That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to formulate and publish a policy for Irish deep sea shipping and to declare its determination to maintain in Irish hands, adequate ferry services to the UK and mainland Europe.
I do so because I see the results of the inertia on the part of the Government in the whole business of shipping. The motion calls the attention of the House to that inertia and we hope that perhaps it will spur the Government into some kind of action to help to remedy the serious situation that has arisen in regard to Irish shipping. I will first of all comment on the amendment put down in the name of the Minister for Communications:
Dáil Éireann notes that the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements set up by the Minister for Communications, were published in the Green Paper on Transport Policy and that the Committee's report is at present being considered by the Government; and also takes note of the substantial financial support for the B & I Company recently approved by the Government.
I will come back to "the substantial financial support" for the B & I Company as incorporated in a Bill which is the oddest I have seen since I became spokesman for Transport. I do not know whether that Bill has been examined in detail by commentators. I cannot understand it. It is connected with a shipping company but is substantively concerned with the Department of the Public Service and not the Department of Communications.
I wrote to the Minister for Communications and asked him for a copy of the report of the committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements and I was told that it was not available to me and could not be made available to me. There is reference in the Minister's amendment to parts of the report being published in the Green Paper on Transport Policy. If that is so, why is the report not available to the House? The committee is a committee of the Department of Communications and its report should be available to those Members of the House who are trying to urge the Government to develop a policy in regard to shipping. It is an appropriate time for decisions to be taken by the Government on the development of shipping — they should be searching for areas for investment.
We need a development policy in the Irish shipping area — I spell "shipping" with a small "s" because I will be referring to Irish Shipping and to other lines including the B & I. It is appropriate to ask the Minister, now that unemployment has reached such a high level, that the morale of the country is exceptionally low, that young people, including those highly qualified in the science of marine engineering, are emigrating apace to Britain and the US, often illegally, and to the continent, to take cognisance of the fact that ships are available at rock bottom prices at present for anyone here who wants to develop a shipping company.
The cost of oil, according to this week's The Economist, is $13.60 for North Sea Brit. That is a 49.3 per cent drop on the price 12 months ago. I am painting a picture of this area to encourage the Government to develop a shipping policy and to come down hard in favour of a deep sea fleet of modest size, and other developments in relation to shipping. Such developments might help in a very important area where morale is very low, where we have many people unemployed and where large sums are being paid in unemployment assistance and benefit to people with high qualifications. We have highly trained sailors but we are not doing anything about them.
This is a sorry tale. I do not want to go into it in detail. However, we want to castigate the Government — we have done it over and over again — about the treatment of Irish Shipping workers and the way the Government have washed their hands of responsibility for them. It is very difficult to get hard figures but we are told the Irish Spruce could be purchased for £7 million. That is the market value. Yet, figures up to and even more than £100 million are mentioned as the cost of liquidating Irish Shipping. That is crazy economics. It is Stone Age economics in anyone's language, to do something that will cost so much and end up having nothing at all. There are aspects of this matter that are so crazy the House could not understand them. For instance, why is there an Indian crew on the Irish Spruce while fully qualified Irish Shipping personnel are walking around drawing unemployment benefit in Dublin, Cork, Galway or elsewhere?
I call attention to this craziness because on occasion, for example with regard to the Insurance Corporation of Ireland and Irish Steel, the Government have gone over the top in order to buttress up those companies. It is a tu quoque kind of argument. The fact is that the former workers of Irish Shipping are asking those questions. They are quite understandable questions and the Government should answer them. They could save the whole situation if they had a positive development policy for Irish Shipping. The people who were caught in that trap picket Dáil Éireann every Wednesday. It is an orderly picket and the people have well reasoned arguments. They are temperate people and, above all, they are persistent. They will keep at it until they see that justice is done in their case.
This saga, this tragedy, has continued since 1984. I quote from an article in the Irish Independent by Tom Reddy entitled “Scuttling of Irish Shipping proves very expensive”.
...It has now been estimated that the total bill for liquidating the shipping line will top £170 million. The liquidation may take over five years to complete.
I know the Minister said £50 million but even that is the price of seven vessels such as the Irish Spruce. I am not saying we have to invest in vessels that size in a new deep sea fleet. We could invest in smaller vessels and I note there was a recommendation to that effect in the Green Paper. The article continues:
...The obvious question that the Minister and his advisers now have to ask themselves is, would it have been cheaper to keep the fleet afloat? The answer appears that it would have been and, despite the huge subsidy, the State would have a creditable asset in a large and modern shipping fleet.
If the process now in train continues, we will have nothing at the end for all the expense. The taxpayer is also footing the other bill, namely, the social welfare payments for more than 250 people. I do not have to continue about Irish Shipping because the details have been spelled out here time and again. However, I thought it better to recall some of the scandalous facts with regard to Irish Shipping in the context of this motion.
In other places, and even in this House, I have indicated what other countries roughly the same size or even smaller than Ireland have been doing with regard to the provision of deep sea fleets. At random I give deadweight tonnage for the following countries: the figure for Belgium is 3,890.4; Denmark which is territorially smaller than Ireland has a tonnage of 7,973.4; Finland, which is tightly packed in by seas to the north and to the south west has 3,209.2; Iceland, with a very small population, has 165.9 and Ireland has 270.5. Norway has a huge fleet and even Switzerland has a larger fleet even though it has no harbours. We should have a fleet and we should start to establish that now no matter on how small a scale.
I reject the idea that Fianna Fáil, in or out of Government, have been or would be irresponsible with regard to State investment. The Minister, Deputy Mitchell, has so indicated as far as Irish Shipping are concerned. There is a tendency to spread this kind of propaganda. The propagandists of the Government, and Fine Gael in particular, wish to get the idea abroad that we were irresponsible and would be again. After a recent comment of mine on the whole shipping area, the Minister jocosely asked me in the House what would be the cost of my suggestion and I reported that it would be £7 million in that instance while he was spending up to and in excess of £100 million with nothing to show at the end.
I wish to know from the Minister when he is replying what are the Government doing with regard to a deep sea fleet. What proposals are with the Government and at what stage are such proposals? Has the Minister presented them to the Cabinet and are they under consideration there? Have there been any decisions, either positive or negative, with regard to a deep sea fleet? Is a policy objective being pursued by the Department and, if so, what is it? Are we talking about a State company or about something else? What consideration has been given to the co-operative proposal from management that was sent to the Department by some of the former employees of Irish Shipping? Have there been any consultations with private shipping interests about a deep sea fleet? Has a full private venture been discussed with anybody in the shipping world? Has a joint venture been discussed? I should like to know if there is any kind of incubus on the Government's conscience with regard to the workers or have they written them off?
The House knows that Fianna Fáil have decided there will be a deep sea Irish fleet. We envisage a fleet that will be small to start and, as is the natural evolution, that it will grow as success demands. We are totally open to suggestions. We have no ideological hang up about the type of company. It may be a totally State-owned company such as B & I or a private company. It would be necessary to encourage people in that regard. It could be a semi-State company or a joint venture of the private sector and the State.
I made the point earlier that this is a good time to buy ships. I have had some consultations with experts in the private field who indicate that possibly there will be further shrinking until about November of this year. That is guesswork and it is hazardous but at present there is value for money in the shipping market. Fuel costs have dropped by over 49 per cent according to today's quotation in The Economist. Perhaps there is some little reservoir of goodwill left for the Irish flag and for the tradition which Irish Shipping had established. The House would generally agree that the tradition established over almost 50 years was admirable and that the flag and the crews were well received and well thought of throughout the world. That goodwill has to a certain extent been dissipated by ships being arrested in foreign ports. We have always contended that it would not have been necessary if the matter had been better handled by the Minister and if he had acted according to the advice of the board of Irish Shipping Limited. I was listening on my car radio a few days ago to Dr. John de Courcy Ireland, the great marine historian of this country, regretting that this whole matter had been badly handled.
I am asking now whether anything is being done. Is there any move? Is there total lethargy and inertia in the Department? Is there any positive thinking with regard to this matter? Will the Minister publish any policy with regard to a deep sea fleet?
We regard the maintenance of the Irish Continental Line in Irish ownership, either State or private, as being of special importance. That line has been successful and it is fitting in the context of our membership of the EC that we should have a direct link like that, dependent on nobody, with the Continent. It has been a financial success, despite modest hiccups, and a success in showing our flag. It is important to concentrate on service on ICL ferries and it will become increasingly so as competition sharpens. There must be continuous service and the management should write that in their diaries each morning and see that that attitude goes down the line to the people dealing with the public.
What is being done about ICL? There are all kinds of rumours about difficulties and I will refer to two of them in a moment. Brittany Ferries are operating successfully from Cork to Roscoff. They are doing that not just to exercise their engines but to develop business and make a profit. It Brittany Ferries can do it, we should be able to do it with our own company, whether it is public or private or half and half. There are predators ready to take any company that they can utilise to make a profit and nobody will criticise them for that. We do not want to lose more jobs. We do not want frustrated young people who have studied and trained for this career and find they have nowhere to go. I want to stress the importance of service and courtesy and intensive training in that regard.
Is there an Irish customer at present for that company? Would the Minister spell out to the House what the commitments of the purchaser would be as of now? There has been a report that the complicated tax partnerships have turned buyers away from ICL, that a consortium of investors own ICL and have leased it back to ICL, that there was a guarantee of tax breaks and that the company that would purchase now would have to assume responsibility for those tax breaks. Is this true? The House should know it. If people can speculate about it, the Minister is the person who can say definitely whether it is true or not.
Another complication has been reported in regard to the pension scheme. The sad conclusion has been canvassed that a guarantee of the pensions for ICL employees will cause a deterioration in the position of the former employees of Irish Shipping Limited. This is the place for the Minister to make quite clear the position with regard to the sale of ICL, his plans for maintaining it under the Irish flag, the difficulties, whether he thinks they are superable and what action is being taken in this regard.
I turn now to B & I. This House was saddened when the very expensive Zeus consultants and a chairman were appointed to B & I at a time when the then chairman and his board had plans for bringing the company into profit. A good deal has happened since then and I will not go back into the detail. I questioned the wisdom of that at the time, particularly in regard to the heavy expense. We will have to posit what has happened and take it as given. We must decry a loss of jobs as a result of the new arrangement. I commend the fact that the management have been strengthened and have committed themselves to tightening up the company and making it efficient and profitable. This could have been done, in some instances at least, without the loss of jobs, which has been sustained.
I do not at all agree with the arrangement with regard to the southern corridor. It was said that if there was competition between the B & I and the new owner of Sealink on the Rosslare to either Fishguard or Pembroke run that B & I would lose out. I cannot see how it should be immediately taken for granted that B & I would be the loser. When I visited that area it was the other company that was worried about the competition. When we were studying that problem there was some evidence at the time that lack of capacity caused a loss of custom and that if the B & I had a larger ship on the route they would have been able to cater for far more business than they actually did. Now we have an agreement about sharing the route and this has been criticised by me and by others as being a very dangerous arrangement as far as the consumer is concerned. There is no competition now and a quite and cosy arrangement between B & I and Sealink can militate against the rights and advantages of the consumer.
This House should tease out the implications of the arrangement that has been made. I criticised the arrangements before this at the Chartered Institute of Transport weekend and in the House. I see that the Minister, Deputy Kavanagh, quite recently echoed my sentiments with regard to that arrangement. He was taken to task by the Taoiseach about it and about Aer Lingus. We are not dealing with Aer Lingus at the moment; but, as far as I am concerned, having read about the arrangement and having read the consumer commentary on the matter, I am on the side of the Minister and not of the Taoiseach in this regard.
I want to comment also on the duty free shops and the shops generally. That will be a joint effort on the southern corridor in a jumbo ferry boat when the arrangements are finalised. I am very afraid that Irish drinks and Irish goods will not get a fair crack of the whip unless management in B & I is much more alert than they are with regard to the Sealink boats now plying between Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead. I made a personal listing at the end of January/beginning of February of what was advertised on board a Sealink vessel sailing between Dún Laoghaire and Holyhead. About nine spirits were advertised for sale on the walls in the boat and not a single Irish product was mentioned among them. Admittedly, Irish whiskey and so on was available in the duty free shop, but there was no plugging of it. I can see that that was probably appropriate when Sealink was a British-owned company. But it is now privately owned by an American, Sherwood, and we should make a pitch to have at least equal commercial exposure on these routes when we are supposed to be in a type of partnership with Sealink. I know that jewellery was available on that ship and not a single piece of it was manufactured in Ireland. Yet everybody knows that that is an area of our artistic life that has flourished in recent years, with expert people in silver and gold and other precious stones of whom I could mention half a dozen by name, and they should be able to get a presence on those ships.
I mentioned also that the Channel Tunnel is going to act as a lodestone and pull traffic towards the southern part of Britain and therefore the Rosslare/Fishguard run will be exceptionally important. I am sorry to say that we are not going to own half the ship, which will be wholly owned by the partner, but we will still be paying for Pembroke and we should keep an open mind on it.
In regard to the Bill mentioned in the amendment that the Minister put down to my motion, I would point out that it looks better than it actually is. There is provision in the Bill for £38 million of equity. The main body of the Bill is concerned with industrial relations, and this is alarming. I do not want to waste time reading the Bill but it claims for the Minister the right to settle industrial relations. In other words, the board of B & I would no longer be responsible, as a normal board is, with regard to remuneration for their staff. But the right is being reserved to the Minister for Communications. The implications of this are horrendous as far as industrial relations are concerned and when that Bill comes before the House we will be able to deal with it more fully.
Dún Laoghaire is a total investment by Ireland. There is no other investment there and we owe it to our taxpayers to see to it that companies that use Dún Laoghaire appreciate it and pay for the services, and we should see that the services provided there are properly reciprocated at Holyhead and other places.
I would like to know also what the position is with regard to Belfast Ferries. Fianna Fáil were very keen on this out-of-Belfast service as we were about to provide a subsidised airlink with Derry city. So I would like to know what is the present position. What is the present financial position with regard to the B & I? Is it in profit in 1986 or is it making a loss? I am subject to correction but, as far as I know, the annual reports for 1984 and 1985 have not been published yet. Can the Minister tell the House if B & I, under the new arrangement, is profitable?
I want to know also about the new scenario with regard to the ferries. I understand that the Leinster was put in for refurbishment and fitting out. Was this a success? Is there any truth in the rumour that the company that did the job did not trust the Irish Government and held the ship? This is the kind of thing that follows what happened with regard to Irish Shipping. This lack of trust can only be damaging. Where is the Inishfallen? There are two ships operating on the Rosslare/Fishguard run pending the availability of the jumbo boat.
I would like to know about Pembroke. Is Pembroke going to be used at all by any facility in this country, because we will still have to continue to pay an annual substantial sum to Pembroke despite the fact that we will not be using it? Unfortunately, Bell's company has gone — the Dutch have purchased it. But perhaps the Government could approach other companies and tell them there is a facility there for which the Irish Government are paying and that if they could use it the country would be saving some of its loss.
I have not time to go into the whole question of B & I freight. There was at one time a report that the B & I was terminating the freight part of its business. I would like the Minister to tell me what the position is.
The chief purpose of this motion is to act as a stimulus, a goad to activity, because there is no activity with regard to shipping as of now. The fact is there is serious turmoil in the shipping world. In north-east England a shipbuilding company is laying off thousands of workers as reported in this week's copy of the Economist. This is an indication of the kind of chaos that exists but that is no excuse for the lack of activity.
The Eithne was commissioned by an Irish Government and in design it has been so successful that other Governments are going to pay £1 million per ship for using that design. In my view that ship should have been built in an Irish yard and consequently the total moneys would have accrued to an Irish company, giving jobs to Irish workers to the benefit of the national economy.