This Bill is to extend the objects of the Industrial Alcohol Company. When I introduced the Bill in the Dáil it led, not unnaturally, to a debate upon the activities of the Industrial Alcohol Company and even on the wisdom of having a company to manufacture industrial alcohol. That was a contentious matter when the original Industrial Alcohol Act was passed but, while it would be unreasonable to expect that there would be no reference made to it in this Bill, it really has nothing whatever to do with this Bill. The origin of this Bill lies in the decision of the Government to have some organisation to investigate the possibility of undertaking the manufacture of chemicals on a commercial scale and to undertake their manufacture if it was considered desirable to do so. When we arrived at that decision, it was decided also that, instead of creating a new organisation with these powers and providing by legislation for its establishment and its financing, it was preferable to use the existing organisation of the Industrial Alcohol Company. When, however, we endeavoured to use that organisation in connection with certain chemical manufacturing activities which had been carried on during the war, it was found that the terms of the Act precluded it from engaging in any activities other than those defined in the Act or from devoting any part of its funds to purposes which were not strictly in accordance with the very limited scope of its activities as defined in the original Act.
As the Seanad possibly knows, the Department of Defence, with the cooperation of the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau, carried on the manufacture of certain chemicals used in the production of explosives and used commercially in the manufacture of matches during the war and, at the end of the war, they were naturally desirous of transferring that activity to commercial firms. Similiarly, other forms of chemical manufacture which had resulted from the researches of the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau appeared to be of possible interest even in normal times and it was desired to examine all the commercial problems associated with their manufacture before authorising anybody to undertake it.
Because there was no existing organisation, because the Government wanted to create an organisation and because it appeared a simpler and better device to extend the powers of the Industrial Alcohol Company rather than to set up a new organisation, this Bill was framed in the form in which it now reaches the House. There is a wide number of chemicals used for industrial purposes in this country and difficulty in obtaining supplies of these chemicals or in obtaining supplies in adequate quantities was one of our main difficulties during the period of the war. Some of the problems that arose were met by the activities of private firms instructed by the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau, some by the alcohol company which itself extended the scope of its activities, and some were not met at all. It is obviously desirable that, in relation to these commodities, we should have a more detailed examination, made by an expert organisation, of the possibility of getting them produced here. Because of their character, because of the high capital cost of the equipment required in their production, it is not likely that private commercial enterprise will be interested. The Bill provides that, before the Industrial Alcohol Company—in its new title, Ceimicí, Teoranta—will be able to engage in any form of chemical manufacture, public notice must be given of the intention to license it to undertake that, and any private firms wishing to object to the intervention of Ceimicí, Teoranta, in that business will be at liberty to do so. If it is clear that private enterprise will undertake the provision of the commodity concerned, on an adequate scale and at reasonable cost, then a licence would not be given to this organisation to engage in the business. However, it is not likely that, in regard to the electro-chemical industries as a whole, private enterprise here will be deeply concerned, as economic manufacture, in the normal sense of that term, will not be practicable.
The essential chemicals, the production of which here might be considered very desirable for security purposes, could not be made available at an economic cost to commercial users, unless they were supported by the State or by other activities carried on by the same undertaking. The value of the chemicals imported into this country before the war, of the classes in which this company might at some stage be interested, exceeded £1,000,000. Not all of those could be produced here, and there is a number of them in which this company probably would never be interested; but it is quite clear that there is a substantial field for investigation. The first fruits of this Bill will be the carrying on of those investigations by this company. The scientific aspects of manufacture and the scientific problems involved in manufacture can be safely left to the Institute of Industrial Research, but after those scientific problems have been investigated and solved, there are clearly commercial problems—the process to be used, the type of equipment necessary, the possibility of securing supplies of raw materials from within the country and, of course, the cost of manufacture.
One of the commodities which I mentioned by way of illustration in the Dáil and which will have the attention of the board of this company, is sulphate of ammonia. Before the war, we had examined the possibility of producing sulphate of ammonia here. There are many indications that its manufacture is a particularly suitable industry for this country and we have a substantial internal demand for it. In fact, it was regarded by farmers as a very necessary fertiliser, and its absence during the war years has been a loss. The raw materials required in its production appear to be available here. Our pre-war examination of the possibilities of its manufacture was undertaken by an inter-Departmental committee. It was a very cumbersome and unsuitable instrument, which proceeded far too slowly in its researches, but it did appear to make it clear that sulphate of ammonia could be manufactured at a price very little above, though slightly above, the price at which it was at that time being sold here by producers elsewhere. It was desired not to increase the cost, and other processes were being investigated when difficulties arose because of the approaching war situation. An agreement had been made with an engineering firm on the Continent which appeared to be suitable, but that engineering firm disappeared in the general European upset which followed. Whether the situation has changed in any fundamental respect since the war I could not say.
I do not want the Seanad to assume that the enactment of this Bill will necessarily lead to the manufacture of sulphate of ammonia by Ceimicí, Teoranta. In fact, it cannot do so. Although we are proposing to alter the powers of the company to enable them to investigate these commercial prospects and even to undertake forms of manufacture in certain circumstances, we are not proposing to alter the financial structure of the company. The company was established under the terms of the Act passed in 1938, which empowered the Minister for Finance to invest in the share capital up to a limit of £500,000. His investments to date total £275,000. There is a balance under that Act which could be made available to the company for new enterprises, but in the case of sulphate of ammonia the capital involved would be very much greater than that balance. Therefore, so far as that particular commodity is concerned, the situation is that the company could not engage in its manufacture unless the Principal Act were amended—which would give the Dáil and Seanad full opportunity to discuss the desirability of authorising the company to proceed along that line.