Private Members' Business. - Ferenka Factory Closure.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann deplores the negligence on the part of the Government in the developments that led to the closure of the Ferenka factory, with its disastrous consequences for the workforce and for general industrial development.

The story of the Ferenka factory at Annacotty can be told on several levels. It can be approached—and I have no doubt that the Deputy who has put down an amendment this evening will do so—on the level of the history of an industrial investment that went wrong. It is possible to explore the correctness—I see a lot of people doing that now—of certain forms of industrial investment from abroad. That is a chapter with which I shall not deal this evening. It is possible also to approach this on the level of industrial relations and to tell the story as being one of a disastrous failure in industrial relations. That also is an aspect which, although it plays a prominent part in the story, I shall not deal with this evening. However, the House will hear about it from one of my colleagues later.

The aspect on which I want to concentrate the attention of the House is the story of the Ferenka closure, written as a comment on the quality of Government response to a very serious industrial crisis. To judge by the Government's own statements, from which we do not dissent, this crisis may affect not just the immediate neighbourhood of the factory which was closed, but the entire future of our industrial development which, up to now, has been built on the expectation that we were going to be able to supply a large number of jobs, perhaps even our major industrial job requirements, by attracting industrialists from abroad. It is to the quality of the Government's response to what was very obviously from the beginning a major industrial crisis, a major threat to our industrial prosperity and, therefore, to the prosperity of our economy and of our nation generally, that I want to direct the attention of the House.

This story almost writes itself. If you watch it as it developed, and if you go back after it has ended and look at the public record of it, it writes itself. It is a story that falls into a few quite distinct phases. The first phase is one which consists simply in a record of certain external facts. The trouble at the factory is the first phase: the pickets on Monday, 3rd October; the stopping of production; shortly afterwards, a couple of days later, the statement by Ferenka on, I think, 5th October, that they are losing in consequence of this stoppage up to £20,000 a day. They said on 7th October they were suffering a "very heavy financial drain". A week later they said for the first time they apprehended the possibility of a shutdown. That is the first phase.

Now during that first phase, it is true to say that the Ferenka closure never hit the front page of any daily paper in the State. It was confined to page 7, page 9 page 11, or further back still. That first phase was succeeded by another phase in which the role of any Government was bound to come to the top. As the closure continued, and as the factory and its parent company continued to make it plain that this was not only something in the nature of a last straw from their point of view but that they were in really serious trouble in consequence of it, we began to look to the Government to see what response was forthcoming from them in regard to this industrial dispute and the closure which had followed it.

On Tuesday, 18th October, after the Government meeting, the press reported that a "spokesman" said the plant was in danger but that the Government "could not intervene because what was in issue here was a dispute between two unions". We know the mechanisms of contact between Government and the press and the people. When my party and our colleagues in the Labour Party were in Government we were often enough accused of being all too expert at these mechanisms, but both sides of the House will know what is meant when it is reported that a "spokesman" has said this after a Government meeting, and the House may take it, I think, that that was the Government point of view on that date, 18th October.

I would like to ask, and a colleague of mine will pursue this matter in more detail later, what law prevents the Department of Labour and the Minister who presides over it from intervening or trying to help in an industrial dispute where more than one union is involved? If there is such a law, I would like to know where it is. I would like to know where it is for the purpose of proposing its abolition because, on the evidence of the Minister himself in the frequent speeches to which he has treated the people since then, inter-union disputes are a most potent source of industrial disruption and this is the very thing he and his Government, not once but twice in this story, as I will show you in a moment, say they are not able to deal with. It is a dispute between two unions and so intervention by them is "ruled out". That was their attitude on 18th October.

On 19th October, Deputy Mitchell, our spokesman on Labour, and Deputy O'Donnell, the Fine Gael Deputy for East Limerick, sought to raise this matter here and the way they tried to raise it was they sought an explanation from you, Sir, Deputy Mitchell in particular, as to why his attempt to have this matter raised—because if no one else saw the importance on that side he saw the importance on this side of what was going on, and he sought an explanation from you, Sir— as to why a Special Notice Question, or what he sought to put into the form of a Special Notice Question, had been disallowed by you.

Now I intend—I hope you will believe me—no reflection on you when I say Deputy Mitchell got a very strange reply from the Chair. He got a reply which I would describe as an excess of courtesy on the part of the Chair, because the Chair told him that, since an inter-union dispute was involved, it was "not the responsibility of the Minister for Labour". I would have thought it would have been up to the Minister himself to give that explanation, were it true, but it is not; and I will show in a moment that the Minister himself did not believe it. But that is the explanation Deputy Mitchell and Deputy O'Donnell got. Because it was an "inter-union dispute" the Minister for Labour had no departmental responsibility and could not be called to question over the matter.

But the Chair went further and suggested to Deputy Mitchell that, since a period of protective notice was still running, the Deputy would have plenty of time before the expiry of the notice to put down a question in the ordinary way to the Minister for Labour, if he saw fit, and have it answered. Again, I intend no reflection on the Chair. We are all new in the House in the sense that we are all doing new jobs, including the Chair, but that advice to Deputy Mitchell was wildly wrong and misleading—I am sure innocently so—because the state of the Order Paper was such that it could have been foreseen, and was immediately foreseen by deputy Mitchell, that his question could not possibly be reached because the Minister for Labour was so far down the list. The question was not in fact reached until 9th November; and by 9th November it was too late. That was the response Deputy Mitchell got from the Chair; a courteous response, I agree, but a curiously, excessively courteous, bizarrely courteous response from the Chair on 19th October.

I would like to emphasise—I do not want to spend too long on this aspect —that from beginning to end of the industrial relations side of it, when the industrial dispute was foremost, this party in the person of Deputy Mitchell and in the person of Deputy O'Donnell, and in the persons of the rest of us, behaved with absolute responsibility, with absolute quietude and with a sense of reasonable conduct throughout. I want now to draw the attention of the House to the contrast which will jump up in the mind of anyone who can remember the days, and they are not very long ago, when Deputy Fitzgerald, now Minister for Labour, was over here. There was no more strident Deputy in the House, no more strident, noisy Deputy, and bullying Deputy when the Chair would not allow him to say what he wanted to say and go on as long as he liked. I watched from over there when Deputy Fitzgerald bullied the former Ceann Comhairle day after day, shouted and roared him down, wanting to know why the Government were not stopping this factory from closing and why they could not settle the other industrial dispute. While deputy O'Malley, now Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, was not quite as disorderly, there was never an industrial dispute within his own sphere of operations in which the blame was not laid squarely and loudly at the door of the then Government.

I want to draw a contrast between that behaviour, which we had to confront, and the behaviour this House and the country have got from Deputy Mitchell and Deputy O'Donnell during the industrial relations phase of this disastrous story. That was the situation around the 20th October. The official Government line was: "Yes, this is a dangerous, difficult situation, but it is essentially an inter-union dispute, and we cannot intervene". It was non-intervention as complete as if it were the Spanish Civil War. But everything changed about 21st October. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy then said, as the "spokesman" had previously said, that there was an "imminent danger of closure"; and that very day the President of the Chamber of Commerce in his own city made a statement, a very modest statement, plaintively inquiring what had become of the Minister for Labour and why was he taking no interest in this dispute and why was the Department of Labour nowhere to be seen on the front. It was around that time, too, as a matter of journalistic interest, that the Ferenka dispute finally reached the front pages in the third week of October. Now, whether it was pressure from Deputy O'Malley, Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, who was getting an uncomfortable time in Limerick, or for whatever reason, it suddenly turned out in the fourth week in October that the principle of non-intervention was not so binding after all. Far from being a principle so clear that it could be pronounced from the Chair of this House, so clear that it did not need the political force of a minister to hammer it down somebody else's throat, but could be proclaimed from the Chair here, it turned out to be a good deal weaker than anyone had thought.

The Minister for Labour—everybody wished him well; we did nothing to wreck his initiative; we did nothing to sneer at it—for the first time, about 23rd or 24th October, put up a set of proposals which were not acceptable to one of the parties involved. He held further consultations and put up another set. I have no doubt that those proposals, late and inadequate though they were as a response, were made in good faith. His two sets of proposals did not work. Many a Minister had had that experience before.

From the moment when the Minister's second set of proposals finally were seen to be failures, it is fair to say the Minister for Labour left the scene for four weeks. He left the scene as completely as if he had followed the Minister for Defence, Deputy Molloy, to Malta to a conference or on a jaunt somewhere. There was not a peep from him or his Department for four weeks on the Ferenka matter. Perhaps it is too much to say there was not a peep out of him, because there was a substantial and significant squeak out of him in a different way.

Two nights running, shortly after his proposals had been rejected, on the nights of 29th and 30th October— this is the kind of ministerial weekend that is tough—he attended meetings in Killarney on the former night and Youghal on the latter, and at each of these meetings he made powerful attacks on the defects in our system of industrial relations. In one speech he commented on how we would have to reform and review our whole industrial relations structure. In the other, he spoke about a topic that had been under notice before, the proliferation of unions.

I regard that as a fair representation of the role of the Minister for Labour during this affair. He did not do anything until, although I have no evidence for it, he was pushed into it by his colleague now beside him, or by the Government, in the later days of October. He then made an effort, stretching over three or four days; the efforts failed and he then made petulant and rough speeches about industrial relations. The rest was silence—he then departed the scene completely as if he had resigned. Indeed, I thought at the time that he had resigned, but had forgotten to tell anybody. There was not another word from him on this subject, except an inadequate reply to a parliamentary question at the end of November, when it was far too late. On 28th October, when his initiatives were finally rejected, the Marine, Port and General Workers' Union asked the Minister for Labour for a Labour Court hearing on the main issue, the position of one of their shop stewards, but they got no response and they did not hear anything more, good or bad. Such is my information.

On the 28th October, The Irish Times reported that “it had been learned that the board of ENKA had been in touch with the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy on the previous day and that it was understood the possible closure of the plant might have been discussed.” I will give the House my opinion as to what was discussed and happened on that day. ENKA told the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy that they had come to the end of the road, that they had decided to close down or phase out their operations in Annacotty, and that from then on we were on our own as far as Ferenka were concerned.

I believe the Government knew that weekend, the weekend of the October bank holiday, that the game was up at Annacotty. I am not blaming the Government for that. The blame lies heavily elsewhere. However, at the end of October the Government knew that the game was up. I have reason to know the IDA knew or had reason to know that the game was up. At that stage rumours were percolating that the game was up, and they reached me at the time from three different sources.

That was the turning point. Up to then, all one could accuse the Government of was being slow off the mark in trying to get to grips with an industrial situation which threatened the future of this factory and, indirectly, our whole industrial development. A third phase then began and I regret to say that I consider this phase to have been a scuttling operation. It was a phase during which the Government deliberately concealed the fact that they knew ENKA would not go on at Annacotty. They knew they would not go on, but they asked themselves what they could get out of the situation if they let it run on, if they let the unions and the workers sink further and further into public dis-esteem—what they could get out of it if they did not disclose the fact that ENKA strike or no strike, were about to pull out.

On 1st November, 1,000 men were laid off and on 2nd November ENKA asked for a meeting with the Government. On the following day Ferenka's local boss was reported as being "reluctant to comment on a possible closure". Is that the language a manager of an active factory would have used, even in the middle of a strike? He said he hoped that the ENKA meeting with the Minister would "shed new light on the matter". I am jolly sure that is what he thought, because he knew what was about to come up from ENKA was a proposal for a take-over. He ended up his interview, according to Press reports, with a plaintive animadversion about our "lack of legislation" in industrial relations.

On 4th November ENKA met the Minister and the Minister allowed some details of that meeting to emerge. In a Government leak, we were told the Minister had been "tough and blunt". In an interview with RTE's Mr. McAleese the Vice-President of ENKA, Mr. Hutter, said the Minister had "absolutely excluded" the possibility of a State involvement amounting to a take-over. Then we had the usual "reliable sources" telling us that "the possibility of closure loomed large"—a very substantial understatement.

The offer to allow the Government to take over Ferenka in some shape or from was an unambiguous signal —a child would see it for what it was —that ENKA were about to pull out. Therefore, I cannot understand—this is what most concerns me about this history—why the Government allowed the best part of a month to elapse without letting the public know the true situation. From the end of October or, at the latest, from the 4th November, the Government allowed a charade to go on.

This is how it happened. On 7th November we had the good old "reliable sources" trotted out again. What they "indicated" this time was that the Government were "unlikely to take action". We were told the Government "believed the dispute was an inter-union one and that any settlement should be the subject of negotiations between the workers and the company". We had gone back to the situation of 18th October, although the only attempt that had been made in the meantime by the Minister for Labour was to throw aside this principle of non-intervention which was so indisputable as to be capable of enunciation by the chair of this House. We were then back to non-intervention.

I want a clear answer to this question: if it is true that an inter-union dispute rules out ministerial intervention, why did he intervene in October? On the other hand, if it is not true, if everything I have been saying is a false construction, if the thing was still completely open at the beginning of November, if the factory then could have been saved, why was the Minister for Labour not in there plugging throughout the whole month, instead of being as good as resigned, because no one heard of him or from him?

The scene then shifts a little. Everyone then started to look for the conciliation help which had not been spontaneously forthcoming. On 8th November the Limerick Trades Council wrote to the Minister for Labour asking for a rights commissioner, and they got no reply. On 8th November also the newspaper said that "a Labour Court intiative was expected", and that little story was repeated for a few days after that; it died away plaintively. No Labour Court intiative emerged on 8th, 9th or 10th of November, or thereafter.

On 8th November in the Dáil, my colleagues Deputy Mitchell and Deputy O'Donnell asked the Taoiseach about the Ferenka dispute, and the Taoiseach said that a question and answer session on the subject of Ferenka "might not be helpful". Helpful to what? What was going on that it could prejudice or endanger? What were the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy and the Minister for Labour up to, that might have been knocked off its course by a simple question and answer here in the Dáil, leave alone the kind of shouting and roaring and irresponsible accusations that we got when we were on that side of the House and the Ministers on that bench were on this side? That was the Taoiseach's response; a characteristic one.

On the following day, the 9th, the Minister for Labour said in the Dáil that the situation "was delicate". I would have thought that the Minister for Labour would not recognise a delicate situation if it were served up on a plate. Not only was the situation "delicate" but he was keeping in touch with it hourly". He was failing to keep in touch with one of the two unions that had caused this dispute; they heard nothing from him for four weeks. How was that keeping in touch with the situation on an hourly basis?

For the next ten days there were many meetings in Limerick involving many people; but the one party not in evidence of any kind whatever was the Minister for Labour and his Department. On 24th November the final phase began. The Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy issued what he called a final warning, but of course he knew that a final warning was then too late. On 24th November I asked by a Special Notice Question if the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy would request the Taoiseach's intervention. People in the House and in the Press gallery will recall that the Minister gave me a one-sentence reply; and you, Sir, refused to permit me to ask supplementary questions, in defiance of all precedent, if I may say so with respect. The reply was to the effect that he would not ask the Taoiseach to intervene, although our industrial future allegedly was still at stake. Allegedly, the thing could still have been saved, because he himself appealed to the workers two days later to take the last moment's chance. What was he doing? The Minister for Labour had "asked the Labour Court to make available an industrial relations officer". That was on 24th November. Big deal, when the country had been shouting at the Government for six weeks, and this party had been playing a responsible and patient role in the matter. Big deal, that he was "asking an industrial relations officer" to intervene.

It was clear that weekend that the game was up. The Limerick Trades Council, the weekend before the closedown, tried to get in touch with the Ferenka management at Annacotty and reported that they had "gone to ground". The day after that Mr. Harold O'Sullivan, vice-president of the ICTU, could not locate the Ferenka management. On the same day the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy was making bogus appeals. He knew the factory was gone, and the whole operation from the last weekend in October or the beginning of November was designed, not to save the factory, but was designed to do something far more sinister. It was designed to prevent blame for the ultimate closure lying anywhere except on one party, namely, the unions.

When the closure came, the Leader of my party asked the Taoiseach at the earliest opportunity, on the Tuesday, if he would consider the possibility of the factory being run by a workers' co-operative. The Taoiseach treated this suggestion with the utmost courtesy, and promised to consider it and think about it, and said that it had never been put to him before and took him by surprise. We know that up to 5.30 p.m. Netherlands time, that proposal had not been thrashed out with the IDA and still less with the Dutch parent company. In other words, the show of interest and courtesy which we saw here was another charade.

On the following day the Leader of the Opposition travelled to the Continent, and I can reveal to the House in broad outline that he made a constructive effort to see if he could be helpful in regard to getting the factory reopened and getting back the jobs of the 1,400 men who had been laid off. He was not successful, but he did elicit a telex message from Mr. Wansink, public relations officer of ENKA who has been on Irish television. I hope this will be understood as something that was a response to an initiative on his part to rescue the situation. The telex states:

dear sir,

mr. hutter asked me to send you the following reply: we appreciate your taking this initiative. our decision is final and is based in part on the minister's position over this issue.

So far as we are concerned the facts underlying the decision for liquidation have not changed.

Mr. Hutter is the vice-president.

We do not allege that the Government closed down Ferenka. Such an allegation would be absurd and we do not allege—at least, I do not allege— that they are to blame for the situation which produced this closure; but I do most positively accuse them in the last month of that factory's life of keeping up a charade that it could still be saved. I accuse them of ignoring and neglecting steps which might have been taken, the steps which, as ENKA put it, the Minister had "absolutely excluded," of ignoring the proposals for a take-over—not that I or this party would give that an unqualified recommendation—without giving them a second thought, and of making no counter proposals. I accuse them on the Labour side of doing absolutely nothing to resolve the problem. There was, of course, a show; and the Minister at the end said: "Look, if you do not go back by the weekend the factory will close." He knew it was closed by then, and that nothing that happened over the weekend would make any difference. I accuse them of carrying on this charade, of neglecting to explore the possibilities at Government and IDA level for trying to keep the company there, and of trying to keep the factory there in some shape or form. I accuse them of grossly neglecting the possibilities which our labour legislation offers to try to get this matter settled at a time when it could have made a difference.

That is the worst part of it. I accuse them of that for a sinister reason. I believe that they had a political calculation in mind for doing that. They wanted to leave this situation behind them in such a way that, whoever is blamed, the people who will come out worst will be the unions. Undoubtedly they do deserve a lot of blame; but the Government want to make sure that, wherever else others stand on the scale, the unions will be on the floor. They wanted to make sure of that. That political calculation was in their minds. It has surfaced in speech after speech. It has surfaced at the Fianna Fáil Party meeting. It surfaced the following day in an immense editorial in The Irish Press side by side with a reprint of a speech made by Mr. MacEntee 36 years ago. In speech after speech it has surfaced and there is a political intention here. It may or may not be a sound or praiseworthy political intention; but it is no way of doing business. Only a Government of sleeveens would do business that way and try to achieve a political objective, to condition public opinion, by conducting a charade for a whole month with men's jobs at stake. That is no way for a free republic to be governed; and I hope that this will give the people perhaps the first taste of the quality of this Government and their response to their first real crisis, their first real task, and their first real failure.

I move the following amendment:

To delete "Government" and substitute "present Government and its predecessor in Office".

We have listened to one side, one analysis of the situation from the speaker for the Coalition. I should like to differ with him on a number of points. A fundamental point upon which I would like to differ with him is that my diagnosis of this regrettable happening, the closure of the Ferenka factory in Limerick, is not the product of an acute illness but of a chronic process which could only end the way it did. I find it difficult to believe that, were Deputy Kelly in the Minister's position, we should now be facing a proposition for either the establishment of a workers' co-operative, with which I do not agree but which has certain merits, or that it should be taken into public ownership. Perhaps the speakers on the Coalition side can tell us whether they would have faced this problem by taking the factory into public ownership.

One of the saddest comments implicit in Deputy Kelly's speech was his recitation of the litany of controllers of power in our society. He mentioned the Labour Court, the ICTU, two Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and the Taoiseach. They all went to the people in control of AKZO and ENKA and begged them to keep the company open because nobody wanted the company to close down, as Deputy Kelly said, but they were all totally impotent in this situation.

We should consider this debate as an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, particularly the Minister and his colleagues. They should try to see what they can save from the wreckage of the Ferenka dispute and they should try to ensure that the situation will not recur in any of the other multinational companies. The important point that has been established by the Ferenka débâcle is the naivety of all of them, the trade unions, the Labour Court, the Minister, the Taoiseach and the Leader of the Opposition, in trotting around so tamely to the heads of the multi-nationals on the assumption that they might listen to their humanitarian plea to save the jobs of the workers, to save them the suffering that they are now going through with their families. The naivety of this kind of approach is positively frightening. The multi-national is not the slightest bit interested in the national welfare of any society.

The AKZO company employ about 80,000 people in as many countries as you can think of naming and they have never put humanitarian interests before profits. In 1973 AKZO tried to close down in Europe four factories employing 6,000 people. They were only prevented from doing so by the action of the International Federation of Chemical Engineers' and General Workers' Union. They are a brutally ruthless organistion, designed to use everything they can, particularly labour, skills, technology, to make profits. They do not allow concerns for the national welfare of people to stand in their way.

Besides the multi-nationals, about which I have no illusions, I should like the House to include in their consideration of the implications of this issue, the role of the IDA. In a recent debate on the IDA, in which we decided to increase their authority and wealth, I was the only Deputy that did not praise the activities of the IDA. I was the only one that questioned their preoccupation with capital-intensive industry, their preoccupation with bringing in multi-national companies, their disinterest in the use of indigenous raw materials or national resources, the question of the five-year tax relief, and so on. There is no point in discussing issues of this kind from time to time unless Deputies learn from their own experience. The experience has been, particularly in relation to this issue, that the IDA have been grievously at fault. The IDA have the authority of the House. Unlike the civil servant who is directly responsible to us, the IDA have been given a certain amount of autonomy. Therefore, we have the right to criticise them. They did advise the then Government to invest £7.9 million in Ferenka. Through the years we gave them £1.7 million in training grants and then we took an equity share of £700,000, approximately £10 million altogether.

As a result of the IDA's decision, which was obviously wrong, we are going to lose at least £2.5 million, probably £10 million. They tell us now that they are indebted to the tune of £15 million. How can anybody go on accepting the advice of these people? I am astonished to listen to these people on the television telling us what their new schemes are for the use of taxpayers' money after what they have done. I have given another case for their real failures but there is no need to emphasise the enormity of their failure in relation to Ferenka. The importance of Ferenka is that it represents 71 per cent of all the IDA money spent in the Limerick county and city area. It was a dangerously narrow base upon which they spent this money and we are now seeing the human consequences of their decision. One has to ask why Ferenka was chosen for this particular area? We are now being told that the labour force was predominantly unskilled in the kind of skills needed for this complicated process. Why did the IDA make this decision? Have not we the right to criticise them for making that decision? What role has the Minister played in taking this decision? Was he not wrong to take the decision? How can his judgment be trusted in respect of any new decision taken in relation to Ferenka? Ferenka never made money; they were always a bad bet. In 1975 they pleaded inability to pay, a strange incident. The company pleaded inability to pay through 1975 and then into 1976. When the Labour Court appointed assessors to make a decision on this they came round to paying the national wage agreement award.

I should like to know from the Minister, if he can tell me, or the movers of the motion because this occurred in 1975 when they were involved, what happened at that time? What information did they get from the firm and from the IDA on this incident of a decision of inability to pay and then a decision that they could pay after the Labour Court had moved to bring in assessors? Were they deliberately misleading the Government and the IDA? Putting it simply, were they telling lies to the Minister and to the IDA? Where did they get the money to pay in the end? Why did they conceal the fact that they had that money? At this time also the IDA continued to pay money. In 1975 the IDA paid the company £600,000 at a time when the company pleaded inability to pay. Why did they pay the £600,000? In 1976 the IDA paid another £492,000. That amounts to about £1 million at a time when the firm were pleading that they were in financial difficulties and dangerously unstable. What did the movers of the motion, or the Ministers associated with the National Coalition Government do to find out whether this was a good going concern to which they should allow the IDA to pay £1 million at that time?

What is the true role of the IDA in this? Were the IDA party to the conspiracy by Ferenka to mislead the Government? Did they know that this firm were verging on bankruptcy and did they give them this money in order to get over the inability to pay clause? The then Minister for Industry, and Commerce has a lot to answer for.

Deputy Garret FitzGerald must know what happened at that time. Did they tell the Minister and did the Minister approve? This firm never achieved more than 60 per cent of their planned output and never showed a profit but yet they have accumulated losses of £15 million and we are still turning to the IDA experts who advised us to set up this disastrous enterprise in Limerick to get their advice as to what we should do next. Is it true that recently the IDA were negotiating to give an additional £10 million loan— I read about this in the Hibernia newspaper—to bring up to £25 million—it is difficult to know how much—the losses in this derelict, bankrupt non-profit making enterprise?

There is the odd feature of Oberbruch, the factory near Aachen in Germany which while paying much higher wages are in a buoyant trading position. Presumably, one cannot blame the trade union activities for that. Why can the factory in Germany have this kind of buoyant trading at this time when we cannot, with lower wages being paid in Limerick? Is it because the machinery is obsolete? Was it always obsolete? Is it the position, as some people have said, that we paid for the machinery going into Oberbruch and that they sent us obsolete machinery over here? It sounds outlandish but one can begin to believe anything about this scandalous operation in Ferenka. The training grants amount to £1.7 million and they were largely due to the fact that there was a 25 per cent turnover in employment. In the last seven years people have not left their jobs readily. The poor things would take them back now if they could have them because they are so desperate for work, but a 25 per cent turnover led to this enormous training grant of £1.7 million. Obviously, bad management and bad personnel relationships existed because during this time there were 25 unofficial strikes.

This brings us to the question of the sweetheart's arrangement between unions and companies which seems to me to have very grave dangers because there is the possibility that trade union leaders will lean towards trying to guarantee peace at any price. The result is a succession of unofficial strikes and unions tend to lose their membership to another. Relatively recently a new consignment of machinery arrived at Ferenka. How could that happen if they had decided to close down the factory? On what grounds did the IDA give them money to buy this new machinery which is now lying there blacked by the Marine, Port and General Workers' Union at Ferenka? What is the position about the machinery? Who owns it? Did the IDA pay for it? Does AKZO own it? What is the position in relation to the receiver? Can he put his hands on it? Can we take it back from them as part payment of the great debt they owe to us? Under what circumstances was the machinery purchased if the industry was in such dire straits? What steps can we take to see that AKZO cannot ship this machinery out of the country and back to Holland and do the same with the rest?

There is the strange question about the equity shares. We have equity holdings in only nine companies which I believe is wrong, a point I made in the recent debate. We should take equity shares and we should have a controlling situation on the board of directors.

Reading Mr. Russell's article in the newspaper recently it is obvious that he had little or no power or authority. This was shown eloquently in Deputy Kelly's contribution. What authority could one director have when the Taoiseach, two Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition, ICTU and the Labour Court had no say? None of them could influence the decision taken by those people. They just told us, in the same way as they used to tell us from White-hall: "We are going to shut this down We are going to open up that. We are going to extend here. We are going to build roads there." Where is our sovereignty now? In the North they are in the same position with Roy Mason. We are puppets. We simply do what we are told.

About 20 per cent of all IDA equity holdings are in Ferenka. There is 7.5 per cent, or something like that, amounting to about £700,000. Why did we invest in this derelict, bankrupt, down-at-heel, non-profit making, total loss of an enterprise? Why did the IDA put our money in there—surely they should answer that—as well as all the other millions they allocated on our behalf? At the same time, they did have this shareholding. Why did we not know what was going on from the board of directors? Had we no right to know? Did they conceal from the director, the Government nominee, what was going on? Did he know and not tell us? If he did know and not tell us, why did he not tell us? Would it not be worth knowing all that? He was a nominee of the Coalition Government. What was he there for if he did not know what was going on? Why did we take an equity share if we did not intend to make sure we knew what was going on?

The whole matter of equity holdings appears to be a very costly and meaningless charade. This is too serious a matter to play politics with it. All we can do is examine it carefully and, above all, objectively to try to find out what we can do in the future to avoid such an incident happening again. It is no good for the Coalition side of the House to suggest they do not, or did not approve, of these kind of policies on the part of the IDA all through the years, and particularly in the years they were in office. As I said, in a debate a couple of weeks ago, we listened to them all endorsing IDA policies in relation to unemployment, even though we now have the highest unemployment rate we probably ever had in our history. That is another question.

On 4th April, 1973, Senator Keating was quoted in The Economist as saying:

I think it is fair to characterise the centre of the efforts at development in the past as being to attract multinationals with high technology as part of a policy. That is entirely acceptable and to be encouraged.

Quite certainly and obviously it is six of one and half-a-dozen of the other who got the unfortunate people in Ferenka into the disastrous situation they are in.

I do not think there is any use in wasting any more public money by trying to bribe AKZO to reopen the factory, or to bribe another multi-national to take over the factory. Nor do I agree with Deputy Kelly's suggestion about a workers' co-operative. This is rather different from a furniture factory, or a boot and shoe factory, or a textile factory. The expertise and know-how would rule that out. Oddly enough, the only solution is the solution suggested by Dr. Hutter at the meeting with the Minister, that is, that the factory should be taken into public ownership without compensation because the debts to the State far out-value the remaining assets of the company.

I should like the Minister to look at the other subsidiaries of AKZO and the associated companies in Ireland. Will the same fate befall them? Should they not be taken over by the State also to compensate for State losses in Ferenka? I believe there should be a public inquiry into all aspects of the Ferenka disaster—a word used by other people; it seems extravagant but, for the individuals involved, I do not think it is—including the part played by the IDA and by successive Ministers for Industry and Commerce. The books, accounts and records of the company must be open to public inspection.

When this unfortunate decision was made by ENKA to close the Ferenka factory in Limerick on 28th November, there was general sorrow and a feeling that a very serious blow had been struck at all of us. I am afraid, even though virtually no one disagrees with its seriousness, that did not stop some people from trying to achieve some benefit from this misfortune for the Irish people. I am afraid the motion before us this evening is an example of the efforts the Fine Gael Party, and perhaps the Labour Party when they speak, may make to try to make some capital out of it.

I listened very carefully to Deputy Kelly who spoke for exactly half-an-hour without an interruption of any kind. Not alone did he not mention the future; he did not even mention the present. He confined his entire speech to a laborious chronology of events and alleged events interspersed with comments and assumptions of his own which frequently bore no relation to reality. Unfortunately, that was the sole extent of his contribution.

Of course, he made sarcastic personal remarks about the Minister for Labour in particular and myself to a lesser extent. Unhappily that is his style. There was no attempt whatever to assess what the present situation is, or what the future holds for the 1,400 people employed in the factory and the several hundred others outside it whose jobs are dependent on that factory. Nor was there any consideration for the thousands of people who are dependent on those workers. None whatever. We had a lawyer's dissertation on day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4, and what was done and not done to Deputy Kelly's liking during that time. It is disappointing, but that is it. That is what we are faced with.

In any event, the gist of this long sarcastic speech by Deputy Kelly was to the effect—we got it towards the end—that I knew or the Government knew about a month before the closure was announced on 28th November that it was coming anyway, that the place was doomed, that is was going to close, and that the Government concealed this fact from the trade unions in particular and the public in general. Since that was the burden of his case, and since this is the way in which it is alleged the Government were negligent, I want to say straight away that is untrue.

In a written question today which I said I would deal with tonight because I thought he would be dealing with most of these matters—he did not deal with the other points in his question—the Deputy asked for information and I am giving it now. The answer to the question Deputy Kelly posed today about when the Government were first informed about this closure is, at 3.30 p.m. on Monday, 28th November, 1977 when I received a telephone call. The Government are accused, and the Minister for Labour and myself, I think, of not telling people how serious the situation was, how great the dangers were, of not telling people about the likelihood of closure. Listening to Deputy Kelly, I wondered if he were talking about the same thing as I had been talking about for the past couple of months.

On 21st October, 1977 I issued a statement from which I shall read two short extracts with the permission of the Chair, in which I said:

The dispute there——

that is at Ferenka

——raises the imminent prospect of the direct loss of more than 1,400 industrial jobs. Neither Limerick nor Ireland can afford this tragedy. It is staring us in the face and it will assuredly happen if the dispute concerned is not speedily resolved.

Further on I said:

As the Minister responsible for industry I am satisfied that there is a grave and imminent danger of the group closing Ferenka permanently.

What clearer warning could any Minister give than that statement? If I were Divinely inspired, which I am not, I could not have put the matter more clearly. What clearer warning could be given than those sentences and the whole of that statement if it is read as a whole? It would waste too much time to read it all now but it is interesting reading in the light of what happened.

Subsequently, after I had attended another meeting with Dr. Hutter—that statement was issued before my first meeting with him—on the night of 23rd November, I issued a statement on the radio on the morning of Thursday, 24th November, in which I said it seemed that we were no longer talking in terms of weeks or even a week, that it seemed we were talking in terms of days and that unless this dispute between the two unions was settled, as I put it, by the weekend, then I thought the future was very bleak indeed and that closure seemed to be on the cards.

That statement happily had an effect; it caused a response among many of the workers and, in particular—and I would like to acknowledge his assistance in this respect—it caused Mr. Harold O'Sullivan, Vice-President of the ICTU, to try to get the two unions involved to agree on a formula that would enable all the workers to go back.

On that Saturday the workers concerned, because, I think, of the warning I had given on the Thursday, realised that there was imminent danger and the Marine Port workers agreed by an overwhelming majority at a meeting in Limerick to go back to work. The Transport Union workers had already agreed to go back. It is interesting to observe at this point, in view of the allegations of inactivity made against the Minister for Labour that the proposals on which each of those two unions recommended their members to go back and which the members accepted—in the case of the Marine Port workers on that Saturday and in the case of the Transport Union workers about one week earlier—were in substance the very same as the proposals put before both of them by the Minister for Labour five weeks earlier, on 21st and 22nd October. They are not word for word the same but they were identical in substance. If these proposals could be so readily accepted five weeks later at the very end why, we are entitled to ask, could they not have been accepted originally and the tragedy that has now happened avoided? Why did this dispute have to be dragged on to the conclusion it unhappily came to?

Deputy Kelly has alleged that I knew that the company—I presume ENKA or AKZO or perhaps, Ferenka, but in any case the group—had already made a firm and irrevocable decision at the end of October to close this plant. All I can say is that if that is so, why should senior directors of the company come twice to talk to me? Why should so much negotiation ensue and why should so many efforts be made over the following months? Of course it is totally untrue to say I knew they had made that decision. I believe it is probably untrue to say they had made the decision. One reason why I think this is that on the very day before the decision was made —on Sunday 22nd November—Dr. Hutter with whom I had discussion in regard to this matter was interviewed in Arnhem in Holland by Mr. John McAleese of RTE some time in the evening of the sunday for broadcasting at lunchtime on Monday, 28th, and it was broadcast.

When Mr. McAleese asked Dr. Hutter, now that the two unions involved have agreed to return to work, if the factory would reopen—I quote from what Dr. Hutter said:—"It is the local management and its opening of the plant depends very much on the practical conditions on the spot. They"—that is the local management—"will have to decide and judge if conditions are sufficient to take up the work again". Mr. McAleese asked: "So it is up to the management there on the spot in Limerick?" The reply was: "Yes". This was broadcast on the Monday at 1.30 p.m. or shortly afterwards. This was Dr. Hutter, the man who seemed to be in charge of the various discussions, telling, in public on the radio, an RTE correspondent that the question of the decision on the opening or closing of the factory was one for the local management in Limerick. How can it be alleged that I knew, that the Government or that anybody knew a month beforehand that this would be done if this man said this at that time?

Less than two hours after that broadcast I was on the telephone to Dr. Hutter, at 3.30 p.m. He told me his board had met that day and they had made the decision to close. I expressed horror and shock. I pointed out that the men were now back at work, that the dispute between the two unions had ended so far as Ferenka were concerned, that I was totally amazed that they should do this now after the very favourable development on Saturday. He said he was sorry and so on but that this was the decision I argued with him—and it is no exaggeration to say that it was an argument —and I put the case as strongly as I could that it was an outrageous thing to do at this time. For example, I pointed out that I had heard him on the radio only two hours previously say that it was a matter for the local management board in Limerick to make this decision. He told me he did not say this. I told him I had heard him say it, that several officials of my Department had heard him. I said I had the transcript in which it appeared that he said this. Then he said: "I did not mean to say it, there must be some misunderstanding." This, unhappily, is only one instance of the difficulties of talking to this particular firm.

I have a long list of statements and contraditions of those statements made by various spokesmen of the firm in question. I will not delay my time and the House's time because I have very little time, unfortunately, for this very complicated matter, by going through them all. The sequence is that one statement is made, I issue comments on that statement, then the original statement is denied by another spokesman for AKZO and then some days after that again the statement denying the original statement is denied by yet another spokesman of AKZO.

In the course of my discussion with Dr. Hutter, when I pointed this out to him and I said I found it very confusing to know exactly what their position was in relation to anything, gave this example to him of all these contradictions and counter statements and gave him the dates and all the rest of it he said: "Some of those statements were not authorised". I said: "Well how do I know which are authorised and which are not?" He said he did not know. I said: "How do the newspapers know which ones are authorised and which ones are not?" He said again he did not know.

I was asked today when the question of the State taking over this factory from Ferenka first arose. This first arose at the meeting between Dr. Hutter and myself on the 4th November, 1977. It was suggested by him then as a possibility. I asked for details of it and I was told there were no details available, that what he wanted me to do was to agree to the State taking over all the liabilities of the company and then that we would work out the details afterwards. He wanted me to take over the entire shareholding which was held by ENKA. I said no, that I did not think that was on. He then asked me to take a substantial majority in order, as he put it, in the two phrases that were used at the time, (1) that he could withdraw participation and (2) to reduce ENKA's exposure in the matter.

At that stage there was no question of my being told there and then that if I did not do it the place was closing down. I told him I wanted details of this and I had to consult the Government. I consulted the Government and conveyed some days later that the Government, first of all, needed details but secondly, they were not prepared, naturally, to make any decision on this matter about increasing their equity or anything else of that kind while there was an industrial dispute going on in the plant and while it was closed down, and that when that dispute was over and the plant was back in production the Government would obtain the advice of the IDA and the other relevant agencies to enable the position to be considered.

No further details were forthcoming until my meeting on the evening of the 23rd November with Dr. Hutter. He, first of all, discussed with me certain points and he then handed me a document which I was not able to study fully at the time but which I had advice on later. I could only say in relation to the offer that was made at that stage that no Government in any circumstances could agree to it because, quite frankly, from a commercial point of view or indeed any other point of view, what was offered was quite outrageous. It would have entailed the Government taking over the entire liabilities from the time of the beginning of this particular strike onwards, all liability for investment, which was extremely heavy, all liability for future losses and for future investment. At the same time it would leave the entire marketing control in the hands of ENKA, it would leave the entire pricing policy in the hands of ENKA. ENKA have a factory making this very product.

I could not accept that. All the advice I got on the matter was that it was ludicrous to expect that it could be accepted by any Government. There would have been the gravest negligence on my part or on the Government's part if any hearing was given to such a proposal in which the taxpayer was on an absolute loser to nothing, a loser all the way, and in which there was no guarantee whatever of any sort of survival for the company. I had the document examined in detail by various advisers in the IDA and attached to the Department. When they analysed it in detail the advice they gave me about it was that it was far more unsatisfactory and onerous from our point of view than I had thought at first sight. They pointed our various things to me like that ENKA would retain the right to decide on the quality of the production and therefore the price that would be paid for it. It was perfectly unthinkable that any such offer, if you could call it that—you could only call it that in the broadest terms—could ever be accepted by this or any Government acting responsibly.

I offered that, as soon as the strike was over and the production was resumed, the Government were prepared to stand over the package which was already negotiated and agreed in September and, if necessary, increase further the equity holding which had been agreed at 24.9 per cent, but not to take over the entire factory and not to take a majority holding in it in a situation where nominally we would hold the majority of the shares and where we would take all the risks on behalf of the taxpayer but where the effective control lay all the time in the hands of ENKA. If I had done otherwise than that I am quite satisfied I would indeed have been negligent.

I was told that a meeting would be held on the following Monday by ENKA. At that stage, as I stated the following morning, I issued a final appeal, as I saw it, in good faith, asking people, as the last chance, to think again before what was staring us all in the face happened. I believed that if the workers concerned had gone back to work then not even ENKA or AKZO would have taken the steps they did. The workers went back to work. I was shocked and amazed that after that very favourable development, the first in such a long time, eight-and-a-half weeks at that stage, within a few hours the ENKA board took the decision they did.

I have used up nearly all my time. It is very unsatisfactory in this kind of debate on a complicated matter, to be confined to such a short time. I have thought a lot about this. I have analysed in my mind many of the reasons why a lot of these things happened and why this matter ended up in the very unhappy way in which it has. I have also thought a lot about the future and what should be done now and what can be done now. I am afraid I have very little time to deal with these matters.

I want to make a couple of brief comments even though I cannot, unfortunately, finish them. Virtually every major foreign firm which came into the country over the last 20 years have got on well with their workers. The Irish people have no resentment of foreign industrialists in the country. The Irish people regarded them favourably and welcomed them here as friends who have helped us in major ways during the past two decades. One of the very few companies who had a bad labour relations record since being established were Ferenka at Limerick. As far back as 1972, after the plant had opened I had men coming to see me and saying that although they were working at Ferenka they were wondering whether there was any chance that I might find them jobs elsewhere. Very often we as TD's find people coming to us because they have no jobs but for the past five-and-a-half years I have had people from Ferenka seeking a change of job. Unfortunately, the situation at that plant was bad from the start. The management must take a fair share of the blame for that unhappy situation. Since their establishment, Ferenka have had five managing directors, four chief engineers and five personnel managers. It is not surprising, therefore, that the atmosphere was bad.

There was one union there so far as general workers were concerned. There was a closed shop agreement with the ITGWU. Apparently, some of the unhappiness at the plant rubbed off on the union and many people thought that the union were not acting as effectively as they should and were not as tough with management as they might have been. An attempt was made to organise another union at the plant. This was the MPGWU. So far as one can judge a considerable majority of the production workers joined that union. Immediately the two unions were locked in mortal combat. We have been given to believe from our reading of the newspapers in the past few days that all the union workers at Ferenka have got together almost as one happy family, have buried all the differences that existed during the past nine weeks and are prepared to work together as a united force with joint representation in the future should the factory re-open.

I want to question the value of this move at this stage. On Thursday week last when I was making a final effort to prevent the closure and appealing to the men to go back to work I said during the course of a radio interview: "If this closes next week there will be lots of people who will want to sit down together and talk and be reasonable but that is no good. It is this week that you must sit down together and talk and be reasonable." Unfortunately, once again I was right. Once the closure took place the many people here and elsewhere, who were silent for nine long weeks burst forth suddenly into full voice with the result that today we have no shortage of wise men. It is a tragedy for this country that the efforts and the expressions we are getting now were not forthcoming at some time during the previous nine weeks when this tragedy could have been averted.

Unfortunately, I have a great deal to say regarding the future but I cannot go into all that now because of the time limit. Let me say, though in regard to individual members of the ITGWU in Limerick sitting down with members of the MPGWU and saying that they are friends now, that they will work together and will not allow inter-union disputes to interfere with them in future, might I ask whether the two unions concerned at national level with their general secretaries and their presidents have sat down together and agreed to resolve their differences? Have they solved the problems relating to Asahi in Dublin docks? Let us not forget that the Asahi problem was there before the Ferenka problem began. Asahi is still there. Is there any lesson learned from what happened at Ferenka? We are in the same position in Dublin docks today in relation to Asahi as we were in before Ferenka happened. Even at this stage, in order to preserve the rest of Irish industry I appeal to those two unions to sit down and talk meaningfully to one another, not to talk through intermediaries in different rooms at different times. I issued a solemn and prophetic warning of what would happen in Ferenka. That was five weeks before the closure. Now I am issuing an equally solemn and prophetic warning that there will be many Ferenkas unless Irishmen sit down together, talk to one another and, for God's sake and above all else, have sense.

May I ask the Minister——

Is it the Deputy's intention to speak to the motion at this stage?

The Deputy may not ask questions at this point. I am calling Deputy Desmond.

Perhaps what I have to say would be of benefit to the Minister. He has referred to the lack of time which, he says, prevents him from making further remarks, but I am sure that if the Government would agree to give time for an extension of the debate they would have the entire agreement of Fine Gael and us.

That would be a matter for discussion among the parties. I must call the next speaker.

I have listened carefully to the Minister and to Deputy Kelly and Deputy Browne. With respect it is only in patches that they have touched the core of the real issues involved. If, during this debate we are not prepared to face the unpleasant facts relating to this closure, we do a grave disservice to the workers concerned and to their families and we learn nothing for the future of industrial relations and of the Government's role in industrial relations. Furthermore, we confuse the prospect of the plant being re-opened in some way. There are a number of viable ways in which the plant can be re-opened and the workers re-employed gainfully. In many ways all of us are responsible for what has happened. Unless we face the facts we will do nothing to encourage future native and international investment here.

It is not enough to say that the closure was a tragedy. It was a scandal and even more, it was a national disgrace. There are clear areas of responsibility including, as we have underlined in this motion, the direct responsibility of the Government. We are aware that in part and to a degree that we have yet to assess the company's labour relations policy was responsible. We are aware too, that some individual workers at the plant were responsible in part for what happened and also that the inter-union relations—in particular in respect of one union concerned—were responsible. But the Government in substantial part were responsible because of their indecision as exemplified tonight in a litany from Deputy O'Malley and by the regrettable inexperience of a fellow Corkman, the Minister for Labour. By their ineptitude and inaction the Government made a monumental contribution to the closure. I propose to deal with these issues tomorrow evening. In relation to the Dáil we are dealing with the role of the Government.

Debate adjourned.