By agreement and notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, Members shall be called in Private Members' Time this evening as follows: 7.00-7.25 p.m. — Opposition speaker; 7.25-7.40 p.m. — Opposition speaker; 7.40-8.10 p.m. — Government speaker; 8.10-8.30 p.m. — Opposition speaker.
Private Members' Business. - Role of Semi-State Sector: Motion.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
That Dáil Éireann reaffirms its support for an efficient and effective semi-State sector as a major instrument of economic development and the provision of employment and deplores recent Government statements to the contrary.
The Fianna Fáil Party have put down this motion because they are gravely concerned about what is happening in our economy or, more correctly, what is not happening. We have, as this House and the country know, a stagnant economy. The present time demands clear thinking on economic objectives and on the means of achieving those objectives. We know and have discussed in this House the fact that £1.5 billion has run out of the country before the Government's disastrous taxation policies, particularly the DIRT tax. We know that some of that £1.5 billion outflow has been as a result of repatriation of profits by companies established here, as is their right. When many of those industries were being established by a Fianna Fáil Government, the idea was that those profits would be used for development in this country. We know that some of the money ran out of the country because of the Government's unfortunate and mistimed devaluation of the punt last autumn, a devaluation which was totally useless in achieving what it was supposed to achieve since it was back up to 95p or 96p against the £ sterling within a very short time afterwards. This is the background to the motion we have put down for debate in Private Members' Time this week.
We are not getting clear thinking or clear statements of objectives with regard to the development of the economy. This debate may prove useful in that we hope to get from Government speakers a clarification of their thinking on the objectives of economic policy and the means of achieving those objectives. Government spokesmen will have to be more forthcoming than they have been in the recent past if we are to achieve that aim. What we want is a clarifying statement from the Government. We do not want them speaking with forked tongues as they have been recently. We want a clarifying statement with regard to the input of semi-State bodies to the economy. It is only if we have clear objectives and a clear statement of the means of achieving those objectives that we can develop confidence in our economy and confidence among the investors in this economy. The whole House knows how low investment has been throughout 1986 and this is as a direct result of the confusion about which I have been speaking.
Are we to have the semi-State bodies as an engine for the development that is necessary or are we not? We have an all-party committee which discusses, examines and probes the activities of our semi-State bodies. The purpose of that committee and its activities is to make semi-State bodies more effective engines for development in this economy and that is also the purpose of this debate.
Recently the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Noonan, stated that the Government were considering the selling off of sections of the public enterprise to private enterprise. I want to make it clear that we on this side of the House have no ideological hangups about private industry or public industry. What we want and have always advocated is that we should have the corporations, private or public, which will develop the country, provide employment and increase the wealth in our economy.
The purpose of all the semi-State bodies, from the establishment of the ESB in 1927 to the establishment of the most recent of them, was to fill gaps that private enterprise at that time was not able to take up. Our former leader, the great pragmatist, Sean Lemass, was significantly the man who established and developed most of the semi-State companies during the thirties. Research was done on this quite a few years ago by a young employee of Aer Lingus, a budding economist named Garret FitzGerald, now Taoiseach. In his book on the semi-State companies he gives an outline of when the greatest development took place. There is in his analysis an account of the numbers that were established at various times. For the years 1932 to 1939 he gives two different numbers — 13 and 14.
What is the name of the book?
The title is Semi-State Companies, published by the Institute for Public Administration, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.
Are we to discriminate between the roads in Dublin 4? The Deputy should stick to the fertile fields of Meath. Up to 1932 five semi-State bodies were established; then between 1932 and 1939 there were 14 more — if we take the higher of the two figures the Taoiseach, Deputy Garret FitzGerald, gives. Between 1940 and 1944 five were established, then 13 between 1945 and 1951 in the aftermath of the war. In the period 1952-1957 seven more were established and then another 10 in the years 1958-1960. The history of those, as I said, was that they were established where private enterprise was not, in fact, fulfilling the role of development.
Or had got into financial difficulties.
The Minister may be referring mainly to our late unlamented friend, Martin Murphy. I shall come back to that in a moment, anyway.
I want to quote from the same book whose name I gave to the Ceann Comhairle and where the author said:
The private sector in Ireland has in the past shown itself to be relatively unenterprising.
He emphasises that as one of the raisons d'etre for the establishment of the semi-State bodies.
As I said, Sean Lemass, a pragmatist, saw the gaps, saw the need and established the companies. There were no great hang-ups, even then, about how they were to be financed because shares in some cases were invited. However, very often there was a poor response and then the decision was taken to fund them from the Exchequer. That is part of the background to this debate and the statements made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Noonan, were what prompted us to demand a clarification which I have mentioned, in the interests of clear thinking, clearly set objectives and clearly set means to achieve those objectives — and how important they are in the present state of the country, in the present state of the economy.
I know that Sean Lemass had no great hang-up about how these companies would be financed. If private investment were available he was glad to invite, to support and sustain it. We do know that throughout long periods of that time Irish money was being invested abroad rather than at home and that cagey bankers preferred to place their investments elsewhere than in Ireland. We had the case of the late lamented Frank Aiken indicating that perhaps we would have to come to grips with the banks and force them to lend money to worthwhile developmental enterprises at a cut rate of interest, rates of interest which were lower than the general market of that time was demanding.
In a sense we became more State controlled, if you like, "socialist", than many of the countries that were ex professo in that line at that time. The total gross fixed investment was higher than the European average at that time, although there were socialists in office part of that time. The hiving off of full State enterprises such as we had recently with An Post and Telecom Éireann was another way in which the semi-State companies came about. The economic and social conditions that obtained when many of these companies were established do not necessarily obtain today, so that it is no harm for us in the House or for the all-party committee to have a look at what is going on.
The incentives for private enterprise are now much greater than they were and I think that the climate and the inclination among enterpreneurs to take risks is greater now, or at least was greater until this Government laid their clammy dead hand on the economy four years ago. I know that Keynes defended the Irish system of investment in semi-State bodies in his time. He said it was justified, as he justified our protectionist policy at one time. Again, in the context of the time he was right and the policy, which was mainly a Fianna Fáil policy, was justifiable and justified.
The point that I am coming to now is that in the personnel of this Government it has come to a position where there is an ideological dichotomy. No sooner had the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Noonan, made his speech about the selling off to private interests of some branches of the semi-State or State bodies than we had Mr. Carroll of the Transport and General Workers' Union coming out and heavily attacking this development. I want to say a few words about that. The unfortunate thing about this is that they will get involved in an ideological melee.
We tend to imitate what is happening in Britain in all our actions, in this country and with this particular Government. This is the problem, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce in referring to this selling off was, of course, thinking of what has been happening in Britain with regard to the telecommunications industry, the gas industry, the selling of Sealink etc. That is a poor argument if it is not thought out in the context of our economy. It is very disappointing but not surprising that the Government are going down that road. We know that the selling off of State-owned companies is going on in Britain. In France, Mitterand's Government nationalised many companies and Shirac's Government tend to sell them off. Going down that road here seems to be aping what others are doing without any substance behind it.
The Economist, which everybody knows is a conservative economic journal, has been for some time indicating the uselessness, in a long term context, of selling off valuable assets such as the British Tory Government have been selling for some time. They have indicated that it brings an immediate improvement in the finances as you see them but, in fact, it has no long term impact on the improvement of the finances of the country. I think that it was Lord Stockton, a former British Prime Minister, who said that it was selling the family's silver. The immediate excess of wealth is welcomed at the time but, in fact, the family — in this case the State — is impoverished as a result. We want to know what the Government's thinking is on this. Is it the intention of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to sell off what is profitable and leave what is unprofitable as a burden on the State? Surely the Irish people have an interest in maintaining what is profitable and certainly this side of the House would be very much dedicated to the principle, which we outlined in our document published in the autumn of 1982. The Way Forward, that we wanted vigorous, commercially viable, efficient State enterprises and that those were the principles upon which we would act with regard to semi-State bodies.
We know also that the people now expect both management and workers of the semi-State bodies and semi-State companies to realise — that is, the commercial ones, — that they are in the market and that the taxpayer is not going to provide a never failing fund for financing them in the future. I think that the workers and the management in practically all the semi-State bodies realise that and can be so motivated as to produce profits and keep viable industry going.
I could deal with many semi-State bodies, including Dublin Gas and Aer Lingus, but other speakers will deal with them. I will confine my remarks to Irish Shipping which were put into liquidation on 3 December 1984. I said before in the House that this was a scandalous, poorly thought-out operation. According to Iris Oifigiúil payments scheduled for Irish Shipping for 1986 — up to 30 November — amount to £51,279,626. For 1985 the figure was £14,350,752. I see also that a sum of £25 million was allocated to the B & I.
Some people estimate that we have spent £100 million on Irish Shipping and we do not have a tub, punt or fishing boat to show for that money as far as Irish Shipping are concerned. This is disgraceful for many reasons and the Government should face up to their responsibilities in regard to Irish Shipping and the disaster which they caused. Personnel with skills, training and experience have been badly treated by their employers. This was a 100 per cent Irish company and this side of the House backed resolutions expressing their anger at such treatment. Many speakers on the Government side also made speeches to this effect but it has not moved the Government who are impervious to all suggestions, whether humane or developmental.
I know that the committee set up to examine the question of a deep sea fleet reported to the Minister for Communications. He did not tell me what the report contained but he indicated in a Green Paper that we should have a deep sea fleet. I should like a commitment from the Minister for Finance in regard to that proposition. It does not mean wild spending; after all the Irish Spruce was sold for something over £3 million. It was a 70,000 tonne ship and, at that rate, for a very modest investment we could have quite a large fleet. Of course we do not necessarily need a large fleet but we should start off a deep sea fleet with one handy sized ship and when it makes a profit we should expand the fleet further out of profits as Irish Shipping did for 15 years before they were liquidated by the Government. I know problems exist in regard to crewing and outflagging but those problems will have to be looked at in the context of the establishment of a deep sea fleet. I am sure those problems can be solved as technology is now more sophisticated in regard to ships. A deep sea fleet could be State or privately owned, or a mixture of both, but we should certainly have one. I call on the Government to indicate the position. I quote from the book which I mentioned already. The author, now the Taoiseach, said:
The policies of State enterprises in respect of competition with private enterprise have hitherto been unduly cautious and the fear of "treading on the corns of private enterprise" has inhibited economic development desirable in the national interest.
Is that the thinking which informs the Government's philosophy or are they influenced by the thinking revealed by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, in his broadcast? The Government, through their Ministers, owe it to the House to clarify their economic objectives and the place of an efficient and effective semi-State sector in that development and in the achievement of those objectives.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I will deal at some length with the future of Bord na Móna and the Government's plans in regard to their future. Since the crisis in Bord na Móna in the middle of the year owing to the bad weather, a very serious situation developed when they announced they would have to lay off over 2,000 workers. Over 1,000 of them are from County Offaly.
Subsequently, the weather improved and thanks to the workforce of Bord na Móna they were able to harvest almost 90 per cent which was a great achievement. Our thanks must go to the management and workforce for being able to achieve so much. However, Bord na Móna products will run out next June which will create a cash flow problem. I was on a deputation from Offaly County Council to the Minister for Energy and we put forward proposals which would put Bord na Móna on a sound financial footing but nothing has happened. The loan of £27 million which Bord na Móna received from the Exchequer should be turned into equity capital. The Government could offer Bord na Móna a loan of £25 million. They already have borrowings of £120 million as well as the £25 million to which I referred. I estimate that interest charges on these combined loans will be over £20 million per year which is an enormous amount.
In the midlands and in Mayo, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Westmeath and Meath the people depend solely on Bord na Móna. This applies particularly to my county where they are the main employer. Over 50 per cent of the workforce in the constituency of Laois-Offaly are employed by them. As a semi-State body they have served the country well and served our people well. Approximately 5,000 people are permanently employed by Bord na Móna and when harvesting operations commence in the spring they employ approximately 3,000 people on casual labour. That brings employment in Bord na Móna to 8,000. Bord na Móna also give work to other industries. They are very much involved in spin-off employment. The commitment of the Government to Bord na Móna must be called into question. Since we met the Minister for Energy nothing has happened. Possibly he said to himself at the time that Fianna Fáil would take care of it in the New Year. If that is the case, so be it. We will deal with it effectively when the time comes.
In the meantime, we must look at all aspects of Bord na Móna and their operations. I regret there seems to be a loss of confidence in the workforce at present. They are not sure of the commitment of the Government to Bord na Móna. The Minister did not spell out his future plans for them. Bord na Móna should take control of forestry and should take on a programme of drainage and tree planting. By doing so it would create additional jobs which is very important. The forestry department has not expanded in the way it should. Bord na Móna have the equipment and the personnel and, together with the employees of the forestry department are very capable of expanding in that area, of giving more employment and carrying out further development.
Peat is a national resource and we have complete and utter control over it. We can decide the future and potential of the industry. Bord na Móna may not produce the cheapest type of energy for the generation of electricity but a few years ago when there was an oil crisis we were very glad to have them. It was of great benefit then to this nation. The Government's commitment to the development of Bord na Móna, especially in western regions, must be called into question. I cannot understand why the briquette factory at Ballyforan was not kept open. Because of its closure briquettes were rationed. We would have been able to supply the west and the North of Ireland with briquettes had that factory remained open. There is no point in giving the cost factor as a reason for closing it down, when we take into account the cost of Dublin Gas and the cost of Bord na Móna.
Bord na Móna, as a semi-State company, managed their affairs extremely well but owing to two bad years they met with production problems. Everybody knows that. They are now looking for a small amount of capital to make the board viable again. I see no reason why the Government should not give the necessary equity capital to Bord na Móna. Legislation to deal with that should be prepared. I would not like to see another work study group being set up to look into the affairs of Bord na Móna. We have all the necessary personnel to expand Bord na Móna and to instil confidence in the workforce.
I do not think the Government understand how vital Bord na Móna are to all-parts of the country, where they give employment. I am led to believe that redundancies are about to take place in Bord na Móna in Mayo and I regret that. It has also been brought to my notice that Bord na Móna want to lay off approximately 400 people on a temporary basis. This would be all right if negotiations took place with the unions, the management and the workforce involved. As far as I understand no employees are looking for temporary lay-offs in Bord na Móna. They want to see the board on a sound financial footing. The Government have an opportunity to do that. I will be interested to see what plans the Government have for Bord na Móna. I want to warn them if they do not take the necessary measures in regard to the financing of Bord na Móna a serious difficulty will arise early next year.
I propose that equity capital of £27 million be put into Bord na Móna in order to put the company on a sound financial footing. That will give confidence back to the workforce. Bord na Móna need to carry out a lot of work such as drainage. I cannot understand why the Government have not made an application to the EC for research and development in regard to the cutaway bogs. That can be done. Recently I met the vice-chairman of the Energy Committee of the European Parliament. He told me if a proposal was put forward by the Irish Government in that respect they would give very favourable consideration to it. I should like to know why that proposal has not been submitted. This calls into question the Government's commitment to Bord na Móna. Will the Minister tell us why that proposal has not been put to the EC? The Government are being called upon to clarify their future proposals in regard to Bord na Móna. The people in the midlands will be watching the Government's performance very closely and if they fail to live up to our expectations we will have to take over the administration of the country and put Bord na Móna on a proper footing.
As the Minister responsible for general Government policy in relation to State-sponsored bodies I wish to move, on behalf of the Government, an amendment to the motion before the House.
Technically speaking the Minister cannot move his amendment now. The first amendment to be moved is amendment No. 1 but the Minister can speak to his own amendment.
Our amendment seeks to delete all words after employment and to substitute the following:
...supports Government policy towards, the semi-State sector, and notes the steps that they have taken to improve the performance of the sector — including Exchequer investment on a major scale.
The Opposition have sought to make much of seeking clarification of the Government's position in regard to the development of semi-State companies and I will be happy to give that clarification in the course of my contribution. However, the opposition might like to clarify their position on the matter. There seems to be a remarkable difference between what Deputy Wilson and Deputy Connolly have been saying in this debate and remarks made recently in the Evening Herald by Deputy Seamus Brennan, his party's nominee as vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies. Deputy Brennan said that Fianna Fáil have no ideological hand-up about the ownership issue and that if they feel that the best way to get State companies working to create employment is to sell a minority stake to the public they will not flinch from that. Deputy Brennan indicated a preparedness to consider selling shares in State companies, in response to that interview.
It is interesting to note that Deputy Brennan has not been invited to contribute in this debate and that reference has not been made by the other Opposition speakers to his remarks. It would be useful if the remarks of Deputies Brennan and Wilson could be set side by side so that we could get some clarification from the Opposition as to what their position is. Perhaps they might pause in between putting questions to the Government side to answer a few questions themselves. That would be very welcome because the workers in Bord na Móna would like to know if Deputy Brennan's idea of selling shares is something that commands general support from Deputies Connolly and Hyland. It would be useful if Deputy Brennan was brought into the debate so that he could explain the Fianna Fáil position on this issue. Fianna Fáil Deputies have raised the question and they should answer it as well as making a big song and dance about asking us to answer questions.
The Government are very conscious of the positive contribution which the semi-State sector has made over the years to the growth and development of the Irish economy. In many instances this contribution has continued to the present day. Before considering further the question of State-sponsored bodies it might be useful to mention briefly the historical reasons for the establishment, growth and development of this sector. The setting up and development of the public enterprise sector since the establishment of the State was not, viewed in an overall context, a coherently planned operation. As I remarked to Deputy Wilson, in many cases the State came into ownership of these companies because they had gone burst in private ownership. I have no wish to go into a long, historical account about this matter but I must point out that it is only since the early sixties that there has been an attempt to establish a coherent policy as far as State enterprises are concerned. Since then successive Governments have dealt, with varying degrees of success, with the operations of those agencies and have considered the part which they are expected to play in promoting the economic development of the country. Times have changed, however, since most of the present semi-State bodies were established.
No less than the private sector, State bodies have had to grapple with the problems which have afflicted the world's economy in recent years. Some of these problems have been overcome. Others have proved more obstinate. As well as these general problems many State bodies face particular difficulties in regard to specific sectors which I am sure will be discussed in the course of the debate. In every instance however the Government have expended considerable resources of energy, time and finance in order to deal with the problems facing those State bodies. Since the Government took office the trading results on the part of quite a number of State companies have been considerably improved as a result of the coherent and supportive approach that the Government have had towards solving the problems of semi-State companies.
For example, Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann turned losses of £22 million into profits of £2 million. Aer Lingus had profits of £19 million compared to £4 million losses in 1982 under the previous administration which included those who have been speaking so eloquently tonight. Aer Rianta's profits of £5 million in 1982 increased under the Coalition Government to £12 million in 1985. A number of bodies suffered losses including Bórd na Móna whose profits dropped from £14 million to £5 million but they can be explained by certain phenomena such as the weather.
The Government have given substantial financial support to semi-State bodies. In the period 1980 to 1985 the Exchequer provided support by way of equity finance for reconstruction and investment in State bodies to the tune of £884 million of taxpayers' money. That is a considerable amount of money to be put into the semi-State sector by a Government to improve their balance sheets and assist them to achieve a profitable trading performance. It indicates in more meaningful terms than any of the words we have heard from the opposite side of the House the Government's continued support for coherently planned State enterprises.
Obviously, this kind of support cannot go on indefinitely. There is not an unlimited pool of taxpayers' money for equity injections in State companies. Harsh decisions have sometimes to be taken and not every development programme put forward by a State company can be financed. The State has its own financial problems to consider. The important thing is that the State should conduct its business with the semi-State bodies on a realistic and informed basis. One of the things that the Government have done to achieve this is the introduction of corporate plans. Indeed, that was probably the most significant initiative in regard to the commercial State bodies undertaken by the Government. They now have a formalised system of corporate planning. It is true that most of the bodies had previously been engaged in some kind of forward planning but this is the first time it has been done on a centralised basis.
In July 1983 the Government decided that Ministers should request commercial State bodies under the aegis of their Departments to prepare corporate plans for the period 1984 to 1988. All bodies from whom corporate plans had been sought have submitted them. Subsequently, commercial State bodies were asked to prepare rolled over plans for the further period 1985 to 1989. Guidelines for the preparation of the plans, including information on assumptions on GNP growth, price inflators, interest rates and exchange rates were provided to enable them to do this planning on a consistent basis across the entire public sector. The vast bulk of the bodies have submitted plans on that basis.
At the beginning of this year, bodies were requested to prepare plans for the period 1986-90. These plans were to include performance and financial targets. The ultimate objectives were indicated to the bodies as being:
(i) to reach a measure of consensus, or at least mutual understanding, on key issues such as the proposed policies of bodies, the assumptions underlying plans and financial and performance targets; and
(ii) to give prior notice, and afford the opportunity of advance consideration, of significant policy or other issues which could be expected to arise during the period covered by the plans.
The plans will, therefore, provide the framework within which a dialogue can take place between Departments and bodies. Ultimate responsibility for plans lies of course with the boards and managements of the planning bodies.
In simple English, it means that where previously problems of State companies were dealt with on an ad hoc, willy-nilly basis — whenever a company had problems there was a crisis meeting of the Cabinet, somebody decided to put money in, to put some form of bandage in place to keep the body's operation in steady continuance — now there is a formalised system of corporate plan. All bodies are required to say in advance what they expect their problems to be in the next four years so that action can be taken by them and by the Government to avoid those problems. Naturally, the bodies that had not been providing corporate plans for the future were the ones that most needed to do it and that is why it is essential to have it done for all bodies instead of taking consolation in the fact that some bodies had them already. That is why the Government's decision has been so important. It will affect permanent improvement in the performances of State companies. It is one of the reasons why the profitability of companies has improved, as I indicated earlier.
The next development in this area has been through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies. It is worth recalling that that body were set up through the initiative of the Fine Gael and Labour Parties who put this forward when they were in Opposition in the sixties. The committee have been a very important instrument of parliamentary administration. In there fifth report recently they produced a general set of recommendations in regard to the operation of State companies and I am glad to say there is no divergence between Government policies in practice and the recommendations of that committee.
When will the Minister heed their recommendations?
I will come to that. I want to make an announcement in regard to Government decisions taken in the last week on a very important aspect of the administration of semi-State companies in regard to the format of their annual reports and accounts. We will all agree that if semi-State bodies do not produce accounts that can be compared one with the other and with similar accounts of competing bodies in the private sector we cannot know how these bodies are actually performing. There is tremendous facility in the accountants profession not only for revealing but concealing information in accounts. That is why it is extremely important that there should be, as there will be as a result of the Government decision which I am about to announce, uniformity and clarity in the nature of the accounts of State companies and the process of their provision.
I want to read into the record the specific decisions the Government have taken on this. They are not in my circulated speech but I will give them to the House just the same. I stress that the blanket application of these measures to all State-sponsored bodies may not be feasible or desirable and discussions will be held with the Departments concerned on the practical application of each of the recommendations. It may be that some variations may be necessary in order to cater for individual circumstances.
First, the format of the annual reports and accounts of each State body should be examined by the body itself, the parent Department and the Department of Finance, in consultation with each other, in the light of certain comprehensive guidelines which will be circulated in the next few days to the bodies concerned and the particular circumstances of the bodies. Two, any alterations considered desirable as a result of the above examination to the existing format of annual reports will be implemented in regard to annual reports and accounts for financial years commencing after 31 March 1987. Three, the board of each State body should supply to the Minister, at the same time as they submit their annual report and accounts, a brief report on matters likely to affect the short term or long term viability of the body which would not be appropriate to refer to in the annual report and accounts.
Four, the annual report and accounts of each body should be published or when publication is not required submitted to the Government not later than six months after the end of the relevant financial year. Five, the draft unaudited accounts for each State body should be furnished to parent Departments and the Department of Finance not later than two months after the end of the relevant financial year, but in cases where fulfilment of this requirement would cause unjustifiable difficulties for bodies, the deadline should be extended in exceptional circumstances, subject to the consent of the Minister of the Department concerned. Six, each State body should provide the parent Department and the Department of Finance with detailed management accounts reconciled with the annual report in cases where published audited accounts do not provide sufficient information to enable Departments to evaluate fully the financial performances of State bodies.
Seven, each commercial State body should furnish to their parent Department and the Department of Finance, not later than the eighth month of the financial year, interim unaudited reports for the first half of that year together with a statement by the chairman of the body on the performance of the body to date that year and likely developments during the remainder of the year. Eight, that Ministers should suggest to the State bodies that audit committees be established in the bodies to examine financial statements on internal financial controls, and report to the boards of the bodies.
This is a very comprehensive set of decisions by the Government to improve the reports of State bodies from the point of view of information, accuracy and comparability and this will prove of great long term benefit to Deputies.
We do not have a copy of that document which the Minister went through with great speed. We may wish to comment on it.
The Government have also decided that a system of appointing members of State boards should be improved on in the following way:
(i) A register of suitable appointees be compiled, in consultation with bodies such as the IDA, CTT, ICTU and IMI.
(ii) Ministers should establish, for the board of each State body under their aegis, the range of competences required at board level and, for each new board appointee, to seek to match the requirements of the board with the specific talents of prospective appointees.
(iii) Ministers should meet with new board appointees at the time of their appointment — this is to ensure that the appointees are made aware of what is required from them.
These measures can only further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the boards in question and ultimately, of course; the bodies under their control.
Finally, I would remind the House of another major initiative taken by this Government — the establishment of the National Development Corporation. This body have wide-ranging functions and the power to invest in many sectors of the economy, including fisheries, forestry, tourism, food processing, marketing services and academic research.
As an indication of the seriousness with which the Government greeted the establishment of the corporation, the share capital of the body was set at £300 million and the Government provided for the use by the corporation of any moneys on investments they receive and any profits and dividends accruing to it. The Government are confident that the corporation will be a source of venture capital in cases where profitability is anticipated on a longer time-scale than financial institutions would be prepared to accept.
The corporation have a solid statutory base. Their terms of reference have been debated and agreed in the House. They are a much stronger and more solidly based body, and represent a much more solid commitment by the State than the company incorporated in private law that could be struck off at a moment's notice, namely, the National Enterprise Agency. The National Development Corporation have a mandate from this House to establish and assist in the establishment of new enterprises in the food processing sector, in the information technology area, new companies to provide joint services to existing companies such as joint marketing companies, joint purchasing companies or joint companies for any purpose which individual companies on their own are unable to finance.
All of this will be done by the State through the NDC on an equity basis. In other words, if any investment made by the NDC is a success there will be profits coming back to the State in dividends and these will be available for further investment by the State and the NDC in new agencies. That is a very significant improvement on the position that existed. Heretofore, the parties in the House were more than happy to see very substantial sums given out in the form of IDA grants to companies. This was simply free money given to companies from which the taxpayers received no return whatsoever.
The fact that we now have an equity investment body that will not just give money to companies to help job creation but will be in a position to get a return from that investment represents a major advance. I should like to know from the party opposite what is their position in regard to the legislation passed by the House to establish the NDC. Will they go through the charade, if they ever return to office, of repealing the legislation? Will they come to the House to repeal something which the ICTU President described as a very good development? He said clearly that he would be strongly opposed to any attempt to take away this statutorily established instrument in the possession of the State designed to insert equity capital in business. Will the Opposition if they return to office waste the time of the House dismantling a very important investment agency established by the Government and the House in the past few years? It would be very foolish indeed for any responsible party to contemplate changing that legislation which represents a firm, tangible commitment by the State in this country to being equity into a private company and capital amounts to create jobs. Let me stress that the corporation investment will be giving a return to the State for investment.
The corporation have involved themselves in enterprises which no semi-State body up to now have done, for instance fisheries. Deputy Haughey goes on television and radio talking about investment in technological matters and I do not know where he gets the words he uses. I should like to know where he wants investment made. Does he want to dismantle any body set up by this House under this Government? We have Deputy Séamus Brennan's comments in the Evening Herald in complete contradiction of Deputy Wilson's unctuous comments here tonight in regard to Fianna Fáil's commitments on State investment and the fact that they are committed to certain things without giving precise details of what should be done. There is complete contradiction in their policy in regard to each area on which they have the temerity to express their views.
I was interested in Deputy Wilson's comments on currency adjustments. He was repeating Fianna Fáil's obsession in regard to Britain. When we pass legislation Fianna Fáil say that we are following the British line. Some time ago Deputy John Kelly said that Fianna Fáil were copying the best of British legislation three or four years after it had been passed. Deputy Wilson spoke of the effect of devaluation on our competitiveness, vis-à-vis sterling. Does he realise that only 33 per cent of our trade goes to the sterling area and that another one-third goes to the area covered by our European partners in continental Europe?
The party opposite — now that they are the party more than 60 years old — would do well to grow up a little, stop having this obsession with the problems that brought about the creation of their party and with the attitudes to Britain which have been so much part of their stock-in-trade of political debate. They might grow up and realise that we are now a European nation, that now one-third only, and falling, of our trade goes to Britain. I am talking about currency policy solely in terms of our relationship with sterling——
Where did the one-and-a-half billion pounds go that they chased out of the country?
I am talking solely in terms of our relationship with sterling, in the myopic view of currency policy——
Where did the one-and-a-half billion pounds go?
——which I would have to say does not surprise me at all emanating from the party opposite. Seeing that I have summoned Deputy Wilson back into the House — from whatever lofty place he had ensconced himself in order to avoid listening to my contribution — I should like to comment on another one of his rather rowdy interruptions when he sought to make reference to the deposit interest retention tax. If the deposit interest retention tax had frightened money out of the country, as Deputy Wilson, all his imitators and all Deputy Haughey's friends on the far side of the House seems to indicate, then how in God's name did we succeed in getting a bigger yield from the deposit interest retention tax than we had expected?
Where is the one-and-a-half billion pounds?
Would Deputy Wilson please cease interrupting.
But as Deputy Wilson knows, the money did not leave the country because of the deposit interest retention tax; it is still here and is still paid. Seeing that the party opposite are getting such mileage out of debate of this kind, lamenting about the deposit interest retention tax I might ask them: where will they get the money if they abolish that tax?
We will get back the one-and-a-half billions the Minister's Government chased out of the country.
Where will they get the money to fulfil the promise given by Deputy Wilson in this House that he will pay the teachers' award in full. Let me ask Deputy Wilson where is his party going to get the money to keep the promise he gave in this House that, regardless of the finances of this country, he would pay the teachers' award in full. Would he please tell us where they will find the money.
The Minister should ask the 24 per cent of the people now supporting them.
The Minister without interruption, please.
The Minister does not believe in the NDC any more than I do.
I do believe in the National Development Corporation.
The Minister does like hell.
I believe in doing things properly and have done so in this case. I do not believe in half measures——
I do not believe in half measures and shams of the kind put forward by the Deputy's party.
Then why did it take the Minister four years to bring it in?
Minister, I am on my feet, please. Deputy Wilson has already spoken. He may have an opportunity to speak tomorrow evening and Deputy Ahern is on his feet endeavouring to commence.
Let me ask one question. Why did he not explain that to the NDC if he believes it?
He never believed it. He is throwing in the towel.
He is back to £1.5 billion.
I have succeeded in leaving most of my opposition behind in the past and I will do it again.
Deputy Connolly, you are only just in and you may have to go out again now.
You are just holding on, Frankie, by the skin of your teeth.
I think the reason for the interruptions is the rather lively gusto launched by the Minister for Finance. It must be said coolly and calmly that the speech was one in which obviously he does not believe.
That is not true.
At times I have admired the Minister, Deputy Bruton, for the stance he has taken in Government over the last four years. It is regrettable that at the end of the two years——
I do not fit into the Deputy's neat categorisation at all. I make up my own mind.
——the Minister comes into the House and after delaying, opposing, holding up and doing all he could with the NDC, he puts them forward tonight as the reason this Government are really interested in semi-State enterprises. If he had any interest at all in that he would have gone to the trouble of appointing the chief executive; that he has not done. A temporary appointment of a person from one of the financial management groups settled that. Unfortunately, the Minister would not want to listen to that. The Bill was foisted on him at the risk of the Government collapsing for a number of years. About the only thing the Labour Party managed to do in this Dáil was to force that Bill on this House and the Minister set up the NDC in a halfhearted way. In all his ranting and raving for the last half-hour he never said at any time what they had done. He said they had the vehicle, the nucleus, the powers and this and that, but they have been talked about since the programme for Government back in 1982. The Minister in his half-hour, during which he was not interrupted until the last minute or so, brought forward not one thing that they had done. The record must state that the Minister came in and gave his speech and his only defence of what this Government would do for the semi-State sector was that the NDC — whom they opposed through the life of this Dáil and for whom he refused to appoint a chief executive — was set up. That is why this motion is down. We on this side of the House want clarification of Government policy in relation to the semi-State sector.
In all the statements made by various Ministers, particularly Deputy Noonan, the privatisation of the semi-State sector is now part of Government policy, is being considered and will be acted upon. My colleague, Deputy Wilson, talked about seeing a further Irish Shipping in the life of this Dáil and the Minister attacked us about not being concerned about, interested in or being the party who stood over semi-State enterprises. While Deputy Wilson was out we were blamed for that.
I do not believe that anybody in the country or even in those benches over there and certainly not in the Labour benches believes that Fianna Fáil would have treated semi-State bodies such as Irish Shipping and Ceimicí Teoranta in the way they have been dealt with. The Land Commission and others have been denuded of their powers, abolished or liquidated over the last four years. It never would have happened under Fianna Fáil. Deputy Bruton asked that Fianna Fáil clarify what is their philosophy and then he spoke about planning. Let me mention a few points he made.
Fianna Fáil's policy throughout the term of all their Ministers of Finance and Industry and Commerce has been that the semi-State organisations should operate in areas where private enterprise could not or would not be commercially viable or which they could not deal with. That is why Fianna Fáil were involved in so many semi-State organisations throughout the years. We will continue with that policy. Deputy Lemass when bringing forward the Development Bill, 1946, that Deputy Connolly mentioned, explained it in great detail. This party have continued in that philosophy and that ethos to this day over 40 years later. I will not quote from the Official Report on that because I have not the time to do so but I refer Deputies to that report of 27 February 1946, volume 99. People on the other side should read that because it sets out how a semi-State company can develop the resources of this country and at the same time co-operate and co-ordinate with outside private interests. That is not by means of shareholding, privatising or takeovers by outside interests. It has been done successfully in numerous semi-State organisations. I mentioned that one because Deputy Connolly spoke about it at length and the Minister attacked him on that.
That indicates Fianna Fáil's thinking down the years. It was the argument that Deputy Wilson, I and others put forward in all the debates we have had in the life of this Dáil about Irish Shipping, how that matter could have been dealt with in another way and how we continue to develop our semi-State bodies.
This is not an argument that our semi-State organisations cannot be efficient and effective. Trade unions leaders were being quoted in vain. Deputy Prendergast would not like to hear that, but the policy of the ICTU is that private enterprise have had ample opportunity in recent decades. I agree with that argument. Money has been poured in through various grants, incentives, tax reliefs, manufacturing grants reliefs and so on against employment. All of these grants were put in to modernise and up-date industry and what happened? They got the grants, up-dated the plants, on paper they became more competitive and they displaced workers. The taxpayer continues to pay more money to update private industry so that they can make more people redundant. That has continued for years. For years, since I was involved in the trade union movement, I have argued that grants that the State give to private enterprise should be linked to employment and not linked just on the basis of competition.
On a point of information, is that the policy of Fianna Fáil?
I must remind the Deputy as a trade union official that Deputy Haughey in January 1981, following the completion of a national wage agreement, said he depended on the private sector to create jobs.
That is not a point — Deputy Prendergast, please resume your seat.
I have said it was on the record and I know that Deputy Prendergast will know from his colleagues that this party on a number of occasions had meetings with the ICTU at the most senior level and explained our policy. We have explained our policy on semi-State industries and ventures. We agree with the ICTU document on the job crisis and how the semi-State sector can be used as a stimulus for creating employment. That is not to knock private enterprise. We can work between State agencies and private enterprise. There is no difficulty about that.
Tonight the Minister made two very important announcements, as he thinks. Let me welcome the first one for what it is worth. The Minister merely went through the points outlined in the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies and listed them in a different order. This was given as a major announcement to the House. All the talk about the change of accounts is in this document and the only reason I am welcoming the announcement is because I am glad that something has come out of a committee on which our party has spent hours working. Although the changes that have been implemented are very minor, and almost irrelevant they might be of some help.
I was refused a three months audit.
In talking about planning, the Minister said there was great emphasis on planning in the Department of Finance, in other Government Departments and in the Government. I will quote from a book called Ireland, 1945-70 which refers to planning in the early sixties. The Minister obviously does not know much about what happened in the semi-State area. This was in 1963 when Mr. Seán Lemass established the National Industrial and Economic Council as an independent body and at that time Mr. Whitaker was chairman. The quotation is:
...with a membership including leading representatives of employer and labour organisations, as well as senior civil servants and leading academic economists. The NIEC began an attempt to pull and drag other state institutions, as well as employers and trade unions, into accepting some sort of responsibility for the longer term implications of planning. It emphasised that state bodies should plan in the context of the overall national plan, instead of behaving as independent republics. It had reservations about the quality of leadership in employer organisations and in trade unions, and urged that these bodies should haul themselves into the twentieth century. It berated employers and workers for trying to grab what they could of the fruits of planning, while shirking responsibility for failures. It emphasised that pressure groups had their duties as well as their rights. The ironic situation arose where civil servants who a decade before had been denouncing planning as weakminded, if not inherently evil, now found themselves urging private firms to imitate the state by trying to plan ahead for a few years.
All of that occurred in 1963. To say, 20 years later that we are going to plan and that the semi-State bodies will be streamlined is old hat, 20 years out of date. That is all past history.
The Minister talked about the NDC and wondered where Mr. Haughey got the words "bio-engineering, electronics, high technology" and so on. They are the terms being used by every child in the street. The Minister is obviously out of touch. Because of the good work of the Ministers and civil servants over the years we have a highly educated young workforce. It is in the high-tech area that we should be trying to develop. The IDA are equipped to encourage development in that area and they are working successfully with all the major computer companies. To say that the NDC will start dabbling in that area is pure lunacy.
I know the Minister is in his last days and he is probably prepared to say anything. He has been roaring and shouting tonight about what Fianna Fáil will do. However, we have asked the Minister to clarify tonight Government policy on semi-State bodies, in relation to Aer Lingus, Bord na Móna and so on and to say where the Government stand on privatisation. What are the Government's views on equity and what investment proposals have they for semi-State companies? The Minister has talked about our proposals. We have listed out our proposals in relation to food processing, in relation to Bord na Móna about afforestation and we have issued a policy document, Roinn na Mara on how the sea and industries relating to the sea should be developed. What more does the Minister want? We would be glad to do the remainder for the Minister, when the electorate get an opportunity. In the meantime he should at least do us the common courtesy of outlining his Department's policy.
It is a pity there were not more people here to listen to the Minister during this debate because from beginning to end he did not outline any policies other than to say he would standardise accounts of semi-State companies and that they would relaunch the planning initiatives set up 20 years ago.
Semi-State companies must become more effective and efficient. I agree with the statement that Bill Atlee made a few months ago to try to encourage the trade union movement to move forward and prove why they should get State investment and why the political parties and taxpayers' money should go into State companies. If State companies are efficient and effective and if they are more adaptable they will get the necessary support.
Perhaps in the Adjournment debate the Minister will spend some time outlining how he sees the legislation on semi-State companies being implemented and perhaps he will clarify where we stand in relation to subsidiaries. Under the new legislation, parent companies will be allowed to vote for worker directors. The legislation as drafted says that the subsidiaries of semi-State companies will be allowed to vote. If the subsidiaries are allowed to vote — for instance, in a company like Aer Lingus the vast majority of the subsidiaries could outvote the parent company — the Irish worker directors could be massively outvoted under this legislation which, therefore, instead of extending the powers to worker directors would limit them. That is not what was intended in the Bill; it is an error which I would ask the Minister to clarify if possible this week during the course of the Adjournment debate. Will the Minister also spell out why the commitments given to semi-State companies a number of years ago have been reduced? That is a very important aspect of the legislation. Perhaps he would clarify these points because they are very relevant to this motion.
I do not disagree with the argument for more control over the debts of the semi-State bodies and on how they borrow their money. One of the arguments the Department of Finance continue to put forward and which is put forward in the report of the Joint Committee on State-Sponsored Bodies is that too many State companies can organise their own borrowing. This should be done by the Department of Finance who have a considerable expertise in borrowing. That would do away with the problems in relation to borrowing by semi-State companies. For instance this report outlines a case where the ESB lost £270 million because of fluctuations in currency. If all these borrowings were centralised under the Department of Finance there would be more control. I do not disagree with having a far tighter control over accounts of semi-State bodies so that accounts are scrutinised more closely by the Departments. It is possible to hide a lot in the accounts. The report of the Joint Committee on Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies shows clearly that the standardisation of the report would help in relation to comparing a lot of the figures that cannot presently be compared.
It would be extremely helpful if the Minister of State in the Department of the Public Service clarified those points. The legislation was introduced with very little explanation. It would cause a huge conflict of interest if they were not clarified and I ask the Minister of State to undertake that this week.