. It is only because of the acute shortage of fuel that it is worth while to continue working at all, and, although it has been so unprofitable to work it up to the present, the Minister asks the House to throw another £50,000 into the melting-pot. If, at the end of the period, there is nobody in the market for a coal mine, what will happen? Will we close it down? What output does the Minister expect to get as a result of the further £50,000 and what will it cost per ton? These are very pertinent questions which must be considered.

In view of the report which the consulting engineers gave the Minister's Department, the optimism of the Minister the last time we discussed this matter and the very low output from this mine, the situation is extraordinary, because I am aware, as the Minister is aware, that none of the companies engaged in any mining which is taking place in the country of a private enterprise type have experienced the same difficulty. At least, they are making it pay because they are continuing to work and they are not so philanthropic as to work at a loss. All the private companies operating are able to make coal mining a success, but here we have a quasi-State company, under a nominal board of directors, into which money has been poured by the Dáil to the tune of £414,000— practically half a million pounds—and they cannot make a success of it, although they have the services of an expert, reputable firm of mining engineers from Great Britain to advise them and all the resources of the State behind them to enable them to buy whatever equipment is necessary and available.

We have a situation in which 64,000 tons of coal were produced and the Minister is still optimistic enough to ask the House to vote a further £50,000. It certainly does not speak well for the policy of setting up companies of this sort and I would not be so optimistic as the Minister is as to hope that there will be any private enterprise in the market for a particular mine. I venture to prophesy that we will spend another £50,000 and eventually close it down.

With regard to the further activities of the company, Mianraí Teoranta, the Minister told us that these operations are confined to exploration and development and that they cannot work out beyond that. Suppose that, having developed a mine, it goes on the market and you do not get any private enterprise to take it up. What are you going to do about it, if the activities of the company are to be limited to exploration and development? You will not close down, surely, until some private company comes along in two, three or four years time? So far as those provisions are concerned, I think the Minister will have to widen them a little. It would scarcely be wise, if the company struck oil, to limit the company's activities, if there was no private enterprise in the market for the mine. There is a provision for recovering the cost in the event of the sale of the project to private enterprise. That is a proper provision, but it is not wise to confine the company's activities merely to exploration and development, because that may create a further problem, adding to the many problems the Minister has to face in this matter.

I want to conclude by saying most emphatically that I wish to condemn the whole method of financing projects of this sort and especially the policy of asking the House to accept that sort of explanation with regard to the expenditure of a very considerable sum of public money. The Minister, when he was questioned, was not able to apportion the losses and we have been told that, so far as the certificate of the Minister for Finance is concerned, when it comes to valuing the assets of the company, that they will not be apportioned. That is not a businesslike way of handling this matter. It is not fair to ask the House to agree to meet a deficit of £414,000 and at the same time not give the proper details.

I think the House should set up a special commission to examine this matter and to see how that money is being expended. The House should satisfy itself that the money is being properly expended. There is in existence a Committee of Public Accounts and the normal procedure of a Parliament—it is the procedure of the British Parliament—is always to insist that every shilling voted is properly accounted for. Here we have certain sums voted by the House and I do not think I am unreasonable when I suggest that there was no attempt made by the Minister to account for the losses involved. We should not be prepared to agree to that.

So far as the financial provisions for further activities by the company are concerned, it seems very doubtful whether, on the company's record, it should be entrusted with such work. I hope the Minister will give the names of those who are on the board of directors.

The Minister has given an estimate of the coal resources in that particular end of the Leinster coalfield. The estimate is 5,500,000 tons. Of that quantity, only 65,000 tons have been mined. There is fairly accurate information in the Department and I should like the Minister to give the estimate of the quantity of coal in the entire Leinster coalfield.

Deputies and others who prate nowadays about leaving everything to private enterprise seem to have lost their memories. Deputy Hughes seems to have forgotten the policy of Deputy McGilligan, when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce in another Government. If we left the development of our key industries, of everything that was worth while, to private enterprise, we would not have had coal, turf, food or fuel when we needed them most. Deputy Hughes knows that and the Minister knows it better. Will Deputy Hughes examine the records of this House or the records of the Committee of Public Accounts? If he does, he will find out what it cost the State, the Department of Industry and Commerce, Fuel Importers and Bord na Móna to provide turf for the people in the cities and towns, turf which never would have been provided by private enterprise. I advise the Deputy to read the illuminating speeches made in the early days by members of his own Party; let him read the speeches by Deputy McGilligan on the Shannon scheme and on other valuable schemes that were put into operation during the lifetime of the Cumann na nGaedheal Government.

The Minister for Industry and Commerce to-day, in reply to Deputy Corry, referred to certain action that had to be taken for the provision of fuel for Cork City where private enterprise, behind which were the most intelligent and active-minded people in the country, was not able to get the job done. The fact is that in Cork City private enterprise failed in that respect. The people of Carlow or Tipperary or anywhere else are only trotting after them, and yet they were not able to get that job done in their own city.

What did I say about private enterprise?

If I understood Deputy Hughes aright, he gave a cold-blooded condemnation of what is provided in this Bill. He wants to close down these places and incur no more expenditure in the exploration and commercial workings of these mines. I have a fairly long memory with regard to the development of our mineral resources, particularly in so far as they affect my own constituency. One of the first jobs I got as a Deputy was to try to save the mines then being worked at Wolfhill. The Minister for Finance at the time, Mr. Blythe, pumped a good deal of the people's money into these mines in order to keep people in employment. That was good national work.

Is this good national work?

What is the story? What happened at the colliery?

At Wolfhill the shaft was sunk in the wrong place. That was admitted in the course of subsequent development.

The Minister admitted here that the shaft was sunk in the wrong place; it is on the record.

The people who had an interest in those mines at the time had an interest in coal mines in other countries as well and that was supposed to be the explanation for the advice given to the people who had invested money in this mine at Modubeagh. I could tell Deputy Hughes privately some other matters that would help to satisfy him that bad advice was given in those days to the people who invested money in the mines.

History has repeated itself.

We will have to take a chance. There is an Article in the Constitution which says that the mineral resources of this State are the property of the nation and not of any private individuals. That is plainly written into our Constitution and I accept it. I do not believe in the policy of using a good deal of the taxpayers' money to carry out exploratory work and then hand over those mines to people for profit-making purposes.

I do not subscribe to that policy and I am amazed that the Minister, as far as I understand his policy for a long time, has reversed the previous policy of the Government in this matter. Why should the taxpayers, or we representing the taxpayers, vote large sums of money for exploratory work in regard to a key industry which is owned by the nation, by all the people of the nation, and then let that be passed back after it has been fully developed, either to natives or to foreigners to be worked for a profit-making purpose? I do not subscribe to that part of the policy of the present Government and of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, if that is the policy; but I do say "carry on" and I am not a bit afraid to get up and say anywhere in my constituency or anywhere else that I would be prepared to carry on rather than lay down where we are at the moment.

What is £414,000 when compared to the amount that the same Minister has had to find by way of subsidy in order to enable turf to be sold to the people of the towns and cities at a reasonable price? Look up the Estimates for the past three or four years and you will see provision for a couple of million pounds a year in order that, during the emergency, the people may get fuel of some kind or another. The same thing is being done to-day, because we cannot charge our people the actual or economic price of coal. The Minister will probably bring in a Bill, in the very near future, asking us to provide portion of this subsidy in order to enable coal to be sold either to industrial concerns or to domestic users at a reasonable figure. In other words, he will not be able to recover the full cost of providing coal in the cities for domestic users. I would be much surprised if he were able to recover the whole of the cost.

At any rate, we have had the Electricity Supply Board, which has been a fairly successful concern, and without which we would not have this country developed to its present extent; and we have Bord na Móna, which is the same kind of company but on a much bigger scale than this company carrying on at Slievardagh and elsewhere. Did the people engaged in carrying on transport in this country under the system of private enterprise not collapse and was that not why Córas Iompair Éireann had to be established, to maintain public transport? The same applies to Aer Lingus, to a certain extent. It is a State established, subsidised and managed concern. I do not see why, after having established it and set it up as a matter of policy, like the creation of the Electricity Supply Board, Bord na Móna, Córas Iompair Éireann and Aer Lingus, we are now going to turn and go backward in regard to the development of our mineral resources. I certainly do not agree with that policy. In his explanatory memorandum, the Minister says:—

"The Bill has two main purposes. It is intended to provide (a) further capital for the development and working of Slievardagh coalfield by Mianraí Teoranta, and (b) capital for the large-scale exploration and development of Irish mineral resources, which the company proposes to undertake."

Could the Minister, when replying, give us any more information as to the extent to which that kind of work has been carried out already?

Mineral exploration?

Yes, exploration and development work. I made representations on more than one occasion, at the request of a large number of my constituents who believed that there were valuable coal resources in the Luggacurran area. That is the same part of the country as Wolfhill and cutting across into Castlecomer. I know from my limited knowledge of the Castlecomer area, that coal mining operations have been carried out there under private enterprise in a fairly efficient and satisfactory way. I am admitting that. On one occasion, when I was there with a colleague of the Minister's, trying to settle up—and we succeeded in doing so at the time—a long drawn out labour dispute, I was assured by Captain Prior Wandersforde that the failure to develop Castlecomer was due to the scarcity of skilled miners. If that is so—and I accept it that it is so—what is the Department doing to try to get a greater number of people to take an interest in mining operations? Is it not worth while spending some money by way of propa ganda or by offering higher rates of wages and better conditions? The miner should be "No. 1 Priority" in matters of that kind, if we are to have any future for mining operations. Can something not be done in that direction?

The last time I was in the Kilkenny area—I know parts of Kilkenny fairly well—I was told there was a number of people working in the Castlecomer mines doing their best to get permits to go across to Great Britain to take up mining work there. Certainly, as far as I could, I would advise the Minister in cases of that kind not to issue the permits. If there is any cause for complaint regarding working conditions or if there are people so foolish as to believe that they can get far better conditions in the long run by changing employment, changing from that of an agricultural labourer here to that of an agricultural labourer in Great Britain, or from that of a coal miner here to a coal miner in Great Britain, we should do something to improve the conditions here in order to make it quite clear to our own people who want to be coal miners or agricultural labourers that they are better off at home. Can nothing be done by the Minister by way of propaganda or by better working conditions for these people, to get them to concentrate on their job; and not alone that, but to get more people into that employment?

I do not know to what extent the miner's son goes into the same kind of employment. The average man in any kind of occupation generally advises his son to go into a different kind of job from his own. You will find that here in the city in industrial employment. The father hardly ever advises the son to take the same job, except in some soft job like that of a solicitor or some other profession.

He cannot get into the closed shop.

You do not find the transport worker advising his son to go into the same thing. It is a different matter with the professions as he gets money much more easily.

What about the carpenters and bricklayers?

I would like to know what view the Minister has on that, or if anything can be done to get some of the rising generation to take more interest in this work and take an active part in it. I was very glad to hear it said that the operating company in this case did not get anyone to make a decent bid that would enable this Slievardagh mine to pass over to private citizens for profit-making purposes. I dare say they are not prepared to take risks of that kind. They want 50 or 100 per cent., they want jam all the time, and are not prepared to take risks. I do not think we should risk the people's money in guaranteeing development and exploratory work in order to hand it over to these lads who want to get rich quick.

If the Minister has the figures available, perhaps he would tell us the amount given and in what way it is estimated the loss of £414,000 is made up. If it covers, in the main, wages paid to workers, I do not think it is a loss. You have 64,000 tons of coal out of it and that certainly brought in some revenue. At any rate, in carrying out exploratory work in a key industry of this kind, the money paid in wages and salaries to experts or workers is not lost, if in the long run we succeed in proving to the satisfaction of the taxpayers that coal mining can be carried on as a commercial proposition, either under State supervision or by private individuals. This work would have been done by the British Government when they were here only that they had no interest in developing our industries. It was quite the other way about and that is why this industry as well as others was not looked after.

I would be sorry to hear from the Minister, even on the advice of experts, that there is no future for the coal-mining business in this country. All the people who hold the view that there are so many million tons of coal between certain parts of this country and certain other parts cannot be wrong. Surely the Minister has advisers at his right hand that he can rely upon. I am sure they must have given him already some preliminary reports in connection with this matter. I think I heard him mention 5,500,000 tons of coal being available in Slievardagh. Surely it is well worth carrying out further development work at an increased cost in order to get that 5,500,000 tons, if it is lying in that particular area, even if we have to close down after the whole of that coal has been brought to the surface and burned in the factories or in the homes.

Though it may not be pertinent to the discussion. I wish to mention that we will have before us in the next few days a Bill entitled the Industrial Efficiency and Prices Bill. When it becomes law, if it is passed in its present form, we will have a tribunal set up for the purpose of carrying out investigations into the efficiency of our newly-established industries. I wonder would that be too big a job to give to that particular body as the first attempt to prove their competence. It would be a big job for them but they would have expert advisers, and when they had settled the question of price to the satisfaction of the Minister they might take on the job as a first attempt to inquire into the efficiency of coal-mining operations at Slievardagh. If they were permitted to make comparisons with mines operated by private enterprise I would ask Deputy Hughes to read up the speeches made by Deputy McGilligan when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce under the Fine Gael Government.

I think the House will readily agree that the exploration and development of our national resources is a sound national policy, and that the results of the pioneer work done, generally under emergency conditions, cannot be calculated as a matter of £ s. d. Surely there is a potential value apart from the product of the particular industry, as to whether it kept the wheels of industry going and gave employment during a most difficult period in our history.

Referring to the Slievardagh project, I am fully in agreement with Deputy Davin that there should be no condemnation of what has been done. Quite the contrary. If the 64,000 tons of coal produced were marketed at £8 per ton, which is the price that has been paid for some time for rather indifferent coal, it would mean a quarter of a million of money for our own coal money paid to our own workers for the develpment of our own resources. I would be very loath to see an industry of that kind, because of the expense involved, left there for private enterprise. As Deputy Davin suggested, and as the Minister has laid out, the resources there are worth the expenditure of money. It would be inequitable to compare, as Deputy Hughes has done, this pioneer work with industries of long standing which employed labour at a lower figure than it is to-day. It is true that when others had charge of the development of this country and ruled over it they had no interest in the development of our industries. They went so far at times as to buy over some of our industries for the purpose of closing them down. We have some record of activities in the past which it may serve us to look into.

There is a very valuable commodity at Rinnevana—the old lead mines. At the time of the survey which was made in 1834, ten years before the famine, 400 people were engaged in mining lead there and the mine still exists and it is a question whether at the present day it would be worth working. I wonder what brought it to an end. It might be the famine which occurred ten years subsequently. I think the Minister in this Bill has shown much foresight in making the country conscious of the fact that further production is necessary above the ground and under the ground. This measure will go a long way to prove to the people of this nation that all-round development is necessary for the good of the people to give continuous employment in our own land. If the miners at Slievardagh came to the conclusion that after the expenditure of the £50,000 the matter would be left to private enterprise, then the miners would go and when private enterprise would take over they would not be able to get the skilled workers who were trained in those mines. I think the Government would be wise to continue this and other projects of the kind until such time as adequate means could be got to keep on the mines by private enterprise or otherwise, and I would like to congratulate the Minister on this measure.

I have, like other members of my Party, complained as often as anybody in this House of the squandering of public money on schemes which it was thought would not be of any benefit to this country at the present time or hereafter, but I candidly would not be opposed to spending money on the development of our mineral resources. We have been led to believe that there has not been much development so far in this country and we have a certain amount of doubt as to what minerals we have in the country, for the simple reason that we have not had a thorough examination of our resources. When a certain amount of money has been spent developing a coal mine in a particular area I think it would be unfair to criticise the Government for carrying out such a scheme. We know that in the different enterprises which the Government carry out they cannot be judged alike. In dealing with a housing problem, for instance, the ground is known and they can see where they are to begin. In the sinking of a shaft for coal it is hard to touch a seam of coal in the right place. Even the experts in England very often do not strike the right place but they are not daunted by that; they try again; they see if the amount of minerals available would justify the spending of money. It is a different problem in the case of private enterprise or monopolies by the State.

I am opposed to a certain degree to State monopolies but there are some things in this country that cannot be brought to a successful conclusion without aid from the Government. The mineral resources of the country are the first that should be in a Government monopoly and should take as much money as the Exchequer can afford in procuring the necessary competent engineers from Britain or other parts of the world if necessary to see the amount of coal we have and whether it is worth developing. It will cost money, we know, but if the money is not spent we do not know whether it is there or not. It is strange that in England there are many coal mines where the seams of many are pointing in our direction. We are told that where the seam of coal is pointing the tendency is for the coal to increase rather than decrease. If we sink our shafts deep enough having taken a proper survey we shall find out whether we have coal worth developing in this country. Private enterprise will have its uses in every country as well as public enterprise. Nobody can say that private enterprise will be able to bring about a survey of our mineral resources. Small factories and industries can be established and carried on satisfactorily by private enterprise. If it would not pay the Government to interfere in the case of any enterprise they can ignore it and let a private individual carry on as best he can. Even more money than is proposed should be spent on development of this kind. We are told that, in the west and along County Sligo, there is an immensity of coal which only requires to be tapped in the proper way.

The Minister told us that he had a staff of French experts over and that that was only one of those deposits which the ordinary man can see on the surface when he walks around, but which, according to the engineers, would not be worth the expenditure of the amount of money which would be required to develop it. We cannot question the authority of the experts on these matters but I am in complete agreement with the Minister so far as this Bill is concerned. We heard of money being wasted in carrying out a survey. Deputy Davin has pointed out that most of the money spent in carrying out a survey of any sort finds its way into the hands of labour. Workers get a chance of earning this money and it is much better spent in this way than in the payment of doles or other such schemes of which the Government are so fond. I shall give this experiment every encouragement. I hope it will prove successful and that the Minister will find it worth his while to spend more money on mineral research and development.

I did not hear the Minister's introductory statement but, in the explanatory leaflet issued in connection with the Bill, reference is made to the difficulties which the Slievardagh company experienced during the emergency, due to the fact that the deposits were difficult and that it was not easy to recruit skilled labour. The problem of skilled labour in connection with mineral development will require very careful consideration and planning in advance. I support this Bill in so far as it makes provision for a fairly comprehensive survey of existing deposits. When the deposits are fully ascertained, the next problem will be to ensure that skilled personnel will he available in the district to carry on the work. Nobody will deny that men who engage in work of this kind which is dangerous, difficult and arduous, should be amply remunerated

My attention was drawn to a difficulty in certain coal-mining areas, apart from the question of remuneration. That was that there is not housing accommodation for workers adjacent to many of our mines. Where there are deposits capable of development, a housing scheme should be embarked upon by this State company or by the company in co-operation with the Department of Local Government. Workers should be housed convenient to their place of work. That is a very important consideration. We have in this country a mal-distribution of population. We have a huge concentration of population in the area around the mouth of the Liffey where there are no underground sources of wealth—except, perhaps, the black market. We have also a big concentration of population in some of the western counties, where there are not sufficient sources of employment. We find, however, that, in areas where there are mineral deposits, workers have often to travel long distances in mountainous and difficult country to their work. That adds to the hardship of their employment and it is a problem which should be tackled in conjunction with any survey of our minerals which may be undertaken. An adequate and up-to-date housing scheme should be provided for those workers. If that were done, we should divert our population to the places where they are urgently required. That is a branch of national planning which is badly needed.

Generally, this Bill is desirable. There are very conflicting ideas in respect of our mineral resources. When the country was under British control, most people with nationalist ideas believed that our mineral resources were almost unlimited and that they were being concealed by the then Government. The investigations carried out by the Figgis Commission strengthened that belief. During the years we have enjoyed, or endured, self-government, we have discovered that our optimistic ideas in regard to the extent of our mineral resources were ill-founded. There are, however, considerable mineral resources in the country and they should be developed to the utmost extent. In this connection, we should be prepared to expend a fairly substantial amount of public money, firstly, on a survey, and, secondly, on the development of those resources. Everything that adds to our country's production or that tends to provide the raw material for industry should be developed.

In my own constituency of Wicklow there are very considerable mineral deposits. Perhaps they may be of a somewhat diverse and composite nature but they are all capable of development. Not only do the excavation sites require it but there is also a need for an adequate plan to produce the various mineral ores and to ensure that they will be of commercial value. While this House will be, I think, always favourable to all investigations and experiments directed towards extending the development of our mineral wealth, we shall, at all times, be very critical of the manner in which the money is used. We will demand at any rate that the last ounce of value is extracted from expenditure. We will also demand real efficiency in the work that is to be carried out. We have not a long history, as compared with other nations, so far as mineral development is concerned. I consider, however, that we in this country have engineers and geologists as skilled as are to be found in any nation in the world and that, if properly organised and directed, they can give a good account of themselves and thus render good service to the nation.

There is a number of ways of looking at this measure. I think the first way is to examine whether, having already expended so much money, the Oireachtas must decide either to cut its losses now or decide whether, having expended either by direct expenditure or incurred by way of loss a total outlay of over £400,000, it is not wiser particularly in present circumstances to spend more money in the hope that further development or further prospecting will reveal not merely more extensive mineral deposits but also hold out some hope of recovery of existing expenditure. I am not satisfied as to the reliability of the technical advice which is available. Up to the present, apparently, the technical advice has not proved anything like satisfactory.

In 1945 the Minister hoped that as a result of further equipment being available and as a result of the experience gathered it would be possible in a short time to produce coal on a larger scale and at a cheaper rate. Since 1945 coal has come into this country in much larger quantities. It is true that that coal is at a far higher price than coal ever before imported. As I see it the question is whether we should continue to incur expenditure on what, so far, has not been very reliable advice in an attempt to produce coal which probably at the present time will be even dearer than the imported coal or whether we can hope for a reduction in the cost of imported coal and chance getting sufficient supplies to meet our requirements. Before coming to any definite conclusion on this matter we should consider the report of the experts who have surveyed this area. As far as one can gather the survey does warrant the conclusion that it is possible to develop further and on a more economic basis the Slievardagh coalfield. The fact is that up to the present the House has been left in the dark as to the expenditure incurred and the manner in which the losses occurred. I think it is somewhat significant that in a number of areas in this country our mineral resources are being developed. In almost all of these areas it happens for one reason or another that they are being developed by private companies. It may be that there is, on the part of the various concerns which are operating, more readily available supplies of minerals and that it is possible to work them in a cheaper manner than the coal at Slievardagh. It is possible, also, that it may be necessary to incur heavy initial expenditure before any coal can be won and that, consequently, the only possible company to do it is the State.

Before the House passes this Bill giving further authority to the Minister to make advances to Mianraí Teoranta I consider that we should have a statement of the expenditure incurred to date, detailing under each area—whether it was at Slievardagh, Avoca or at the Clare phosphate rock deposits—the expenditure incurred. Further, I think there should be available to the Committee of Public Accounts for the future details as to the manner in which the expenditure is incurred. It is hardly a fair way to treat the House to expect the members to write off a sum of £414,000 and to expect that we will make a further advance of £50,000, and possibly further advances in the future, without having the accounts of the operations of this company available to the Committee of Public Accounts. In the present instance, in the light of our emergency experience, nobody will object to this maximum effort, even at the risk of possible further heavy losses, if he is satisfied that a genuine effort is being made to work these mines in a satisfactory way and in an economic fashion. However, a little over two years ago, when these two companies were amalgamated in Mianraí Teoranta, the House was informed that it was likely that the Slievardagh coalfield could be operated on a more economic basis. Apparently that hope has not been fulfilled. Before we vote further money I would like to be assured not merely that this technical advice is the best available but that it warrants confidence in an extension in the activities in Slievardagh and warrants further developments there in the light of the present price of coal—even at anything from £6 to £8 a ton. As regards the other developments envisaged under the programme which Mianraí Teoranta has drawn up I think it would be advisable, before the House is committed to this expenditure, to get from Mianraí Teoranta or from the technical experts who have examined this question a report as to the areas and the actual minerals which are available in them.

My information at the moment is that in the case of at least one company which has started a few years ago and which has expanded considerably there is available a very large deposit of a particular mineral and that it is working satisfactorily. However, in view of the fact that these companies have had either recent or earlier surveys operated, it is significant that this company has lost so heavily and, at the same time, that the advice available to the Minister from the company and from the survey carried out by the committee of experts still suggests that we should undertake further developments. I think however we ought to be assured that there is available not merely a large deposit of coal in Slievardagh but a reasonable prospect of working it on an economic basis, even considering present inflated prices, and that also there should be a provision inserted in this Bill at a later stage to allow the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Committee of Public Accounts to examine the operations of this company.

Major de Valera

The few remarks I wish to make on this Bill would be in a sense complementary to those made by the last speaker because, if we were to discuss the economics of mineral development here, we would get ourselves tied up with something with which we will have to deal in a Bill to which another Deputy has referred. As far as we are concerned with this particular Bill, two things strike one: first, the particular provision with regard to coal development and, secondly, the provision with regard to general mineral development. These two things have to be kept clearly separate in considering this Bill. I propose to deal with coal development first.

At the moment I do not think we have any option. The question as to whether that coal development is economic or otherwise is hardly a useful question at the moment, for the simple reason that we need the coal, that we must have the coal and, therefore, any coal we have must be produced. Hence, in the circumstances, in the particular case of the Slievardagh coal-mine it is necessary that the working should be continued. If the Minister is satisfied from the information he has that it is necessary that this company should continue the specific task of producing coal from these mines, then it must be done, and the provision in the Bill covering that point is a necessary provision.

That is a particular, local, what I might call emergency item in the Bill and it does not admit of argument. Before I leave it, however, a word about coal development here might not be out of place. No matter what may be the potentialities of this country in coal— and you have people arguing both ways—one fact is clear, that this country is poor in easily accessible coal. In other words, the bulk of whatever coal is there will be made available only by relatively complex and extensive workings. That fact should be realised and that fact, of course, will have a big influence on the economics of coal production here; but again, as I say, it is unnecessary to dwell on that point at the moment because, for the moment, and, it would appear, for some time in the future also, we want every bit of coal we can produce and it is the coal itself which is the wealth, not the money that it represents. If we cannot generate the power or have the fuel that is necessary then a stock of money will be of no use to us. For that reason we are not in a position to criticise a provision of this nature at the moment and, on the general principle of not changing horses while crossing a stream, the Minister is very wise in leaving the provision as he has it.

With regard to general mineral development, on the surface, we have not got easily accessible minerals as far as one can gather from the surveys. Some of the minerals that we have are not in positions favourable for immediate, economic mining. The ultimate question in regard to them will be somewhat similar to the present question in regard to coal: whether our requirements are of such a nature as to make it imperative on us to have them. If that is the position, mine them we must at all costs. If on the other hand our needs are not imperative and we look to these minerals for export, say as a bargaining power, then all the usual economic factors come into the picture. We cannot decide either of these points until we know what we are talking about. A survey for minerals is necessarily a tedious and difficult task. Ireland is not a recently discovered country. Her surface is pretty well known. As in the case of coal, we have a fair knowledge of the minerals that are available on the surface. It is what is deep down that matters, what is not immediately accessible, what there is a chance of finding. The discovery and the appraising of the value of such deposits is not a simple task. There are, roughly speaking, two methods. One is to dig to find out. Digging takes time, labour, money and a certain amount of skill is involved in knowing where to dig. The alternative method is to call in the aids of certain branches of physics, geophysics, and so forth. They supply an alternative method by which you can make a fair shot at what is under the surface by magnetic and electrical measurements and all that kind of thing. That again takes time but I should imagine that the snag here, apart from the time factor, is that it takes specially trained personnel and special equipment. The training of the personnel and the securing of equipment must be expected to take time. So we cannot quarrel with the Minister if he cannot in a fortnight give us a complete survey. The problem is radically and totally different from a mapping problem which can be done relatively quickly. That should be realised.

Deputy Cosgrave was doubtful about the value of the Minister's technical advisers. I have no knowledge as to his mining advisers but I have a little information as to his advisers on the geophysical and what I might call the scientific approach to the problem, and I think Deputy Cosgrave need have no doubt about their value. They are conservative. The very fact that we have not been hearing much about it is a point in their favour because, unfortunately, in the past this country has suffered much from those who found, say, one pebble of promising ore and made so much about it as to magnify the position out of all proportion to what was there and thus create a wrong impression. Such people have done nearly as much harm as those who said we could not exploit our own resources at all. It is a job to be done thoroughly, scientifically and methodically, and in most cases no answer can be furnished until the work has been completed.

We would ask the Minister, however, to ensure that these people are given facilities, as far as we can give them facilities, to do the work in a practical way. There is no sense in having experts nominally there charged with the job if you do not make it possible for them to do the job. Energetic steps will have to be taken to get properly trained personnel and to get proper equipment for this work. I would ask as a corollary too that that would be looked after, and that an energetic drive be then made to complete the survey. Considerable energy should be put into the matter. It would be helpful to us if, say, in some limited time the House was informed as to progress. After all, if the work is being pressed energetically forward and if, ultimately, we can get within a minimum time a proper survey completed, then the fact or otherwise of interim reports is hardly important.

These are the only few remarks that I have to make on the Bill which, I think, should be passed. It has to be remembered when dealing with criticisms of past expenditure that prospecting work and research work of this nature—preliminary work—will always involve expenditure, and that the returns for it must always, in the first place, be postponed for a number of years; and secondly, that the returns will be conditional upon what is actually found. You cannot guarantee in advance what will be found. In case there should be recriminations and criticisms, as there have been of the old Act about mining, in future debates, let us make it quite clear that we are accepting this as exploration in so far as mineral development and exploration are concerned, and that this Bill is to provide the machinery and the power to carry out that exploration as well as the ascertainment of the knowledge requisite to develop our mineral resources, if any. If we draw a blank, then that is nobody's fault. It is simply so because the things are not there. If, on the other hand, it has profitable results, then the community and the country as a whole will be the richer.

I do not think it was quite fair for Deputy Hughes to register such surprised disappointment at the revelation that the operations of Mianraí Teoranta in the production of phosphate rock and other minerals showed a loss. Everyone here knew that they were producing these minerals at a loss. At any time during the war years, when the company was producing these minerals and earning a loss, it was open to Deputies in the House to propose that the work should cease. Nobody ever proposed that the work should cease. It is hardly fair at this stage for Deputies to criticise the Government for having allowed the company to continue that work and to acquire that loss when they themselves would have strongly opposed a cessation of operations at an earlier period. I do not know how you are going to measure the loss of producing pyrites in circumstances of great difficulty and with inadequate equipment. Pyrites are essential for the manufacture of superphosphate. The lack of superphosphate and of other fertilisers was one of our main problems during the war. There was a period during which we could not import pyrites from anywhere.

What then was the proper value to put upon the pyrites that we were producing for ourselves, and what would we have paid for a similar tonnage of pyrites imported from somewhere else? When, in fact, we did succeed in importing pyrites from Spain we paid fantastic prices for them, prices far in excess of the price which this company was obtaining. The same applies as far as phosphate rock is concerned. We were able to import some phosphate rock from Florida and other places during the war but at a very high price. The total quantity of it yielded superphosphate that was far below our needs, so that, in the effort to supplement what we were getting in, we engaged in the production of our own phosphate rock here. In doing so, we had to have regard not to the loss on production and on the sale of it by Mianraí Teoranta but rather to our absolute and urgent need for fertilisers.

The same is true as far as coal is concerned. This company was never allowed to charge for our coal what we are now paying for American coal of similar quality. If the company had been allowed to charge for the coal the price which we are now paying for American coal delivered here, there would have been very little loss to record. What was the coal worth to us? That is the point of view from which the Government considered this question of loss. We could have suspended operations. If we had suspended operations then we would have had to do without supplies which we regarded as essential, and for which we were prepared to pay very high prices when they became available abroad. As Deputy Davin and other Deputies pointed out, the money that was expended was expended partly upon mineral exploration which was associated with the production activities of the company. In any event, the expenditure of that money gave valuable employment in areas where it was certainly desired.

Some Deputies have spoken in a manner to suggest either that they misunderstood the source of the loss or its relevance to the production of coal at Slievardagh. The loss to which I referred represented the whole of the loss endured by the company in all its operations during the war. It would not be correct to ascribe the whole loss to the coal produced at Slievardagh, nor is it possible to indicate in a precise way the loss per ton of coal. At Slievardagh this company was partially engaged in development there and only partially in productive work. Deputy Hughes quoted me as saying that the first shaft sunk by the company was in the wrong place. That is only partially correct. At an early stage the company came to me and put on me the responsibility of making the decision which they were facing. They pointed out that if they developed the coal at Slievardagh in the manner of which any reputable coal-mining engineer would approve, it might be two years or longer before they would be producing coal in any quantity. They said that that method of development was what they should recommend as the custodians of the property for the purpose of ensuring its long-term development and economical operation in normal circumstances. They said to me that, if we wanted coal urgently and did not care how we got it, it meant a rather unsuitable form of development at Slievardagh, and that they would have then to go about it in another way. I gave them a direction to go after coal in the maximum quantity possible by whatever method would get it quickest, and not to have regard at that stage to the problems of long-term development. That did mean that the methods of opening up the coal at Slievardagh and the development of the company's workings there were less suitable for economic long-term development than they might in more leisurely and more normal circumstances have adopted. The cost of doing that must also be regarded as emergency expenditure which must be written off now that we are trying to get back to normal commercial work.

In the main, however, the difficulty about giving a precise figure for loss per ton produced arises from the fact that a large part of the expenditure of the company was in exploration and development rather than in commercial exploitation and they did not keep their accounts in such a form as would enable it to segregate one form of expenditure from another. I have explained, however, that Mianraí Teoranta remained in the coal-mining business merely because nobody would buy the mines. We tried to sell them. I would have preferred that Mianraí Teoranta would be confined in its activities in the future to the exploration and development work for which it was originally set up. It entered into these mining operations during the war because nobody else would do it. When Deputy Cogan or other Deputies refer to the fact that some private firms are engaged in coal-mining activities here and making a profit out of it, whereas the State company was making a loss, the explanation is obvious. The only mining operations which were left to the State company to do were those which private enterprise would not touch because they were bound to make a loss, and the State went into these operations, not because it was anxious to engage in that type of enterprise, but because the products which might be won were urgently required during the war.

As soon as the war ended, as soon as supplies of phosphate rock from North Africa, our normal source of supply, became available and other supplies of pyrites became procurable at a lower price, we closed down on the activities of the company in Clare and Wicklow and it continued at Slievardagh merely to facilitate us in our desire to dispose of that undertaking as a going concern. Nobody offered to buy it as a going concern and we were faced then with the necessity of making the decision whether we would close down in Slievardagh also. In coming to a decision on that point, we had regard to two factors: one being the need for all the coal we could get and the second the prospect, based upon the expert advice available to the company, of opening up at Slievardagh more profitable and easily workable seams which would make commercial operations there in the future likely to be more successful and which, if developed, would facilitate us in our aim of disposing of the property.

Deputy Hughes has also some misunderstanding concerning the other and main activities of Mianraí, Teoranta. Its main activities in the future will be exploration and development work which will bring the development work in relation to any mineral resources which are located to the point at which commercial exploitation might begin. We have in mind, however, that a commercial development should be by private enterprise. That does not mean, as Deputy Davin assumed, that we will hand over the benefit of all our development expenditure to some private company. It means that we have developed our own property, because these mineral resources are State property, to the stage at which we can get a fair price for them from those who are prepared to lease them for development. Certainly, the terms of the lease which would be granted to any private firm developing the resources would be sufficient to recover our development expenditure and to provide for the State the royalty which it expects to get out of these mineral resources.

Would it be a reversionary lease?

I do not want to answer a question of that kind because I do not know what the circumstances are likely to be, or even what the deposits are likely to be, or what the normal rate would be to develop a particular mineral in a particular area. The amount of mineral there presumably would be limited and the development would go on until the deposit was exhausted.

Deputy Hughes asked me for the names of the directors. The present directors of Mianraí Teoranta are as follows: The chairman is Mr. P.S. Brady; the managing director is Mr. F.F. O'Kelly; and the other directors are: Mr. D.W. Bishop, who is the director of the geological survey; Mr. P.J. Fleming, who is associated with several mining enterprises in the country; Professor M.A. Hogan; Mr. Art Ó Briain, who has qualifications as a mining engineer; Mr. A.J. Woods, also an engineer. The board of directors will be responsible for directing the activities of the company. They will have at Slievardagh a mine manager and a local executive staff who will be responsible for all the normal directorial duties arising there.

I do not wish to enter into the more general discussion which Deputy Davin tried to initiate on the development of our coal resources generally. There are problems in that regard, many of which were mentioned by the Deputy: the difficulty of getting a sufficient number of skilled coal-face workers; the problem of housing in the vicinity of the mines, and the procuring of machinery. But I would not think it probable that we can effect a very substantial expansion in our total coal production for some time to come, and perhaps not at all, even from the existing works. There is an economic rate of work in any coal measure, and it is not always possible to go faster than that rate without causing a great deal of trouble, including trouble for the workers who might be attracted into that occupation and who might be left unemployed at a later stage. Clearly any well-devised plan for the working of further coal deposits should contemplate the production of coal at a rate which will ensure the continuance of activity in the area over a reasonable period of time.

Deputy Commons indicated that he would be prepared to contemplate even a larger expenditure than the Bill provides for in the exploration of mineral resources. The total amount provided in this Bill represents the estimated expenditure on a scheme of expansion which has been prepared by the board on the basis of expert advice obtained by it. Deputy Cosgrave asked for the names of the expert advisers of the board in relation to its development programme. The programme has been prepared on the technical advice of Professor Ritson, who is an eminent British mining engineer; Professor Odman, an equally eminent Swedish geologist; Professor W.R. Jones, an eminent British geologist; Mr. W. Wilson, a British mining engineer, and Mr. Andrew Pearson, a consulting engineer.

Based on the expert advice obtained from these advisers, the board has prepared a programme. That programme, based on present costs, wages and similar assumptions, will cost the amount indicated in the Bill. They will get that amount at the rate of £85,000 per year over seven years, and they will be expected so to time their activities that they will be fully covered by the expenditure of £85,000 which they receive in the year. If costs should fall, they may be able to do more; if costs should rise, they will have to do less; but, in any event, they will get £85,000 a year, and no more, and will be expected to have the development programme which they have drawn up completed within seven years. In reply to Deputy de Valera, I may say that arrangements have been made and there is a section of the Bill which provides for the submission of a full report of the progress of their researches to the Dáil every year.

Deputy Cosgrave was, I think, inclined to make the error of assuming that the production of coal at Slievardagh will be the company's main activity in the future. The company is only remaining in the coal-mining business largely because of the accidental circumstances to which I refer. It will get for the development of this commercial undertaking a further capital sum of £50,000, and no more. I want to make that clear, because if the company cannot, in the course of a reasonable period and with the expenditure of that sum, get Slievardagh into a condition where its revenue is equal to its outgoings, it will certainly have to be abandoned. The trouble with any mining undertaking is that it is never possible to stop the expenditure of money on exploration. The private individual stops when his money gives out, but the State, with unlimited resources, can be tempted to keep on putting money into exploration work because, every time you go down into the ground, you find new indications which suggest that further exploration should be done in other directions.

We cannot have, in this particular instance, that unlimited expenditure on development. I say "in this particular instance" because coal-mining here is different from other mining activities. It is carried on by a very large number of private firms of different sizes and it is not therefore essential that the State should pour a lot of money into exploration of one particular locality, except perhaps in abnormal times like the present. If progress cannot be made to profitable commercial working, within the limit of the expenditure we have set ourselves, we must make up our minds that we will go no further. We can leave it to the other privately-owned workings to carry on and provide us with such internal supplies of coal as are possible.

In other cases, circumstances may be different. The gypsum deposit in the Monaghan-Cavan area is being explored by the Geological Survey at the moment. It has very substantial industrial possibilities and it is clearly a very valuable deposit. There is probably no other deposit like it in Europe, and it is already the basis of very considerable industrial development in that area and can be exploited for industrial purposes to an extent far in advance of anything that has been visualised up to now. Therefore, I think we are fully justified in opening up that deposit and in exploring its extent and quality as intimately as possible. The State is doing that.

Does Mianraí Teoranta propose to carry on work there?

It is now being done by the Geological Survey It is not necessary there to do the work which Mianraí Teoranta will do, because, in that area, there is already a very keen interest in the commercial working of the deposit, and once it is shown to exist in a particular area at a particular depth and of a particular quality, there will be no difficulty in interesting private firms in developing it for the purposes of the particular industries with which they are associated.

They are not going to compete with Mianraí Teoranta?

Mianraí Teoranta will not be in that area at all, but if, in some other locality—the mineralised area of County Wicklow, of North Tipperary or any other areas where there are prospects—the first survey shows the likelihood of a sizeable mineral deposit, then Mianraí Teoranta will go in to develop it to the stage at which it can prove the existence of substantial bodies of ore, indicate the exact composition and value of the ore, and give to private enterprise all the knowledge and information which it may require to decide whether successful commercial working is possible or not.

My main point, however, in adverting to Deputy Cosgrave's reference to Slievardagh was to give some other information. The expert report upon which the Slievardagh working was begun was in fact published. At least, it was published in the sense that a copy of the report was made available in the library of the Geological Survey, open to public inspection. It is still there. The further development of the Slievardagh area has been directed by the engineers of Mianraí Teoranta itself and they probably know a great deal more about the deposit than any firm of consulting engineers can possibly acquire because of their intimate associations with the working of it. The firm of engineers was a very eminent one. I recollect that, at the time, we asked our representatives abroad to give us the name of the most eminent firm of coal-mining engineers in the world and it was on that basis that the particular firm which produced the report was chosen.

The picture, therefore, that I want to give of the future activities of Mianraí Teoranta is this: It will engage in coal-mining in Tipperary indefinitely if it can put coal-mining on a profitable basis and for a limited period if it cannot. If it can get it on a profitable basis, I think we will try again to dispose of the property to some private interest; if it cannot get it going on a profitable basis after another sum of £50,000 has been expended, we will close down. The main work of Mianraí Teoranta in future will be this exploration and development work. That will be done in accordance with a systematic plan, involving the continuation of activities for seven years at a certain steady pace and involving the expenditure of £85,000 a year for that period. At the end of that seven years' period, we should have a complete picture of the mineral resources of the country which will enable us to decide to what extent we should develop them commercially now and hold them as a sort of strategic reserve against another war or to what extent they are of no value either for commercial exploitation or reserve purposes.

The company has acquired losses through having been given the responsibility in the war period of producing phosphate rock, pyrites and coal, regardless of cost. These losses are now being wiped out. The company will start off therefore with a capital which will be represented by assets valued for what they are worth at the moment, such additional capital as may be advanced in respect of Slievardagh up to a limit of £50,000 and this right to obtain non-repayable advances of £85,000 per year for seven years. What happens at the end of seven years, the Dáil will have to decide.

Deputy Hughes appeared to me to suggest that if the company finds workable deposits and wants to work them, it should go ahead and do so, and that the Bill should provide for that possibility. I do not think it should. If workable deposits are located and developed to the point at which they can be worked, and if it is decided that this company or any other State organisation should work them rather than that they should be leased to private enterprise, the Dáil should have an opportunity of expressing its view on the matter. As this Bill stands, Mianraí Teoranta could not do so. There would have to be other legislation which would enable the Dáil to decide whether it wanted the deposit worked in that way or in some other way. I think that is as it should be. I want no ambiguity in anybody's mind as to the view of the Government. It is that if workable deposits are located and developed to a point at which they can be exploited, they should be leased on some satisfactory basis to private concerns rather than that they should be exploited by Mianraí Teoranta.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15th October.