Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Importation of Prunes.

asked the Minister for Supplies if there are any supplies of prunes available at present, and if he will state the shipping space allocated for the importation of prunes from Portugal or elsewhere, and also the aggregate space allocated for this purpose in each of the years 1941, 1942, 1943 and the current year to date.

Supplies of prunes are available at present. It has been decided as a matter of policy that during the emergency only the total value of all imports and exports will be published and, consequently, I am not prepared to give the information requested by the Deputy as to the shipping space allocated for the importation of prunes.

asked the Minister for Supplies if he will state the proportion of the prunes imported in 1941, 1942, 1943 and the current year to date which have been used in the manufacture of the article known as "Prune Wine," and similar commodities; and what proportion had been distributed and sold through ordinary trade channels as food; and if he will also state whether licences have been granted for the export of "Prune Wine" to Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and, if so, to what firms and in respect of what quantities they have been issued.

I have no information which would enable me to state the proportion of the prunes imported since 1941 which has been used in making "Prune Wine" and similar commodities, or the proportion which has been distributed and sold through ordinary trade channels for domestic consumption. Licences for the export of "Prune Wine" to Northern Ireland and Great Britain have been, and are being, granted to the manufacturers only. This commodity has been produced mainly for export for a very substantial number of years and it is in accordance with the general policy to facilitate the continuance of any such export trade. Only one firm in this country is engaged in producing and exporting "Prune Wine" and, as it is not the practice to give particulars publicly as to the business of any individual firm, I am not prepared to reply to the last part of the Deputy's question.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of his Department has a controlling interest in the one firm that has the licence to export "Prune Wine" and, if the Minister is aware of the fact that the Secretary of his Department has a big say in the giving of such licences and saw that the licence would be given to no firm other than the firm which he controlled —Messrs. William P. Thompson, 85 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin—what steps will the Minister take in that respect? His Secretary is carrying on his Department as a racket.

I think that is a most unjustified statement and would not be made by anybody who had any acquaintance with the individual in question.

I do not know him, Sir, but with all due respect to the Secretary, I have these facts before me.

Order. The Minister is replying.

I understand it is true that the Secretary of the Department of Supplies has some interest in that firm——

I am glad you admit that.

Will the Deputy allow me to speak? What the extent of that interest is, I do not know. I want to say, however, that this company, which has been in existence for over 75 years, has carried on the business of manufacturing and exporting "Prune Wine" during that period. Its trade extends over the whole world. I believe that 98 per cent. of its total products are exported. It has received no facilities that were not available to other persons engaged in similar business and in no way has the treatment of this firm been influenced by any association with an officer of my Department.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of his Department is also chairman of the Irish Shipping Company and that in his capacity as chairman he has an influence in the allocation of shipping space?

That is a separate question.

Just to make it clear, I want to explain to the Deputy that the chairman or the board of the Irish Shipping Company have nothing whatever to do with the allocation of shipping space. It is made by me. So far as the particular trade from Portugal is concerned, Irish Shipping, Limited, does not engage in it.

Is the Secretary of the Minister's Department a member of the shipping company?

He is chairman of the company.

Then I would say that the chairman had certain influence when he saw that shipping space was provided to bring prunes into this country for the manufacture of wine.

Just in case somebody might believe that, I want again to say that the allocation of shipping space is my responsibility and Irish Shipping, Limited, or its chairman have nothing to do with it. I want also to say that Irish Shipping, Limited, do not engage in this trade between Portugal and this country.

Would the Minister not agree, without casting any reflection on the particular officer in question, that it is not in the public interest for him to have an interest in a commercial firm of this character?

I understand that the officer in question secured that interest by inheritance. At the time, he expressed his desire to resign from his official position. He has expressed that desire to me on at least two occasions since. On each occasion I urged him to remain in the public service as I think we could not at the present time afford to lose his services.

Mr. Larkin

Does the Minister know of any country in the world where a man with that authority in the Civil Service is allowed to engage in private occupations?

I am quite sure that in every other country in the world as well as this country there are civil servants who have an interest in companies constituted with share capital.

Is the Minister going to take any action in this case?

I am certainly going to take no action that I have not taken already. I want to make it quite clear that this company has not got any facility which is not available to anybody else and nobody who is familiar with the circumstances could assert otherwise.

With all due respect to the Minister, he must be in the racket too.

The Deputy may believe that if he likes. I do not care what he believes.

It is what the general public say.