Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Dublin Gas Company.

34.

asked the Minister for Energy if, in view of his commitment to the Dáil on 22 October, he will now agree to place in the Library of this House, his letter of 22 April 1986, to the banks, concerning the Dublin Gas Company.

The letter has been placed in the Library. I made my position clear to the House on the last occasion. I considered the matter and, having done so, I have placed the letter in the Library.

I thank the Minister for finally bringing the letter to the House so that we can all make a judgment on it. It is surprising that I raised this as far back as last June and had to repeat my request many times before the Minister brought it. Has the Minister got the letter with him in the House today?

I have it on file, yes.

Will the Minister read the final paragraph?

I believe the Deputy has it himself.

Of course I have. It would not be in the House if I had not got it.

So much for confidentiality.

Did the Minister want to keep it confidential?

This is a very serious matter and I had to bring it to the notice of this House.

The question asked was in regard to a certain letter being placed in the Library and the answer is that it has been placed in the Library.

Does the Minister recall saying the following in this House on 22 October 1986, in response to many questions raised by me, and I quote one of the many responses:

I have made the position quite clear in relation to the banks. I have said there are no State guarantees, no letters of comfort. If tomorrow morning the Dublin Gas Company went out of business the banks would lose their money.

In view of that statement will the Minister now refer to the final paragraph of the letter he has in front of him and agree with me that the clear content of that letter indicates he has, regrettably, misled this House?

That is clearly a separate question.

What is separate about it? I am talking about the contents of the letter we now have.

The Deputy can put down another question now that he has got the letter.

In that whole debate there are seven statements from the Minister in which he made it clear to this House that he issued no letter of comfort and no letter of guarantee to the banking institutions in relation to Dublin Gas. Is the Minister saying that that very serious misleading of this House will go unnoticed in this House?

There may be another way of dealing with it——

I am asking the Minister to refer to the final paragraph——

Will the Deputy please give way to the Chair. The question was to ask the Minister for Energy if, in view of his commitment to the Dáil on 22 October, he will now agree to place in the Library of this House his letter dated 22 April 1986 to the banks concerning Dublin Gas and the answer is that the letter has been placed in the Library. That is the end of the matter. It may come up again and probably will.

Arising out of it, and in view of the very misleading information presented to this House by the Minister, I am now asking him to admit to this House that the final paragraph of his letter of 22 April to the banking institutions under his own signature confirmed it was the Government's intention that the affairs of Dublin Gas would be conducted in such a fashion as to allow all amounts due to BGE through the loan stock trustees and to the banks under the terms of the syndicate loan agreement dated 13 September 1984 to be paid in full. Yet the last time I was in this House and prior to that I got commitment after commitment from the Minister that there were no State guarantees and no letters of comfort. Will the Minister admit that the final paragraph of that letter was clearly a letter of comfort?

The Deputy is well aware of what letters of comfort or letters of guarantee normally are because it was quite fashionable in Government a number of years ago to issue them on a regular basis. I am satisfied, from the legal advice to me, that this letter is neither a letter of guarantee nor a letter of comfort.

I am well aware of what is the content of letters of comfort. I checked it with two previous Ministers for Finance. I have senior counsel's advice on that matter and not alone——

I will not allow a speech.

I am not making a speech.

It sounds very like it to the Chair.

It is a very serious matter.

That is obviously a speech.

I have taken senior counsel's advice on the content of that letter and the advice of previous Ministers for Finance. I am now asking the Minister to accept that he has misled this House at least by omission. Why was all this information hidden for so long? When the Minister found himself and his Government under pressure he was prepared to mislead this House.

That is another argument.

He was prepared to mislead this House by omission at least in not putting the information that was available to him to the House. No wonder I had to ask him on many occasions to come clean and stop covering up.

I totally reject the implication of the Deputy's statement that I have attempted to or have in fact misled this House. I have made my position very clear. This letter is in the Library of the House at the Deputy's request. It is not a letter of guarantee or a letter of comfort in the normal manner of Government business. I, likewise, have legal advice available to me and it is that this letter is not a letter of guarantee or a letter of comfort.

That is to be threshed out some place else.

Will the Minister accept that when he said to this House on 22 October that if the Dublin Gas Company went out of business the banks would lose their money, he was misleading the House? That letter clearly gives the banks a blank cheque in relation to Dublin Gas and it is absolute. Why was this letter not produced last June or July when I asked for it? Why have I to ask three or four times, and why is it only in the final analysis that it comes in when other political pressure has blown off? The House has been misled. I want to ask the Chair's guidance as to whether I am in order in asking the Minister to make a personal explanation to this House in regard to the serious manner in which he has misled it?

The Chair does not give advice about matters like that.

I ask for further guidance because in all the examination of that by any reasonable person there is only one word that would describe the Minister's actions here and that word is not allowed in parliamentary language. Would the Chair mind telling me what word would aptly describe it that I could use in parliamentary language?

I feel I must respond because the Deputy persists. On the legal advice available to me, the letter is neither a letter of guarantee nor a letter of comfort. It is a letter setting out the Government's intentions.

Deputy Reynolds, there are other ways of raising this and the Deputy will have to find them.

This matter is far too serious to be glossed over and I will raise the matter in a different way.

That is if you find a way that is in order.

35.

asked the Minister for Energy (1) the date of the Government decision to nationalise the Dublin Gas Company; (2) the action he has taken, since then, to implement that decision; (3) the method he is using to nationalise that company without introducing legislation; (4) if the Dublin Gas Company are subject to, and governed by, the Companies Acts of 1948 and 1963; and (5) the action he proposes to take to protect the taxpayers' money should liquidation proceedings be successful.

The decision to nationalise Dublin Gas was taken by the Government in April 1986 and I refer the Deputy to the Government statement issued on 22 April 1986. As to the action taken since then the receiver embarked on a programme of reorganisation of the workforce and of operations as a necessary first step to the return to viability of the company, and this programme has been substantially realised.

As to the method of nationalisation, I hope to make a statement on this at a very early date.

As to part (4) of the question, Dublin Gas Company, as an unregistered company, are subject only to certain provisions of the Companies Act.

Finally, in all matters and actions affecting the company I am keenly aware of my duty to protect the taxpayers' money and to achieve a successful viable gas utility for the citizens of Dublin.

The Minister has stated, as it appears from the interpretation I put on it, that Dublin Gas are not subject to the Companies Acts of 1948 and 1963. Is that correct?

As an unregistered company they are subject only to certain provisions.

Are they not an old company under charter not subject to the normal Companies Acts?

They are subject only to certain provisions of the Companies Acts.

So the normal procedure does not apply in relation to what can and cannot be done with them? Why did the Minister not reappoint his own appointed chairman and four directors of the Dublin Gas Company when they resigned? For whatever reasons they resigned, obviously they were not in agreement with what was happening. Why did they resign? Why did the Minister not replace them to keep his strength in the board of directors of Dublin Gas? Maybe by so doing he would have stemmed the decisions taken recently that could land the whole company in the High Court looking for liquidation.

The matter of reap-pointing directors to the Dublin Gas Company is the responsibility of the Minister for Energy. I made a decision not to reappoint directors on the receiver being putin situ by BGE. I did not believe the appointment of new directors could serve the Government's interests in Dublin Gas in any manner because the company are now in receivership.

Certain actions are being taken to put the company into liquidation. I suggest that if the Minister had held his power in the boardroom the resolution to proceed in that direction could not have been passed and that it was neglect on his part that allowed it to happen.

As I said, my opinion on the advice available to me was that that would be of no benefit whatever. I have no worries in relation to activities in the boardroom at present because the receiver is in place carrying out the job he was charged to do by BGE since April of this year.

Does the Minister consider that he is now in full ownership of Dublin Gas? Seeing that he ignored the board of directors, does he now consider he is in full ownership, or what steps is he taking to take the company into full ownership?

I am sure the Deputy, given the briefing that he had from one of the directors of Dublin Gas yesterday, is fully aware that the Dublin Gas Company are in receivership and that the receiver is in control and will remain in control until the nationalisation process is completed.

When will that process be completed?

As early as possible.

When is the Minister going to do something about it?

I know the Deputy is kept briefed on a daily basis——

No, weekly.

——and I must question at times whether he is acting in the interest of the taxpayer as he is meant to be doing in this House——

The Minister would have put back the directors——

(Interruptions.)

In fairness, he cannot have it both ways, with private meetings with the directors looking after their interests and then coming in here on behalf of the taxpayer, as he so alleges.

I have to get the information somewhere.

(Interruptions.)

I do not mind apologising to the Minister or anyone else to find out the truth but he is not telling the truth. Is that letter of comfort in the taxpayers' interest?

The Deputy should ask Mr. Kinsella.

That is a totally misleading and untruthful statement.

I will not accept the continuous barracking I get from this Deputy in relation to misleading statements. I have made no misleading statements to the House and I will stand over that in any forum.

It is customary to take another Deputy's word on a matter of fact and if that is not acceptable the matter should be raised in another way.

I have already said I am going to raise it in another way. I do not accept what the Minister said, and I regret that I must say that, because he has misled this House on several occasions in relation to the Dublin Gas Company. He made a statement to us the last time I was in here. The Minister had better tell the truth——

Order, please. The Ceann Comhairle does not want this Question Time to go out of hand and it is heading in that direction. He has a particular reason for not wanting it to get out of hand at this time on this day.

Particularly today.

36.

asked the Minister for Energy (1) the date on which the former chief executive joined the Dublin Gas Company; (2) the date on which he left; (3) if he resigned or retired early; and (4) if his pension for life of £35,000 per annum was funded entirely by Dublin Gas or partially by his former employer, and the total cost to the Gas Company of his pension benefits.

The former chief executive joined Dublin Gas Company on 1 July 1977. He left the company on 22 April 1986. He was under no obligation to remain with the company after that date. The pension was funded entirely by the company. The actual money put into the pension fund over the years was £442,683, the value of which increased with the passing of time. Any surplus funds left over after discharge of the pension entitlement will revert to the company.

Did the former chief executive resign or retire? That is a very fundamental question.

I am of the opinion, although the briefing does not specify it, that he resigned from the company.

He resigned?

I have not got the chief executive's statement at the time but I am sure I will have no problem in getting the information for the Deputy.

I accept what the Minister said and I am certain that he resigned. In view of the fact that he resigned, saying that he did not automatically resign, what type of back door——

Question Time has concluded.

Due to the recent spate of burglaries, no doubt aided by the fact that Garda messages at a public meeting were transmitted on TV on the Rathcormac area of County Cork and due to the inconvenience and disturbance caused to television subscribers in the same area, I would like, Sir, with your permission, to raise on the Adjournment the question of the operation of the famous "green man" in the Rathcormac Garda station.

I will communicate with the Deputy.