By agreement earlier today Standing Orders are to be suspended between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. to allow statements to be made by Members on the situation in relation to Telectron Limited. No Member will be allowed to make more than one statement.
Closure of Tallaght (Dublin) Company: Statements.
Since the position of Telectron Ltd. was discussed in this House on 26 April, two important developments have taken place. Firstly, the company, subsequent to that discussion, decided to defer the closure of the Tallaght plant from 29 April to 6 May and, secondly, there have been a series of discussions with senior executives of both Telectron and its parent US company, AT & T International. All of the discussions, in part of which I have been directly involved, were aimed at averting the closure of the Tallaght plant and the maintenance of the company's other operations here. Despite these discussions, during which various suggestions and proposals aimed at averting the closure of the Tallaght plant were put before AT & T International, by the IDA and other Irish agencies, I regret to say that as of today AT & T International have given no commitment beyond Friday, 6 May 1983 relating to the future of the Tallaght operation. However, the managing director of the IDA has today departed for the US for the purpose of engaging in further discussions with members of the AT & T board in the US. These discussions, which have of course as their objective the maintenance of Telectron's operations in Ireland, will take place over the next couple of days. They are likely to be long and difficult and will almost certainly determine the future of Telectron's future activities in Ireland. For this reason I do not feel that it would be appropriate for me at this stage to speculate on the outcome of the discussions.
Deputies will, I am sure, appreciate the delicacy of the current situation and since the future of the Tallaght plant is still very much in the balance, I hope that this debate will be such that nothing will be said that may be prejudicial to the negotiations which will take place in the US. I know that will be the case.
However, when this matter was raised in the House on 26 April a number of points were raised which I feel I could deal with now without prejudicing the discussions.
Deputy Harney asked if, in view of the substantial amount of public money involved in contracts awarded by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs to Telectron, the House could be given a commitment that this work will be carried out by Irish employees. As promised on that occasion I have discussed this matter with the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and his intention is that the equipment covered by the orders will be manufactured in Ireland to the extent originally envisaged.
Deputy Mac Giolla, referring to the financial position of the company as reported in the media, asked for confirmation that the company was making losses of the order of £3 million per year. Because of the short notice I was not able to answer that question. I have inquired into this matter and I can confirm that it lost a sum in excess of £3 million in the nine months ended 31 December 1982 and a total of £10 million in the three years ended 31 December 1982. Prior to its recent announcement, the company did not expect the scale of these losses to decrease.
Deputy Seán Walsh raised the question of whether the reason for the threatened closure of the Tallaght factory was to enable the company to switch production to the US. I have no evidence which would support this suggestion.
Finally, Deputy Molloy asked for clarification regarding the continued employment of the company's work force at its factories at Inis Mór, Aran Islands, and Bunbeg, County Donegal. I understand that the position regarding the Inis Mór plant is not affected but, as Deputies will be already aware, the company have announced that 37 redundancies will take place at the Bunbeg plant. That was known at the time of the Tallaght announcement. As I stated here on 26 April, it was with a view to ensuring the viability of that plant at Bunbeg and to safeguarding the remainder of the employment there that the company announced its intention to make 37 of the workers employed redundant. This is still the company's position.
I do not wish to prolong my contribution as I am sure other Members will be anxious to speak. This is a matter that the Government have discussed in Cabinet and one which they regard as being very serious for industrial development here. The Government are doing everything in their power, by means of meetings which I have had with a senior executive of AT & T International and also by the contacts now being made by the managing director of the IDA at the highest level in the US, to safeguard the future of the Tallaght operation. While I welcome this debate, which gives the House an opportunity of expressing a concern which they and I share about this matter, I am not in a position to give any more detail than I have given because of the very crucial point the discussions are now at. I hope Members will be able to underline that concern and that the debate will indicate a wide measure of cross-party concern about this matter which will be of help to the executives involved in the discussions in the US designed to save this plant.
Before I call on Deputy Walsh I should like to remind the House that we have approximately 53 minutes remaining and there are seven Deputies anxious to contribute.
I should like to assure the Minister that it is not my intention to say anything that will prejudice the discussions that are taking place in an effort to save the factory in Tallaght. The Minister assured us that the manufacture of the product would continue in Ireland, but unfortunately the Minister did not say where. I should like to know if the product will continue to be manufactured in Tallaght. Today the 500 workers of the factory turned out in a protest march. The position is very depressing for them and they are disillusioned about the whole situation. Tallaght has been described as a new town with a projected population of 175,000 people. When it was planned Telectron was one of the industries in the area which offered the prospects of secure employment for some of the population. Unfortunately, a number of the other firms have gone out of business due to the recession. As a local representative I was disappointed to hear last week of the decision to close the Telectron plant.
I am aware that discussions had been taking place about 190 redundancies in this plant and I am satisfied that the workers were prepared to co-operate on a proper and fair basis in this regard. They were totally disillusioned on their arrival at the factory last Monday week, on being told that the factory was to close on the next Friday. Following the raising of this matter here and the intervention of union officials, the factory was to continue in production until next Friday. Unfortunately, the Minister is not in a position to give any assurance beyond that.
The workers taking part in the march today were very depressed at the announcement here this evening that the position is not going to improve. The families of 500 workers are affected. The projected new town of Tallaght is to have a population of 175,000. Many put their confidence in this new town by purchasing houses and hoping for stable employment. Telectron was one of the industrial concerns which offered stable employment. Nearby, there is the sad situation at the Clondalkin Paper Mills. I sincerely hope that the Government will work more actively towards the settlement of this dispute than was the case with Clondalkin Paper Mills. As one of the representatives of the area, should the proposal to close the factory on Friday next go ahead, I hope that the Minister and the Government will intervene, possibly by injecting capital, with a view to keeping production alive and the factory open.
Speaking today after the march, I said that my main concern was the continuation of production. Once production ceases and the gates close, very little can be done. I hope that the efforts of the managing director of the IDA, when in the United States discussing this very important matter with the management of this concern, will ensure that production will continue at Tallaght. It is all very fine making good speeches and announ cing that the manager of the IDA has travelled to the United States, but if this factory closes next Friday what will be the position of the workers?
Tallaght had many old native industries over the years but many of these have now disappeared. Successive Governments down the years have told us of great strides in industry and advised that the time had come to concentrate on the technological side. This firm of Telectron showed great promise and offered a great future. What has happened here and what went wrong? Successive Governments have injected large amounts of capital into this development by way of grants and this company have secured a major Government contract. Things appeared to be going well, but suddenly something went wrong. It is the duty of the Government to ensure a proper investigation, from the point of view of the workers. This is not an industry which came into being overnight. It has existed for some time. Like the Clondalkin Paper Mills work force, these workers have developed tremendous skills which were not readily available at the time of the opening of the factory. If this factory closes, these skills will be lost to the country and to the new town of Tallaght. I hope that the Government will make every effort to save production at this plant.
The lesson of Clondalkin Paper Mills should be learned. That factory, or the site, has now been purchased. However, the machines are still idle, the gates are closed. Of what benefit is its purchase to the workers of the Clondalkin Paper Mills, the Government or the country? I sincerely hope there will not be a repetition of this as far as Telectron are concerned. I ask the Minister to intervene on behalf of the Government before next Friday, to ensure that production in this plant will continue.
A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, what procedure is to be followed here?
With the deputies co-operation, I will endeavour to give every Deputy an opportunity to speak before 7 p.m. So far, good example has been set by the Minister and by Deputy Walsh. I will call each and every Deputy wishing to contribute.
On a point of order, the procedure on the issue of statements is an established practice that, following the statements of the Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, I would be called. This is not a debate in the normal course.
That Standing Order has been suspended for this debate. With the Deputy's co-operation, I will ensure that each and every one of the Deputies will have an opportunity to contribute. Would the Deputy please allow Deputy Taylor to contribute? It is now 6.18 p.m. and we have 42 minutes left.
I have no intention of holding up the proceedings. I accept the ruling, provided it does not mean that this precedent is set.
The Standing Order has merely been suspended for this hour. Deputy Taylor, please.
The level of unemployment in Tallaght is one of the highest in the country from the percentage point of view. It would be nothing short of a disaster if the new town of Tallaght were stricken by 500 job losses in one fell swoop at Telectron. Such an eventuality would cause tremendously increased depression in this town. It would have an effect far beyond the jobs actually lost, in that the loss of purchasing power of the workers and their families would work its way through the entire business system of this major, growing new town.
It is a matter of the utmost importance that those jobs be preserved. The Minister has suggested that nothing should be said here which might prejudice negotiations which are taking place. Of course, he is quite right there, up to a point. Nonetheless, we have responsibilities here, in particular those of us who represent the constituency of Dublin South-West, to raise a number of questions as to what went on in the matter of Telectron and its acquisition by the AT & T multinational company of the United States.
It has been pointed out here that Telectron were losing substantial amounts of money in recent years, yet it is only within the last year or so that AT & T, one of the major industrial complexes in the world, saw fit to buy and take over the Telectron company. Is it suggested that they did not do their homework, their sums and investigate what exactly was going on in Telectron before they parted with an appreciable sum of money, running into some millions of pounds? I doubt that. I think that they knew, as a result of investigations and examinations, exactly what the position was in Telectron, exactly what the prospects were and what the cash flow would be. I have no doubt that, if they wished, AT & T could make a very viable company of Telectron and could import new research and development. That was denied to that company for many years past. Let us hope that the efforts of the Minister and the IDA will change that. The indications at present are that AT & T will not do that but that, on the contrary, they callously intend to close down that operation and put 500 unfortunate people and their families on to the dole.
Why are AT & T doing that? That question must be asked. It is up to them to answer this. Perhaps they bought this as an asset stripping operation with no intention of maintaining employment there from the word go but with the intention of stripping down their assets and realising them. I hope that is not the case and that events will show that is not so. It is up to them to say if that is the case. Perhaps they came to the conclusion that they had spare manufacturing capacity in the USA, and in the expectation that they might perhaps be able to sell their product in Ireland without the necessity of having it manufactured here. I feel those questions must be asked and this company should answer them.
The Minister says that the Posts and Telegraphs contract work will be carried out here to the extent that was contracted for. But the extent of manufacturing can vary greatly, from manufacturing all along the line to a very minor assembly operation that involves very little contribution to the work force. I suspect that may be their plan, that the bulk of the manufacturing process will be carried out in the USA and that the remainder, the finishing touches, which is known in the trade as FAT, which stands for finish and test, might be planned for Ireland. This means that perhaps out of £1,000 worth of goods a very minor portion, perhaps £50 or £100, would be attributable to the manufacturing process here.
The Minister and the IDA must make approaches at every possible level, including to the United States authority at every level, to convey to them that if the Telectron factory is permitted to close by this US conglomorate which carries the US flag, its effect on the good relations which this country has with the USA, on which we pride ourselves, must be severely dinted, that we do not desire that and that we sincerely trust it will not happen. This must not be allowed to happen because, apart from any other consideration, very appreciable sums of money, which have been paid for by the taxpayers, have already gone into Telectron. The Irish people are entitled to expect that they will in the fullness of time reap the reward from that investment. We were told before, when some other industries fell down, that we cannot complain about that, that we must look forward and get into the new technologies. What newer or more beneficial technology can there be than electronics? The electronics industry has become a part of the life blood of this country and it is exemplified at Telectron at Tallaght.
I call on the Minister to ensure by every means, with the cooperation of AT & T or without it, even to the extent of taking over and nationalising that factory and running it as a State operation, that the vital and essential manufacturing capacity of the country is maintained and expanded. This industry has an essential key role to play in the future of the country and, given the opportunity and research and development, which has hitherto been denied it, I believe that henceforth it will prove itself not only to the satisfaction of its workers and of Tallaght but to the benefit of the entire country.
Deputy Mary Harney.
What is the order in which you are calling the speakers? It is curious that you have called nobody, apart from the Minister, from this party. You called one Member from the Opposition. Could you let me know what is the procedure?
The Deputy will be called in due course. The Deputy will follow Deputy Mary Harney and then Deputy Mac Giolla will follow Deputy O'Leary.
Like the other speakers, particularly the two Deputies from my constituency, I want to add to the record, as I did last week, my dismay at the decision of this company to pull out of Telectron at Tallaght. I have to say, as Deputy Walsh and Deputy Taylor said, it will have very serious consequences for the people of Tallaght, particularly for the 500 workers of Telectron, their families and the whole Tallaght area. It is particularly distressing because so many of the workers in this particular factory belong to the same family. I know of one case where a husband, a wife and four of their children work in this company. When you have that situation in relation to one family multiplied over and over again in the case of Telectron it is a very sad situation for the Tallaght area, particularly for those workers and their families.
It is particularly distressing — I recently spoke with the IDA — because the IDA do not seem to have any plans to bring any major industry into this area. The new town of Tallaght, with a population of over 60,000, is the third centre of population in the country and it will have a very disastrous future if some major industries are not brought into the area and if industries like Telectron are not kept going. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that this factory is kept going.
This afternoon my colleagues and I were out in Tallaght and we met the workers who marched through the streets of Tallaght protesting at this closure. It was very sad to have to watch those workers, many of whom are very young, who have got highly specialised technical skills. It appears that if Telectron are allowed to go they will not be able to put those skills to any purpose unless an alternative employer is found. It is very sad that here in Dáil Éireann, the national Parliament, we are powerless to do anything. We can make fine speeches and on all sides of the House there is wide agreement; but nobody, not even the Minister, seems to be in a position to offer any hope to those workers. This must bring home to everybody that when we are dealing with multi-national companies we are powerless. We will have to look at our legislation to see if we can operate some kind of control over companies of this size, which come in here, get very generous Government grants, and at the end of the day the decision to pull out the plug or to stay in operation is made, not in Dublin, not in the Dáil, not even in Ireland, but in America. That is very strange, particularly as so much Irish money has been ploughed into this plant.
I would like to refer to the point made by Deputy Taylor that this company currently have a contract from the Department of Posts and Telegraphs for £16½ million. I know the Minister referred to this but I want him to be very specific and indicate that all of this £16½ million will be spent in Ireland and that the work will be carried out by Irish employees in Ireland. I understand from talking to employees in the company that officials in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs told the company that this work could, in certain circumstances, be carried out in the United States. I understand all this work can be done here by Irish employees.
I have already answered that point in my speech. I discussed this matter with the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and the equipment covered by the orders will be manufactured in Ireland to the extent originally envisaged.
What was that extent?
Some people in the company indicated that they were told by the Department when given the contract that the work could in some cases be done in the United States. Will the £16½ million be spent here?
There is no change in the original position.
What is the original position?
That is a matter for the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs.
I asked the Minister about this last week and I would now like an answer. The company say they can fulfil the contract.
The closure does not affect the extent to which the material will be manufactured in Ireland if the closure occurs.
The closure may well highlight the fact that the contract was given but particular details were not received. An assurance should have been given that all this work would be carried out in Tallaght. The workers say they are capable of fulfilling the whole contract.
The plant and equipment in the firm in Tallaght are obsolete and the company have not put any money into technology. This is a highly specialised business and it is important that the technology and equipment should be as modern as possible. This company have not kept pace with their competitors. This may well be part of the problem they have at present.
This company should not receive any more State money unless specific guarantees are given that the 500 jobs will be secure in Tallaght and that any contracts which involve public money will be carried out at the plant in Tallaght. I wish the IDA well in America but I hope they do not come back with just a few jobs and a lot of window dressing. We do not want to be faced with a similar situation next year. Whatever solution is arrived at must be final. We want the company to compete in the electronics field. Given proper management they should be able to do so. Other companies in the same business are doing very well.
I am delighted that this debate has taken place. It is very sad that neither Government, opposition nor all party agreement can do much at this stage. It brings home to us the importance of looking at our legislation in relation to companies of this nature where so much State expenditure is involved. We must ensure that jobs are secure and that decisions such as this one will not occur again.
The manner in which this company treated their employees in the past few weeks is appalling. They negotiated redundancy payments, offered a grandiose plan for the future and then pulled the plug on Monday morning. I hope no other company will behave in such a disgraceful fashion.
I thank the Chair for giving me an opportunity to add my few words to those of my colleagues. Deputy Walsh mentioned that we were at a protest meeting on this issue in Tallaght this afternoon. A great deal of concern was expressed at that meeting at the calamitous effects the closure of the company will have on Tallaght.
This is one of the oldest plants in Tallaght. Tallaght has suffered a great deal of official neglect over the years. It is Ireland's forgotten city. If this plant closed down it will have serious social effects on Tallaght. I appreciate the delicacy of the situation and I agree with the Minister that it would be best to be as constructive as possible in this discussion because of negotiations which are taking place.
I am well aware of the hardships that face families where the breadwinner loses his job particularly since jobs are so scarce. Unemployment in Tallaght is very severe. Anyone holding clinics in the area knows that there is a long queue of people looking for jobs.
Telectron management have handled this matter less than satisfactorily. A decision by the parent company to close the Tallaght factory with a loss of over 500 jobs at a time when negotiations were taking place for 200 redundancies has not been satisfactorily explained by the company. What can be done now to preserve the jobs? It is of little comfort or value to the workers to know that we are debating the issue in the Dáil. The question is what can we do to advance the position, save jobs and get the operation going in Tallaght. Various Ministers in different Governments who handled different aspects of the contract were concerned with securing what was in the best interests of the country, the workers and the firm. All Governments acted in good faith in this matter. The only query I have in relation to this impasse— no explanation has been given by AT & T — is why was this decision taken so suddenly when difficult negotiations were taking place? The Minister said that discussions were taking place with Telectron and its parent company to determine what measures were necessary to ensure that this decision was not implemented. If our discussion manages to help those negotiations then it will be worthwhile.
In their statement the firm say they are losing substantial sums of money. The Minister said they lost a total of £10 million in the three years ended last December. That is a substantial sum by any standards. However, that situation did not occur overnight. I assume that when taking over the firm AT & T were conscious of the position and that it could not be turned around overnight. They must have understood the financial difficulties after analysing the books.
I cannot comment on the state of the firm's order book. If they have not got any orders which they can meet in the short-term they are clearly in trouble. However, the Minister gave details last week which indicated that the firm had substantial orders from the Department for equipment. It was hoped the firm would be able to keep the work force going on these orders.
Mention has been made of the fact that the products on which Telectron rely are obsolete and that they have been unable to market them abroad. As a result there is a gap in their production. If that is so it must be corrected. However, they are developing new products. They have an order worth £48 million for digital radio links. If the gap in production can be bridged there should not be any problem in keeping the factory open. I urge the Minister to direct his attention to this in the talks. As the Department are the company's main, if not sole, outlet on the home market I urge that Department to do everything possible to make orders available to the firm so that production can continue. In urging this, I am conscious that there are obvious limits to the volume of equipment that the Department can use and that it should not be expected to buy in excess of its needs. I know too that there are other Irish manufacturers and that they must also be treated fairly. However, within these constraints, I urge that the Department should help in the current situation to the maximum extent practicable. I recognise that the telecommunications equipment requirements of this country are small and that, in themselves, can be no more than a base on which to build export markets.
It is clearly essential that, if there is to be a thriving telecommunications factory in Tallaght — and I believe that with hard negotiations and goodwill on all sides that is possible — it must be geared largely to export because the home market would be insufficient to keep it going. I assume in the discussions taking place that will be very much to the forefront. This obviously requires action in a number of ways: good, modern and efficient equipment at competitive prices, well marketed and supported by adequate after sales service. It appears that the position in the factory, even before AT & T take-over, was less than satisfactory. It suggests that changes should have been made sooner but they were not and there is no point in bemoaning what should have happened in the past. We are dealing with an ugly situation in the present. How do we avert a closure? How do we make a practical arrangement for the future? This debate can help in focusing on these issues, which will give hope to the workers to maintain their jobs.
I am glad the Minister has allowed this debate and that he acknowledges the seriousness of the problem. The Deputies in the area and I have not much hope but it is interesting that the Minister hopes that progress will be made because he appealed to Deputies not to say anything which might inhibit the progress which he felt might be made. To some extent this worries me because there a number of things I wished to day about the running of this company but perhaps it would be better to leave them unsaid in case it might upset the negotiations which the Minister is making. The whole issue, including the many questions which were raised by Deputy Taylor, Deputy Walsh and Deputy Harney, asked questions which need answers and an inquiry is in order because, even if the factory is not saved, the procedures for the future need to be questioned. Why was a contract given to a factory which apparently was run down? Their equipment was about 20 years out of date and does not compare with Ericsson, Athlone, which is 20 years ahead of it. Their quality control procedures were hopeless, their test equipment was very bad and, in this industry, if you do not have high quality control and top-class testing, you are out of business.
Perhaps the Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Reynolds, may be able to tell the House if, before this contract was given, there was any on the spot investigation of the factory and equipment, of their capability of completing this contract and of their books and records. As, at the time, they were apparently losing about £10 million, were they in a position to complete this contract? Was any check made at the time of the running of the factory? These questions need to be asked because Telectron had one outstanding feature, their design, research and development team. The design team were broken up gradually and some were taken over to the parent company in the United States. It is probably a tribute to the expertise of the staff that there are at least three companies established by former members of Telectron — Lake Electronics, DATAC and Cornell Electronics.
There is a lack of commitment to Tallaght and Clondalkin. How far do we intend to fulfil the commitment to make it a town in which people can live and not a desert area? Little has been done to develop industry for the hundred thousand population. The way in which we solve the problem of Telectron will be an indication of our commitment to Tallaght. People there were very proud of this industry because it was in the new field of high technology and if we do not stay in that business we will have missed the second industrial revolution. There are 15,000 people employed in the electronics industry but they are in the low technology and low wage areas. The design and development team in Telectron were in a position, if they had had the equipment, to bring us into the top bracket. If we had even 1 per cent of the market in Europe it would bring us £1 billion in exports and that market is growing at a very rapid pace. We must, therefore, see what we are going to do about this. If a company are not prepared to stay in business, are we going to do anything about it? We should use the expertise which was in Telectron instead of putting our faith in multinationals or in individual whizz kids. We have the expertise and the State must have an involvement in ensuring that we are in the high technology area of the electronics industry. Perhaps the ESB should be approached if AT & T are unable or unwilling to continue in production here because it is very important that we do not miss this opportunity. I wish the Minister every success in his negotiations and I hope he will succeed. If he does not, he should consider the whole area of new technology in which, as the people in Tallaght indicated, we have the expertise. All we need now is backing.
I listened with interest to the various points made by the Deputies representing the constituency in which this plant is situated, and the tragedy it seems to be at this stage in that area for the families of the 500 workers there.
None of us could gain much consolation from what the Minister said in relation to the future of the plant. He appealed to every Deputy in this House to take into consideration the delicate talks that have been going on for the last three or four days here in Ireland and are now switched to the west coast of America for the final decision on the future of the Telectron plant. As a former holder of that office I do not entirely share that view. Internationally businesses such as we are dealing with here, corporations of the size of AT & T, will respect you just as much if you take your courage in your hands and tell them straight — they are straight talkers themselves as I know from having met them many times — what exactly the Irish Government feel about the situation here and clearly demonstrate your concern in relation to the situation as it has developed. Ask some of the questions that have been asked here by Deputy O'Leary and others, straight across the table. That is the way Americans do business at that level and I see nothing wrong with it.
Last Monday week was the first time that anybody here had any knowledge of this decision taken on the previous Friday in relation to the proposed closure of this plant. I would have expected somebody on behalf of the Government, certainly the Minister for Industry and Energy — or if you want to be more diplomatic about it maybe the Minister for Foreign Affairs — to be on the telephone immediately to the headquarters in Connecticut to ask the president of the organisation what the game was all about, to ask the questions that have been asked in this House. If that had been done we might at this stage be in possession of some of the answers and knowledge we are now seeking. I believe that that is what they would expect. Any Minister for Industry and Energy should do what I did myself many times in the short period I held that office and nobody took any exception to it, take up a telephone, ring the man over there and ask him what it is about and, if necessary, get on the next flight and go to him. After all, we are dealing with the backbone of the electronics industry, with the future of 500 people, and with a company who enjoy at present a contract from the Irish Government for £16 million. In the ordinary run of business Americans would expect that if you were on the receiving end of a contract you would be very seriously concerned as to where it was to be supplied and the future plans for the company.
That could be the approach and it would not be condemned by the Americans. I know that the IDA do an excellent job for us in negotiation, but in this serious situation that has developed here we need a little more than the chief executive of the IDA going out to Palm Beach tomorrow or whatever day this final meeting is to take place. If the Government were really serious, showing their clear concern by demonstrating it, not alone would the first contact have been made but on that plane going but last night would have been a Minister for the Irish Government. He should be at the table tomorrow when the future of 500 people, the investment here and the recipients of a Government contract and more contracts to come will be discussed. We all know of the very big involvement of Telectron in the Irish communications situation.
I have heard nothing whatsoever of the original contract for digital switching which was originally awarded to Telectron. The Minister for Industry and Energy would not be in a position to give us any details of it. I would have expected the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs to be in here to take part in this discussion and to fill in some of the pieces of which I am aware and others of which I am not aware. Questions could be answered and I would not be unfair to the Minister here in asking him, but a concern should be demonstrated clearly by the Government before that meeting takes place. American presidents are well accustomed to being phoned at all hours of the day and night at that level of business.
In 1980 AT & T first decided to look at Ireland. They had become saturated in America, de-control, as they knew, was on the way, and they were beginning to look abroad to sell their services and products. I met them in 1980. The theory and logic behind their move in here were to look for a European base from which to serve the European and Middle Eastern markets and I asked them to have a look at Ireland. Subsequently they came to Ireland. They took 45 per cent interest in Telectron and in recent times, in the last two months, they took 100 per cent. Deputy O'Leary raised the point which I and any businessman would raise, that if you have 45 per cent of a company and control of the day-to-day management of that company, surely you know everything that is going on in that company on a day-to-day basis. Why would any business concern, let alone AT & T, take 100 per cent and in such a short time decide, peremptorily or otherwise, to close it down? That question is unanswered and it should be asked of the people concerned. I do not know whether the people who were handling the situation here properly understood Irish industrial relations, but we would expect a little more from them than the attitude and approach they have shown in this situation. It is no harm to tell them so. I had occasion during my short period in that office to tell international companies in here to be very wary and fully awake and educated to the situation in Ireland which can be totally different from what pertains at American corporation level.
I may be wrong but I believe that the case was in the Labour Court for conciliation on the day this decision was taken in the US. Maybe the case in the Labour Court was not heading in a good direction and perhaps that news was relayed back to a board who were sitting when they got that news. Maybe they got a coloured version of it. We do not know. The only way to find out the real position is to take up a telephone, and find out; if not satisfied be on the plane with Mr. Padraig White, and with that concern demonstrated in action which they expect from their own employees they would be very happy to welcome an Irish Minister. I know the prestige in which an Irish Minister is held abroad when he goes on such a mission. I do not know when the meeting will be, tomorrow or the next day, but the Minister would be well advised to be on a plane to put the case of the Irish Government, the case of future contracts and the whole business, in perspective and see that this operation carries on.
There may well be short-term problems in the company. Time was passing them by first. Research and development have not taken place. In my time as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1980 I was familiar with the questions that Deputy Mac Giolla raised. Certainly they needed new products and new technology. When a decision was made here to change the basic infrastructure of Irish telecommunications from the old technology that was there into new technology and Telectron supplied so much into that network, obviously they were going to be in trouble. This was the logic behind bringing CIT Alcatel and themselves on a joint venture in here so that there would be a transfer of technology from the French into Telectron and finally a build up of the company into the new era of technology that Deputy Mac Giolla so rightly described. CIT Alcatel have put proven products, proven digital technology, into the French system. There is a big future in it. We cannot afford to let the opportunity go. We have the expertise and the brain-power. This also was expressed to me by AT & T in May 1982 when, on a promotional visit, I visited their plant in Boston on route 124, and some of the Telectron employees were engaged there then on new research work and the Americans had the height of praise for them. The whole basis of the operation looked right. The biggest and strongest international company in the business, AT & T, were coming in here. We had an Irish work force with expertise already trained. All we had to do was retrain them to new technology and transfer new products from the biggest research laboratories in the world — 10,000 people are involved in Bell Laboratories. It is a simple operation to transfer products from there over to here for manufacture. Everything seemed to be in order and still does. That is why the Minister should be on a flight and get a resolution to this problem.