The Minister can be assured of the approval of the Seanad to the Bill. It offers us an opportunity to congratulate Irish Steel Holdings, particularly on their progress during recent years. As the Minister said in his introductory statement, the object of the Bill is quite simply to increase the borrowing powers of the company from £1 million to £3 million. Of that increased borrowing facility the company propose, apparently, to use only a small amount.
The purpose of the extra capital is one that we strongly support. It will enable the company to introduce a new and up-to-date method of steel production which will increase capacity and lower costs. At this stage, when we are almost of the threshold of entering the Common Market or free trade competition, it is absolutely essential that all industries—in particular the State industries—should equip themselves to face the competition of worldwide companies and manufacturers. Every Member of the Seanad would support the view that any steps to rationalise or modernise State companies should be availed of. Whenever any Minister finds it necessary to come to this House for the necessary finance to carry out these modernisation programmes, he can always be assured of a very warm welcome from this House. I should also like to commend the method of financing which this particular State company are using in this instance. It is very heartening to read of a company—and I do not wish to cast any aspersions on any State or private companies in this regard—which propose to finance these additions largely from their own resources. Although they are getting increased borrowing powers, they do not propose to avail completely of these powers.
A look at the balance sheet of Irish Steel Holdings will indicate the sound and progressive policy which the directors have pursued, particularly in recent years. That is the reason why they are in the happy position of not having to call on the taxpayer to assist them in modernising their mill.
The Minister has mentioned that, although the proposed rationalisation programme will lower costs and make the steel mill more efficient, it will not very substantially increase employment. In these days, when unfortunately we hear almost weekly of factories getting into trouble for one reason or another, an increase of 170 people is a very important addition to the labour force. Any further additions on top of this that would follow increased export sales would, of course, be very welcome too.
I should like to ask the Minister a few questions generally on the question of steel production in this country and perhaps he might be good enough to refer to them in his reply. What are the sources of raw material? Are Irish Steel Holdings completely dependent on scrap and from where do they purchase that scrap? Is it imported or collected from home sources, or both? Has any consideration been given by the board of Irish Steel Holdings to the treatment or smelting of iron ore from abroad? In other words, I feel in the long term, that if Irish Steel Holdings are to continue as a viable proposition in the face of European competition they will have to be organised in greater depth. I think it is not too fanciful to suggest that at some future date they should consider the importation of ore from abroad, probably even from as far away as Australia, and the smelting of ore to provide the raw material for steel production.
In this connection, it might be of interest to Senators to hear that within the last two years the Limerick Harbour Commissioners commissioned a study from an international firm of consultants in regard to the possibilities of transhipping ore from as far away as Australia. It does become an economic proposition if the size of ships reach something like 300,000 tons. With the huge expansion in shipping and the size of ships, I do not think we are looking too far ahead in anticipating that within the next three, four or possibly five years you will have ships big enough to carry iron ore from as far afield as Australia and to bring it into the Shannon, tranship from there, if necessary, to a smelter at Cork, or preferably in the Shannon area, and make it a viable proposition.
I should also like to ask the Minister what will be the position of Irish Steel Holdings when they have to face the full blast of competition from the huge steel mills in the United Kingdom and on the Continent? Has any consideration been given by the directors to a possible merger with one of the bigger steel mills, or one of the bigger industries in the production of steel products, such as the consultants who were brought in to advise Irish Steel Holdings—Messrs. Guest, Keen and Nettleford—who apart from their interest in advising the development of Irish Steel, also have an interest for quite a number of years in a wire mill in Limerick, Irish Wire Products Ltd.? Is it possible that Irish Steel Holdings could manufacture the type of steel rod which Irish Wire Products in Limerick and other wire drawing firms could use? I have particularly in mind the large new factory which is to be established, and the construction of which is now under way, on the outskirts of Limerick to manufacture steel cord for tyres and which will be using, as the Minister I am sure is fully aware, a very substantial amount of steel wire in its production.
I should like to think that the directors of Irish Steel Holdings have shown themselves to be progressive and fully alive to the changing situation in Europe and will carefully consider the organisation of their factory in greater dept, both from the point of view of raw materials and of widening their range of products. I may be quite wrong but I do think that, unless some organisation or some development like this takes place, Irish Steel Holdings in the years ahead may find themselves in a very difficult situation vis-à-vis the giant steel mills of the Continent and the United Kingdom.
I should also like to ask the Minister if any consideration has been given by the directors of Irish Steel Holdings to apply for membership of the European Coal and Steel Community when and if we enter the EEC. Finally, a very small point—one to which perhaps other Senators may have the answer but I have not—is why is the name of the company "Irish Steel Holdings"? Is it possible to drop what seems to be an unnecessary word in the title? Why could it not be "Irish Steel", just simply that title without adding the word "Holdings"?
If the Minister in his reply would touch on some of these points I have made I would be very grateful, or if he can add any further information on the future plans of Irish Steel Holdings I am sure this House would be very interested to hear them. I should also like to inform the Minister of the full and warm support of my party on this Bill. Certainly, he need not be in any way reluctant to come back again if the necessity arises for further capital to expand what is very obviously a successful Irish enterprise.