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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Oct 2018

Vol. 260 No. 6

Transfer of Functions of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council: Statements

I welcome the Minister and call on him to address the House.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I welcome the opportunity to address the dissolution of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, DLHC, and the transfer of its functions to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I can confirm to the House that I have signed the transfer order with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

The harbour company was dissolved earlier and all assets, liabilities and staff transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. The port, once central to the traffic of freight and passengers between Ireland and the UK, has had no commercial shipping since the withdrawal of the Stena Line in 2015. Declining car and passenger numbers, combined with increasing fuel and operating costs, made the Stena route unsustainable.

However, I am optimistic about the future of DLHC. As outlined in the national ports policy, published in 2013, the future of the harbour lies in marine leisure, maritime tourism, cultural amenity and urban redevelopment. As a local amenity, it is best placed under the local authority, which is better positioned to achieve the maximum from the harbour. I am delighted that it has committed to ensure, on transfer, "that the harbour will continue to be recognised as a location of choice for marine and leisure activities as well as a destination of choice for visitors".

For a number of years, DLHC has faced a challenging operating environment as it transitioned from commercial shipping activities towards a different operating model focused on marine leisure and marine-related tourism. The company has been restructuring its business to keep it on a sustainable financial footing in preparation for transfer. Its income is now derived from rents, moorings and property.

As Senators will be aware, the transfer of DLHC to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is agreed Government policy. The national ports policy recommended that five designated ports of regional significance, Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow, transfer to more appropriate local authority-led governance structures. These ports retain important roles as facilitators of their regional economies and, in some instances, as centres of marine-related amenity and tourism activities. However, the scale and nature of their port activities are not of a scale that warrant continued central government involvement. The longer-term development of these ports is best placed within their regional and local communities to allow them to develop in a mutually beneficial manner.

  The Harbours Act was signed into law on 25 December 2015. It provides the necessary primary legislative framework to allow the transfers to take place. Two ports have been transferred. Wicklow Port transferred on 30 August 2016 to Wicklow County Council and Drogheda Port transferred on 2 October 2017 to Louth County Council. The transfer process is complex and takes a number of years to complete.

  The chief executive of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council undertook due diligence in preparation for transfer and presented her report to the council on 9 January 2017. As the report raised a number of further issues for clarification, the chief executive engaged a financial consultant to carry out a risk assessment to enable the council to fully understand the implications of the two different models of transfer and the responsibility that will transfer in financial and other terms. 

  The two models outlined in legislation are transfer of shareholding keeping the limited company structure intact and dissolution of the company and transfer directly under the local authority. It may help if I explain how remedial works are usually funded in the ports sector. National ports policy clearly states the Exchequer does not provide funding for a port company. Ports must operate on a commercial basis without recourse to State funding. Ports fund their activities and capital infrastructure investment from their own resources. This can be done in a number of ways such as using reserves or profits, selling assets, borrowing or by attracting private investment into ports.

In respect of funding remedial works, it is normal procedure in port companies to prioritise engineering and remedial works and to phase those works and the funding to undertake those works over a period of time, immediate, medium and long-term. The port has a substantial asset, as well as seven digit cash reserves, both of which transferred to the council and will allow for any urgent and immediate infrastructural works to be carried out. However, how the council decides to use these assets is up to it. The port will be a welcome boost following the granting of the planning application for the harbour innovation campus. In addition, DLHC has significant fixed assets. The dissolution of the port may present different opportunities to the council for funding that was not available to the port as an independent commercial port company such as funding under the urban renewal scheme. I look forward to hearing the views of Members.

We are discussing this topic as a result of a request I made on the Order of Business last Thursday that we have a debate on the DLHC transfer in advance of the Minister signing the order. I ask him to clarify whether he signed it today. No Member has a problem with his strategy. It is a good idea for harbour companies to come within the remit of a local authority as they might be well placed to manage them, albeit that they have plenty of other issues to manage.

I am concerned that up to today, there was not full sight of the exact goings on in the harbour company and the exact extent of its assets and liabilities. The Minister considers DLHC to be a company with a substantial asset, but it is only an asset if one can sell it off or one can do something with it. It is all very well saying one has an asset. I am sure I have heard the Minister talk about constituents who are asset rich and cash poor, but there is an estimate of €33 million in liabilities, which some people might say is less but equally others could argue that it is greater, related to pensions and works that are needed in the harbour, which might be referred to as "taking in charge type standards". I am conscious that there are two other fellow former Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown councillors, Senators Richmond and Boyhan, in the House. Senator Boyhan has great expertise because he served two terms on the board of the harbour company as an appointed director. There was a time when the local authority had directors elected from the councillors. At the time that was the case, my party was small and Fine Gael and the Labour Party shared the spoils of those positions and, as a result, I was never a member of the DLHC, but I am familiar with its activities.

What will become clear to the 210,000 residents of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is there is a €33 million liability in pensions and other infrastructural costs to be covered, in addition to an €800,000 annual maintenance cost. How is that to be absorbed without closing libraries and forgoing the repair of footpaths, improvements to traffic lights and the building of swimming pools, something that is close to the Minister's heart? I did not have full sight of the liabilities, but the due diligence referred to a liability of €33 million. All of these works will have to be paid for and if he has signed over a €33 million deficit in the company which he says is an asset, is he suggesting the county council should start selling off chunks of the harbour? He referred to using reserves or profits, selling assets, borrowing or attracting private investment. That is the antithesis of what some people who are championing the transfer of the harbour company into the ownership of the council wanted. They do not want privatisation or the sale of assets; they want people power and so on.

As Minister with responsibility for the marine, the Minister has ports included in his brief and, as a Deputy for Dublin Rathdown, his constituents are affected by this. The Minister was here last week, as he has been on many occasions. He had a relatively brief speech to make today. We have a curtailed amount of time because of the vote earlier. That is not the Minister's fault, but I am conscious of the time. If we do not get a response today, we may need to come back and look at this issue again. I hope we will all be relatively brief and that we will give the Minister enough time.

I implore the Minister to answer the following question. How is Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, other than by selling assets, which is what the Minister is arguing, or through private investment, to fund the €33 million without increasing property tax or cutting other services? That is the nub of the issue. There are ongoing maintenance costs. There are significant funding challenges. The Minister is not transferring Dublin Airport which is profit-making to Fingal County Council, but he is transferring a loss-making operation with very significant long-term issues and infrastructural challenges. It behoves him to say to his constituents in Dublin Rathdown but also to the constituents of the Dún Laoghaire constituency and all the people in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown who are paying their property tax whether it will double or triple, or whether it will need to. The discretionary property tax in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown this year, after the property tax discount was given to the highest property taxpayers in the country, is €2.5 million. One is talking about 13 years worth of discretionary property tax being swallowed up by the €33 million and that is before one looks at the €800,000 a year maintenance cost.

I have probably given the Minister enough issues to which to respond. I have eight minutes and if I speak for eight minutes and Senator Boyhan and everyone else does the same-----

I should have said that. I thank Senator Horkan. As the vote interfered with the time allocated, the Minister must be called at 25 minutes past the hour.

That is my point. I want to let other Senators in, but I also want the Minister to have as much time as possible to respond.

I hope I have given the Minister enough food for thought. We all want Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to prosper as a local authority. We all want Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Dublin Rathdown where I live and which the Minister represents to do well, but I do not know how we will do that with €33 million of liabilities we did not have yesterday. I would like the Minister to address the nub of the issue.

I call Senator Boyhan and ask him to be conscious of the time.

I came here to listen. I thought we would have statements and questions. I am not really interested in hearing what the Minister, Deputy Ross, has to say. I do not want dialogue with him. It will be a monologue. He will just have to sit there and listen, or he can do what he likes.

For the record, I was a county councillor from 1999. I was a director of the company for two terms. I can speak categorically about it and have some files here to support all of what I will say. I deal in facts, not speculation, as I hope the Minister knows and appreciates.

The Taoiseach was Minister in this Department and followed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and Deputy Ross. These three Deputies have been involved and have full knowledge of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. All of them will be aware that the company had major difficulties. All of them - I have evidence which can support these statements - were aware that this company had major financial issues. It had major corporate governance issues. All of them would have been aware of parliamentary questions and responses prepared by them. All of them gave commitments to resolve the issues and investigate them and all of them appear to have done nothing.

I will now turn to the Minister, Deputy Ross, who is in the Chair.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is here. He gave commitments to come and talk about this harbour company, but he did what he has always done. He thought he was smart.

The Minister might have had his hissy fits last week. He made his demands in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to have it signed and he thinks he got his own way. He has transferred it, but he will be aware there are corporate governance issues with this company.

The Minister is the man who made a lot of money in the Irish Independent writing about governance from a nice room up in Agriculture House and preaching and lecturing about corporate governance and finance. What has he done? I am convinced there is a role for the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to this. I will certainly put a number of questions.

I am aware of the provisions of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and I put in a request to the Minister's Department and received an email telling me to contact an individual. I did so today, but I have not heard back. That is not the individual's fault. He may be away.

I will deal with a few issues. My interest is in protecting the future of the harbour's estate, its employees, the real estate and marine leisure and related tourism potential. The Minister has responsibility in that area too. My interest is also in protecting Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, its elected members and its executive from unreasonable exposure to a potential of €33 million.

The Minister was aware there was due diligence in relation to this company. He had access to sensitive information on the company. Will he not take some responsibility in relation to it? Is it acceptable that he should saddle Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, with which he is extremely familiar, with this sum? He constantly sent newsletters about his wonderful Glenalbyn pool, but he did not get his pool or his Garda station. The Minister is running; he is panicking. He does not want to lose his seat, but he is motivated by the wrong things. He is attacking the wrong people and not supporting the local authority. Why should a local authority, therefore, support the Minister?

The Minister is preoccupied with the Judiciary, a little station in Stepaside and a small swimming pool, but he took it out on this local authority. I am putting it to him that he took it out on this local authority because he did not get his way. Hissy fits and tantrums do not get one somewhere. While I do not like to personalise it, the Minister likes to give it but does not like to take it.

The bottom line is there are issues, which I will summarise. There is the EU grant and funding issues. I am satisfied and have evidence that the Minister is aware of them and the repayments in relation to them. He is aware of the corporate governance issues, of which I am fully satisfied. He is aware of the potential financial risk and exposure to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I am fully aware. He is aware of and gave advice on HR issues, privately, of which I am fully aware. Is he in support of the trustees and the company's defined benefit pension scheme in respect of the future viability of the scheme with Invesco? Is he aware of a breach of the code of practice on the governance of State bodies? Has he had sight of reports of the audit committee in terms of risk and remuneration? Did he or any of his predecessors follow up on responses to parliamentary questions in respect of directors who were in breach? There were conduct issues. There were repayments to be made. The Minister, the Taoiseach and the Minister's predecessor, the Minister for Finance, are aware of them.

The Minister lectures about transparency and accountability in respect of due diligence and the transfer of operations. What has he done about it? He breezed in with a smile to tell us what he had done. I had already heard it from the local authority. I had received a telephone call about ten minutes earlier. I left here when I got the Minister's statement and faxed it to the 40 councillors.

The bottom line is this is not all over. There will be no funding because the local authority will have to be prudent. There will be no funding for phase 2 of the Fernhill project. There will possibly be no funding for Marley Park or Glenalbyn pool and the Minister can lecture about it being ring-fenced. He is not an elected member of the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority. The local authority can amend its capital programme at any time.

I do not want to hear a response from the Minister. He has come here unprepared to listen and tell us what he has done, despite telling us he would come and listen to us. I am exceptionally disappointed with him.

I will give the Minister the following commitments. I will make further inquiries in regard to the protected disclosures; I will put in a number of freedom of information requests on these matters and will speak at his next public meeting. When he has his next meeting about Glenalbyn pool, Marley Park or Fernhill, I will tell the people another story. They will not be hearing about it in the Dublin Gazette or The Irish Times. They will be hearing from big-mouth Boyhan who will stand up and be counted and say what has to be said.

Enough is enough. The Minister has let people down. He is panicking; he is running. That shows his inexperience as a Member of Dáil Éireann and a Minister. I am exceptionally disappointed in him and really do not want to hear excuses from him. He did not listen. He signed off on this issue and has come here to tell us. Big deal; he has achieved little.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his statement.

Like other speakers, I also was a member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am a resident of the lovely village of Stepaside in Dublin Rathdown. I am grateful that the Minister has come, I hope, to answer some questions on the transfer of the harbour company into local authority ownership.

Senator Horkan has mentioned that this is of interest and importance to the 210,000 people living locally, but it should be of major interest and importance to the country as a whole and the future of local government and marine policy. I have a number of questions which I hope the Minister will answer in his reply. If not, perhaps one of his officials would follow up with me on them in due course. I had intended to ask if the order has been signed, but the Minister has answered that question. I understand it was signed today. If so, at what time was it signed? Will the Minister detail the engagement between his Department and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council since the ports policy was approved by the Government? Has the county council and the port company been in contact in preparation of the transfer? I refer in that regard to the company as an entity, not the CEO. Why is the port company being subsumed into the county council, rather than having the shareholding function transfer? Will there be an indemnity for the county council against claims under way? Have indemnities been provided to other local authorities in other transfers? Will there be a package for any staff member wishing to leave and, if so, who will pay for it? Have staff been notified of the transfer? I understand that under legislation, they are required to receive 30 days notification in that regard. I would appreciate it if the Minister clarified if that is the case. What assets are attached to the harbour company on its transfer? Is Gresham House, a famous building in the town of Dún Laoghaire, being transferred? Also, what is the value of that building and is there any debt attached to it?

During the summer, it was reported that the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Innovation Centre was being progressed by the harbour company and would generate €1.5 million in rents and rates. What is the status of this project? Will additional local property tax be allowed to remain with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to cover the cost of infrastructure? As Senators Horkan and Boyhan will recall, 20% of local property tax receipts within Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown were transferred to local government and distributed around the country. I held a public meeting last night - I am delighted Senator Boyhan was unable to attend - at which one of the key issues was reform of the local property tax system and where property taxes for the area were going. When I take a walk or go for a run in Marlay Park, I like to know that my property tax is paying for that fantastic facility. I look forward to going for a swim in Glenalbyn once again soon.

What support was provided for other port companies and harbours that have transferred to local authorities? The Minister mentioned Wicklow Port, but other ports such as Drogheda and Tralee and Fenit have also been transferred. He has also mentioned that the national ports policy highlights that the future of the port is urban regeneration, leisure, public amenity and tourism. Given that under Project Ireland 2040, which the Minister and I are enthusiastic supporters of, more than €200 million is provided over the next decade for tourism capital, will he, given his responsibility for tourism, engage with the county council on accessing this funding?

I share the concern about this transfer, but I welcome it. I wish the Minister, his officials and the Government the best in this transfer, but I intend to ensure it does not negatively impact on my home, my family's home and the facilities which I intend to spend the rest of my life enjoying. This is a matter of most seriousness. I look forward to a full response from the Minister.

I commend Senator Horkan for calling for this debate. The transfer of the functions of DLHC to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is shrouded in confusion. It is disappointing that this debate falls on the day on which, I understand, the transfer is due to be completed. The risk assessor's report has projected a net financial risk of €33.5 million to the council, local property taxpayers, commercial ratepayers and the communities of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The Harbours Act 2015 provides for the transfer in respect of all assets, liabilities and staff in accordance with sections 30 and 32. Option B is, therefore, not up for consideration by councillors. Rather, they must consider the impact on the council's budget and whether the transfer will result in the cutting of vital services to communities and vulnerable groups in their area. Yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, said in the Dáil that not all of the €33.5 million liability would be transferred to the council. This appears to be at odds with the Harbours Act and what Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councillors have been told. Without the benefit of a figure, the Government believes the county council will be liable for the socialising of semi-State private debt. This warrants full scrutiny by the local authority. A substantial liability could have a direct impact on its ability to provide local services and build the homes that are urgently required.

I ask the Minister to clarify how he proposes to ensure the financial burden of this transfer does not impact unduly on the people of the area. The staff of the harbour company have commenced the process of transferring contracts. Will the Minister confirm that all pensions and entitlements of former employees will be honoured? With the council now in charge of the historic harbour, perhaps fresh consideration will be given to the location of the national genealogical centre, incorporating a centre for migration and diaspora studies as proposed by the Genealogical Society of Ireland to the harbour company in 2011. The idea was subsequently incorporated in the harbour company's 2013 proposal for a national diaspora centre and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown development plan supports this objective. I encourage the council to work with the society to achieve this objective. I also encourage the Department to engage with the society in support of this venture.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House for this debate. In advance, I consulted my Green Party colleague and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councillor, Mr. Ossian Smyth. The Minister will be aware that the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, told the Dáil last night that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council taxpayers would not be liable for the €33.5 million costs incurred in this instance. How much will the council have to pay? Given the harbour company that accrued this debt is a semi-State entity, why is it not being borne by the Exchequer rather than a cash-strapped local authority?

I understand that since the ferry service ended, the harbour company has attempted a number of far-fetched money making schemes, including a floating hotel, a floating swimming pool, a floating housing estate and a cruise ship dock that would have filled the harbour. All of these schemes failed, leaving a trail of debt. Does the Minister believe it is fair that the residents of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown will have to pay for this wastage of money by the harbour company on pipe dreams? Will the council now have to cut services to the residents and increase property tax in the area to meet the repayment of this debt run up by a semi-State agency under the watch of the Minister and his Department?

When established, the harbour company received the harbour assets with no debt attached from the Office of Public Works. Is it fair that it is proposed to dump the debts of this semi-State agency on the Minister's constituents? Does the Department expect the council to continue to pay the chief executive officer of this failed entity the €168,000 package he is reportedly due until he chooses to retire? Why was the chief executive officer of the harbour company given a contract of indefinite duration when there is a seven-year term limit on serving as a chief executive of a semi-State agency? Was it not negligence on the part of the Department to allow this to happen? Does the Minister believe his constituents should foot the massive bill for a chief executive whose work will be done by council management into the future? When on the Opposition benches, the Minister was keen on holding State agencies and fat cats to account. I am a little shocked, therefore, to see him rewarding the boss of a failed semi-State agency in this way. He would not have tolerated this when he was in opposition, but now he is facilitating the Government in this matter. I am informed by Councillor Smyth that the council is holding a special meeting this evening and that he has written to the Minister's office to invite him to attend. I suggest that when this debate ends, the Minister take the DART to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

As he knows, if it was a constituency meeting and there were votes at stake, he would be the first there.

What time is the debate due to finish?

Unless there is a change to the Order of Business, it is to conclude at 5.30 p.m. The Leader might amend the order in order that it can run until 5.45 p.m..

In case that change does not happen, I will be very brief in order to allow the Minister time to respond. There is real concern that capital projects are being placed in jeopardy in the council. It is very clear that that is the case. There is a smell about this when a Fine Gael Senator is raising questions that should have been dealt with by the party internally before any order was signed. It stinks to high heaven at this late stage. The Minister has said there is a seven figure cash reserve, but I do not know why he is not telling us more about it. He has told us there are fixed assets, but he will not tell us how much they are worth or whether they are capable of being sold on. We do not know what the liability of the local council is.

A risk assessment was carried out. Was the Dublin Port Company approached to take over Dún Laoghaire port at some stage? Is it the case that it walked away once the risk assessment was carried out and that the council now is faced with the burden of risk? We are having this debate with very little information. Senator Boyhan made some very important points that must be answered for the sake of transparency. There has been very little transparency about this. The Seanad and the local council are both having the debate after the event. We should have had statements on this move prior to any sign-over, and local councillors should have been kept fully informed about the liabilities they will be entering into. I have real problems with capital programmes in the local authorities being placed in jeopardy, especially if those programmes affect housing.

I will try to answer all of the questions I have been asked; I hope I will be able to do so in the short time we have. I thank the Acting Chairman, but I would like to correct him on something. He said I was the Minister responsible for marine issues. I am not.

No, the Acting Chairman said I was the Minister responsible for marine issues. I am not. Deputy Creed is the Minister responsible for marine issues. Perhaps the Acting Chairman might address those remarks to him.

The exact extent of the liabilities was mentioned. There has been much talk about liabilities and several Senators have said they amount to €33 million. It has been agreed between officials on all sides that that figure is not accurate. The figure is closer to €10 million, although it has not been agreed, as is well known to anybody who has looked at the issue in any detail or who has any knowledge of the matter. Those suggesting the liability is €33 million are being deliberately mischievous. They are putting out that figure to scare people. It is agreed that the figure of €10 million is far closer to the reality and will extend over a long period of time. It arises owing to a need to repair infrastructure, which is normal in a harbour. It is not the case that €10 million will be spent immediately. It will be spent in the maintenance of the harbour, something any body or entity taking over the harbour would take on. There is no €33 million liability which will fall due tomorrow, or a €10 million liability. There is a future liability for repairs to be undertaken and that has to be accepted and will be absorbed.

People are not taking into account the fact that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was in favour of this move by a massive majority. I am not sure what the numbers were, but a very large majority said it should be taken over by the local council. It wanted it because this particular project will be in the interest of the citizens of Dún Laoghaire. That is what local councillors do. They vote, they speak, they push and they urge in favour of their constituents. One or two people are now saying that is not really what the council wanted and claiming it did not want to inherit €33 million in liabilities. It is not being handed over €33 million in liabilities. It is very doubtful that it is being handed €10 million in liabilities. I am not accusing anybody of being deliberately misleading, but the council is receiving a very large asset, including an asset rich company which has not been mentioned by a single person here. Its assets are worth up to €40 million, with a single asset worth €12 million. Would the Senators not be glad to receive such an inheritance? It is receiving €40 million but might have to pay out €5 million or €10 million in the next ten years. That is not a bad deal. It is a gift. It is a jewel that is being given to the people of Dún Laoghaire, but it does not suit some people to acknowledge this.

What about income? What about the cash rich business to which Senator Humphreys referred? For commercial reasons, it would not be wise of me to elaborate, but this company has certainly got a seven digit cash rich bank balance. Would any Senator refuse that, or would they come bleating about the fact that they would have to pay for a few repairs down the road? They would not, but it is very convenient to get up and shout about a figure of €33 million that has been plucked out of the air. It has been agreed by all sides, except for a few opportunist politicians, that that is not a credible figure. That is what is going on. What has happened has been good for the citizens of Dún Laoghaire and an acknowledgement of Government policy. Those who say it is ridiculous that the matter has come late to the Seanad could have raised it in here at any time in the last four years. This has been delayed and debated left, right and centre. It should have been signed earlier. It is a pity it was not signed earlier, but there was no great urgency at that stage. People were not coming into this House and screaming about €33 million then, or for the last six months. They come in to complain afterwards because it is politically convenient.

This is a great deal for the residents of Dún Laoghaire. It will make no difference whatsoever to funding, something which has been bandied about in a politically opportunist way. It will not affect the local property tax or local projects. Dún Laoghaire will benefit from this asset rich and cash rich transfer. The local councillors were very enthusiastic about this transfer, as I am, and as I expected everyone in this House to be. Suddenly, after the horse has bolted, people have come in here thundering that it is a bad deal and that €33 million is owed. That is not the case. It is rubbish, as those who are saying it know it is.

That figure was dismissed and discounted a long time ago. I do not accept that there is any threat in terms of issues that are politically sensitive and are brought up by people who have ulterior motives. I note that Senator Boyhan does not want to hear what I have to say-----

He will not be able to hear it because we must conclude statements at 5.30 p.m.

He said he was not interested in what the Minister had to say.

I am not interested in what the Minister has to say.

I wrote to the Minister lots of times and he did not respond. Do not-----

I listened to everything the Senator had to say.

The Minister did not respond to correspondence from me that he has had for months. This is not a bolt out of the blue.

There seems to be a pattern when the Minister comes into the House. Once again, we have run out of time. Perhaps he might come back on another occasion to discuss the issue further.

He can write to us.

The order of the day holds that this debate must conclude at 5.30 p.m. I am sorry about that. Much as we would like to stay on for another hour, we cannot do so. We must move to the next item of business.