The purpose of this Bill is to amalgamate two companies that were set up by statute in 1941 to conduct mineral development activities. In that year two Acts were passed. One established the Slievardagh Coal Mining Company and the other the Minerals Exploration and Development Company. Experience of the operations of these concerns raised the question whether it was necessary to have two separate organisations, having regard to the similarity of their working and to the possible economies that might be effected, both financially and in the use of equipment, if they were brought under a single management.
It was decided that the two companies could be amalgamated, and that has for all practical purposes been done by administrative action. Both companies are at present working from the same offices, employing the same staff, and the same persons constitute the board of directors in each case. It is desirable, however, that that amalgamation which has been brought about, so far as practical consequences are concerned already, should be reflected in the legislation, and the purpose of the Bill is to amalgamate these two companies into a new company which will be known by the simpler title of "Mianraí Teóranta".
Each of the Acts which established these statutory companies provided for their financing by means of repayable advances from the Central Fund. The Acts imposed limits on the amounts that could be advanced from the Exchequer in each case, and in the case of the Slievardagh Company that limit has not been exceeded. In the case of the Minerals Development Company it has been exceeded. The limit was raised by Emergency Powers Orders from the original figure of £50,000 to £200,000, of which £180,000 has been advanced. This measure proposes to fix for the new company a limit of £400,000, which will include the amounts already advanced to the two existing companies. The increase made in the limit fixed to the advances authorised to the Minerals Development Company was due to the activity of that company in the production of raw materials for the manufacture of superphosphate. Having regard to the need for superphosphate in present circumstances, the company was instructed to proceed with the exploitation of the rock phosphate deposits in County Clare, and of pyrites deposits in County Wicklow, despite the fact that proper equipment was not available, and that the development of the deposits under present circumstances would be far more costly than would be the case in normal conditions.
Each of these companies has been involved in losses so far, losses which could have been avoided only by a suspension of activities during the emergency because proper equipment could not be procured. Having regard, however, to the need for the three classes of minerals which are now being produced—anthracite from Slievardagh, phosphate rock from Clare, and pyrites from Wicklow—the Government requested the companies to proceed with the working of the deposits and to endeavour to maintain output at the maximum level—to carry on their activities, as it were, regardless of the fact that financial loss would accrue. It suspended the payment of interest on the advances previously made and authorised new advances when the financial position of the company so required. That situation is one which is unavoidable. In the case of the coal deposits, the Slievardagh Company itself advised that the working of the deposit should be suspended until proper equipment could be procured. From a purely commercial point of view that would be the advisable course to adopt, because where there is only a limited amount of coal, to the extent that any part of the deposit is extracted and sold at a loss, the future profit-earning capacity of the company is diminished. Similarly, in the effort to procure superphosphates a definite decision was arrived at to proceed to exploit rock phosphate in Clare without the proper equipment and to procure all the pyrites we possibly could in County Wicklow, even if the costly process of handpicking the ore extracted had to be resorted to.
The company has succeeded in procuring a small single unit flotation plant which will be installed in Avoca and will increase the output of pyrites there, but the proper type of equipment, which would include a multi-type flotation plant, cannot be secured from any source at present. Neither can the equipment which the company would need to carry out the function of mineral exploration placed upon it by the original legislation. The company has been carrying out certain mineral exploration work and non-repayable advances have been made to the company for that purpose. In the case of the Slievardagh company part of the amount expended has been recovered by reason of the fact that a privately-owned concern became interested in the deposits which were being investigated and acquired a lease of the land with the intention of working the deposits, which lease was given on condition that part of the money spent on the exploration of the deposits would be repaid.
In the case of the work done by the Minerals Development Company in that regard, a wide area has been covered but one could not regard the results as satisfactory in the absence of a diamond drilling equipment without which proper reports could not be prepared. It is considered that each of the companies has definite commercial possibilities. The Slievardagh Mine has proved to be capable of maintaining a substantial weekly output which would be a remunerative output if the proper mining machinery were available.