I invite the Deputy to get letters from these people establishing that it is not true. Then he will see how many he will get and we can put them on the records of the House because all the evidence is the other way.
Let me deal with one of the points made by Deputy Killilea. The hand-won turf scheme was killed by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1948. The files of the Department of Industry and Commerce contain a minute which says that the hand-won turf scheme was uneconomic, in the circumstances then existing, and was not to be continued. That record is on the files of the Department of Industry and Commerce. Deputy Killilea, instead of having his cards marked intelligently, is allowed to wander in here like a baby, believing still that Fianna Fáil is putting on a Casabianca act, and defending the hand-won turf scheme. He does not know that in Kildare Street, about 100 yards away from here, there is a file indicating that the last Fianna Fáil Government decided to abandon the hand-won turf scheme. That chicken ought to be run to earth and someone ought to hammer sense into his head instead of allowing him to make a statement like that. People will confront him with that decision of the Fianna Fáil Government and he will collapse.
Where does Deputy Killilea live that he does not know that in the Department of Industry and Commerce he could be given a list of imported commodities, their volume, value and price and information as to whether the home market is not supplied, or not fully supplied by Irish manufacturers? Pages and pages of this documentation are available. It has been given to many people up and down the country. Deputy Killilea does not know it exists, yet he says he is engaged in a passionate search for information to enable him to establish new industries. If he had gone to the Department of Industry and Commerce the newest member of the staff would probably have taken him to the section there where he could get a copy of the lists the existence of which he knows nothing of to-day.
I wish to deal now with the question of the briquette factories generally. I will come later to the circumstances surrounding the recognition by the E.S.B. of their own volition that they were overplanted and that there was a necessity to cut back on the establishment of additional generating capacity. When it was clear that that became necessary for reasons of good management, prudence and general realism, we realised that that might have an effect on Bord na Móna's activities in producing turf, that Bord na Móna had been running in harness with the E.S.B., one looking for generating plant, the other producing the fuel for use in the generating plant.
I personally do not think the liaison arrangements between the two organisations were nearly as good as they should have been. I thought an exchange of intelligence, more frequent consultation and perhaps a better marriage of the two bodies, would have enabled them to know where the other was going in more detail than was apparent to me when this situation developed. When it became clear that Bord na Móna might have to cut back on its turf development programme, I discussed with the board the possibilities of putting up briquette factories which would enable us to produce briquettes, a solid fuel for which I think there could be generated a considerable demand, not only in the city of Dublin but in other towns and cities as well.
As a result of recommendations which I made to the Government they decided to accept in principle the responsibility for putting up two new turf briquetting plants. An order for one will be placed immediately and Bord na Móna have been told to go ahead and get that plant installed with the utmost expedition. The second plant will be installed as soon as we get experience of the planting, the siting and the other teething difficulties that may be thrown up by the establishment of the first plant. It is not intended to order the two together but it is not intended to wait until the first one is up before the second one is ordered. There is complete flexibility between these two points of view. Whenever the Government deem it advisable that the second plant should be ordered, steps will be taken accordingly.
At the present time we sell only 40,000 tons of briquettes. Some of these are sold to industrial users, so that the 40,000 tons are not available for sale as a domestic fuel. I urged Bord na Móna to step up the volume of their turf briquette production. They have now arranged to do that to such an extent that they will produce 50,000 tons of briquettes this year. With these two new briquetting plants we hope to produce 200,000 tons of briquettes. A ton and a half of these briquettes is equivalent in calorific value to one of coal; in other words, it will take a ton and a half of briquettes to get the equivalent calorific value of a ton of coal. We estimate—this is still an estimate, and I want to warn that it is an estimate of to-day, not of three years hence—the ex-factory price of briquettes to-day is about £4 6s. per ton. Assuming the factors which go into the making of the price are the same when the plant is erected as they are now, £4 6s. per ton, plus £2 3s. for a half ton, will make £6 9s. for a ton and a half of briquettes which will have the equivalent calorific value of a ton of coal landed at the quayside. A ton of coal landed at the quayside was, until recently, £8 3s., and with a 30/- increase that coal now costs £9 13s., so that you will have a ton and a half of briquettes at £6 9s., giving you approximately the same calorific value as a ton of coal costing £9 13s. I think the simple economics of that should make an appeal to our people and it should be possible to sell turf on that basis.
The great advantage of turf production is that the whole commodity is found and processed in Ireland. It is not as if you bring in the raw material fabricated to a slight extent and then sell it at a finished price. In the case of turf, from the beginning to the end it is an entirely Irish product and the processing of it, because of that fact, makes a much more substantial impression in the rectification of our balance of payments than if we were bringing in a commodity, paying for the raw material or the partly fabricated cost of the imported commodity.
If I take 200,000 tons of briquettes as equivalent to approximately 130,000 tons of coal per year, then the saving on the non-importation of 130,000 tons of coal per year would be the equivalent of approximately £1,000,000 per year. If I assume that the cost of each plant will be £900,000, making a total of £1.8 million, and that approximately £1.5 million will be necessary over the five-year period in bog development work and in the provision of the milled peat in the operation of the plant, then over a period of approximately five years we could recover our total expenditure on the plant and on the development of the bog by saving that import of 130,000 tons of coal during that period.
Therefore, I believe this is a proposition which has everything to commend it. I hope it will be warmly welcomed by Deputies. I hope it will be applauded by Deputies and that we will not be so politically short-sighted as to find fault now with the scheme merely because it is put forward by one political Party and not by another. This is Irish turf which is giving employment in an Irish plant. It will provide wages for people who might otherwise be driven away from home, and we ought to co-operate, if there is any goodwill in us at all, in trying to sell to our people the fact that it is good business and that it is a patriotic duty to buy this turf so as to render us more and more independent of imported fuel at a time when the price of imported fuel has reached such a high level and may, if half the forecasts can be proved to be correct, rise to a still higher figure.
Bord na Móna, of course, will have the responsibility of jerking up the sales from 50,000 tons to 250,000 tons. That is a substantial step-up but I have no doubt, having regard to the price considerations which I have mentioned and to the obvious better value which one gets through buying briquettes and having regard to the fact that our people should by then— they do not now—recognise the necessity for a rectification of our balance of payments situation, they will realise that buying this turf is not only personally but nationally a good policy.
The question of C.I.E. was raised by a number of Deputies. Some have asked for a statement on the position. The board has sent me a document setting out their present appraisal of their situation and I would serve no good purpose by not saying at this stage that it is about as bleak a document as one could possibly read from the standpoint of their outlook on the future. In the financial year ended March, 1955, C.I.E. losses had been got down to approximately £800,000. There were indications then that, if prices remained stable and wages did not increase, within three or four years they might become line-ball financially. But things did not develop in that way.
Coal prices increased substantially against C.I.E. They were also called upon to grant quite considerable increases in wages. The effect of the increase in the price of coal and of the increases in wages, plus the effect of the increases in other costs, together with the fact that C.I.E. is not likely to retain all of its pre-1955 traffic when the rates for that traffic increase, will result in a situation in which C.I.E. losses in the past year will probably be in the vicinity of twice the previous year's losses and possibly a little more. We have, therefore, to face up to a situation in which, according to anticipations, C.I.E. losses may be in the vicinity of about £1.7 million or £1.8 million. That, of course, represents a recession from the position which the company occupied last year, a recession brought about very largely through the factors I have just enumerated.
This information can afford no joy or gratification to anybody. C.I.E. is the national transport authority and it must be the aim of every Government and of all our people to maintain C.I.E. as the national transport authority. Our policy and the policy of previous Governments has been to maintain and support C.I.E. as the national transport authority. One is inclined from time to time to doubt whether it will be possible to maintain that policy in face of the fact that, if one considers the views of the general commercial community, they appear more and more to be desirous of having their goods transported not on the rails by C.I.E. and not in lorries owned by C.I.E. but in their own lorries. The result is that there are now over 45,000 lorries and commercial vans in operation. Every ton of merchandise carried in these lorries, every day in the week, every week and every month in the year, is merchandise which, 25 years ago, was carried in the main on the railways.
The position now is that the commercial community and, indeed, I think the community which buys from the commercial community, prefer in large measure and over a substantial sector to have their goods transported in lorries. That situation has impacted on C.I.E. to a very serious extent. The board of C.I.E. are now convinced that this policy will continue unabated. They suggest remedies, remedies which may not be realistic in the light of public taste for the use of privately-owned lorries as a method of conveying goods. It is clear enough now that we look like getting the worst of both worlds so far as our transport arrangements are concerned.
On the one hand, it is Government policy to maintain the railways and to maintain C.I.E. road freight services. Whilst that is Government policy, on the one hand, in so far as the commercial community express a view, they buy lorries and transport their goods, not by C.I.E., but in their own privately acquired lorries. That, as I said, throws doubt on the possibility of maintaining the railway in its present condition and with its present ramifications, when more and more lorries are being used to transport goods on which the railway normally could rely as its source of income.
I do not think anybody will attempt to deny that there are very obvious advantages in the provision of a door-to-door service. One can go to the factory where the goods are made, load up in the yard there and take these goods, with very little handling, right to the door, the yard or the store of the person who is interested in buying them. That service has many obvious advantages. There is less danger of anything going astray en route. There is less danger of the commodity being damaged in transit. There is less danger of goods being held up. All the advantages lie with the door-to-door service. Whether the railway can devise any means of meeting, and beating, the attractions provided through the medium of delivery by private lorry remains to be seen. So far they have produced nothing for dealing with that situation, and I do not think they have any remedy other than the remedy of drastically cutting back on the private lorry as a means of enabling them to get traffic back on to the railways.
The fact that some firms deliver goods by private lorry encourages others to do the same if they are anxious to hold their placevis-á-vis their competitors. That, in turn, sets up a cycle of people moving in a direction inimical to the best interests of C.I.E. We have now reached the stage at which there must be a reassessment by the Government of the whole position of C.I.E. in an effort to find out whether it is possible to maintain unaltered the policy we have been pursuing or whether any changes are called for in the light of the very pronounced swing away from the railways for the conveyance of goods.
C.I.E. recently, because of increased expenditure under the heads of increased prices for coal, increased wages and other costs, have had to charge an additional 10 per cent. on their freight, but some large users of the railway services have been reluctant to pay this additional 10 per cent. Indeed, this reluctance has become so infectious that it even extends to some State-sponsored bodies. Whether we can continue to permit a situation of that kind to develop, in which a State-sponsored body with a fleet of its own lorries on the road carries its goods by road while the ordinary taxpayer may be compelled to pay a subsidy in order to maintain a railway system which is capable of carrying the goods the State-sponsored body has ordered, is open to question. There, again, I think there must be a reassessment of the position of these State-sponsored bodies from the point of view of what contribution they can make to the financial stability of C.I.E., and thus avoid the frittering away of our resources by running parallel systems of transport, systems which ought to be co-ordinated and integrated.
It may be difficult to maintain the present policy in view of the obvious strength of the change in the public demand in respect of new methods of transport. I cannot at this stage, having received the report from C.I.E. just recently, express any views on the matter just now. I hope, however, to reassess the whole position in the light of the new developments and in the light of the tendencies which, C.I.E. have said, are growing to the point that they now seriously threaten the maintenance of the whole railway system. I think, however, it is desirable that that reassessment should be done as speedily as possible, and that both C.I.E. and the community ought to know in what direction policy is to be beamed so that whatever corrective is necessary, if a corrective can be found, will be applied with the minimum of delay.
The battle of who is responsible for developing and exploiting the copper deposits at Avoca went on during the three days of the debate on this Estimate. I want to state the facts in connection with this matter. I do not care who was responsible for developing Avoca. I do not care who was responsible for providing the additional employment there. It is good enough for me to know that Avoca is being developed to its fullest. It is good enough for me to know that people are getting jobs there, and I will be happy so long as they get jobs there and so long as we can dig wealth out of the earth at Avoca and the surrounding districts. I do not care who is responsible. I do not think it matters.
My position in the matter was that we tried to develop Avoca to the utmost of its possibilities. The situation I found when I went to the Department of Industry and Commerce was that Mianraí Teoranta had applied for a grant in respect of operations at Avoca during June or July, 1954. At that time they had run out of money and no moneys were available. These moneys were essential to carry on. I sought the approval of the Department of Finance for that money in order to enable Mianraí Teoranta to carry on, but the Department of Finance came back and said that the programme for the year 1954, which was approved by the Government in January, 1954, involved a cessation of underground work and a dismissal of about 40 men towards the end of April, 1954—that is the dismissal of 40 out of 80 people then employed. Efforts were made to get Mianraí Teoranta to reach a stage where the ore could be made merchantable and the undertaking operated to the national advantage.
I had a number of discussions with the Board of Mianraí Teoranta. In those discussions I endeavoured to get that body to get for me, from any place they could in the world, a proposition which would enable us to find somebody who would further explore the deposits at Avoca in order to make them merchantable, produce concentrates at Avoca and, if possible, have the concentrates smelted there. Efforts to do that were, at first, not successful. I need not, nor do I think it is desirable, take the House through the various vicissitudes of the efforts of Mianraí Teoranta in that respect.
The position, however, is that we realised from these discussions with mining companies and from the survey made by Mianraí Teoranta of the possibility of exploiting the deposits that we would not get anywhere with mineral development in this country unless we were going to make a radical change in our whole mining taxation code. We had up to then the poorest effort probably of any white country in the world to develop its mining resources. And it is not without significance that we had at the same time the worst and the most unprogressive code of mining taxation in the world.
I went to the Government on the proposition that, if we were going to develop these mines, then we had to invite risk capital which would enable us to induce people to mine for the wealth which was in the ground and which could not be seen and which had to be estimated to a very large extent. As a result, the Government decided that they would introduce an amendment to our taxation code, which provided that anybody engaged in mining operations here would for the first year and for three years after that be exempt from paying any income-tax on profits and that they would be liable to pay only half income-tax on profits for the next four years.
It may be argued, of course, that in that way we made some substantial concessions to such people. In my view, we made no concessions. If we had not made that change, we would not have got one halfpenny of income-tax. We would have got no employment out of the mines, unless we made a change at Avoca. The position would have been at that time that 40 out of the 80 people then employed would have been sacked at once. Another 20 would have gone later in the year, and the last 20 would have been employed on a care and maintenance basis in the hope that one day somebody would come along and develop an interest in the mines.
However, our amendment of the mining taxation code created a new climate and a new atmosphere. It interested the Canadian group which came here and, as a result, we made an arrangement with them under which they, or anybody else in similar circumstances, whether Canadian or Irish nationals, will get certain benefits, if they engage in these mining activities. The Canadian group also undertook to refund to us approximately £500,000 which we had spent between 1948 and 1955 in exploring the Avoca deposits.
I think we have done an extremely good job there. The company is now working in accordance with the programme and they seem to be doing so with both diligence and energy. The number of workers employed there at the moment, instead of being 20 as it would have been if we had not taken the steps we did take in 1955, is now in the vicinity of 180 or 200. It will increase to about 300 workers next year and, when in full production, to about 500 workers. We will be able to give that volume of work to heads of families very largely in the Avoca area. Not only is it going to have a very beneficial effect all over the area, but the whole operation, I hope, will act as a beacon light to any other people interested in mining enterprises to come here, realising that our taxation laws are now such that one can mine with some assurance that there will be a fair return, if indeed not a good return, on the money invested in mining operations here.
Since the Avoca deposits came to be worked by the Canadian group, other Canadian groups have appeared on the scene. Some of them are prospecting in Beauparc near Slane; others have evinced interest in mining deposits in West Cork; some in Tipperary, others in mining deposits in Wicklow. Our policy will be that, so long as they have money and technical resources to do the job satisfactorily and establish Irish companies to carry out these mining activities, we will be prepared to give them all reasonable facilities. I would hope as a result of these surveys and these explorations which are being carried on by various groups that it will be possible to interest, if not the existing groups, at least some other groups in mining activities elsewhere throughout the country.
Deputy Lemass referred to the bright views which were being expressed on the contents of some of these mines. I think mining has ever been a subject in which starry-eyed devotees assess the richness of the deposits; in fishing, they assess the capacity of the river or the size of the fish. It is not unusual to have these hair-raising stories told about the richness of deposits and the size of the nuggets which can be found. We know, however, that the person who is to invest his money cannot rely on stories of that kind. He can do nothing better than exercise his own good sense and judgment, or take the views of somebody associated with the company who may be in a position to give him more sober information. I cannot imagine many of our people, who, up to now, have been reluctant to invest even £1 in mining development, generally being anxious to buy shares at any inflated prices either on our own stock exchange or elsewhere. At all events, the responsibility is theirs and they should not do anything foolish, especially until they see a balance sheet produced by these mines.
The question of the survey of mineral deposits in other areas was raised, and I think I ought to say here that the position is that this country as a whole has been surveyed already. Many areas have been surveyed on several occasions. There have been fresh surveys of individual deposits of a likely economic significance. These surveys are made from time to time, as the circumstances call for them. The information which has been obtained from all these surveys and the accumulated experience of the Geological Survey Office is made freely available to persons interested in exploration and development. I have had many tributes paid to the office on the painstaking way in which they provide information of that kind for prospectors or for intending leaseholders.
The Geological Survey Office, I am assured, is adequately equipped with the most modern mineral detection equipment and is abreast of modern techniques in the detection and survey of minerals. Deputy MacBride, while not criticising the Geological Survey in any way, asked, perhaps rather doubtingly, whether they had in fact all this equipment. I shall be most happy to arrange for the Deputy to discuss his fears with the head of the Geological Survey Office so that he may put any questions he likes and get the answers to those questions. It has been my aim that the Geological Office should get any equipment necessary to keep the staff abreast of modern techiques in this field.
Deputy Lemass raised the question of Mianraí Teoranta. Mianraí Teoranta was, in fact, set up for two main purposes. One purpose was to develop coal deposits at Slievardagh, in County Tipperary, and the other was to continue exploratory work at Avoca, in County Wicklow. Mianraí Teoranta ran Ballingarry coalfield for quite a while. The last Government directed Mianraí Teoranta to sell the coal mine there and it was sold to a private individual. It is now being operated by him and, I think, being operated successfully. The Avoca deposit has been leased to the Canadian group, and the two purposes for which Mianraí Teoranta was brought into existence have in fact been achieved.
I discussed with Mianraí Teoranta what they might do now in the light of the fact that the two main purposes for which they were established have in fact been achieved and that no further action is called for from them so far as these two projects are concerned. I must say that when I saw the board and when I explained what I hope to do in other directions, they did not feel at that stage they had anything more to suggest to me. But I told them they had heard for the first time what my views were in respect of surveys in certain other areas under technical assistance grants and that they might go away and think over the whole matter in the light of what I said to them. I said I would be glad to see them at a later stage if they had any reasons to give me as to why they thought they could still make any substantial contribution to mineral development in Ireland. I am waiting from the board of Mianraí Teoranta their proposals in that respect.
Deputy Calleary raised the question of the Min Fhéir project down near Glenamoy and he alleged that the decision to cease this operation followed a visit of mine to Bangor-Erris. The fact of the matter is that I went to Bangor-Erris as a result of the earnest entreaties of the Managing Director of Bord na Móna for the purpose of seeing Bangor-Erris bog, seeing the plan of development and the difficulties they were up against there, observing the immense amount of work which they had to do under difficulties and in the face of obstacles which might well have daunted people less enthusiastic in turf production than Bord na Móna. I did not go near Glenamoy and the purpose of my visit was in no way connected with Glenamoy. The position was that I went to Bangor-Erris in May 1955, but, in August 1954, the Government, on my recommendation, had set up an inter-departmental committee to make recommendations as to whether it was desirable the Min Fhéir Company should proceed further with its activities. That committee reported to the Government in a preliminary way in November, 1954, and in June 1955 the Government approved their recommendation which was that the plans for the erection of a grass meal factory should be abandoned.
This whole matter, I think, was discussed on the financial motion of the Minister for Finance or the Finance Bill, and it has been discussed, I think, in some measure on the Estimate of the Minister for Agriculture. I think the whole proposition was some queer dream of somebody but I have never been able to find the author of this scheme. This Bill was sponsored in the Dáil by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Lemass, but the strange part of the whole business is that there is no file about it in the Department of Industry and Commerce. I asked everybody in the Department if they knew anything about this grass meal scheme down in Glenamoy and not a person in the place knows anything about it. Nobody knows anything about it, nobody in the Department is prepared to say a word in favour of it. There is no file in the Department about it.
Can anybody imagine starting a scheme about which there is no record in the place? Nobody is prepared to say it was a good scheme. That is the kind of white elephant I inherited in this Min Fhéir scheme down in Glenamoy. Deputy Dillon, the Minister for Agriculture, said that, if we wanted to embark on such a scheme, the least we might do is get good grass. Instead of that, the proposal of Deputy Lemass was to get the worst grass in Ireland. The trouble about it is that there is too much grass in the country and too little tillage. If you want to get good grass, you will get an abundance of it in Kildare, in Meath, in Westmeath. If we are going to give cattle the value of grass meal, surely we must give them meal made from the best grass in order to get the best results. But to go down to a windswept area and try to grow grass there and then to process that and try and cod cattle into believing that this is going to do them good! Surely there is no reason to a proposal of that kind.