(Dublin West): Not really, I am arguing against section 5 of the Bill on the disposal and issue of shares in ACC Bank. I am merely outlining the outcomes of previous privatisations in terms of who has benefited from them, leading to the conclusion that the ACC should not be privatised.
The privatisation of the mobile phone licence was a blatant abuse of a resource which belonged to the Irish people. The licence, which was awarded for a pittance, is making an absolute fortune for private individuals and companies. The process of privatisation is corrupting because it has now become clear that large donations were give to political parties by those who benefited from such privatisation. Ordinary people see this for what it is, irrespective of whether it was illegal.
The privatisation of ACC Bank will be bitterly regretted in the future, as will previous and ongoing privatisations. The current growth rates have created a complacent attitude about levels of employment and other economic indices, but the cycle of capitalism has inescapable consequences for the State's economy and for its 1.7 million workers and their dependants. As sure as night follows day, the laws of the market dictate that recession follows a boom period. So it will be here in the years ahead.
We have received early warnings from the US economy of what will happen in the economies of EU member states and this will have an even greater effect on the Irish economy due to the Government's policy of introducing myriad American multinationals into the State, virtually turning Ireland into a springboard for US multinationals into the EU. Many leading US companies have issued profit warnings.
That ordinary people and businesses are seriously over-extended is a sign of impending recession. When that happens, what will we have to fall back on? We have privatised or are privatising assets which were formerly or are currently State-owned. If these assets had remained or were to remain in State ownership, they could act as a buffer against the power of multinationals and big business corporations which will simply up and leave when a recession occurs, leaving thousands of unemployed people in their wake. Privatisation moves more and more control away from Irish people into the hands of people who are not accountable to them. It is a recipe for huge problems in the future when the State will have less and less control.
This Government plays fast and loose, with abandon, with resources which properly belong to the Irish people. Some weeks ago, I tackled the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources about Fianna Fáil giving away our natural gas wealth off the Mayo coast and asked him how much the gas would be worth to the multinational company involved. I was astounded that the Minister was unable to tell me the price. We must be alarmed when another national asset in the form of an established State bank is put forward for privatisation.
This Bill is presented in a context in which one can envisage a real role for a State-owned agricultural credit corporation. The foot and mouth crisis is currently dominating Britain, Ireland and some other European countries. This serious crisis has been visited upon the population as a whole, precisely because control has been increasingly taken from the hands of ordinary people – small producers, small farmers, butchers, local abattoirs etc. – and placed instead in the hands of agri-business companies and major conglomerates which dominate agriculture in the EU. This has given rise to huge intensification of farming and has created the precise conditions in which diseases such as foot and mouth have spread like wildfire, causing devastation to the farming community and immense difficulties for small businesses, small operators in the tourism trade and thousands of workers in the meat, agricultural and tourism industries, not to speak of the intense suffering of the small farming community affected. That is the result of removing power from local areas and from the people and giving it to faceless and unaccountable interests. I hoped that lesson might have been learned by the Government but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
It is undoubtedly the case that agriculture and agricultural practices within the EU must change. Even the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair – more Tory than the Tories, generally – and Chancellor Schröder have said as much in recent weeks. There must a return to natural means of production in farming and a move away from the ever increasing control by the agri-business sector, big business and giant supermarkets which indirectly played a major role in the spread of foot and mouth disease by requiring that meat and live animals be transported hundreds of miles, something which facilitated the wildfire spread of the disease in Britain. A change of policy is needed.
If we had a Government with vision it could lead that change of policy and ACC Bank could be a crucial feature in providing for that. There could be a declaration from the State that it had learned the lesson of the perversion of nature in modern agricultural practices which gave rise to BSE and other disasters. There could also be a major policy turn towards organic free range practices and away from the appallingly cruel practices used on animals in the intensification of agriculture. There could also be a development of the organic sector to be a major part of the economy. This is the way the voice of consumers – ordinary people – is going in Ireland and other European countries. A State agricultural bank could play a role in this. It could be part of a movement towards an agricultural revolution which would root out the perverse practices super profit mongers have inflicted on our farming practices and on the agriculture sector, return farming to a holistic means of producing wholesome food and end the type of conditions which create appalling suffering for animals and where disease can spread with the appalling rapidity we have witnessed in Britain in recent weeks.
This is not the time or place to discuss this in detail but the policy of wholesale slaughter, which has devastated communities and traumatised the farming community, is not a sustainable practice. Were we to have a disaster in Ireland – and I sincerely hope we do not – we would have to have a serious discussion on a completely different means of managing the foot and mouth situation with vaccination and other means of control and not with the scorched earth policy unthinkingly employed in Britain simply because it has done it for 100 years. However, that is a different debate, albeit partly related.
An ACC Bank continuing in ownership of a State with vision and understanding could play a crucial role in the renewal of agriculture in Ireland and could lead the way in Europe and even worldwide. That is what should happen to ACC Bank. The involvement in the DIRT scandal was outrageous and there is no question about that. Those responsible must be called to account. Unfortunately, State owned enterprises have been run too bureaucratically since their inception. There is a need to open up State owned enterprises to real democratic control. There should be a consumers' representative on the board. The workers should be represented much more on the board and involved in formulating policy.
The bank should be seen as an asset of the people and of the workers in the industry. A completely different approach and ethos to publicly owned industry would create a dynamic new sector. When the chill winds of recession inevitably blow, we would still have many factors within the control of the people to counteract the effects of a worldwide capitalist recession. However, the Government goes recklessly in the other direc tion giving away all levers of control which end up in the hands of massive banking concerns in the case of banks and massive international corporations in the case of Eircom.
Is oth liom a rá gur Bhille náireach ón Rialtas de chuid Fianna Fáil agus na Progressive Democrats atá againn inniu atá faoi phríobháidiú a dhéanamh ar Bhanc ACC. Tiocfaidh an polasaí seo maidir le príobháidiú na comhlachtaí Stáit ar ais nuair a chífimid sna blianta le teacht an géarcheim eacnamaíochta atá le teacht agus an slí a bheidh sé leis na míllte den lucht oibre atá anois i lámhaí na comhlachtaí móra idirnáisiúnta agus gan aon srian ag an Rialtas nó an Stáit orthu. Tiocfaidh a leithéid de Bhille mar seo ar ais chun a rá gur dearmad, botún agus polasaí mícheart atá againn anseo. Ba cheart dúinn na comhlacthtaí Stáit a chaomhnú agus a fhorbairt mar is iad siúd na comhlachtaí gur féidir linn muinín a bheith againn agus ag an lucht oibre asta, go háirithe nuair a thiocfaidh géarchéim eacnamaíochta, rud atá deimhim agus cinnte.