Private Members' Business. - Sale of Tramore Property—Motion.

Debate resumed on the following motion:—
That, in view of public uneasiness caused by the sale of An Bord Fáilte property at Tramore by private treaty to three private individuals at a much lower figure than possibly might have been obtained if an opportunity had been given to the public to bid at a public auction or by tender, Dáil Éireann is of opinion that a Select Committee of the House should be set up to investigate all the facts of the sale and to report back to the Dáil.— (Deputy Kyne).

We were discussing in Private Members' time last week a motion moved by Deputy Kyne concerning the sale of certain properties owned by An Bord Fáilte at Tramore, a motion which alleged that public uneasiness exists in Tramore because of the sale of these properties to three private individuals, as the motion stated, at a much lower figure than possibly might have been obtained if the properties had been sold at public auction. When speaking previously, I dealt with the suggestion that the sale was to three private individuals who had no claims to special consideration in relation to the disposal of these properties which other private citizens might not have. I pointed out that the three individuals were, in fact, directors of a company which was set up by the Tourist Board in 1946 to acquire, develop and manage these properties; that they had acted as directors of the company without fee on behalf of the Tourist Board, that they had managed the property during the whole period of the existence of that local company and had therefore a very special interest in its future.

I want to deal now with the suggestion that the price paid by these local directors of the Tramore Development Company for the properties was less than might have been secured if the properties had been disposed of otherwise. That, I think, is the kernel of the case which Deputy Kyne made for the establishment of a committee of inquiry into the transaction. I want to make it quite clear that, so far as I am aware, the suggestion that these properties might have realised more if disposed of otherwise has not been made by anybody outside this House. It certainly was not made to me by the town commissioners who were interested in the future of the properties or by anybody in Tramore. When I met the town commissioners to discuss this matter with them I asked them if they suggested that a higher price could have been realised for the properties if they had been sold by public auction or otherwise than to the directors of the local development company. They did not make that claim.

When the town commissioners were themselves exploring the possibility of taking over the properties, assuming that they had the legal power and the finances to do so, they had in mind an arrangement under which no payment whatever would be made and that their obligation would be confined to the payment of an annual sum by way of interest and what they described as a small contribution by way of repayment of capital. I have already expressed my personal conviction that by adopting the recommendation of An Bord Fáilte in regard to the disposal of these properties a much higher price was realised for them than could otherwise have been obtained.

What were these properties worth? Deputies have tried to convey a misleading picture to the House by stressing the fact that during the period in which the local development company, acting on behalf of the Tourist Board, was developing the amenities of Tramore some £84,000 was spent on these amenity works. The fact that nearly £84,000 was spent from Tourist Board funds on the development of the amenities of Tramore does not mean that saleable assets worth £84,000 were created. A large part of the expenditure at Tramore did not create any saleable asset at all. Furthermore, all expenditure on development in Tramore ceased in 1948 and no further capital expenditure was made for a period of four years for the improvement or maintenance of the properties previously acquired.

Deputies who were familiar with the conditions prevailing in Tramore before the Tourist Board got to work there will appreciate the need for a considerable expenditure to improve these conditions which was unlikely to pay off directly in a financial sense. There was an accumulation of shacks and objectionable buildings in the vicinity of the promenade. So unsightly was that collection of objectionable buildings that a very well-known English newspaper columnist who visited Tramore described it as "like the back yard of a deserted mining village". A considerable part of the money spent in Tramore was used for the acquisition and removal of these unsightly structures and the creation of an open space in the vicinity of the promenade. Obviously, no saleable asset was left behind. The intention in acquiring and demolishing the buildings was to leave an open space so that the attractiveness of that part of the town would be enhanced. There was never an anticipation that any part of that expenditure would be directly recovered in the sense in which that term is used here.

The largest single item upon which money was spent in Tramore was the construction of the hydro. That undoubtedly provided an amenity for Tramore. It was hoped through the construction of the hydro that the tourist season in Tramore would be lengthened. But when we come to consider what that property would be worth to somebody buying it as a commercial venture, we have the fact that it had lost money from the day it was opened. Any businessman coming to consider the desirability of making a bid for Tourist Board properties on sale in Tramore would consider, not what the property cost but what his prospects were of getting his investment back or getting a reasonable dividend on his investment and, coming to consider the position of the hydro, he would have to regard it, on the basis of experience of its operation up to date, as a liability. In fact, one of the reasons why from the beginning I decided that these properties would be sold as one unit and not in separate lots was the realisation that otherwise we might be left with some unsaleable properties in the locality.

When the directors of the local company were proposing to the Tourist Board, as it was then called, that they should acquire these properties, following the decision of the previous Government that the properties were to be sold, they made a calculation which indicated that the revenue surplus from all the properties in Tramore was approximately £1,000 per year, without making any provision for interest upon the capital expenditure.

A businessman investing in a property of that kind would, of course, have regard to the revenue to be derived from it. It has been suggested here that these local directors, who had come into the whole matter on the invitation of the Tourist Board and who had acted without fee for years in the management of these properties, were solely concerned with making a "good thing" for themselves. On that basis, having regard to the fact that the surplus revenue to be derived from the property was expected to be £1,000 a year, and calculating the capital value of the properties on a ten years' purchase of the net revenue, they might have regarded £10,000 as the maximum price they could have afforded to pay for these properties. In fact, An Bord Fáilte have certified to me—and I have the certificate here —that the actual net revenue from the property is £270 a year. In considering the suggestion that in buying these properties for £22,500 the local directors were thinking only of the profit they could derive from it, it should be borne in mind that the actual profit they could hope to get, unless they invested a great deal more in developing the properties, was £270 a year. They would have got a great deal more by putting their money into Government stocks. Apart from any other consideration that might be advanced here, that very fact alone demolishes the contention that these properties were sold at a lower price than might have been obtained in some other way.

When I resumed office as Minister for Industry and Commerce, the position of these properties had not been settled and I had to take decisions in regard to them. I did not altogether approve of the policy of the previous Government in disposing of Tourist Board properties, in the hasty and ill-considered way in which it was proposed to do so, but I was not prepared in 1951 to reverse that policy. I informed the Tourist Board that the decision to dispose of the Tramore properties stood. I was particularly concerned to safeguard the interests of Tramore in the disposal of these properties. It would clearly not be in the interests of Tramore as a holiday resort if the fields and buildings in the vicinity of the promenade were purchased by people who were going to use them as motor-car dumps or for the carrying on of some undesirable business, and consequently I informed the Tourist Board that my decision was that the properties should be sold by way of lease containing a restrictive covenant, confining the use of the properties to purposes which would not be inconsistent with the development of Tramore as a holiday resort. When that decision was communicated to the Tourist Board and when they learned that the lease would contain that restrictive covenant, the Tourist Board's solicitor — I think those opposite know who he is, that he is a politician not attached to the Government Party—advised that if the property were sold——

A politician?

Well, I think he will not deny that description.

It is a new definition of a politician.

I understand he is a member of the Seanad. There are politicians in it.

He is not one of the Twelve Apostles.

The board's solicitor advised that if the property was to be put up for sale by public auction with that restrictive covenant in the lease, it was likely that only a very poor price would be secured and that the knowledge of the restrictive covenant would depress the price which might be realised. He further advised that there was a possibility that the restrictive covenant would be set aside later by the courts. That was the factor which gave me most concern because, as £84,000 of Tourist Board money had been spent in developing the amenities of Tramore and in improving Tramore as a holiday resort, I did not want to see that work undone, by what I have already described as hasty or ill-considered action. If the restrictive covenant, which I contemplated, could not be made effective it was obviously my duty to reconsider the decision I had taken that the property should be offered for sale by public auction subject to that restrictive covenant.

There is the fact, which I cannot overemphasise, that there was no other purchaser of these properties in sight except the people who bought them. A couple of inquiries had been received from people who were interested in small lots but even these inquiries were not followed up by any definite proposals. In any case I had decided, and the Tourist Board strongly concurred in the decision, that the property should be sold as a whole and not in individual lots. The probabilities are that if the property had been put up for sale by public auction there would be no bidder at the auction other than the local development company which ultimately acquired it. The net result of selling the property by public auction, in my opinion, would be that the same people who now have it would get it and they would have got it at a lower price than was actually negotiated by An Bord Fáilte. Furthermore, these people who have purchased the property have accepted the condition that the property must be used solely for tourist development purposes. They are people who came into the business because of their interest in Tramore as a holiday resort and their intention to develop it as a holiday resort is clearly stated.

It is quite true that I told the commissioners no later than March, 1952, that the intention was to sell the property by public auction. It was stated by Deputy O. Flanagan that in the speech which I made in Tramore I had given an assurance that the property would be sold by public auction. To the best of my recollection in the last ten or 15 years I have spoken at only one public meeting at Tramore, in June, 1952, and in that speech I made no reference whatever to the disposal of these properties. I have got the report of the speech which was published in a local newspaper at the time and it contains no reference to the disposal of these properties. I further checked it up with the number of individuals who are most highly critical of my action in regard to the disposal of these properties and they agreed that I gave no assurance of the type suggested by Deputy O. Flanagan at that meeting. They said that I told them privately that an offer from a local development company would be considered. I must confess that at that time I was not very clear in my mind that there were two local development companies. I was not aware that there was any conflict of local interest in the matter at all. In any event if I gave that assurance in June, 1952, I would draw attention to the fact that the announcement of the sale of the property to the existing company was not made until January, 1953, and during that period no other offer for the acquisition of these properties came to An Bord Fáilte. My sole interest in this matter was and is to ensure that the attractions of an important holiday resort such as Tramore will be properly developed.

An attempt has been made to suggest that some political considerations entered into this disposal. I have on many occasions been in Waterford and Tramore in the presence of large gatherings of people to whom I was introduced. I want to say that to the best of my recollection I have never met any of the three local directors to whom this property was sold. In this matter I have acted entirely upon the advice of An Bord Fáilte. As I said, they gave the same advice to my predecessor. My predecessor also received the same advice from some of his Cabinet colleagues. They were constant and emphatic in their view that in the interests of the development of Tramore as a holiday resort the best way of disposing of this property if it was disposed of, was to sell it to the local company that they had themselves set up.

There are, perhaps, one or two minor matters to which I should refer for the purpose of disposing of this business. During the course of the debate Deputy Kyne said that the Waterford County Council made application for portion of the Tramore property to be used as parking space for tourist-cars and that the conditions under which they were given the property by the present owners were such that a sum of £870 for a stretch of land roughly 30 yards long by 30 feet deep had to be expended by the council so that the town commissioners could make the use of it available to tourists. I am going to assume that Deputy Kyne does not know all the facts. What were the conditions under which this property was acquired from the owners? They got it for nothing.

What did it cost?

So far as the owners were concerned they gave it for nothing.

My figures are from Waterford County Council.

I do not care what the Waterford County Council figures are.

And they had to pay £870.

That may be money they spent on the subsequent development of the site, but so far as the owners of the property are concerned, they gave it for nothing.

Provided a beautiful railing was built keeping in their property and costing £870.

They gave it for nothing.

It is the same thing.

The Deputy also said that the Irish Countrywomen's Association rented a plot of ground from An Bord Fáilte and that they were required by the new owners to give immediate possession of that property, so that thousands of bulbs which the Irish Countrywomen's Association had planted to be in flower during the Tóstal period had to be rooted up and that property left free of these bulbs for the new owners. Again I am going to assume that Deputy Kyne does not know the facts. An Bord Fáilte gave that plot to the Irish Countrywomen's Association for nothing. They did not rent it: they got it free of charge and had occupation of that plot until the end of May, 1953, for three or four weeks after the Tóstal period had concluded, and the Irish Countrywomen's Association were given every opportunity to lift the bulbs and did lift them and sell them.

A great deal of misinformation has been spread about this whole business and some unnecessary heat has been created. I want to suggest that what has happened has happened now. Whether my decision was a wise decision or a wrong decision, it cannot be undone. I said here, in speaking last week, that although the purchase price had been paid over by the local directors to An Bord Fáilte, the transaction had not been finally completed in the sense that the lease had not been signed. The lease has been signed since and the whole business is now finished and I suggest that, instead of trying to create misunderstanding and spread a false impression regarding this business, all those who are interested in the development of Tramore as a holiday resort should now get together and see what they can do to improve it.

Since the decision to dispose of these properties was taken the Tourist Act has been passed and is now in operation. There is a possibility under that Act of Tramore securing very practical financial help for development purposes. It will greatly enhance the prospects of that help being available if an agreed scheme for the development of Tramore can be produced between all those who are interested, from the town commissioners to the owners of property who may be affected by any such development scheme. Practical common sense now suggests that this business should be allowed to drop and that those concerned should concentrate on the work of future development.

I repeat what I said here already that by selling this property to the local directors of the company which the Tourist Board set up in 1946 to develop it they were handing it over to those who were best fitted in many respects to develop the property in the interests of Tramore as a holiday resort, the people who had themselves invested private funds in the purchase of adjacent properties in order to protect the interests of Tourist Board property at a time when it was Government policy not to proceed with that programme. I repeat that by the successful negotiations carried on between An Bord Fáilte and the local directors a price was secured substantially higher than could have been secured from anybody else and certainly very much higher than could have been obtained by public auction.

Before the Minister passes would he mind telling us why the deal was not completed for so long?

There was some difficulty about title.

There was no supplementary agreement to the original agreement?

No. The only problem was a matter of title.

The original agreement was put in the Library by the Minister following a question by me. There was no subsequent agreement?

No. The lease as I understand it has been signed as tabled. During last year the local directors were in occupation merely as caretakers for An Bord Fáilte.

I want to say just one final word. Many of those who have been most critical of the action taken in Tramore and who have been most prominently associated with the agitation there, are personal and political friends of my own. I hope I have not lost either their personal or political friendship because of the course I took in the best interests of Tramore's development. I ask them, knowing them to be public-spirited people who have no other interest in this matter except the welfare of their own town to believe that in my action in this matter I had no other interest either and now that the whole transaction has been completed they should show the genuineness of their concern for the future of Tramore by getting all interested parties together and seeing what they can work out that would ensure the development of Tramore in harmony with all interests.

On a point of order. Did the Minister say that the statement that he made in connection with the purchase of the property was a quotation? If so, I would like the reference.

What quotation?

What you said there in connection with the purchase by the Waterford County Council of some property. Was that a quotation?

Is it from last Friday's debate?

That can be got afterwards.

I want to know where it came from. It is the custom of the House to give it. I suggest it is an incorrect quotation.

I do not know what it is. I am calling on Deputy Sweetman while the Minister is seeking the quotation.

The reference is column 390 and the quotation is half-way down that column.

I have it here.

I did not really intend to intervene, and I certainly did not wish to say very much only for the distortion of the truth by the Minister on last Friday. I want to refer him to column 402 where his words are as follows:—

"My predecessor on three occasions sanctioned the sale by private treaty of Tourist Board property without that property having been offered for sale by public auction."

There were two such occasions. On the third occasion I said I gave the sanction in reply to a Dáil question.

In Bundoran?

That is right.

The Minister in so stating tried to give the impression that the other two cases to which he referred were cases which could be compared with the circumstances of this one. Of course, the fact is that that is entirely untrue.

I do not think so.

The position in this case and in the case of Killarney and the couple of acres in Portmarnock is entirely different. What happened in Killarney was—I do not know whether it was at the direction of the present Minister—that at least with the Minister's consent the former chairman of the Tourist Board went in and bought over the heads of the Killarney Golf Club the property in which the Killarney Golf Club had facilities. As a result of the action by the Tourist Board, the Killarney Golf Club were deprived of those facilities. In 1948 or 1949—I forget which year it was—the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, when it was put up to him that it was most unfair to the Killarney Golf Club, being a body that catered not merely for the people of Killarney but also for tourists who visited Killarney, should have been evicted in this manner, said that provided the Killarney Golf Club paid every penny that had been paid for the property and made good the interest that had been lost to the public Exchequer by reason of the public Exchequer being out of the money, it could be bought by private treaty at cost.

Here we have a very different situation, indeed, a sale at approximately a quarter of the cost. To suggest that those two cases are comparable is just nonsense and the Minister knows perfectly well it is nonsense and was only trying to take a chance on it. In respect of Portmarnock, there was a small area of two or three acres which jutted out from the main property which was about one-half per cent. of the total value. The whole property in Portmarnock was sold by public auction as the Minister admitted when we had this discussion a year ago. It is nonsense to suggest that these examples are precedents in the manner in which the Minister tried to rely on them last Friday. But there is something much more than that in this case which I cannot understand.

This matter arose about a year ago. I have not got the date on which Deputy Kyne put down his motion in the House, but I remember the dates on which the matter was raised, first by way of question and then on the adjournment. It was raised on the 4th February and the 11th February, 1953. At that time and subsequently, when the agreement was put in the Library in that month, the only legal conditions that were binding on the three purchasers were the conditions that were included in the agreement signed on the 19th December, 1952. Those legal conditions contained no condition whatever that the properties were to be used restrictively for the provision of tourism in Tramore as the Minister suggested. Deputy Little, who is a person of legal training, can go to the Library and see the agreement or, if he likes, I will send it across to him. There was absolutely no legal provision whatsoever in the agreement that the properties were to be used for tourist purposes. I want to suggest to the Minister that the restrictive covenant put in the lease, and very properly so, has been put in solely because of the agitation raised this time last year on the motion put down by Deputy Kyne. The agreement, which was signed on the 19th December, 1952, and which is tabled in the Library says:—

"The assurance to the Purchasers of the property mentioned in Part I of the said Schedule shall be by way of Lease of the said property for the term of 99 years from the 1st day of January, 1953, subject to the yearly rent of £3 clear of all deductions——"

Any person used to agreements of sale such as that and who read them in connection with their business as lawyers or otherwise, knows perfectly well that where it is intended to put restrictive covenants in a lease that is going to follow a contract for private treaty or conditions by public auction, that reference to restrictive covenants must be included in the original agreement; otherwise they are not binding on the purchasers and the purchasers can, at their option, refuse to complete such restrictive covenants.

I still think that An Bord Fáilte had competent legal advice.

The Minister can try and bluff his way out of this but he was caught on it just as he was caught on the 4th February, 1953, when he tried to make it clear that it was being sold to the local development company and when, as a result of subsequent questions, he had to agree he was wrong and that it was the three persons as individuals. I have not the slightest doubt but what the Minister says now is correct and that there has been a restrictive covenant put in the lease. I accept that assurance but I say that it was not in the original agreement and it was not legally binding on the three parties concerned. It is only being included now because the three parties concerned knew that unless they agreed to that covenant now in the lease the Minister would not have a leg to stand upon in regard thereto.

The position that has arisen in respect of these properties shows how valueless was the advice that was accepted and acted upon by the Minister during his former term of office. No matter what was spent on taking down these shacks—it was, perhaps, good business that they should be taken down; I am not prepared to argue with the Minister on that—it is fantastic to suggest that there could be anything like the difference between £22,000 and £84,000. Either the position is that money was absolutely thrown away during that period of lavish spending or else the price now is not adequate. I am not a valuer and I do not propose to try and assess something which I am not competent to determine. But I say this. There are only two criteria of value that can be taken at any time. One is the criterion of cost and the other is the criterion of what property makes in the open market.

The Minister has abandoned the criterion of cost in this case and he has not adopted the criterion of the open market because the only way in which the criterion of the open market can be taken is to have the sale by public auction.

I think the Minister will agree on reflection that this time last year when we were discussing this matter in the House he denied he had ever said publicly that the sale was going to be by public auction. He has now told us to-night that he did write a letter stating it was the intention to have the sale by public auction.

I never denied that.

If the Minister reads the reports he will find he did.

I never denied writing a letter.

I am going to check up now but I know the House will take the Minister up on that. I remember it.

I said I would make no public statement in Tramore about the property.

It was alleged——

It was not alleged in Tramore.

I was in Tramore the night the Tánaiste addressed the public meeting but I was not listening to him. I was otherwise engaged.

When a check was made with the people who were concerned with the agitation, they agreed I made no statement.

It was alleged by one of the commissioners that you had made such a statement and he had heard it.

It was not reported and nobody else heard it.

I can only take his statement as reported.

And published in the local newspaper.

It was not published in the local newspaper.

I have it here.

I have it here, too.

We all have it. The position in regard to this is perfectly clear. Anybody knows that when notification is given that a property is going up for sale by public auction, that is tantamount to persons interested holding their hand and not disclosing their hand until the auction is held. The Minister said he did not make a statement on a public platform. He agrees that he did make it in a public letter—it is not suggested even by the Minister that the letter was private. It was, therefore, known that the Minister had indicated that it was his intention that the property would be put up for sale by auction.

That was a long time previously.

Anybody who had that information would obviously wait until the auction was announced before they went along to make an offer because otherwise they would be only disclosing their hand without any hope of being able to get anywhere. It would naturally be assumed that when the Minister so states, he would act according to the statement he had made. As I say, there are two criteria of value. So far as the criterion of cost is concerned the Minister says it is not a fair criterion. It is the criterion of £84,000 against £22,000. As regards the criterion of the open market, the circumstances were entirely different from those to which the Minister tried to make reference the other night. It seems clear now, having regard to the terms of the agreement that are in the Library available for anybody who wants to read them, that it is as a result of the publicity given to the motion put down by Deputy Kyne that we have got in that lease a restricted covenant which there was no liability on the purchasers to accept under the legal agreement they signed on the 19th December, 1952.

The objection I have to this motion is that it is entirely unconstructive, that it is a purely political fishing in troubled waters. It is not that I object to politicians; I repudiate the idea that politicians are disreputable people, but I think in the interests of Tramore, which I have very much at heart, what we want is to approach this question from a constructive point of view. An inquiry into this matter which would lead to a barging match about what who said when, who mended their hand and whether it was the Minister or the Tourist Board that was responsible, would only mean that Tramore would suffer all the time while this barren controversy continued.

I have been interested in Tramore for a very long time, since 1927. I had all sorts of ideas as to what might be done to make improvements, for instance, the engagement of consulting engineers with a view to reclaiming the old back strand which could have been done at one period, and had further hopes of seeing improvements in the awful appearance of the old buildings in Tramore. I also have recollections of what was done there, a matter to which reference has not been made. At one stage the construction corps was brought in there. The work of the construction corps had by no means merely a tourist purpose. It was useful work and had a certain disciplinary effect upon people taken into the Army during that period on whom a considerable amount of money was spent in training. The operation in connection with the land behind the promenade was a very expensive one, but the money was not entirely for tourist purposes.

Deputy Sweetman spoke of the criterion of price and what should be done with regard to selling property. It is no use trying to sell property when the job is half-way through. I happened to be over in Liverpool some time last year and I saw the condition which the present cathedral is in and in connection with which so much money is proposed to be spent. To see it now the place is not worth anything because the work has only commenced and it has hardly got under way. The same thing can be said of Tramore.

The difficulty about Tramore is that a great deal of money will have to be spent in future if the place is to be developed. When one thinks of places abroad which are of a real tourist type, one realises the amount of capital which ultimately must be spent. That is why I feel the Minister's appeal for some sort of united effort should be heeded. I may say, incidentally, that for years I have been listening to complaints made about the people concerned in this property, that they represented individual interests rather than the interests of all the people of Tramore; I have heard complaints about the way this property was treated and the way certain properties were allowed to fall into decay. I had considerable sympathy with the people of Tramore but that approach is not going to lead us anywhere. The complaints that were made in the past should be a warning to those who are undertaking operations now to make sure that the interests of the people of Tramore will be consulted. I do hope that when the present company goes to look for money they will be able to get it from the Tourist Board. I think that, if they get public money, public authority in some way should be represented in the management. Somebody from the Tourist Board should be in close co-operation with those who will be managing it. Then I believe that the town commissioners themselves—a body of good, honest, enthusiastic people about the interests of Tramore —should also have representation in the guidance and, together with that, you would want to have a really able and imaginative person with initiative who will have very definite plans as to what has to be done and who will have the courage and the energy to carry them through. If one thinks of what has been done in other places one realises that the plans must be large plans and that, however long it may take to carry out all the plans, it should be planned on a big scale.

I am particularly interested in the cultural side of things and I hope that aspect also will be attended to. There are buildings which will have to go up there. I hope the architecture of the buildings will be looked to, so that they will be something of beauty which will be an attraction to tourists and I hope they will supply the kinds of facilities which make buildings in other countries useful for festivals, concerts, drama and other entertainments.

The wide fields which are in Tramore should be extremely useful from the point of view of sports and games. The place lends itself to tremendous development. I hope there will be that co-operation which will get representation for public interests as well as private interests and that the Tourist Board will be encouraged to put such capital into the enterprise as will make it a success and an example to the rest of the country. Sometimes we see that the rural representation are indifferent to the interests of places like Tramore. It should be brought home to them that the market for farmers near Tramore is that which is nearest to them; that Tramore is the place where they can get the best value for their own produce and that if they have a big centre of tourism in Tramore they will have the best market possible there.

On a point of information. Deputy Sweetman believes that the idea of restrictive covenant arose only following discussion in the Dáil. I should like to read an extract from a letter which was sent to the town commissioners, dealing with this question of sale by public auction, on the 21st March, 1952:—

"I am to say that the Minister shares the views of your commissioners that it is desirable that the properties in question should be developed in the interests of Tramore as a tourist resort. He has already given the matter careful consideration and has decided that this object can best be achieved by the sale of the properties by public auction on the basis of a long lease which will include such covenants as will ensure that the properties will be developed in the interests of the tourist traffic industry."

The idea of restrictive covenant was there from the beginning.

Does that not stress the point? In other words, the Minister stated in a public letter that it would be sold with those restrictive covenants and then, on the 19th December, 1952, a private deal was made, without those people being informed and without any restrictive covenants.

I am not denying that I changed my mind, but I deny that the people down there did not know.

Here in my hand is a copy of the agreement. That has no restrictive covenant in it at all, notwithstanding the Minister's letter.

I have much more confidence in the Tourist Board solicitor than you have.

I have the confidence to read a straight document. I also know how straight the Minister was with the House, as reported at column 26 of the Official Report of the 4th February.

On the 10th October I authorised the Tourist Board to accept the offer, subject to the inclusion in the lease of a covenant to ensure that the properties would be developed in the interest of tourism.

Where is the public auction?

They were not sold by public auction. I adopted the advice which Deputy MacEoin, as Minister for Justice, urged on my predecessor.

You are on the record, too.

Just before I conclude, as a matter of justice to myself, I should like to clear up something which, perhaps, I may have misunderstood. I understood the Minister in a statement to-night to quote me as saying in my opening speech that the Waterford County Council had purchased from the present owners of the property at Tramore, property which cost them £870. He states that the sellers did not charge that money for it. It is not possible to have the typescript so soon, but I am sure that the Minister misunderstood me.

It was not intentional: I quoted the Deputy's remarks as they appeared to me.

This is what I actually said, as reported in the Official Report of 12th February, 1954, column 390:—

"It is a fact that since this land was sold to three private individuals the Waterford County Council, on behalf of the Tramore Town Commissioners, made application for a portion of the property to be used as a parking-place for the cars of tourists visiting the town, and the conditions under which they were given the property by the present owners were such that a sum of £870 for a stretch of land roughly 30 yards long by 30 feet deep had to be expended by the council so that the town commissioners in Tramore could carry out work essential to tourism."

That statement is perfectly correct.

Is it not fair to say that they got the property for nothing?

We have had too many examples of the Minister reading things into what other Deputies have said. I have just quoted to the House what I did say.

And that is what I quoted—as it is in the Official Report.

The Minister said Deputy Kyne had alleged that the Waterford County Council had had to buy the property for £870 but, in fact, it had been given to them. The record will be there.

I did not say it: I quoted the exact words. I said that in fairness to the owners of the property it should be mentioned that they gave it to the county council.

I am sure that when the Minister sees the typescript he will agree that he made a mistake.

About the Country-women's Association——

That is a different matter altogether. The point is that they got it. So long as I have made what I said clear, I will leave it at that.

I opened the debate on this motion on a note that no charge was being preferred by me of political corruption or of bribery against the Minister or his Department and that there was no suggestion of political patronage or any underhand dealings on behalf of the buyers. I think anyone who read my opening statement will agree that I made that very clear from the start. I also indicated that I was not prepared to take advantage of the shelter given me by the privilege of this House to make allegations against people that I could not substantiate or would not make were I not speaking in this House. I have, in fact, endeavoured not to use a name where at all possible and I am certain that I have succeeded in making no suggestion that would lead anyone reading what I had said to believe that anybody concerned in these transactions was dishonest, either politically or in his ordinary life. I am pretty certain of that. I intend to conclude on the very same line.

I will endeavour as far as I can to keep this matter above the line that Deputy Little alleged when he referred to me in his allegations. He suggested that we are fishing in the troubled waters of politics. I am seeking to establish to the satisfaction of Deputies that the trail of facts as related by me and supported by the additional information derived from various Dáil questions, replies and speeches of the Minister, Mr. Lemass, both last week and this week and last February gives ample ground for a full investigation by a Select Committee of this House so that the minds of the people can be cleared as to whether something was done, either intentionally or unintentionally, which involved the use of public money in the interest of private people.

The Minister or his Department is not on trial in this motion. This motion does not attempt to say that in the Tramore proceedings anything was done by him or his Department or by the buyers that would hold them up to odium, that would put their character in disrepute, but it is suggested that the circumstances, so altering and changing, so different from what happened before, are such as to cause uneasiness, suspicion and distrust, that they have actually caused that uneasiness, suspicion and distrust and that it is as much in the Minister's interests and the interests of the buyers as in that of the whole people, that the matter should be once and for all cleared. It is only by the appointment of a Select Committee, comprised of all Parties in this House, who would investigate the facts and bring a report to the Dáil that all that cloud, that suspicion, all that unrest that there is, particularly in Waterford City and County, can be cleared once and for all.

I suggest that is not unreasonable. I suggest that the motion is not one that the Minister should object to. In the interests of good government, in the interests of the people as a whole, the motion should be accepted and welcomed. There will be no one more pleased than I will be if, the Select Committee having investigated the matter, a report comes to this House saying that everything has been fair and honourable, that there is no need for uneasiness. Then I certainly will feel that I have done a good job for my county and my country, that I have assisted the Minister in carrying out his duties and that I have assisted future Ministers who will be supported by the fact that such an investigation can always be held should doubt arise.

If wrong has been done and if the report is contrary to what I hope it will be, it will be for this House to indicate whether punishment should be inflicted and where it should be inflicted but at the present moment there is no suggestion in the motion that something wrong has been done or that anybody should be punished. It is a request for investigation, free and full, so that this country may have confidence in good government.

In opening the debate I suggested that there were three points that Deputies might put to themselves when listening to the facts as outlined and when listening to the discussion. I asked was the sale carried out in the normal manner. Deputy Sweetman made a case to-night that I would have attempted to make had he not spoken prior to me. I was amazed to hear the Minister state here on last Friday that this was not an exception; it had been done by the inter-Party Government; it had been done by the Government before that; that there was nothing exceptional in the fact that Tourist Board property was sold by private treaty without having been first offered to the public by public auction. He gave me the impression, whether he intended it or not, that in the case he quoted not only was it so, but there was no question about it. Deputy Sweetman indicated pretty clearly to-night that that was not so. On the 11th November, speaking on an adjournment debate in this House, Deputy Sweetman replied to that suggestion in even more detail than he did to-night.

It is necessary to establish whether or not this was a customary method of disposing of property, sale by private treaty, or whether it was an exceptional way. In order to clear our minds on that I quote Deputy Sweetman speaking in the Dáil on the 11th February, 1953, recorded in the Official Reports, Volume 136, No. 5, at column 818:—

"Two properties were sold by private treaty. One was the Killarney property, which had been bought over the heads of the Killarney Golf Club by the previous chairman of the Tourist Board at the instigation of the present Minister for Industry and Commerce. It was bought over their heads by the Tourist Board and when it came up for sale they were given the option of buying it back. And at what price? At the full cost to the Tourist Board, plus interest on the money that had been expended. If this was a case in which these people in Tramore were being offered a chance of buying this property for £84,000 plus interest on the £84,000, it would be one thing, but instead it is being handed over to these people secretly and privately at quarter of the cost, compared to the other case where they were charged the full cost, plus interest. The other sale by private treaty was one concerning two or three acres that jutted into the golf club on the site of the Portmarnock property and which did not in any way affect the sale of the property."

That makes it pretty clear that even though things were sold by private treaty there were exceptional circumstances which justified that. There is no attempt by the Minister to prove that there is anything at all appertaining to Tramore under that heading which justified the sale by private treaty. In fact, it is quite the contrary. I can quote the Minister from his own speech as indicating that as late as March of 1953 he was satisfied that the property should be sold and sold by public auction.

March, 1952.

Wait until I make sure. Yes, March, 1952, is correct. Let me be fair to the Minister. He said that "reluctantly" he came to that conclusion, but that he was satisfied, at that stage. The Minister denies that he made a statement in Tramore in June, 1952, indicating that he was still of that opinion. Although in Tramore on the same evening, I cannot claim—as I very well might claim—having heard him say it. I did not: I was engaged equally in political speech-making. But I can quote from theWaterford Star of January 9th, 1953.

What date?

Deputy Sweetman says that the Minister's colleague in the Tramore Town Commissioners alleges that he heard the Minister make it. This is from theWaterford Star of January 9th, 1953.

That is not a report of a speech made the previous June?

I am giving a quotation of a report of a council meeting at which the Minister's colleague alleges that he heard the Minister say it. It is a matter between the Minister and him, as to whether he did or not. Anyhow, it is published, as follows:—

"During a lengthy correspondence between the commissioners, An Bord Fáilte and the Department of Industry and Commerce, as well as in a statement by Mr. Lemass himself when speaking at Tramore in the recent by-election campaign, guarantees were not wanting that this property if and when disposed of, would be sold by public auction."

Who said that?

Mr. Power. At least it is reported of him that he said it.

Mr. Power confirmed to me to-day that he did not make the statement at a public meeting. He said that he had discussed the question informally, not that it would be sold by auction, but that the town commissioners could make an offer for it if they so desired.

A good lot of things have happened to-day.

I only checked on that.

I have been checking on other things and I may say that before 10.30 p.m. to-night or before late on Friday, I will relate what has happened.

I was not responsible for all that happened.

I was hoping to ask the Minister if he was. If Mr. Power has changed his mind since January 9th, 1953, that is another thing.

It is of no great importance. I was trying to check on my own memory.

We can at least assume that he then thought in that way.

What is good is the actual report of the speech as contained in the local newspaper.

Was that from theWaterford News?

I was present at that meeting and I cannot recollect any such statement.

We would not expect you to remember. There were lots of things said on the platform that you do not remember.

I thought it was the meeting of the town commissioners you did not come to? You said you were present?

Was it the public meeting theStar refers to?

No. I am afraid you must not have been listening.

The quotation the Deputy gave there?

I will read it again, to convince my colleague from Waterford, Deputy Little. I am quoting from theWaterford Star of Friday, 9th January, 1953. It is a report of a meeting of the town commissioners, to which the Deputy was invited. It states:

"During a lengthy correspondence"—

the correspondence was produced—

"between the commissioners, An Board Fáilte and the Department of Industry and Commerce, as well as in a statement by Mr. Lemass himself when speaking at Tramore in the recent by-election campaign"——

There you are, that is it; that is what I deny.

So his memory is not so good?

Maybe I am growing blind. If you can see something different in it from what I see, that is all right with me. I am suggesting that the Minister was quite convinced—certainly in March, likely enough in June, and then by a letter, not sent from him, it is true, at least I do not think it was, but the letter arrived to the town commissioners on the 16th September from the Minister's office—that before any definite decision would be come to, Tramore Town Commissioners would be notified.

I will read the letter. It says:

"I am desired by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to refer to your letter of the 6th September, 1952, enclosing a copy of a recent resolution passed by your commissioners in regard to the properties of An Bord Fáilte at Tramore and to say that he is at present considering, in consultation with the board, the arrangements which should be made to ensure that these properties will be maintained and developed in the interests of Tramore as a tourist resort. When a final decision has been taken, an announcement on the subject will be made by An Bord Fáilte."

I am suggesting that, to any reasonable person, including the Tramore Town Commissioners, the inference to be taken from that—and which they did take, as the Minister is well aware—was that no sanction to a sale would be made at least without their being notified.

It says: "When a final decision has been taken, an announcement on the subject will be made by An Bord Fáilte."

When that was sent, you had decided already to sell it?

We had decided to sell it, if the price was good enough.

And had instructed your officers about it. I have just read out the record. That decision was taken on the 10th October. It is a bit difficult to go over it, but I think I can read from a statement of the Minister's on the 4th February, in reply to a number of questions, where I think it will be found that the Minister had already decided. I propose to give this quotation from the Minister's statement in the Dáil on 4th February, 1953. It is reported at column 22:—

"On the 21st August, 1952, An Bord Fáilte reported to me that there had been further discussions with the local directors of Tráigh Mhór (Tramore Development) Teo. as a result of which the local directors had submitted a firm offer to purchase the properties for £20,000, payable in cash, and had given an undertaking that the properties to be acquired would be developed in the interests of tourism. An Bord Fáilte stated to me that they were satisfied that, having regard to all the circumstances, and in particular to the requirement that the Tramore properties be developed in the interests of tourism, it would be preferable to accept this offer and not to proceed to dispose of the property by public auction. In the light of this recommendation from An Bord Fáilte, and after consultation with the Minister for Finance, I indicated to An Bord Fáilte that I was prepared to agree to the sale of the properties on the basis proposed if, after further negotiations, the local directors could not be induced to improve on their offer."

If I knew that the Minister was going to make the point which he has made I could have got quotations going further back indicating that he had his mind made up to give it to these three people.

Surely the letter to the town commissioners made it clear that the matter was being considered by An Bord Fáilte.

There is a considerable difference of opinion as between the interpretation which the Minister places upon it and the interpretation placed on it by the town commissioners. That may be unfortunate.

An announcement was not made for four months after that and we got no offer.

The announcement was made just too late for them to have an opportunity of doing anything. The point is as to whether it is the usual procedure to sell by public auction or by private treaty. I think I have given enough facts to enable any honest Deputy to decide that in this case the normal thing would be a public auction. The Minister indicated, up to a point at least, that he favoured that. He made that public in a letter and it is to be implied from a public speech he made that the normal procedure is a public auction.

If a change took place, and we know there was a change, I suggest that the next point to be examined is this: were there any particular circumstances that justified either the Minister in agreeing or An Bord Fáilte in recommending that such a change be carried out? The Minister states in justification of his change of mind that he did it on the advice of An Bord Fáilte. He suggests that he feared that other interests, alien interests, might purchase the property if it was put up for public auction and use it against the town of Tramore and against the interests of tourism in Ireland generally. He implied in his speech in this House on 4th February, 1953, that he suggested a covenant be put into this private treaty that would protect the interests of Tramore. Deputy Morrissey challenged him on the fact as to whether or not that very same covenant could not be put in, in the case of a sale by public auction. The Minister did not repudiate that suggestion.

What I said was that the board's solicitor said that such a covenant in a lease sold by public auction could be upset in the courts.

I am suggesting that Deputy Morrissey in his statement said that the very same covenant could be put in in the case of a sale by public auction just as well as it could in a sale by private treaty, and that the Minister did not repudiate that. Rather the Minister agreed that was so. I will give the quotation.

That is the letter written to the town commissioners.

The Minister indicated that, because the people who were to receive the property had been, or were, the directors of Tramore Limited, and had in the past given good service, he felt justified, having assured himself that the best price was got, in sanctioning the sale to these people. To my mind, at any rate, that would imply, as I am quite sure it would to the minds of most people, that these people had some outstanding merit. I would remind the Minister that among the Tramore Commissioners there was a former director of the same company, and that in Tramore town there also was a former member who, when approached to take part in this deal, indicated that he would have none of it unless a public company was floated in which shares were offered to the people of Tramore in general. That was Mr. Fleming. I think it is to his credit. I have no hesitation in using his name, and I use it because of that. I use it to verify my words that he said he would have none of it because the ordinary people of Tramore were not getting an opportunity of taking part in this company.

I suggest that the Minister knows well that the Tramore Town Commissioners is comprised of a body of very keen pro-Tramorites, of people who in their own right could produce finance equally with the people who have purchased this property and who could get credit in their own right to bid for this property. Mr. Morris, a member of the town commissioners, was also a director with the two people concerned, but he is not a member who purchased the property. I suggest to the House that there is not a single circumstance that could justify an alteration from the decision to sell by public auction and to sell through private treaty.

The final point I want to make is whether or not the best price was got, or as to whether or not the best interests were served by this private treaty sale. All I can say is that I am authorised to state that the chairman of the Town Commissioners of Tramore —that he and other members, in company with a number of businessmen, were prepared to pay a higher price than £22,000.

Why did they not tell me that? This is the first time that has been said, after the deal has been completed. They came to me and said they would pay nothing except a yearly contribution.

Is the Minister suggesting that the chairman of the Tramore Town Commissioners is telling an untruth?

I am saying that he made no such offer to my Department or to An Bord Fáilte.

I am not saying that he said it. I said that I was authorised to state it. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 18th February, 1954.