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——