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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991

Vol. 407 No. 4

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Sale of Classic Meats.

Pat Rabbitte


8 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce if, in relation to the sale of the four Classic Meats plants at Clonmel, Freshford, Ballymahon and Omagh, he will outline the parties to whom he has been advised the plants have now been sold; his views on whether this sale meets the requirements of the order he made following the report of the Fair Trade Commission; if he now intends to allow the proposed Goodman takeover of plants in Cork and Donegal to go ahead; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

On 11 April 1990, I made two separate orders under the mergers legislation. One of these orders deals specifically with DJS Meats Limited in Donegal and provides that title to the shares in or the assets of DJS shall not pass until Master Meat Packers (Omagh) Limited are disposed of as a going concern and cease to be under common control with AIBP or connected parties.

The second order relates to Master Meat Packers (Bandon) Limited and provides that title to the shares in or the assets of Master Meat Packers (Bandon) Limited shall not pass until the Master Meat Packers Group, which includes the four Classic Meats plants referred to by the Deputy, are disposed of as a going concern and cease to be under common control with AIBP or connected parties.

Both orders required that the takeovers be effected within 12 months of the making of the orders, that is, by midnight on 10 April 1991.

Additionally the orders have continuing effect, namely, that no agreement, arrangement or understanding that would prevent, restrict or distort competition in the purchase of cattle in the State shall be entered into between AIBP and the Master Meat Packers Group; and after the passing of title to the shares in, or the assets of, either DJS Meats Limited or Master Meat Packers (Bandon) Limited under the takeovers, none of the rest of the Master Meat Packers Group shall come under common control or ownership with AIBP.

I have been informed, by letter dated 11 April 1991, by solicitors acting for AIBP, that the conditions specified at article 5 of the order relating to DJS Meats Limited have been complied with and that the takeover, as defined in the order took place on 10 April 1991.

I was similarly informed on the same date that the conditions specified in the order relating to Master Meat Packers (Bandon) Limited have been complied with and that the takeover as defined in that order also took place on 10 April 1991. I was informed that sales of each of the four plants had taken place to four separate companies on 10 April 1991.

This information fell far short of what would be required to enable me to be sure that the conditions of the orders which I made last year have been fully complied with. I have, therefore, sought extensive additional information concerning the transactions outlined. Some of this information has been supplied but the bulk of it is still awaited.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he specifically confirm to the House that a former senior executive of the Goodman Group has re-emerged as the beneficial owner, part beneficial owner or senior partner, in one of the plants concerned? Will the Minister indicate how he views the fact that the executive concerned already has a conviction within this jurisdiction for fraudulent activity related to the meat business? How does he view that in the context of giving approval to this package?

The Chair would be concerned about a reflection on an individual outside the House, even in the manner in which he might be identifiable.

I cannot confirm to the House what the Deputy asked, for the simple reason that I have not been given any information which would enable me to ascertain who has the beneficial interest or who would exercise the control in the companies which, I am informed, are taking over these plants. I have simply been given a list of the names of four companies which do not, in themselves, mean very much. I have asked for further information to enable me to make a decision on the matter and, until I get that, I cannot decide or express an opinion on the matter put forward by the Deputy.

If it is confirmed that this person, with his former association with the Goodman Group re-emerges in the position at which I have hinted, will it be a factor in the Minister's decision? Will the Minister respond to the view that the entire rescue package of the Goodman Group of companies may be at risk if approval is not forthcoming from the Minister? Does he believe that the entire rescue package might be at risk having regard to the substantial turnover of the Bandon plant specifically, which is estimated in the order of £45 million.

It would be better not to express a view about something on which I have no official information lest newspaper reports to this effect prove to be incorrect. I will have to wait and try to get the necessary information. It is, of course, somewhat surprising that I was not given this information at the time; in particular it is regrettable that the efforts by the vendors to sell these plants were left literally to the 365th day of the year which they were given to comply with the order. The fact that it was left so late has caused the present confusion and the fact that the obviously necessary information was not given.

As far as the Deputy's second supplementary is concerned, I have to judge these matters in accordance with what is laid down in the Mergers and Monopolies Act and in accordance with the terms of the order which I made in April 1990. If there are extraneous consequences I cannot do anything about them, I have to judge the matter as it is. The parties involved had 12 full months in which to put their house in order in regard to this matter and I consider it was ample time to have done so.

A final question from Deputy Rabbitte.

Will the Minister indicate his view of the implications for business practice and, specifically, for the future of competition policy if — as suggested in some quarters — the Goodman Group were permitted to flout the law in this instance? Does the Minister continue to regard the beneficial ownership of the Classic Meats Group as a matter which continues to be pertinent today, notwithstanding anything that has transpired in recent months?

It certainly continues to be pertinent; it has been pertinent for some time past, particularly since I made the order on 11 April 1990. I am seeking further information to satisfy myself one way or the other.