Ceisteanna-Questions. Oral Answers. - Programme for Government: Semi-State Sector.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

21 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance if the commitment given in the Programme for Government published in July 1989, to the maintenance of a viable and profitable semi-State sector, is still Government policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

There has been no change in the Government's positionvis-à-vis the semi-State sector since it agreed the Programme for Government in July 1989. I am happy to reaffirm the Government's commitment to a viable and profitable semi-State sector and to be in a position to report that in recent years, most of the bodies in this sector have shown dynamic growth, together with substantial improvements in their profitability and financial position. It is the Government's intention that this pattern of improvement should be maintained.

I would also point out that the semi-State sector is not a monolithic bloc but consists of a disparate group of organisations with different financial structures, markets and prospects. It is the responsibility of Government, when considering proposals for the development of these bodies, to assess each one on its merits and to take decisions on the basis of what is best for the individual company and for the economy. In some instances this may mean the participation by these bodies in joint ventures with other semi-State bodies or with private sector entities.This approach is strictly consistent with the terms of the Programme for Government.

Can the Minister explain to the House how he considers it is consistent to maintain a position of support for a profitable and viable semi-State sector while at the same time targeting some of the leading companies for privatisation or part privatisation, such as Irish Life, the Irish Sugar Company, Irish Steel, the Great Southern Hotels and so on? Is it not ironic that these companies are among those targeted by the junior partner in Government, by citizen McDowell, when he said the achievement of this Government would be to privatise these companies in whole or in part? Does the Minister not accept they could be the basis for large-scale development and job creation? Therefore, why is it intended to constrain them in the fashion that, for example, it has been decided to constrain RTE?

Questions in relation to communications are a matter for the Minister for Communications. The situation in regard to Irish Life is well known. I have discussed it many times with the unions concerned and indeed it has been discussed at Congress. The most recent development in this context has been the establishment, following the meeting of ICTU with the Taoiseach, myself and other Ministers on 27 March, of a working group under the Central Review Committee. That group was given the task of reviewing the role and contribution of State companies, economic development and job creation. I am examining the possibilities that exist to improve the performance of State companies, including the possibilities for developing large-scale indigenous companies capable of exploiting the single European market.

As I have said, the question of Irish Life is well known. I have invited tenders from the outside world and I have published a Bill that will come before the Oireachtas. Our position in that regard under the Programme for Government has not changed. I will put again on the record of the House what was said in relation to commercial State enterprises. The Government are committed to the maintenance of a viable and profitable commercial semi-State body. Any changes in the ownership structure of particular State companies will only take place if it is in the public interest, in the best interests of the company and their employees and following consultation with the social partners. The Government decided last year to restructure the Irish Life company, which was originally in the private section. That process is in train and the options after restructuring will be further examined.

Mr. Rabbitte rose.

I am sorry, Deputies. If I am to deal with the remaining priority question, No. 22, it must be called immediately.

Could I ask a very specific supplementary question?

I am sorry. If Question No. 22 is not called now it cannot be dealt with.

Will the Minister assure the House that there is no plan on the part of the Government to privatise Telecom Éireann.

I am calling Question No. 22 and we will then proceed to other questions. I am sorry, Deputies, but the Chair does his best.