Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - B & I Matters.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

42 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will outline his plans concerning his shareholding in B & I; and if he will issue a statement on the matter.

Gerry O'Sullivan

Question:

45 Mr. G. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will outline his intentions in relation to the B & I Line; and the current state of discussions on this matter between his Department and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

53 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if it is intended to publish the report on the future of B & I which was prepared by Stokes, Kennedy, Crowley; the total cost of commissioning the report; when a decision will be made on the future of the company; if his attention has been drawn to the strong opposition expressed by unions representing B & I workers to proposals to privatise the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dick Spring

Question:

60 Mr. Spring asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport if he will make a statement on the future of B & I.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

67 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Tourism and Transport the plans he has to ensure the continuation of a regular and reliable car and passenger ferry service on the Irish Sea, in view of its importance for Irish tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42, 45, 53, 60 and 67 together.

During the passage through the Oireachtas of the B & I Line Act, 1990 last March, I announced my intention to carry out a review of the future options for B & I with the main objective of determining how soon the company's dependence on Exchequer financial support can be ended. Last May I received a report from the Board of B & I on the future prospects for the company under various scenarios. I subsequently decided to commission SKC Corporate Finance Ltd. to advise me on the options for the future of B & I and, in that context, to recommend the best and most economic means of terminating Exchequer support for the B & I Line at the earliest possible time. I also asked the consultants, in carrying out their assignment, to have regard to the need for adequate capacity and competition in the provision of passenger and freight shipping services.

The consultants examined the principal options for the future of B & I. Having assessed the feasibility and financial implications of a number of options, the consultants were strongly in favour of a disposal of B & I as the best option. Following consideration of the consultants' report last September, the Government decided to request SKC Corporate Finance Ltd. to carry out the additional assignment of exploring the level of interest which exists among potential purchasers of B & I. This work is still in progress.

Contrary to some media reports, the Government have not yet taken a final decision on the future of B & I. Nevertheless, it is clear that the status quo cannot be allowed to continue in view of the substantial future needs of the company for Exchequer support, both in terms of trading requirements and fleet replacement.

On 8 October last, I met with a delegation representative of the trade unions in B & I and led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to discuss the problems facing the company and the options for their future. I explained to the delegation that, while options for the future of B & I were being explored, no final decisions had yet been taken by the Government. At the suggestion of the delegation, I agreed to nominate a representative from my Department to liaise with representatives of ICTU and B & I unions in this matter. A subsequent meeting between my Department and members of the delegation took place on 11 October, at which the future prospects of B & I were discussed further.

The report prepared by SKC Corporate Finance Ltd on B & I will not be published because it contains commercially sensitive information.

The consultants' fees for the two assignments will be in the region of £175,000 excluding VAT.

Arising from the reply——

I am anxious to dispose of the Deputy's remaining question if he will facilitate me also.

I am happy to move on to Question No. 43.